Take a hot air balloon ride, stay in a unique cave hotel and try an authentic Turkish bath – these are just some of the top things to do in Cappadocia. Find out lots more in this Cappadocia travel guide.
Cappadocia is a place that has been on my own bucket list for many years, so I was delighted when Shelly O’ Neill offered to write a guest post for me about her recent trip, as well as sharing the top things to do in Cappadocia. Shelly offers great advice on the best places to stay, as well as some great dining recommendations and top tips. Shelly also answers some of the most frequently asked questions on Cappadocia, which has resulted in a superb Cappadocia travel guide.
Cappadocia is an expansive region situated in central Turkey that is known for its distinctive fairy chimneys, natural rock formations, enchanting cave hotels and a sky dotted with hot air balloons.
With a rich cultural heritage that has earned the region UNESCO World Heritage status, as well as endless outdoor adventures, Cappadocia is a traveller’s dream, and deserves a spot on your bucket list. It was one of my most memorable travel experiences.
I have outlined the top things to do in Cappadocia below, as well as some top tips, and recommendations on where to stay and eat. I hope you find it useful when planning a trip to this wonderful part of the world.
Top things to do in Cappadocia
1. Take a sunrise hot air balloon flight
Cappadocia is famous for hot air balloon flights and no visit would be complete without this bucket list experience – it is truly magical.
Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia mean an early rise! We had a 5am pick up and were shuttled to the take-off site where we watched with excitement as they blew up the balloons. Within minutes balloons were dotted all over the landscape – you could see them light up like fireflies.
Once we were settled into our basket, it wasn’t long before we had lift-off. It was so calm and tranquil, like sudden weightlessness. As we gained altitude, we could see hundreds of balloons lacing the sky and dancing with the wind. It was truly a magical experience with stunning views.
My hotel arranged the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia through Turquaz Balloons at a cost €180. TOP TIP: Some operators offer shorter flight durations and pack too many people into the baskets. Make sure to check the flight duration and how many people will be in the hot air balloon. There were 16 in our basket, and we spent 75 minutes in the air with a fantastic pilot called Elma.
Viator, is the world’s largest company for tours, activities, and attractions. You can book some of the best things to do in Cappadocia including hot air balloon rides, excursions and tours. Incidentally Viator is now owned by TripAdvisor.
2. Watch a hot air balloon flight from a rooftop
As well as taking part in a hot air balloon flight, watching the experience is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia. You will need to get up before sunrise, but trust me, it is worth it to see hundreds of balloons fly over Göreme. It is a stunning spectacle, I felt I was living in a postcard. The only sounds we heard were the gas flames firing into the balloons, and the birds chirping alongside them.
TOP TIP: Make sure to book a hotel with a rooftop overlooking the valleys. You can see some of my recommendations on where to stay in Cappadocia below.
3. Explore Cappadocia by bus tour
There are many tours available to explore this amazing region, but the Red, Green and Blue tours are the most popular.
The eight-hour Red Tour explores the northern part of Cappadocia taking in Göreme’s unmissable Open Air Museum, Uchisar Castle, Deverent/Imagination Valley and Cavusin Old Cave Village. It was an extremely interesting tour, enhanced by our tour guide Ali’s extensive knowledge of the history and language of Cappadocia.
I also took the Green Tour, which explores south western area of Cappadocia. Sites include Goreme Panorama, Ihlara Valley, Selime Monastery, Pigeon Valley Lookout, as well as Derinkuju Underground City, which is an engineering masterpiece and shouldn’t be missed.
Both tours cost me €55 and included pick up and drop off from my hotel, meals, entry fees and a guide. There was only six people on both tours which allowed us all to mix very well. There are many more tours available via Viator.
4. Rent a car
If you prefer to explore Cappadocia independently, car hire is an economical way to do it. There are many towns to visit including Urgup, Avanos, Cavusin, Ihlara, and Uchisar. I rented a car from Alpino travel (Ask for Mustafa) in Göreme. No pre-booking was needed, the rental cost was just €40 per day and diesel was cheap, although I’m conscious fuel prices have increased since my visit.
The roads around Goreme are not ideal but main roads are fine – remember to keep right! I enjoyed the freedom to come and go as I pleased, although being a blonde Irish woman, I did attract attention from locals. The free parking at my hotel, was an added bonus.
5. Visit the carpet shops
I recall many years ago when people bought carpets abroad and shipped them home. I didn’t think this still happened, but it does in Cappadocia! I enjoyed wandering through the many carpet shops where owners offered to post home any purchases for an additional charge.
