The panoramic view of dozens of hot air balloons across dipping valleys in Cappadocia is iconic, and it is one of the most popular places in the world to go hot air ballooning – but as we learned, there’s more to Cappadocia than hot air balloons, carpet shops and Instagram rooftops. If you are headed to Cappadocia in central Turkey, don’t overlook what the region has to offer beyond ballooning, because it is also home to sprawling underground cities, a plethora of viewpoints, open air museums and archaeological sites.
Planning a trip to Cappadocia? Read on for essential travel tips for visiting Cappadocia in Turkey, where to stay, how long to stay in Cappadocia and what to do because this region will blow your mind!
How to get to Cappadocia
First of all, it’s important to know that Cappadocia is a region, not a city or town. The most well-known destinations in Cappadocia are Ürgüp, Göreme, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Guzelyurt, Uçhisar, Avanos and Zelve. So, where is Cappadocia? It is pretty much bam smack in the center of Turkey, about 3 hours from Ankara, the capital.
When you’re looking for flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia or Izmir to Cappadocia, entering “Cappadocia” in the search box isn’t going to work. Instead, you’ll need to fly into one of the two airports in Cappadocia – Kayseri (Erkilet International Airport or ASR) or Nevşehir (Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport or NAV).
There are several flights each day from Istanbul to Kayseri and Nevşehir, and flights take just over an hour. If you’re deciding which airport to fly into, go with whichever has a better flight time for your Turkey itinerary – both airports are located 30-40 minutes away by car from Göreme/Uçhisar so it doesn’t make a massive difference.
You need an e-Visa to enter Turkey – rates vary depending on nationality and you can apply for your visa ahead of time on the official Turkish government e-visa website here. When we applied, the approval was almost immediate and you will need to download and print out a copy of the visa.
It’s also possible to take a (long) bus ride from Istanbul to Cappadocia, but flights aren’t too pricey so I would recommend that you fly from Istanbul to Cappadocia instead. Pre-book your airport transfer before you arrive in Cappadocia. Once you arrive at Kayseri or Nevsehir, look for your name on a board and the local shuttle company will drop you off at your hotel. It costs approximately 30 TL from Kayseri Airport to Goreme or 25 TL from Nevsehir Airport to Goreme.
Practical travel tips for visiting Cappadocia
- The currency is the Turkish Lira or TL and the exchange rate is approximately US$1: 5-6 TL. Unfortunately, there aren’t many official currency exchange places in Goreme or Uchisar, but many places do accept credit card. If you are exchanging money in Goreme town, make sure you count your money before you leave. One guy tried to scam us out of nearly 60 USD!
- There are also very few places in town to buy a local Turkish SIM card. We actually didn’t end up purchasing one because the local store had “run out” of SIM cards. Instead, we downloaded maps via hotel wifi for offline use. Read more on how to do that here.
- The Museum Pass Cappadocia is a great card to purchase if you are staying in the region for a few days. With the exception of Uchisar Castle, the pass is accepted at most other places including the Goreme Open Air Museum and Dark Church, Ihlara Valley, Derinkuyu Underground City, Kaymalki Underground City and Zelve Archaeological Site. The pass can be purchased at any of the sites listed above that accept it. If you are traveling to other places in Turkey including Istanbul, Ephesus, Pamukkale or Fethiye you might want to purchase the Museum Pass Turkey for 375 TL instead.
- The best time to visit Cappadocia: We visited in September, and while it wasn’t the peak season you can still expect a steady flow of tourists (though it’s easy to avoid the crowds if you rent a scooter). The weather is milder than in the summer months so the days are hot, but mornings and evenings can be cold. June to August is the peak season in Cappadocia so it can get crowded, and it can get bitterly cold during the winter months from November to late February. I recommend visiting in spring from March to June, or autumn from September to November.
- What to wear in Cappadocia: The temperature can fluctuate significantly over the course of just a couple of hours. If you are looking to go on a hot air balloon ride or watch the sunset or sunrise in Cappadocia, make sure you bring some warm clothes. If you are renting a scooter, you absolutely need to bring a thick jacket as the windchill can be miserable. Regarding dress code in Cappadocia, most people in Turkey are Muslim, yet Cappadocia (and Turkey as a whole) is not extremely conservative. You can walk around with sleeveless tops and female tourists are not required to wear headscarves. The only exception is when you enter a mosque, in which case you will need to abide by the dress code (in general, men must wear long trousers and women must cover their hair, arms and knees). To be respectful, I would recommend that you dress on the conservative side and avoid strapless/crop tops, very form-fitting clothes, short skirts/dresses or hot pants.
