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13 Incredible Things To Do in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a city in central Turkey famous for its unique natural landscapes, cultural heritage, and sunrise hot air balloon rides. But there are many more things to do in Cappadocia than ride in a balloon.

I arrived by bus after a day-long trip from Kahta, where I'd visited Mount Nemrut the day before. The initial bus broke down en route, causing delays. I didn't get into Cappadocia until after nightfall.

Aktepe "White Hill" is visible from Cappadocia in central Turkey
Aktepe “White Hill” in the distance

The views I missed on arrival were waiting for me the following day when I began to acquaint myself with the spectacular scenery. Cappadocia is a place where signing up for cheap sightseeing tours is an efficient use of your time and money.

They're big business, run daily, and are easy to book on arrival if you're trying to keep your plans flexible. In this article, I'm sharing things to do in Cappadocia based on my five days in the city.

Best of Cappadocia

1. Uchisar Rock Castle

Visiting the rock castle at Uchisar (far left) is one of the most interesting things to do in Cappadocia
Rock castle at Uchisar (far left)

Carved out of volcanic rock, Uchisar Rock Castle is 197 feet (60 meters) tall and a dominant feature in Cappadocia. During Byzantine times, this multi-level castle held up to 1,000 residents in rooms connected by tunnels, all carved out of rock. Due to erosion, many parts of the castle are no longer open to visitors. However, if you go to the top, you can still enjoy panoramic views of Cappadocia and the surrounding landscape.

2. Goreme Open Air Museum

Goreme Open Air Museum
Goreme Open Air Museum

The first significant site I visited in Cappadocia was the Goreme Open Air Museum, part of Goreme National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

In a spectacular landscape, entirely sculpted by erosion, the Göreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period.

Dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns – the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century – can also be seen there.


The Goreme Open Air Museum is a monastic complex featuring living spaces and churches carved into soft volcanic rock.

Related: Best Places to Visit in Turkey

Rock church
Rock Church
Interior of rock church
Interior of rock church

Walking around the outdoor museum is a fascinating experience, as you can enter some of the rock churches and view their features and paintings up close. Earlier decorations were kept simple, such as the crosses pictured above. Subsequent development included more sophisticated works of art. Unfortunately, erosion and vandalism have damaged all but the best-protected paintings.

If you like the Goreme Open Air Museum's look, the Zelve Open Air Museum is not as well known and receives fewer visitors.

3. Fairy Chimneys

Walking among the fairy chimneys is one of the most common things to do when touring Cappadocia
Fairy chimneys

Following my walk around Goreme Open Air Museum, my tour took me to Pasabag (“Monks Valley”). Pasabag is home to some of Cappadocia's best examples of mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys. These phallus-shaped geological formations, known as hoodoos, are formed by the soft rock in the column protected by a harder rock at the top.

Turkish travelers and me
Turkish travelers and me

Hoodoos are not unique to Cappadocia, although they're heavily associated with the city. They can also be found in the United States, Mexico, France, and Japan, among other countries. While exploring the fairy chimneys of Pasabag, I ran into a group of Turkish travelers who asked for a photo. Far be it from me to turn them down!

4. Other Notable Rock Formations

The Three Beauties is a picturesque spot
Three Beauties

There is no shortage of interesting rock formations around Cappadocia. The Three Beauties is a worthy stop. You can sense the scale by noting the humans in the upper right of my photo above. One wonders when the stronger rock at the top will topple over. Another spot worth considering is Devrent Valley (“Imagination Valley”), which features animal-shaped rocks. I didn't make it to that one. There are so many rock formations to see and so little time!

See also: Things to Do in Istanbul

5. Derinkuyu Underground City

Cave staircase
Cave staircase

There's more to Cappadocia than what you see above ground. At least 250 underground cities lie below the surface. The largest, Derinkuyu, was constructed in the 7th or 8th century BC and had an estimated capacity of 20,000 inhabitants!

Carved out of the volcanic rock 279 feet (85 meters) below ground, the Derinkuyu Underground City is a maze of tunnels, vertical staircases, living and religious spaces, and animal rooms.

Approximately 15,000 ventilation ducts provide fresh air to the city from above ground, including a 180-foot (55-meter) tall vertical shaft, which also functioned well. This feature is visible to visitors.

Large, moveable, circular stone doors were carved as defensive measures against potential invaders. These rudimentary yet effective doors evoke scenes from The Goonies and Indiana Jones movies.

I feel claustrophobic in tight spaces, such as the silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. However, I'm glad I went underground to see Derinkuyu, as it's astonishing to believe an entire society developed down there.

6. Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley
Ihlara Valley

Following the underground city, the tour I was on took us to the Ihlara Valley. Carved by the Melendiz River over thousands of years, the valley is 328 feet (100 meters) deep and 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) long. After the 4th century, priests and monks used the valley and it became a center of monastic life. There are 105 rock churches and 10,000 caverns.

