Best things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey (other than the Hot Air Balloons)

Things to do in Cappadocia Turkey

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Last Updated on September 28, 2022 by London City Calling

When you think about the best things to do in Cappadocia Turkey, the region’s famous hot air balloons will be the first thing to come to most people’s minds.

And while a sunrise balloon ride – or simply enjoying the skyful of colourful balloons from a carpet-covered rooftop – is certainly one of Cappadocia’s biggest attractions, there are plenty of other things to see and do in this fascinating region too.

On my recent trip to Cappadocia, I spent 5 full days experiencing everything this unique region of central Turkey has to offer.

From exploring the other-worldly fairy chimney filled valleys to sampling the tasty local wine and food, here’s what to do in Cappadocia other than the hot air balloons…

Note: You’ll notice that all of the photos below feature Cappadocia in the snow during my last visit in March 2022. Check out my dedicated guide to visiting Cappadocia in winter here.

Take a Cappadocia Tour

Cappadocia Valley

Before we get into the best things to do in Cappadocia, we should first discuss how to explore the many sites and attractions mentioned below.

Cappadocia is a vastly spread out region. While it’s possible to explore towns and villages such as Göreme, Uçhisar, and Avanos by foot, getting between destinations and attractions isn’t quite so easy.

The region doesn’t have a strong public transport network – there are a few buses connecting the main towns but there don’t run regularly.

The best way to get around is by either hiring a car, using a private driver, or taking an organized tour.

Many people choose to explore Cappadocia on a guided tour. Tours are an affordable and hassle-free way to make the most of your time in Cappadocia. You’ll also get to learn about the area’s fascinating history from an informative local guide.

Most tour companies offer three main routes…

Cappadocia Red Tour:

The Red Tour is the most popular Cappadocia tour. It showcases the many famous sites of northern Cappadocia, including Göreme Open Air Museum, Uçhisar Castle, and several picturesque valleys. If you’re only going to take one tour in Cappadocia, this is the one to pick.

The Red Tour also involves the least amount of travel time, with all of the sites and landmarks located relatively close to each other.

The Cappadocia Red Tour Includes:

  • Uçhisar Castle and Panorama
  • Göreme Open Air Museum – UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Love Valley Viewpoint
  • Lunch in Avanos Village
  • Avanos traditional pottery and carpet weaving demonstrations
  • Paşabağ Valley
  • Devrent Valley
Paşabağ Valley Cappadocia
Paşabağ Valley

Cappadocia Green Tour:

The Green Tour takes you to explore some of the more off-the-beaten-path destinations of southwestern Cappadocia, such as Derinkuyu Underground City and the stunning Ihlara Valley. If you enjoy hiking and discovering peaceful natural landscapes away from the tourist crowds, the Green Tour is a great option.

The Ihlara Valley is located around 80km away from Göreme, so there is quite a lot of travel time involved in this tour.

The Cappadocia Green Tour Includes:

  • Göreme Panorama
  • Derinkuyu Underground City
  • Hike in Ihlara Valley – a large river canyon filled with ancient rock churches
  • Selime Monastery – the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia
  • Pigeon Valley Viewpoint

Cappadocia Blue Tour:

The Blue Tour is the least popular of the three main tour routes. But if you do have the time to add it to your Cappadocia itinerary, this tour is great for exploring some of the typical Turkish Villages of southeastern Cappadocia.

The Cappadocia Blue Tour Includes:

  • Kaymakli or Ozkonak Underground City
  • Cavusin Cave Village
  • Red and Rose Valleys
  • Mustafapasa – Sinasos Old Greek Village
  • Keslik Monastery
  • Soganli Village
  • Soganlı Valley

Book your Cappadocia tours here:

Explore the Valleys and Fairy Chimneys

Love Valley in Cappadocia

Other than the hot air balloons, exploring the region’s many valleys and unusual fairy chimneys is one of the next best things to do in Cappadocia.

Fairy chimneys are the unique rock formations that have come to symbolise Cappadocia.

Despite their name, fairy chimneys are completely natural structures. The formations are a result of a geological process that took millions of years, starting with volcanic eruptions spewing out lava and ash across central Turkey. They were then shaped by gradual erosion by wind and water.