Click here for more Turkey travel tips and guides or head on over to read more on travel mistakes to avoid making in Turkey!
Where to stay in Cappadocia
The main towns in Cappadocia are Ürgüp, Göreme, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Guzelyurt, Uçhisar, Avanos and Zelve.
The majority of the hotels are located in Göreme, Ürgüp and Uçhisar, but in my opinion, the best place to stay in Cappadocia is in Göreme as the town has lots of tour companies, grocery stores, restaurants and hotels. It is also centrally located which means you can venture out to the various Cappadocia landmarks easily, yet it is easy to get around town on foot so you can pop out for dinner or lunch.
The quintessential thing to do is to stay at one of the many cave hotels in Cappadocia – rooms carved into mountainsides or rock pillars. There are many to choose from, and people tend to always flock to the “instafamous” ones. We wanted to find a hidden gem in Cappadocia, a cave hotel that other travelers didn’t necessarily already know about, so stayed for 3 nights in Cappadocia at Hanzade Suites.
Hanzade Suites is located right off the main street in Goreme and is within walking distance to the Goreme Sunset Point. Our room was spacious and cozy, and the rooftop is a great place to hang out for tea or coffee – you can also watch the balloons fly overhead in the mornings. The breakfast selection is decent, and the owner/manager was very responsive over email and was happy to help book tours and airport transportation. Click here to check current rates at Hanzade Suites or head on over here to see other highly rated hotel options in Cappadocia!
Do not show up expecting to find last-minute accommodation in Cappadocia, especially during the peak season – make sure you book ahead!
Important information about hotel booking in Turkey: You can not book hotels in Turkey using Booking.com when you are already in Turkey, as it has been blocked by the Turkish government (so has Wikipedia, for that matter, and they’re looking to extend the ban to other websites including AirBnB and Expedia). Instead, make sure you book hotels for your stay in Turkey before your trip, or use Hotels.com or HotelsCombined for any last-minute hotel bookings that you need to make when you are already in the country.
How to get around Cappadocia
To get between the main sightseeing spots in Cappadocia, you can join guided tours (get your hotel to book it for you), by rental car (there’s plenty of parking everywhere) or by scooter/ATV. We rented our scooter from Silk Road in Goreme and they couldn’t have been more helpful. Osman, the owner, is very responsive over Whatsapp and offers drop-off/pick-up service. Riding a scooter in Cappadocia allows you to get off the beaten path and away from the crowds.
Things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey
There are plenty of different activities in Cappadocia for every kind of traveler. Wondering what to do in Cappadocia? Spoiler: the region has so much more to offer than hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. If you are planning a trip and don’t know how many days to spend in Cappadocia, I recommend staying for a minimum of 2-3 nights.
We spent 3 days in Cappadocia and our days were packed to the brim with things to see and places to visit. If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Cappadocia, I recommend a minimum of 2 days in Cappadocia in case your hot air balloon experience is cancelled by the Civil Aviation Authority! You will be doing the region a disservice if all you do is go on a hot air balloon and take a photo in a carpet shop.
1. Visit one of the many Cappadocia viewpoints
Cappadocia is full of fantastic viewpoints (paid and free) where you can admire the unique terrain or watch the sunset. Head to Göreme Panorama to see the fairy chimneys from above and trees filled with hanging “evil eye” talismans, and watch the sunset from the Panoramic View Point just outside of Ortahisar.
If you are staying in Göreme and don’t want to travel far, the Aydın Kırağı viewpoint (AKA “Sunset Point Goreme”) is one of the best places to watch the sunset and sunrise in Cappadocia. It is a 5-10 minute gentle uphill stroll from Hanzade Suites.
If you are renting a scooter or ATV there are plenty of other off-road viewpoints away from the crowds in Cappadocia, get exploring!
2. Explore Uchisar Castle and Pigeon Valley
Uchisar is situated at the highest point in Cappadocia, and used to be in the most populated area of this settlement. The castle has many rooms hollowed out into the rock and the top of the citadel provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding valleys. Visiting the rock-cut castle is one of the most unique things to do in Cappadocia.