Daniel in the Lion's Den at Agacalti Kilise (Church Under the Tree)
Daniel in the Lion's Den

Descending the valley by a wooden staircase is easy, and once down there, the well-marked path is flat and follows the river. There are many notable stone churches you can visit. One of the best church frescos I saw was Daniel in the Lion's Den at Agacalti Kilise (Church Under the Tree). Toward the end of the walk, my tour group stopped for a lunch of fresh fish at a riverside restaurant.

7. Selime Monastery

Walking the path to Selime Monastery
Path to Selime Monastery

At the end of the Ihlara Valley is Selime Monastery, one of my favorite rock dwellings to explore in Cappadocia. While it may be possible to walk there, my tour group drove about 15 minutes by paved road in the interest of time. Walking up to the Selime Monastery is a theatrical experience, as seen in the photo above. Monastic rooms, a church, and a cathedral were carved into the rock facade by Christians in the first century AD who escaped persecution by the Romans.

Exploring the cave monastery
Scenic views from Selime
Cathedral with paintings
Selime cathedral
Rock window
Rock window

My tour group spent about 40 minutes at Selime Monastery, which was plenty, though I could've easily doubled that if I were alone.

8. Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley is a top attraction in Cappadocia
Pigeon Valley

The last stop of my second full-day tour was Pigeon Valley, about an hour's drive from Selime Monastery. As the name suggests, you'll see lots of pigeons, an important bird in the lives of those who lived in ancient Cappadocia. Pigeon droppings were a valuable resource. They were used as fertilizers for crops and grapes for winemaking. Plus, they were employed in the production of cave frescoes.

Caves in Pigeon Valley
Caves in Pigeon Valley

Pigeon houses are carved into the rocks in this valley and throughout Cappadocia to attract pigeons and their precious droppings. Some remarkable stone facades are also carved into the rock here.

Hot air balloons over Cappadocia
Hot air balloons over Cappadocia

9. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride

I know you've been waiting for me to mention it. Magical sunrise hot air balloon rides draw travelers worldwide to Cappadocia every year, including me. My fear of heights was about to be tested like never before.

I've challenged myself many times over the years—skydiving at 23, jumping off a 30-foot waterfall in Costa Rica, a 100-meter canyon swing in Queenstown, and paragliding in Nepal and Colombia. But, giving up total control and lifting above the clouds in a hot air balloon with no way down but waiting was a challenge.

Hot air balloon rides are one of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia
Balloons landing

Thankfully, I stuck with it. Of course, once you committed, there was no alternative. It's up, up, and away!

In retrospect, the whole experience was a rush, from watching and listening to a hundred balloons fire up before dawn to gently drifting back to earth based on the pilot's years of skill and experience reading the winds and terrain.

It's worth paying extra for a highly reputable balloon company. I went with Butterfly Balloons after reading that Rick Steves used the same company. I'm happy to recommend them, too.

10. Watch Balloons from Aydn Kiragi viewpoint

A hot air balloon passes a scenic outlook
A hot air balloon passes onlookers.

Whether or not the idea of waking up before dawn to board a balloon for the heavens sounds appealing, you can still catch them en masse from around town. Shuffle up to Aydin Kiragi for the best views, the ridge pictured above. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get up there so you're not feeling rushed as the balloons begin to descend.

11. Watch the Sunset

Sunset in Cappadocia
Sunset viewpoint in Cappadocia

At this point, I hope it's evident how spectacular the scenery is around Cappadocia. There are plenty of places to view the sunset over this unique landscape, including the Aydn Kiragi ridge I mentioned above for balloon-watching.

12. Sleep in a Cave Hotel

Spending the night in a cave hotel is one of the most fun things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey.
My cave hotel room

I highly recommend staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia to further your immersion in this beautiful little world. There are budget-friendly options for backpackers, so you won't have to break the bank. I got a private room with a bathroom at Elif Star Cave Hotel (pictured above) and had a pleasant stay. Each of the rooms in my hotel had different stone carving motifs. Mine was full of pigeon houses.

13. Eat in a Cave Restaurant

Topdeck Cave Restaurant
Topdeck Cave Restaurant

Last but not least, I suggest eating in at least one cave restaurant during your stay in Cappadocia. They're all over the place and offer a unique dining experience. There are also some terrific rooftop restaurants too. Places like Topdeck Cave Restaurant are multi-level, offering diners the option of eating underground or with a view.


There you have it—my recommendations for incredible things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey. Between sightseeing in caves and underground cities and sleeping and dining in caves, you might get a feel for what life would've been like for Cappadocia's inhabitants over the last few millennia.

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