Geography aside, the magical chimneys really do look like they belong on the pages of a children’s fairytale book.

Some of the impressive structures stand as high as 130 ft – more like fairy skyscrapers if you ask me.

Devrent (Imagination) Valley in Cappadocia Turkey
A fairy chimney in the shape of a camel in Devrent ‘Imagination’ Valley

Some of the best valleys to see fairy chimneys in Cappacodia are:

  • Love Valley – Known for its phallic-shaped fairy chimneys, hence the name. Lots of props (swings and love chairs) and photo opportunities from the viewpoints.
  • Sword Valley – Small valley with thin sword-like fairy chimneys and numerous cave dwellings.
  • Red Valley – Many crimson-coloured fairy chimneys. Popular for hiking and ATV safaris. Best place to watch the sunrise and sunset.
  • Rose Valley – Pink-hued fairy chimneys, stunning hiking routes, and many churches and monasteries carved into the rocks.
  • Devrent (Imagination) Valley – Large, popular valley with vibrant red-orange rock formations, many of which resemble animals or human figures.
  • Paşabağ (Monks) Valley – Once a seclusion area for Christian monks, this other-worldly valley is known for its three-headed chimneys and mushroom-shaped boulders.
  • Pigeon Valley – Ancient pigeon houses carved into the cliff faces. Still home to thousands of pigeons that you can feed from the viewpoint.

Most valleys have dedicated viewpoints from which you can overlook the impressive natural landscapes and take some great photos. Or if you have more time on your hands, you can also follow the walking and hiking trails through the valleys to see the unusual formations up close.

See the Three Beauties of Ürgüp

The Three Beauties of Ürgüp fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

The three beauties are perhaps the most famous fairy chimneys in all of Cappadocia and have become an important symbol of the region. The three distinctive rock formations can be found in Urgüp.

There are many legends surrounding the three beauties.

The most famous is that there was a beautiful daughter of a King who fell in love with a shepherd. Her father did not approve of their relationship. So the princess ran away to marry him anyway and the two later had a child together.

The king was so angry that he ordered his soldiers to find and kill them all. Hearing about this, the princess wished that her family would be turned to stone so they wouldn’t die. And her wish was granted.

So the three beauties you see today are the princess, the shepherd, and their child.

Visit Göreme Open Air Museum

While Cappadocia’s fairy chimney filled valleys are certainly an amazing natural phenomenon, the true magic of these unique rock formations lies in the way in which they’ve been used by humans for thousands of years.

During the Roman era, many persecuted Christians fled to Cappadocia in search of refuge. They discovered that the region’s soft rock could easily be carved and shaped, so began to build a network of homes and churches into the fairy chimneys.

Today, you can still find remnants of this cave-dwelling community all across Cappadocia, particularly around the town of Göreme.

The Göreme Open Air Museum is one of the best places to see the well-preserved remains of many stone-carved churches, chapels, and monasteries. Now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, some of the highlights of the museum include the fresco-filled Dark Church and the large Buckle Church with its underground chapel.

How to visit Göreme Open Air Museum:

Göreme Open Air Museum is located around 1km from Göreme town center. It’s a 20 minute walk or 5 minute drive/taxi.

The site is included in the Cappadocia Red Tour.

The museum is open daily from 09:00 to 19:00 during the summer and 09:00 to 17:00 during the winter.

You can buy your tickets at the entrance for 150 TL per person.

You’ll need around 1-1.5 hours to explore the entire site.

Climb Uçhisar Castle

When visiting Uçhisar, it’s impossible to miss the mighty Uçhisar Castle, the most prominent landmark in the small Cappadocian town.

The ancient castle dates back to the Roman (Byzantine) era. Consisting of two giant fairy chimneys, it was once a defence mechanism and place of refuge for local residents during times of unrest. Inside, the castle has a maze-like series of passageways and rooms carved into the rock.

Today, you can explore some of the castle’s unusual interior. But, while it’s interesting to see how people once lived in Uçhisar, the empty stone rooms are not the biggest draw of the landmark.

