Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Whether you’re interested in Turkey's epic history or just doin’ it for the ‘gram, here are my top 11 things to do in Cappadocia.
Before visiting, the word 'Cappadocia' would immediately send me into a daydream; where hundreds of hot air balloons surround me as we silently float, higher and higher, sprinkling colour across the sleepy sky like a shattered rainbow. Welcoming the sun as it joins us to mark the beginning of a new day… *blissfully sighs*
Now, besides freezing my ass off before we got in the air, the morning absolutely lived up to my super corny expectations. However, what made Cappadocia a stand out from my travels through Turkey were the extensive sights and experiences the area had to offer in addition to this bucket list experience.
So, whether you’re interested in the epic history or just doin’ it for the ‘gram, here are my top 11 things to do in Cappadocia. Yes, 11, because I always have to be that little bit extra!
1. Hot Air Ballooning
Over 100 balloons take off before sunrise (weather permitting), sending nearly half a million people into the skies each year. Whether you’re watching from the ground or in the basket, it’s an incredible sight.
If you plan to put your fear of heights aside and tick this one off, be sure to allow several days in the area just in case the wind picks up and they don’t take off on your chosen day. This only happens roughly 50 days a year, but to be safe give yourself a day or two to rebook.
This one truly is a once in a lifetime experience and if you’re already going to be there, I strongly recommend that you budget a hot air balloon fight into your travels.
Given its popularity, for everything you need to know about this experience, see my article: Hot Air Ballooning In Cappadocia, What You Need To Know Before You Fly.
2. Underground Cities
For those interested in a little history, take your pick of approximately 30 underground cities scattered throughout the region. Used as hiding places for Christians escaping the persecution of the Roman Empire, these incredible underground networks date as far back as the 5th Century.
I visited the Derinkuyu Underground City. It’s ability to house up to 20,000 people at one time makes it one of the largest underground cities in the world.
Keep in mind that there will be lots of stairs and confined spaces. As there is little information available whilst underground, hiring a guide will help paint a much more detailed picture, so you can further appreciate such an incredible feat.
3. Pottery Demonstration
Simple, yet so satisfying. The town of Avanos in Cappadocia has made a name for itself by turning clay from nearby Red River to incredible works of art.
We visited a welcoming, talented potter who operates out of his own small studio and spoke little English, which if you ask me, made the experience more authentic.
Take the time to watch the creation process unfold, pull up your sleeves and have a go yourself (it’s not as easy as it looks!) and browse the finished products available for purchase.
When in Rome, or in this case, Avanos, make sure a local pottery demonstration is on your list. Then smile, knowing you’ve just supported local business in the process.
Seeing the sights from above is one thing, but truly getting amongst them by soaking up the details on foot is another.
We tackled areas Red Valley and Rose Valley within the Göreme Historical National Park. It took a few hours, however you could easily spend the entire day exploring.
Stroll though orchids, pause in awe of the incredible rock formations ‘fairy chimneys’ and discover ancient sites and churches carved into the volcanic ash landscape. The range of backdrops within walking distance of each other also makes it Instagram heaven!
I strongly recommend taking a few hours out of your day to explore one of the national parks. Second to the air ballooning, it was my favourite thing to do in Cappadocia.
5. Horse Riding
A lot of what you did during the hike in #4 can also be done on horseback. Should you change your mind mid hike, we walked passed more than one place offering trail rides throughout the area.
Cappadocia has a historical devotion to horses. There are trail-rides anywhere from two hours to multi-day treks through the breathtaking landscapes.
Some tour companies advertise that they will not run during the later months of the year as it becomes too cold for the horses. If you are traveling at this time, or if horse riding doesn’t tickle your fancy, you could opt for a quad bike (ATV) tour instead.
6. Sultan Carpet
I went to a carpet weaving demonstration in a different town, so I didn’t go to this specific shop myself. However if I’d had the time I absolutely would have, which is why it still makes the list.
If you’re in the market for a new rug, you’re in the right place. Or... if you want to shamelessly take a million photos of yourself spinning around in a woollen sea of earthy tones, you’re also in the right place.
This one isn’t on your typical Cappadocia to-do list, but Sultan Carpet is a hot spot for Instargamers passing though. From what I’ve read, the owner is lovely and will happily let you take pictures, provided you ask permission first and tip a few Lira for his time.
The amount appears to vary person to person, so it may just come down to his mood on the day and your approach, so keep in mind that the store is first and foremost a place of business.
7. Göreme Open Air Museum
This UNESCO World Heritage site contains a surprisingly intact collection of monasteries and churches dating as far back as the 10th Century.
What makes the site extra special is the beautiful frescoes (wall paintings), with many of the church’s original floor to ceiling murals still intact and dating from 900-1200 AD.
This one is great for those who want to see these fascinating rock formations up close, without the hike.
General entry gives you access into nearly all accessible sites within the museum. Keep in mind that as touristy areas go, this one can get pretty busy, so go first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.
8. Turkish Night
Despite its name, a ‘traditional Turkish night’ is directed at tourists, however it still proved to be an entertaining way to spend a night Cappadocia.
Accompanied by a four-course dinner and free flowing drinks, the show highlights several traditional Turkish dance styles, complete with multiple costume changes and crowd involvement.
The night finished off with a belly dancing demonstration before the cave restaurant turned into a mini nightclub for people to then leave as they pleased.
As Turkey is quite conservative and alcohol free, it’s a great option should you want to let your hair down a little for the night.
9. Cappadocia Lookouts
There are so many to choose from!
See the sights of Cappadocia from above without leaving the ground, from the many spots dedicated to simply standing back and enjoying the view.
I stopped at Pigeon Valley Lookout first, then continued along the main road around the national park to see a few more. Depending on their size, some offer camel rides or connect to cafes.
If you haven’t already taken enough pics, now’s your chance to get a few more for the ‘gram.
10. Stay In A Cave Hotel
I’m not overly fussy about where I stay when I travel because I believe if I’m spending too much time at the hotel, I’m not doing it right.
However in Cappadocia, staying in a cave hotel is a must and the experience alone makes the list. I stayed at the Sofa Hotel, which took me the length of my stay to explore properly.
With rock-cut arches, overgrown vines running up the walls, panoramic terraces with views of the valley and so much personality in every room, given you have to stay somewhere, make it a cave hotel. Again, it’s an Instagram dream.
11. Wander The Streets
Once you have ticked off all of the above, allow yourself some time to relax and get to know the town better on foot.
I found the locals to be lovely, especially if you put in the effort to learn a few basic phrases, however many speak English.
If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to try the local ice cream, dondurma. The addition of mastic gum makes it super stretchy, so the staff put on quite a show and take ‘playing with your food’ to a new level.
Anything else you’d like to know about Cappadocia? Ask away in the comments and I’ll share what I know. If you’ve been, what was your favourite experience?
Yours in balance,
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