A booming tourist destination, Cappadocia is a fairytale ready to be explored. This post aims to cover some lesser-known facts about the region, the more atypical do’s & don’ts and my personal experience navigating the gigantic city. We cover all the usual attractions in an ultimate guide to traveling through Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is essentially an area that spreads over several towns, mostly famed for its hot air balloon tours across the mountainous valleys. The three main cities of Cappadocia are Göreme, Uçhisar and Ürgüp. Most tourists stay at Göreme, it’s quite literally the center of tourism in the region, lined with dozens of restaurants & cafes in the city center, an intricate bus & taxi station, tens of cave hotels and suites, and hundreds of souvenir shops. If you need to book a cave hotel, (which I highly recommend), use this link to get a discount through Booking.com
Most of the landscape is hilly, so be hike-ready at all times! The ideal time to spend in Cappadocia is 3-4 days to really see everything you need and give yourself ample time to rest. You’ll be wanting to get up early every morning for the sunrise views, and this lengthens your typical day by a solid 6 hours.
There are two main airports that are close to Cappadocia – Kayseri Erkilet Airport which is a little over an hour from Göreme & Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport which is 40 minutes away. In all cases, there is an excellent hotel pick up system that you can sign up for through your lodging. It costs about 40 Liras (TL) each way and eases the hassle of figuring out a way into town.
The “triangle” cities have a vast busing system that takes visitors to any of Cappadocia’s known attractions. The bus costs as little as 3 TL but could be more depending on where you’re going. They run every 30-minutes to an hour, so be sure to know the schedule ahead of time. Most buses will be going in two directions Avanos or Nevşehir – which are the neighboring cities, where most of the locals actually live. These directions will have clearly identified stops along the way for you – so don’t worry!
Lay of the Land
It could easily get overwhelming trying to navigate three cities at once to tick off must see attractions, so here’s a brief layout of the cities, what to see/do and who to meet. Keep reading and you’ll see a list of where to eat in each place.
We’ve already covered that Göreme is the center of Cappadocia, but what else is there to do here? The real answer is not very much. I did find though, that we got some of the best sunrise views of the hot air balloons in hotels in Göreme.
Get out about 30 minutes before the actual sunrise, and head to Artemis Cave Suites, Sultan Cave Suites, Mithra Cave Hotel or Rox Hotel for some of the best views in town. The locals know that this is why we’re here, and they are more than happy to have guests roam their hotels for the best photos- they will even ask you to tag them on social media. If you make it to Artemis Cave Suites, ask for Max a wonderful gentlemen who will be happy to assist you with his cocker spaniel sidekick Izmir.
Galerie Ikman whether you know it or not, most likely you’ll step into this Galerie without realizing it’s iconic presence on social media. Almost all instagram “influencers” make a stop here for out of this world photos in this carpet store galore. The shop is run by Sergio, an Italian-turkish photographer who will most definitely bring out your inner model, walk you through the best photo spots inside and will even take photos for you! There is a fee to take photos, but if you purchase a souvenir (& why not), the fee is waived.
The Open Air Museum is also in Göreme, and it’s beautiful! Here’s more on what you’ll see at the museum.
By the far the most surprising stop was wandering Ürgüp. The city is not really covered on travel blogs online, as it’s mostly filled with more cafes and souvenir shops. But the views are impeccable. I loved the red clay rooftops and low buildings, and as you keep reading you’ll see that it was one of my favorite sunset locations.
If you’re in Uçhisar, then you’re most likely here for the Uçhisar Castle. There’s a bus station about 1.5 km from the entrance of the castle, and the walk is lovely. You’ll go through this quaint town and mingle with locals. Much like all of Cappadocia you’ll be greeted with a market, and tens of souvenir shops along the way.
As you get close to the Castle, ask for the Cave Man (Hassan) or locally known as the Magara Adami. He runs a shop out of his grandfather’s old cave home. He’s incredibly helpful, will give you a tour of the cave shop, and maybe will let you try on an old Turkmen outfit for some great photos.
What to see & where
There are hundreds of tools & sites online that highlight the must see attractions in Cappadocia, to not make our tips & tricks dense, we cover an overview of the attractions in this pictorial guide.
While visiting Cappadocia, you need to remember that you’re in a town that is thriving on tourism. Everything is geared towards foreigners – and everything is made into an attraction.
There are several regulated tours that take tourists around different parts of the town. The most known are the Red Tour & the Green Tour (which cost about 24-35 euros each). The tours start around 9 am and end around 6 pm, and typically include breakfast or lunch.