Most people visit Uçhisar Castle to enjoy the breathtaking views from its summit.

Standing over 60-metres in height, the castle is the highest point in all of Cappadocia. So it’s no surprise that the rock formation has some of the best panoramic views in the region. From the summit, you can see out for miles over the town and surrounding valleys. A must-see in Cappadocia!

Uçhisar Castle in Cappadocia

How to visit Uçhisar Castle:

Uçhisar Castle sits at the heart of Uçhisar so is easy to visit once in the town. Uçhisar is located around 5km from the popular town of Göreme. Travelling between the towns by car or taxi takes just 5-10 minutes. There’s a public bus that runs occasionally between the two.

You can also take a scenic hike from Göreme to Uçhisar through Pigeon Valley (1 hour hike) or Love Valley and White Valley (2 hour hike).

The landmark is included on the Cappadocia Red Tour.

Uçhisar Castle is open daily between 7:30 and 21:00 in the summer and 7:30 and 19:00 during the winter. Sunset is the most popular time to visit.

Tickets can be purchased at the entrance for 30 TL.

You’ll need to climb up 120 stairs to reach the castle summit. The climb isn’t too tough so is suitable for all fitness levels. But if you’re visiting during the hot summer months, remember to bring some water and sunscreen.

The stairs and walkways can be fairly uneven at some points and the railings aren’t the safest, so be careful if climbing with small children.

Explore Derinkuyu Underground City

Derinkuyu Underground City, things to do in Cappadocia Turkey

There are also numerous underground cities tunnelled into the soft rock beneath Cappadocia. And the Derinkuyu Underground City has to be the most famous and most visited of them all. 

The mysterious city is believed to have been built during the Byzantine era – over 2,000 years ago. It was used for a long time to protect the local population from war and religious persecution in the region.

Consisting of 18 stories of labyrinth-like tunnels and chambers, the underground city reaches a staggering 85 meters (279 ft) below ground at its deepest.

The multi-level complex was once entirely self-sufficient, with bedrooms, kitchens, chapels, schools, storage rooms, wine cellars, and more. It may have sheltered as many as 20,000 people at a time.

A small section of the Underground City is now open to visitors. On a visit, you can descend 8 levels below ground to experience what life was like for the people who once called Derinkuyu home.

How to visit Derinkuyu Underground City:

Derinkuyu sits around 40km south of Göreme and is best reached by car/taxi/private driver.

It is part of the popular Green Tour (South Cappadocia Tour).

The underground city is open between 08:00 and 19:00 in the summer and 08:00 and 17:00 in the winter.

Tickets can be purchased at the entrance and cost 65 TL per person.

It’s possible to explore the city on your own, but there are very few signs or directions, so choosing a guided tour is the best way to learn more about the unusual city and its history.

Just be warned, you’ll be climbing down narrow staircases and through confined tunnels, so it’s not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia. 

Stay in a Unique Cave Hotel

Cave hotel in Cappadocia Turkey

Another must-have Cappadocia experience is staying in one of the region’s unique cave hotels. Carved into the soft rock and fairy chimneys, these unusual hotels allow you to experience the way of life of Cappadocia’s original residents – with an added touch of luxury of course!

Göreme and Uçhisar are two of the most popular places to stay in Cappadocia. Both towns have plenty of fantastic accommodation options, as well as restaurants, cafes and other amenities.

Some of the best cave hotels in Cappadocia are:

Snap Some Instagram Photos at these Panoramic Viewpoints

Viewpoint with swings in Cappadocia Turkey

Cappadocia is packed with fantastic photo opportunities. From the magical hot air balloons floating above the horizon at sunrise to the breathtaking panoramic vistas, a photoshoot is one of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia.

In keeping with its reputation, many viewpoints and vistas now feature swings, heart-shaped chairs, colourful props, and more to help you snap the perfect Insta-shots.

