“Wow! Where is that?” you ask!
“Cappadocia,” I say.
“Where is Cappadocia?”
Living in Ankara, Turkey, we were about a four hour drive to the famous area of fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, or Kappadokya as the locals call it. It was one of our go-to places. When we tired of the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Cappadocia was the first place we thought to go. It’s quiet, there’s never a bad time to go, and we just love it!
Why is Cappadocia Famous?
The rock formations of Cappadocia and some underground caves have played a large role in the history of the region, therefore gaining its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. Since Neolithic times, many people have used the caves and rocks as homes.
They gained a lot of their fame in the 9th – 11th century when the Byzantines painted thousands of Christian frescoes on the walls and ceilings. This continued until the Seljuks conquered the area. Many of the frescoes have been eroded, marked over, and some de-faced. However, you can still find them all over the area in empty cave buildings.
What are the Fairy Chimneys Used For?
The limestone caves, very easy to carve into, were primarily places to live. Houses. In fact, if you go to Cappadocia, you will enter many. Some are now museums, some are shops or cafés, and I even saw one that is a police station (in Zelve).
Wandering around the region, you will find these unique structures utilized as homes, farms, storage areas, and even businesses. However, many of the older buildings, especially houses, have been abandoned as safety regulations have gotten stricter.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular uses of the cave buildings is for tourists as cave hotels. This is a must-do for anyone visiting the region and adds a little mystery and romance to your experience.
Where to Stay
We’ve stayed in plenty, all with their own charm. Some are much more luxurious than others; there’s something for everyone. One that we seem to keep going back to again and again is the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel, especially during warm weather because it offers a pool to cool off at the end of a day of hiking.
Other hotels we recommend include:
Zara Cave Hotel – in the center of Goreme, so an easy walk to restaurants in the evening it also has fantastic seating areas outside to watch the hot air balloons in the early morning.
Koza Cave Hotel – One of Goreme’s top picks, the restaurant is great if you are too tired after a full day of touring. You can stay right there for dinner.
Traveller’s Cave Hotel – This is another that we’ve stayed in a number of times. We love the breakfast and the short walk up the hill from the center of town after a big meal of testi kebab.
To compare other Goreme hotels prices, go here.
Where is Cappadocia?
The region called Cappadocia is located on the Anatolian side of Turkey, right in the middle. It’s about four hours driving time southeast of Ankara, or you can easily fly within about an hour from anywhere in the country into Nevsehir.
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.
If you are interested in taking a once in a lifetime balloon ride, we recommend you check out this easy to book tour: Sunrise Balloon Tour of Cappadocia.
Map of Cappadocia
Where are the Best Places to Visit in Cappadocia?
- Goreme Open Air Museum
- Zelve Open Air Museum
- Derinkuyu Underground City
- Pigeon Valley
- Urgup Market
- Pancarlık Church
We always recommend making Goreme the base of operations for visiting the Cappadocia region. This gorgeous little village is close to most of the major sites and easily accessible. There are numerous lodging options for every budget and some great restaurants as well.
Goreme Open Air Museum
Probably the most accessible and popular site in Cappadocia, the Goreme Open Air Museum has the best preserved rock hewn churches. Entrance cost here is about 10 USD which covers a few churches outside the main park. We recommend visiting early or later to avoid mid day crowds.
Zelve Open Air Museum
Still fairly close to Goreme, this abandoned village is one of the best spots to see the famous fairy chimney houses and churches. Entrance price is about 3 USD. Visits to Zelve should be combined with stops at Pasaba Valley and Devrent Valley.
Derinkuyu Underground City
One of the deepest and largest underground cities in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu served as a defensive sanctuary during armed invasions in the middle ages. Some of the passages can get a little close in but if you can handle it, this is a must see. Entrance price is about 7 USD.
Located between Goreme and Uchisar villages, Pigeon Valley gets its name from the thousands of pigeon shelters carved in the cliffs and rocks. This is one of the easier hikes in the area through a beautiful valley. For others, talk to your hotel reception, they’re sure to have a trekking map.
This is one of the first sites along the road from Aksaray as you enter the Cappadocia region. The impressive castle mountain really sparks the imagination and the markets situated in the shadows at the base are great fun as well.
Urgup is one of our favorite towns in the area and we never miss the Saturday market. There are also some great restaurants in the town and a few reputable carpet dealers. Get to the market earlier in the day and then sip tea as you shop for carpets in the afternoon.
This rock church isn’t necessarily any better than those in the Goreme Open Air Museum. But it is off the beaten track. The countryside here is beautiful and unspoiled by the mass tourism in other parts of Cappadocia. We love to get out on these small dirt roads and explore. That’s how we found Pancarlik Church!
Getting To Cappadocia
Taking your own rental vehicle to Cappadocia is probably the best option since the region has so many sites spread out over a large area. Driving time from Ankara is about three and a half hours, from Istanbul it’s eight hours and from Adana about four hours. Be aware, some routes have electronic tolls, so make sure to check with your rental agency.
Best Type of Vehicle to Rent
We recommend an SUV with high clearance to get around on the unpaved roads that take you out to some of the more remote sites. Four-wheel-drive isn’t necessary but may be helpful if you’re driving in wet or snowy conditions. As usual, we suggest never driving after dark.
While we love getting around Turkey in our own rental car, that can get a little too expensive for some budgets. Buses are a much cheaper way to get around Turkey and are usually safe and comfortable.
Taking the Bus
To get to Goreme, the hub of the Cappadocia region, make your way to Aksaray and then transfer to a Goreme bus. Buses go between Aksaray and Goreme every four hours and cost about 3 USD.
Flying from Istanbul is another option that saves time and costs about the same as driving. Flights leave regularly from both of Istanbul’s airports into Nevsehir. The flight takes about one and a half hours and costs around 100 USD. Be sure and book your shuttle bus ticket with Turkish Airlines to take you to and from the airport to Goreme.
Cappadocia is a large area of Turkey, sprawling between Aksaray in the west and Kayseri in the east. Mostly known for its fairy chimney rock formations, there are also a large number of significant archeological sites to explore. We recommend making Goreme the base of operations for a visit to the area due to its central location and abundance of amenities.
Have you been to Cappadocia?