As well as purchasing carpets, many visit purely to partake in photoshoots of these colourful stores. You can dress up in traditional Turkish dress and get your photo taken from every angle. This is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia for Instagrammers. I particularly enjoyed Sultan Carpets and Mr. Ali was a character.
6. Enjoy a typical Turkish Night
Turkish Nights usually involve an ‘all you can eat and drink buffet’ in a cave with traditional Turkish / Ottoman folk dances. I booked through Alpino Travel agency who collected me from my hotel and dropped me back again. I had an enjoyable evening.
7. Hike one of Cappadocia’s Valleys
Cappadocia is wonderful for hiking. There eight main valleys with well worn paths, but note there is very little signage… These trails are ideal for hiking lovers, but make sure you have a good sense of direction and are enjoy plenty of adventure! All valleys offer breath-taking views, ancient caves, towering fairy chimneys and sheer cliffs.
I managed to gallivant through four of these valleys on my trip. The first was Pigeon Valley, which is aptly named for the hundreds of pigeon houses carved out of the cliffs and fairy chimneys. I started in Uchisar and made my way back to Göreme. It was probably my favourite valley with beautiful views and lush vegetation.
Deverent/Imagination Valley is best known for its camel rock, this valley has a unique collection of eroded fairy chimneys with endless possibilities for imagination games.
Ihlara Valley is Turkey’s equivalent to The Grand Canyon, but obviously on a smaller scale. This hike is not too strenuous and there is a nice little restaurant at the end.
The Monks Valley/ Pasabag Valley is ideal if you want to get off the beaten track. I climbed the Taurus Mountains that overlook this valley, and had an amazing view of Zelve Open Air Museum from it’s peak. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia for outdoor enthusiasts.
8. Enjoy a Hamam or Turkish Bath
You can’t visit Turkey without having a Turkish Bath! It’s a purely ethereal experience, that involves stripping down to your underwear and being scrubbed and massaged for an hour.
I booked Elis Hamam Bath in Goreme through the local travel agency – Alpino Travel. On arrival I chose the Normal package which is as ‘normal’ as being bed bathed by a stranger as an adult can get. They gave me a pestemal (traditional Turkish towel), rubber sandals and disposable underpants.
After spending 30 mins in a sauna, which felt like a human pressure cooker, a bikini clad stranger lead me my the hand and whipped the towel clean off me with no warning – cue nervous laughs….
She then told me to lay on a warm marble slab where I was exfoliated with what felt like a sandpaper glove. She scrubed every single inch of me while making faces and sounds of disgust as she scrubbed away my fake tan and dead skin. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she then doused me with a bucket of water to wash away all the nasties.
Bubble bath time was next and thankfully it was exactly as described! In a flash I was covered in a mountain of bubbles that seemed to be magically made with a pillow case and a bucket. My entire body was washed and massaged with these bubbles. But all good things must come to an end – BOOM, another bucket of water was thrown over me. My lack of preparation for this must have been pure entertainment for her – it felt like a mild form of waterboarding!
The whole experience was surreal, I felt like a toddler being led around by the hand. Being half naked and bathed by an adult I began to wonder was this really happening? Although this experience may sound like torture, it is one I will be laughing about for a very long time. I also had the added benefit of having baby soft skin afterwards.
NOTE: I was not alone in the room (women only). However, for someone who is so body conscious, I felt exhilarated once I let go of my body hang ups!
During my experience we communicated only through charades, with the exception of the word ‘Lady’ every so often. The whole experience may sound awkward but in Turkey it’s as normal as sampling the local cuisine. I believe it is an absolute travel MUST, and it is one of the top things to do in Cappadocia.
Frequently asked questions about Cappadocia
Where to stay in Cappadocia
Cappadocia has many towns and they are all relatively close to each other. I stayed in a picturesque town called Göreme, that offers many panoramic viewpoints, amazing fairy chimneys, great restaurants, and a large selection of Cave Hotels.
Staying in a Cave Hotel is all part of the attraction of visiting Cappadocia. As well as being a unique holiday experience, these hotels are mostly boutique-style, and don’t tend to attract large tour groups.
The Sultan Cave Suites rooftop is one of the most photographed rooftops in Cappadocia, and offers spectacular views over Goreme. It is one of the best places to stay in Cappadocia and I was fortunate to stay here.
This pretty boutique-style hotel only has 30 rooms, 22 of which are cave rooms. Each morning the fabulous staff don the rooftop with Turkish carpets and pillows and perfectly place a beautiful breakfast spread so guests have the perfect setting for photo opportunities.
