What to do in Cappadocia?

Cappadocia, with its fairy chimneys and Turkish charm, is an unbeatable destination. We’ve got everything you want to do in Cappadocia and more.


A tourist’s dream, Cappadocia has so much to offer you no matter what your interest is. To hike, to photograph, to eat good food, what else is there to life? Cappadocia evokes a romanticism of the Crusades. In its unique rocks, eroded over millions of years in a region that is extremely volcanic, people have carved whole cities in which to live and hide for centuries. Today, most hotels are built into the sides of these rocks to form cave rooms or shops for the millions of visitors that come here each year.

We also have articles on Where is Cappadocia and When is the Best Time to Visit Cappadocia, so bookmark them as well. These three articles will help you make the most of your trip to this enchanting region.

A camel overlooks a cluster of fairy chimneys in Capadocia.
Wow!

What are the Best Things to do in Cappadocia?

Cappadocia is an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream. A series of towns and valleys, all packed with amazing fairy chimneys to explore, if you like to hike or do some adventure activities, you will have a great time. Some things you can do in Cappadocia:

  1. Visit the Goreme Open Air Museum and world heritage site
  2. Ride a hot air balloon over the fairy chimneys
  3. Rent a four-by-four quad bike or jeep
  4. Go horse-back riding
  5. Hike in many of the valleys to see out-of-the-way churches and monasteries (two of the most popular are Rose or Pigeon Valleys)
  6. Take a day tour
  7. Stay in a cave hotel
  8. Eat Testi Kebab in a very traditional Turkish restaurant
  9. Shop, shop, shop for great rugs, ceramics, and other souvenirs
  10. Enjoy a traditional Turkish dinner and show in a caravanserai
Fresco in Elmali Kilise, the Apple Church, in Goreme National Park, Cappadocia.
Fresco in Elmali Kilise, the Apple Church.
Goreme National Park Church Frescoes.
Fresco in Goreme National Park.

Göreme Open Air Museum

The main attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Göreme Open Air Museum. This particular area is host to a concentrated amount of churches in which much of the interior wall paintings have survived. You can come here and be completely satiated with cave paintings, but if you have more time, there are plenty more to explore.   

Hot air balloons, like these near Goreme, are a popular way to tour Cappadocia.
Hot air balloon tours are a great way to see the rock formations, canyons, and valleys in Cappadocia.

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

One of the favorite things to do in Cappadocia is to take a hot air balloon ride over the enchanting rock formations, which allows you a great vantage point for seeing more of Goreme and what surrounds the small town. It’s so fun and romantic, which is why it was noted as one of the top 30 best honeymoon places in Europe.

The Vail family enjoying a horseback ride in the hills in Cappadocia, which is in the Anatolia Region, Turkey.
Our family enjoying a ride in Cappadocia.

Ride Horses in Cappadocia

There are horses all over the area, and we love to go visit the stables on the outskirts of Goreme even when we don’t ride. Taking photos of the horses with the fairy chimney background is beyond beautiful.

Taking a trail ride in Turkey through the valleys and back roads of Cappadocia ranks up there as one of the most fun things we’ve ever done. The horses were gentle, and we felt confident riding them, even on the roads.

A visitor rolls a huge disc-shaped stone door in the underground city of Derinkuyu in Turkey.
Closing the door in the underground city of Derinkuyu.
Passageways in the underground city Cappadocia, Turkey.
Passageways in an underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Explore an Underground City

Cappadocia is famous for its underground cities where people lived and hid out from invading forces for years and years. There are a few underground cities that you can visit. The two that are the most famous are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. The fact that these cities go as far as eight levels below ground, had places for people and animals, had deep wells for fresh water, and pipes for clean air will astound you.

Dinner at Dibek Restaurant in Goreme.
Dinner at Dibek Restaurant in Goreme.

Eat Testi Kebab

Testi Kebab is a meal that is slow-cooked on a fire for over six hours. There is usually beef, lamb, chicken, or a vegetarian option, and you can find testi kebab in just about any restaurant in Goreme. However, we always, always, always go to Dibek Restaurant.

The Dibek Restaurant is conveniently located right in the center of Goreme, which of course is where you find the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cappadocia.  After a tiring slog up, down, around and through rock chapels galore, an evening at Dibek will put you well on the road to recovery.

The restaurant is in a building, a house that is over 500 years old, and tables are distributed among the rock rooms, with colorful cushions. Being a traditional Turkish food restaurant, you must take off your shoes and sit on the floor. It’s a beautiful way to eat this traditional dinner.

Mehmet serving us our testi kebab, a must-eat in Cappadocia.
Mehmet serving us our testi kebab, a must-eat in Cappadocia.

Dibek is run by a very good friend of ours named Mehmet. Mehmet, the son and manager, speaks a bunch of languages, and really helps the evening along with his jovial banter. Mehmet’s family has owned the building for five generations. In fact, he was born inside of the building. Another perfect thing about eating at Dibek’s is that his mother is the cook, and his father will come and greet you and talk to you during dinner. They’re all there waiting to serve you.

Unlike the other restaurants in town, Dibek only makes enough testi kebab that have been pre-ordered. So when you check into your hotel, have your concierge call and book them for the following evening. They need 24 hours notice to make your testi. Jim and I always order the lamb, but we’ve had the chicken as well and it’s delicious.

Everything on the menu is beyond comparison. Traditional dishes such as Kurufasulye (Beans with lamb), cacik (yogurt sauce), or sac kebab (lamb stew) are all fantastic. The family makes their own wine, and we cannot seem to pass it up. We order at least two carafes each time we go. 

