The never ending and comprehensive list of things to do in Cappadocia excites everyone from families, couples, solo travellers, and groups of friends. Known for its cave churches, hotels, and fairy chimney rocks, this is because of Cappadocia’s ability to accommodate everyone no matter what their interest. Since Cappadocia is in the heart of the central Anatolian region of Turkey, nature lovers find themselves in one of the country’s most scenic landscapes where flora and fauna thrive in among the deep valleys and lunar-like landscape.
This also interests novice and experienced photographers while the history buffs have a vast and colourful timeline to indulge in because many civilisations have occupied this area and it was a centre for the beginning of Christianity. Luxury travellers enjoy the upmarket tours and excursions while budget holidaymakers also enjoy a wealth of fun things to see and do that are either free or won’t break the bank. Everybody is catered for so we’ve narrowed down the choices to the best activities for day and night
Top 10 Things to Do in Cappadocia
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon Trip
Without a doubt, the best and most popular thing to do is an early morning, sunrise hot air balloon trip over the fairy chimneys and rock valleys. Generally departing from the district of Goreme after a buffet style Turkish breakfast, the balloons ascend into the air for a view of the sunrise on another glorious day. Smooth rides by professional, trained, and qualified pilots normally last an hour for two hours and are available all year round, including winter, dependent on wind speed and conditions.
See the Cave Churches of the UNESCO Goreme Open Air Museum
A collection of cave churches dating from roughly the 11th to 14th centuries form the UNESCO Goreme Open Air Museum. Although the idea of building a church in a cave is unique and quirky, it is not so much the construction of them, but their marvellously intact, colourful frescoes that gain the most admiration. Depicting Biblical scenes and figures, they were painstaking restored to their original appearance and still maintain the wow factor. Notable churches within Goreme Open Air Museum, where the best frescoes can be seen are Elmali (Apple), Karanlik (Dark), and Yilanli (Snake.)
Explore Underground Cities
As well as cave dwellings, Cappadocia is home to a vast network of underground cities that defy belief according to our current living standards. Past civilisations built and used them to hide from invading army forces such as the Arab raids of the 7th century but historians have proved that they were in use from the Bronze Age. Their construction was possible thanks to thousands of years of solidified lava and sediment from the nearby volcano of Mount Erciyes that is now dormant. The consistency of the rock meant that it was soft enough to carve rooms and tunnels but firm, robust and durable for living and safety. The most famous out of hundreds of them is Derinkuyu, which reached a depth of 55 metres and held up to 30,000 people and livestock. It is also possible to visit the next biggest that is Kaymakli.
Cappadocia Private Tours
Although there are many things to do in Cappadocia, the main attractions, spread out over large districts are difficult to reach by foot and public transport so visitors generally hire a car, sign up for a designated tour with a set itinerary or hire a private tour guide and make their own agenda. Highlights include the favoured landmarks such as Goreme Open Air Museum and historical structures further afield such as Selime Rock monastery, Pasabag Valley and Devrent Valley, which translates into Imagination Valley because the rock formations appear to be in numerous shapes including that of a camel, Napoleon Bonaparte and even a penguin.
Wander the Valleys and see Panoramic Viewpoints
Even if you are not a lover of the great outdoors, exploring the Cappadocian landscape is enjoyable because of its unique geographical layout, and the good news is that there are four ways to do it. Hiking the Rose, Red, and Love valleys independently are popular but horse riding, jeep safari, or an ATV quad biking excursion is equally as exciting. Having explored the valleys with their unique fairy chimneys, tours generally end with a panoramic rest break at one of the magnificent viewpoints of Pigeon or Esentepe.
At Night: Watch the Whirling Dervishes at an Ancient Seljuk Caravanserai
Most things to do in Cappadocia happen during the day but at night, whirling dervishes that deviate from an ancient sect of Islam known as Sufism perform their ancient Sema ritual to be at one with God. Wearing their traditional flared skirts and oblong hats, they display their routine for visitors every night in the old caravanserai of Saruhan situated on the road between Goreme and Avanos. This nostalgic atmosphere set within a historic building is not just a tourist attraction but also an insight into Eastern spiritual perfection.
Avanos Pottery Demonstrations and Gondola Ride
Cappadocia has many towns and village of which the most famous are Goreme, Uchisar, Ortahisar, and Avanos that is the king of pottery in the Cappadocia region. Sitting on the banks of the Red River, for hundreds of years, locals have collected clay from the banks and crafted them into pottery pieces that are sold all over Turkey. These days, most have moved onto the modern practices of clay and pottery making but they still use the traditional potter’s wheel to demonstrate the ancient craft to visitors, and you can even have a go yourself. Also, take the time to explore the backstreets of the small town with its traditional restaurants and old Cappadocian houses but for a relaxing and unique view, hire one of the gondolas sold at the riverside.
Although there are many valleys in the Cappadocia region, Ihlara Valley, nestled into a gorge of the Guzelyurt district is one of the most famous because of the 50 odd churches cut into the sides. Another attraction point is the Melendez River flowing through the centre, with teashops and restaurants serving lunch, situated at various rest break points. Most of the churches date from the 11th century and visitors are able to walk a small section of Ihlara Valley because of designated paths and man-made steps leading into it.
Castles of Cappadocia
Naturally as with any area in history, Cappadocia has ancient castles but they are in a unique style, and the two most famous are Uchisar and Ortahisar. Logistically perched at high viewpoints, they were cut from the rock faces and therefore do not have the typical appearance of western castles. Including cave rooms and significant defence points, another reason to visit them is the fantastic panoramic views of the Cappadocia landscape.
Go Traditional : Food and Entertainment
Although Cappadocia has certainly catered for foreign visitors in all aspects, you don’t have to wander far to try traditional Turkish and Anatolian things to do. For food, start with the usual Turkish breakfast of eggs, salami, cucumber, olives, honey, jam, and bread and for evening meals, try the Testi Kebab or Manti dish (Turkish ravioli) that stems from the nearby Kayseri region.
Naturally, your accommodation should ideally be a renovated cave hotel; otherwise camping in Cappadocia is popular thanks to its nomadic history. Men should venture into a Turkish barber’s shop for an extremely close shave and within all regions, the handmade traditional Turkish carpets are on show and available to buy as a souvenir. Evening entertainment comes in the form of a Turkish night highlighting various folk dances from around the country and of course, the favourite belly dancer!
Further Reading: You may be interested in seeing our wide range of tours and things to do in Cappadocia on this page. Alternatively, if you are considering a visit from Istanbul, then also see our 2-days Cappadocia and Istanbul tour including hotels, transport and tour guide.