You can also purchase a Cappadocia Museum Pass that includes several attractions (but not all). The card is a 3-day pass for 110 TL and allows entrance to sites such as the Derinkuyu Underground City, Göreme Open-Air Museum, and other archaeological sites.
If you’re interested in learning more about the local history, you can opt to enjoy a Turkish night. As of recently, the Whirling dervish dancing has stopped (for religious reasons), however you can enjoy a full Turkish dinner, local music and dances including belly dancing, and more.
Of course, the hot air balloons are the most sought after activity. Here’s what you need to know before flying off!
Hot Air Balloons
Probably the number one cause of visiting this region is to get your feet onto a hot air balloon basket – & I don’t blame you. The experience is surreal, and if you’re ever done one before, this will be even better.
The process is standard for whichever company you choose, one of the most popular is Butterfly Balloons – but that doesn’t make other companies any better/worse. You’ll get picked up from your hotel, get dropped of at their office/center, be served a humble breakfast and given a brief security brochure about code of conduct – & off you go.
It’s beautiful to take a step back & see the balloons getting filled up. You’ll be surrounded by hundreds; and slowly as the light starts breaking into the sky, one by one the balloons start taking off. The rides last 60-90 minutes and range in size from 16-28 passengers. You’ll need to befriend your basket friends for those epic photos, especially if you’re traveling solo!
In my humble opinion, the 360-panorama viewpoint at the tip of Göreme was the most amazing view of all time. I went back every day for either sunrise or sunset.
Although there is a Rose Valley Panoramic View point, I actually thought that the 360 Viewpoint from Göreme was a better place to see the Rose Valley. Keep reading and you’ll see!
You don’t have to come here for a sunset; any time of day will be just as mesmerizing. But the view from the very tip of the Uschisar Castle is unbelievable. I made it all the way to the top at the beginning of the local prayer time, and regardless of your religion – the sounds of the call for prayer, the echo throughout the valley, the view from the highest point of Cappadocia is all a surreal moment.
Next would be the viewpoint at Ürgüp, simply because you get to experience this view in solitude. The Ürgüp sunset point is not as popular as the other more publicized spots, and in my case I got to spend the entire sunset in the company of a street cat and the changing colors of the sky.
& Finally, because everyone goes anyway – is the Rose Valley Sunset viewpoint. It’s less impressive than the panorama at Göreme, but it’s nice to be on the edge of the cliff overseeing the valley and enjoying some tea at one of the many cafes.
Where to Eat
I suffered through a few days of bad food in Cappadocia, until I started asking the locals where they eat. This is when I finally started getting a glorious taste of Turkish food. Make sure to order a pottery dish, you’ll be handed a hammer (yes a hammer) and will break into your pot to get to your warm meal. Here are the best places to eat in each of the triangle cities.
Mosaik Restaurant – the friendliest staff from cooks, to waiters to managers. They treated us like family, and invited us to join them as they tried a new variety of teas to serve in the restaurant. Of course the food was amazing.
Köy Evi Restaurant – I won’t lie, I didn’t actually eat here. But listen up. This was right next to my hotel, and the smell was killer. They specialize in seafood, and I never actually had time to stop & try. But I did make friends with the chef, who every night grilled an assortment of seafood on a charcoal grill outside. He let me take a quick bite of a warm filet fish on the go – & it was so tasty! Must try for my next trip.
Retro Café– although the food was mediocre, but the view made up for it. I would highly recommend stopping by for a drink or coffee.
Ziggy’s Café & Shoppe – the locals just continued to amaze me, their hospitality is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Meet Selim, the restaurant owner who runs Ziggy’s shop as an ode to his beautiful late wife. It’s a great combination of good food, a great owner and a shop to purchase one of a kind trinkets.
Şüküroğulları Cafe & Restaurant – the locals love it, and tourists alike. The food was good, but the view even better. Dug into yet another cave, this restaurant is a great start to your venture into Ürgüp, best right before the sunset.
There isn’t a lot to do in Uschisar, besides the castle. And after the exhausting hike up, it’s nice to enjoy a good dinner with remarkable views.
Millocal Restaurant – run by the Millstone Cave Suites and was hands down the best food I had during my travels in Cappadocia. This is all I will say here. Just go.
A final note
There are more visitors in Cappadocia than the number of the actual local population, however language barriers remain a challenge. Make sure to download Google Translate (the application). Don’t rely on googling as you go, the application works offline and can show you translations in real time (really great for reading menus and street signs).
Again, this is a two-post Cappadocia guide, so be sure to read over our guide to Cappadocia’s attractions!