Photographers can be hired for photoshoots and this can be arranged by the hotel. Due to the hotels small capacity, there were never more than eight people on the rooftop at any one time which allowed ample opportunity to capture the perfect Instagram shot! The hotel also boasts one of the best restaurants in Göreme – Seten Restaurant – see more on this below.
The Zara Cave Hotel, another great option, is built into a stone structure including a fairy chimney. There are only 10 cave rooms and 7 stone rooms, and it tends to get booked out quickly due to its top rating and low prices. It also boasts magnificent views of the hot air balloons from its terrace.
The Doors of Cappadocia is another popular choice for location, character, and stunning views from the outdoor pool. It receives excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, and tends to be very reasonably priced.
Where to eat in Cappadocia
Seten Restaurant – This is one of the best restaurants in Göreme and offers gorgeous views. The staff are particularly helpful and make great recommendations. The food is beautifully presented and the ambiance is charming. Make sure to try to the Pottery Kebab.
This Turkish speciality is prepared in a clay pot and left to simmer in its own juices to amplify the flavour. The piping-hot clay pot is brought to your table, and cracked open in front of you. This is a table side spectacle and is one of the top things to do in Cappadocia.
Mosaik Restaurant – The restaurant has a lovely ambiance and it is walking distance from Sultan Cave Suites. The Beef Rib Burger was delicious – a melt in my mouth kind of moment. I suggest washing that down with some Kocabág Emir White Wine. I ate here twice, it was divine. The owner Mustafa and his staff are very welcoming too.
Fat Boys Restaurant – This restaurant has a lovely terraced area with cherry blossom trees adding shade. The menu was varied and portions were large. The staff were very helpful with 90’s music playing in the background. Who doesn’t like a bit of Spice Girls at lunch?
Pals Kitchen in Cavusin – After spending five hours hiking Monks Valley, the end point was at Cavusin, where I was greeted by this lovely little roadside restaurant. The owner, who seemed to do the cooking as well, was very laid back and friendly. The place is by no means 5 star but it was a unique experience. It served the equivalent of Irish Pub Grub which was tasty and warmly welcomed after the hike. I would eat here again.
Is it safe in Cappadocia?
I was asked if Cappadocia was safe by many family and friends and I believe the answer is YES. I never felt uneasy or threatened, but I would always take the same precautions I would take anywhere I travel.
Is Cappadocia expensive?
Eating out was generally reasonable, with varying prices. An average two course meal with two drinks cost me approximately €25. A vodka and coke was €3.80. Tours and car hire, as you can see above, are great value for money. The hot air balloon ride is probably the most expensive experience – although worth it in my opinion.
How long should I spend in Cappadocia?
Visitors tend to spend an average of three days in Cappadocia, although I would recommend staying a lot longer. The region of Cappadocia covers 5,000 square kilometres and there is so much to see and do there. I stayed for seven nights but could easily have stayed longer.
The best time to visit Cappadocia
The best time to visit is from the end of April to June, or September and October. I suggest avoiding the hot summer months of July and August.
I visited at the beginning of April and I found it great. The weather was dry and not too hot and the tourist attractions weren’t that busy. It was a win-win. However, I have been told that early April can sometimes be windy and hot air balloon rides can be cancelled, so if visiting at this time, make sure you allow plenty of time in case you need to reschedule your flight.
How to get to Cappadocia
Fly from Dublin via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines to Nevsehir Airport. Göreme is approx. 40 minutes drive from Nevsehir-Kapadokya airport. There are plenty of taxi companies at the airport or you can pre book with your hotel. I booked with Murat Turizm. It cost €35 one way and the taxi driver Emir was very helpful, chatty and funny.
Is there anything to watch out for in Cappadocia?
Dogs and cats are plentiful around Göreme. I found them all to be very friendly, in fact so friendly that on occasion some looked into my mouth while I eat – literally. As a huge animal lover, this was a bit of heaven for me, but for someone with a fear of dogs or cats or had an allergy, this may deter you from visiting. Göreme can also be quite dusty, so if you suffer from a dust allergy this is something to be aware of.
The name ‘Cappadocia’ comes from the Persian word ‘Katpaktukya’ which can be translated to ‘the land of beautiful horses’. However, it is also a land of beautiful landscapes and unique experiences. I can’t recommend Cappadocia enough, I would absolutely go back and visit again, it is a magical place.
I hope you enjoyed Shelly’s Cappadocia travel guide and it has inspired you to take a trip there soon. Please note prices, facilities and attractions are subject to change. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.