Visitors in kapadokya buying souvenirs.
You don’t always have to go looking for shopping opportunities in Cappadocia, they’ll come to you.

Shopping in Cappadocia

Every town has a great shopping street in Cappadocia. One of my favorites is Avanos, because it’s famous for its ceramics. It’s a quirky place altogether, but pick a ceramics shop where they are still making the ceramics on the centuries-old traditional wheel. Sometimes they’ll even let you have a go at it. One place that people like to go is a ceramics dealer who has collected bits of hair over the years from people. I think it’s a bit weird, but it is a draw.

A rug merchant plays a Turkish stringed instrument called a saz or Baglama.
A rug merchant turned friend, Josef plays the saz for us as we sip cay at his rug shop.

Another place we go to every time we visit is Urgup. First of all, Urgup has its weekly market on Saturdays, so we always start off there, wandering through the stalls, and shopping for whatever produce is in season. Then we go into the center of town, and visit some rug shops. We like to buy a kilim or two whenever we can.

Then we go to lunch across the street at a restaurant called Sofra Restaurant. I like to get the dish named after the restaurant, a clay baked dish with lamb and vegetables or Turkish dumplings in yogurt sauce, called manti.

However, as you can imagine, there are plenty of souvenir shops all over the region and you will not go home without those perfect gifts.

A cluster of fairy chimneys near Urgup, which form when rock pillars erode unevenly leaving a capstone on top.
Fairy chimneys near Urgup.

Go Hiking in the Valleys

Cappadocia is made up of valleys, and you can get dropped off or park your car and head off to explore. One spring day, Jim and I parked and walked down into what we thought was a deserted valley. The fairy chimney buildings looked deserted, so we wound our way down the path. At the bottom, we met a man who lives in the area. He sat and talked to us for about half an hour about his family and his life there. It was serene and quiet. You never know what you will come across when hiking.

Some of the better hiking areas include:

Go 4X4 Riding

Whether you take a tour riding quads or jeeps, both will take you to some great places in Cappadocia. It’s fantastic getting up close to the castle like limestone formations, and going places you would never know to go without a guide.

Cappadocia caves can be quite whimsical like this home carved into a stone hillside in Uchisar.
Creative cave house.

Take a Day Tour

Cappadocia is a large region to navigate, so there were three day tours developed that will take you to it all. They’ve been around for years, and you can easily sign up for them at your hotel when you arrive or you can book them ahead.

Here’s the difference in the tours, so you can pick them all or the best ones for the time you have allotted:

Red Tour

  • Goreme Open Air Museum
  • Uchisar Castle*
  • Esentepe viewpoint
  • Avanos town plus pottery workshops
  • Pasabag Monks Valley
  • Cavusin old Greek houses
  • Devrent Imagination Valley
  • Wine cellars in Urgup
  • Love Valley

Green Tour

  • Derinkuyu Underground City
  • Esentepe viewpoint*
  • Belisirma Village
  • Pigeon Valley
  • Uchisar Castle*
  • Ihlara Valley
  • Selime Monastery
  • Goreme Valley

Blue Tour

  • Ortahisar Castle
  • The old Greek town of Mustafapasa
  • Rose Valley
  • Red Valley
  • Kaymakli Underground City
  • Uchisar Castle*
Entrance to Cave Hotel in Goreme.
Entrance to Cave Hotel in Goreme.
Entrance to a cave hotel in goreme.
Another cave hotel.

Stay in a Cave Hotel

Staying in a cave hotel is a must when visiting Cappadocia. It’s something to check off the bucket list, sleeping in a luxurious cave. From the moment you enter the courtyard, you can see the stone work and how the building is carved into the surrounding stone walls. Each cave hotel is a little different, but they have a lot of things in common.

Interior of a cave hotel.
Interior of a cave hotel.

I’ve stayed in many cave hotels over the our visits to Goreme, and I love that they are all quirky. Rooms vary in size and shape. Ceilings can be flat, but many are curved. There’s usually a few carved out shelves in each room, and the bathrooms are just as unusual. However, they all have gorgeous Turkish accents, delicious breakfasts (and sometimes dinner), and amazing hospitality.

Huge, beautifully, restored Saruhan Caravanserai, an ancient Inn, serving merchants on the trade route for centuries.
The restored Sarihan Caravanserai, an ancient Inn, serving merchants on the trade route for centuries.

Dinner and a Show

During the higher tourist season, you can book a traditional Turkish night out. You will be taken to Sarihan caravanserai (an old inn from the silk road days). There, sitting on cushions, you will be served dinner and have a night of Turkish music and dancing. It’s a great time, and something everyone should indulge in at least once.

Overlooking the town of Goreme, Turkey and the hills beyond.
Overlooking Goreme.

Conclusion

After having traveled to Cappadocia dozens of times, we still haven’t done it all. It’s captivating and unique. There’s just no place else on Earth quite like it, and we think you will want to go back over and over again, just like us.

Note: Over the years, we’ve taken so many visitors, friends, and family to Cappadocia and we’ve used some of their photos here. Even though most are our own, it’s sometimes nice to see how other perceive your favorite place. So thanks to the Pfunds, the Ostermans, the Olsons, Holly, Devon, Erika, and Michael for lending us some of your pics.

3 thoughts on “What to do in Cappadocia?”

  1. Pingback: The Best Family Gap Year Destinations - As Recommended By Top Family Travel Bloggers | Our overseas adventures

    1. Cynthia, You will love it! It is one of my favorite places on Earth. Make sure you eat at Dibek (how to on the site here) and even if you don’t take a balloon ride, get up and walk around while the balloons are overhead; it’s magical.

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