Most of the rooms, located on the north side of the castle, are used as pigeon houses (the droppings are used by farmers as natural fertilizer). There are a number of other pigeon houses in Pigeon Valley in front of Uchisar Castle, and it’s possible to hike from Goreme to Uchisar through Pigeon Valley in about 2 hours. Entry into Uchisar Castle costs 8 TL – the Museum Pass is not accepted here.
3. Wander through Goreme Open Air Museum
The Goreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains rock-cut churches with beautiful frescoes dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. It is one of the best places to visit in Cappadocia – plan to spend an hour to 90 minutes wandering between hollowed-out cave churches, and don’t skip the “Dark Church” to see the preserved colourful frescoes.
Entry costs 30 TL and a separate ticket into the Dark Church costs 10 TL, or you can simply use your Museum Pass Cappadocia or Museum Pass Turkey. Don’t be surprised to see hundreds of other fellow tourists at the Goreme Open Air Museum – it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cappadocia.
4. See the pink-coloured Rose Valley
Rose Valley just outside of Goreme town is aptly named after its signature pink hue. There are lots of ATV tours that operate to Rose Valley, and it’s a popular place for people to take wedding photos.
Where to stay in Cappadocia: We loved our stay at Hanzade Suites in Goreme. Our room was spacious and cozy, and the rooftop is a great place to hang out for tea or coffee – you can also watch the balloons fly overhead in the mornings. Click here to check current rates at Hanzade Suites or head on over here to see other highly rated hotel options in Cappadocia!
5. Go underground at Derinkuyu Underground City
This is not for you if you are claustrophobic. I repeat, do not go to one of the underground cities if you don’t like tight spaces. One of the cultural highlights of the Cappadocia region is the subterranean settlements or “underground cities”. As the region was subject to frequent invasions, these cities were built to provide shelter to citizens and contained rooms, kitchens, communal areas, cellars, storage rooms, wineries, churches, schools and so on. Derinkuyu is one of 150-200 known underground settlements in the Cappadocia region and is approximately 85 deep below ground. It was opened to visitors in 1965 but only 10% of the city can be visited.
If you are comfortable with squeezing yourself through narrow underground corridors then visiting an underground city is one of the most unique things to do in Cappadocia. There is clear signage to follow in the underground city, and a few exits if you need to turn around (like we did). Entry costs 40 TL, or you can simply use your Museum Pass Cappadocia or Museum Pass Turkey.
6. See all the crazy rock formations
The unique topography in Cappadocia is a result of volcanic eruptions and millions of years of erosion. The result? An otherworldly landscape of “fairy chimneys”, pinnacles and even phallic rocks. The “penis rocks” in Cappadocia are a hoot, even if you’re a prude, and can be seen in the appropriately named “Love Valley” or Pasabag (“Monks Valley”). Don’t miss the 3 Sisters or Devrent Valley, AKA “Imagination Valley” for all of the animal-shaped rock formations, including one that looks like a camel! It’s one of the weirdest and most wonderful places to visit in Cappadocia.
It’s important not to touch any of these rock formations – the region is already prone to erosion, and as tourism to Cappadocia grows as does the increased foot and vehicle traffic on already vulnerable terrain, not to mention more trash!
7. Visit the underrated Zelve Open Air Museum
Most people have heard of Goreme Open Air Museum, but not many venture out to the equally incredible (and much less crowded) Zelve Open Air Museum. Zelve was once a monastic settlement, and today it’s possible to traverse through the abandoned cave village. Entry costs 20 TL or you can use your Museum Pass.
8. Go hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
Yes – hot air ballooning is one of many things you can do in Cappadocia! Cappadocia is one of the most popular destinations in the world for hot air balloon rides. Yes, it is an incredible experience, but you might just not get to go on a hot air balloon ride for a number of reasons. It might be too expensive (between 130-180 Euros per person), it could be fully booked (believe me, book AS EARLY AS YOU CAN), or your ride might get cancelled like ours did.
We scheduled a hot air balloon ride the morning after we arrived in Cappadocia, and dragged ourselves out of bed at 4:30 AM to head for breakfast at the hot air balloon company’s headquarters. Soon, we were split into different groups and shuttled to the take-off site. As we watched the balloons slowly fill up with hot air, the excitement really kicked in…until all of the gigantic fans started to switch off, one by one. “Today’s flights are cancelled,” said our hot air balloon pilot. At first, we thought he was kidding. Then he explained that the Civil Aviation Authority had cancelled ALL of the hot air balloon flights due to high winds.