The best viewpoints in Cappadocia for photo opportunities are:

  • Love Valley Panoramic Viewpoint/Love Valley Swing Cafe (Ask Vadisi Salincak Cafe)
  • Ethem Usta’nin Yeri at Ortahisar Panorama
  • Uçhisar Valley Cafe Butik

Take an ATV Sunset Safari

ATVs in Cappadocia

If hiking the valleys is too slow-paced for you, step the adventure up a notch with an adrenalin-fuelled ATV safari. ATVs are one of the most popular ways of exploring Cappadocia’s expansive valleys.

Most safaris will take you to explore Sword, White, Love, Red, and Rose Valleys – or a combination of these. You’ll get to enjoy speeding around the unique landscapes while making several stops at fairy chimneys and viewpoints for photos.

You’ll then finish your safari at one of the scenic vistas to enjoy the sunset over the valleys.

How to book a Cappadocia Sunset ATV Safari:

You can pre-book your ATV tour online here.

Or you can book in person at one of the many ATV centers around Göreme. During peak periods, ATVs in Cappadocia can get booked up very quickly, so it’s best to book in advance for the date you want to visit.

Depending on the time of year, you should be paying no more than £20-25 per person.

The safaris last around 3 hours on average.

Group size will depend on the demand on the day. If you visit Cappadocia during the winter or off-peak periods, you’re more likely to get a private or small group ATV safari.

Other ways to explore Cappadocia’s valleys include on horseback or a camel safari.

Book your horseback riding experience here or book your camel safari online here.

Sample Local Wine

Local wine in Cappadocia Turkey

Did you know that Cappadocia is one of Turkey’s most famous wine-producing regions?

There are multiple vineyards, cellars, and small family-run wineries scattered across the region’s valleys. And if you’re interested in wine, several of these local wineries offer tours and tastings.

I didn’t personally do a wine tour in Cappadocia (next time for sure!) but you can read more about Cappadocia’s wine and winery tours here.

Or for a less organized way of tasting Cappadocian wines, simply head to one of the region’s many restaurants or bars and taste for yourself.

Where to try local wine in Cappadocia:

Red Red Wine House in Göreme was my favourite spot for tasting local wines. Covered in traditional Turkish decor, the cosy restaurant and wine bar is located in a former family cave house. They offer a great menu of local dishes and snacks, as well as one of the best wine lists in Göreme.

The staff will happily let you sample several local wines and tell you about them before choosing which glass (or bottle) you want to order.

And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to meet the lovely local owner who will entertain you with stories of childhood in Cappadocia and maybe even play you a song or two on his bağlama (Turkish string instrument).

Enjoy the Local Food

Cappadocia is the birthplace of many delicious Turkish dishes that you have to try while visiting the region.

Central Anatolian cuisine has Mediterranean, Central Asian, and Arabic influences. You’ll find many hearty and flavoursome dishes featuring boney meats, beans, legumes, vegetables, pastries, and cheeses.

Which local dishes to try in Cappadocia:

Some of the best local dishes to try in Cappadocia are…

  • Pottery (Testi) Kebab – lamb, beef, or chicken kebab with vegetables cooked and served in a clay pot.
  • Manti – Turkish lamb-stuffed ravioli/dumplings with a spicy brown butter sauce and garlic yogurt (and occasionally tomato).
  • Sigara Böreği – fried flakey pastry filled with feta cheese in the shape of fingers/cigars.
  • Ağpakla – a delicacy from Ürgup featuring dried white beans, meat, and onions cooked in a clay pot.

Experience the Turkish Nights Dinner Show

Cappadocia isn’t a region known for its nightlife. However, if you are looking for a way to spend a fun wine-fuelled evening in Cappadocia, the Turkish Nights Dinner Show is a must-do.

Taking place in several cave restaurants in Cappadocia, the popular dinner show includes a tasty local meal, unlimited beer, wine, and local drinks, and a traditional Turkish dance show.

The unique shows feature various styles of music, dance, and costumes from all across the country, from authentic belly dance to the famous whirling dervishes.

How to book a Turkish Nights Dinner Show:

The evening event is one of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia, so it’s best to book in advance for the evening you wish to attend. You can book your Turkish Nights Dinner Show in advance here.

Most tickets include hotel pick up and drop off, so there’s no need to worry about making the most of the unlimited drinks – but best to double check this when booking!

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London City Calling

Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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