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia is incredible not only because of the unique landscape, but also because the balloons fly 250 days of the year, compared to about 60 days elsewhere in Europe. And for us, it just so happened that we scheduled a flight on one of the 115 days of the year that the balloons don’t take flight.
Fortunately, we were able to get on a flight with Voyager Balloons on our very last morning in Cappadocia (and missed our flight to Izmir as a result) – which is why you really need to stay for more than a night or two in the region! The 90 minutes in the air was, quite frankly, magical, and exceeded all of my expectations. But I stand by this article that Cappadocia has way more to offer than hot air ballooning – don’t fret if you don’t get to go on one. Watching the balloons from one of the viewpoints in Cappadocia is also a magical experience in and of itself!
There are some important things to know if you want to book a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia:
- The experience is not cheap, coming in at between 130-180 Euros per person depending on which company you go with and how many people are in the basket. We paid slightly more to go in a smaller basket that could fit 16 people, and it was so much more comfortable as we were able to move around instead of being packed in like sardines, and the flight time was slightly longer too.
- Hot air ballooning is THE most popular thing to do in Cappadocia, so you absolutely must book as early as possible, because balloons fill up – fast. Just because 100-or so balloons fly every morning does not mean that you will get a spot.
- If you are scared of heights, this might not be right for you. I have a fear of heights, but found that the take off and landing was smooth enough that it didn’t feel too terrifying. The balloons can get extremely high up (ours went up 800 metres!) and can travel fast depending on the wind – anywhere from 2-22 KM/hour.
- What happens if your hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is cancelled? If your flight is cancelled, the very first thing you must do is try rescheduling with the company you booked with. However, 99.9% of the time they are already fully booked for the next day’s flights. It’s also important that you don’t rely on your hotel to book a hot air balloon ride for you because they might also contact one or two other companies. Instead, e-mail and call EVERYONE. Ask about spaces on their deluxe flights, sunset flights, post-sunrise flights.
- Here is a list of e-mails you can copy and paste into the BCC field: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected] Once you have e-mailed them, make sure you keep an eye on your email inbox as most places will only hold your spot for an hour before releasing it to the next person on the waitlist.
Head on over here to read even more about hot air ballooning in Cappadocia!
9. Eat all the pide
Pide is a Turkish flatbread with cheese, or as some people like to call it, “Turkish pizza”. It’s seriously delicious (try it with cheese and tomatoes) and you’ll find yourself craving the toasty bread on a chilly evening. We liked the pide at this restaurant in Goreme.
10. Hike through valleys
The Cappadocia region is one of the best places to go hiking, if you’re an avid hiker (which I’m not). You can join a number of different treks and hikes throughout the region – Ihlara Valley, Pigeon Valley, Love Valley are all popular spots for hiking in Cappadocia.
Prefer going on a Cappadocia group tour instead?
If you don’t want to travel around Cappadocia on your own or are uncomfortable driving a car or scooter, go on one of the Cappadocia day tours instead. Check out the red, green or blue group tours for sightseeing in Cappadocia – your hotel can organize these for you in advance, or pop into Silk Road (the scooter rental shop) to book your spot.
The Red Tour usually costs 28 Euros and covers Uchisar Castle, Goreme Open Air Museum, Pasabag Fairy Chimneys, a pottery demonstration and Devrent Valley. Click here to book this highly rated red tour online via Klook for 23 Euros.
The Green Tour usually costs 33 Euros and covers Derinkuyu Underground City, Goreme Panorama viewpoint, hiking and exploring caves and churches in Ihlara Valley, the ancient Selime Monastery and Pigeon Valley. Click here to book this highly rated green tour online via Klook for 27 Euros.
There is also the lesser-known Blue Tour that doesn’t always run every single day – it costs around 45 Euros and covers Mustafapasa old Greek village, Sobessos archaeological excavation site, Keslik Monastery and hiking through Soganli Valley. Click here to book this blue tour online via Klook for 37 Euros.
Ready to book your trip to Cappadocia in Turkey? Click here to check current rates at Hanzade Suites or head on over here to see other highly rated hotel options in Cappadocia!
Need some help planning your 2 week Turkey itinerary? Head on over here for an easy Turkey itinerary for first time visitors or check out even more Turkey travel tips and guides here!
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Video music credit: LS – Eveningland / Youtube Audio Library
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