Cappadocia, Turkey, is an area of unparalleled natural wonders. Geologic formations called fairy chimneys — formed from the sedimentary rock of ancient volcanic eruptions — are the main draw to the area, bringing thousands of visitors yearly to central Turkey to explore and witness this otherworldly landscape for themselves.
Let’s take a look at this catalogue of things to do in Cappadocia which will enrich your experience tenfold.
1. Early Morning Hot Air Balloon Ride
Take a magical hot air balloon ride at dawn through the enchanting Cappadocia Valley where you will float past fairy chimneys and see the region’s surreal landscapes from a bird’s-eye view.
The Cappadocia region is well-known as one of the most incredible hot air balloon rides in the world. Awe at the magical views over this enchanting valley as you drift gently past fairy chimneys, surreal rock formations and incredible valleys with unique features and colours. Float silently over rocky ravines with breathtaking views of orchards and vineyards as the sun peeks out over the horizon. You will be picked up from your hotel early this morning for your transfer to the launch site. You will board your balloon and take off right as the sun peeks over the horizon and begin your ascent to around 1000 feet for your first extraordinary views of Cappadocia. Keep your camera ready and take magnificent photos of the valley as you float past incredible landscapes for about an hour-long flight. You will land and be transferred back to your hotel in Cappadocia and you can book a hot air balloon ride here.
2. Red / Rose Valley
Cappadocia’s most beautiful intertwining valleys lie between the villages of Göreme and Çavusin. Here the rolling and rippling rock faces arc out across the countryside in a palette of pastel pink, yellow and orange cliffs, formed by volcanic explosion and millennia of wind and water erosion. Between the cliffs are lush orchards, vineyards and vegetable plots still tended by local farmers while carved into the rock are hidden churches and hermit-hideouts which date back to the Byzantine era. There are dozens of hiking trails so it’s the perfect opportunity to grab your walking shoes and head out onto the paths. Three particular attractions within Rose Valley are the Kolonlu Kilise(Columned Church), Haçlı Kilise (Church of the Cross) with its mammoth cross carved into the cave ceiling, and the Uç Haçlı Kilise (Church of the Three Crosses) with its amazingly preserved ceiling carvings and interesting (though severely damaged) frescoes.
3. Göreme Open-Air Museum
Göreme is a district of the Nevşehir Province in Turkey. After the eruption of Mount Erciyes about 2.6 million years ago, ash and lava formed soft rocks in the Cappadocia Region, covering a region of about 20,000 km2. The softer rock was eroded by wind and water, leaving the hard cap rock on top of pillars, forming the present-day fairy chimneys. People of Göreme, at the heart of the Cappadocia Region, realized that these soft rocks could be easily carved out to form houses, churches, monasteries. These Christian sanctuaries contain many examples of Byzantine art from the post-iconoclastic period. These frescos are a unique artistic achievement from this period.
In the 4th century small anchorite communities began to form in the region, acting on instruction of Saint Basil of Caesarea. They carved cells in the soft rock.
4. Pasabag (Monks Valley)
Pasabag Valley which was formerly known as “The Monks Valley” is located on the right of the Goreme-Avanos road. This area which is full of peculiar fairy chimneys looks remarkable. Some of the multi-bodied and multi-headed fairy chimneys were carved to construct chapels and sitting areas. In one of the three-headed fairy chimneys, a chapel and a seclusion room dedicated to St. Simeon was carved. Entrance of the stylite which is accessible with a narrow chimney is decorated with crucifixes. There are oven, sitting and sleeping quarters and window apertures to ensure light transmission in this fairy chimney.
5. Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle, the highest point in Cappadocia is a perfect example of how locals made buildings, homes, caves and churches out of rock. The castle gives off an amazing 360-degree panoramic view over the whole region including Mount Erciyes in the distance. Also explore the village streets to see marvellous examples of cave homes, as well as Peri Cave Café, a unique restaurant to grab refreshments or a bite to eat. If castles are your thing, Ortahisar castle also gives off amazing view and restaurants surrounding it serve delicious Turkish food for lunch.
6. Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)
A place of imagination…
Although Devrent (Imagination) Valley does not have rock-cut churches with frescoes like other valleys of Cappadocia while the rock formations are entirely different than the others in the region. There are no Roman castles or Roman tombs in the zone, either. It was never inhabited. So what makes it so famous? The lunar landscape!
It reveals many different rock formations. The small fairy chimneys in the area to form a lunar landscape, or moonscape, by their strange look. It also has many animal shaped rocks. It seems like a sculpture zoo made by nature. Some of the most important, or the easiest seen animal shapes are a camel, snake, seals, and a dolphin. If you let your imagination run free; you will find many others. It is like looking at clouds and seeing a dragon. There is even a rock pillar which looks like Virgin Mary, holding Jesus Christ.
7. Pigeon Valley
Pigeon Valley is a picturesque maze of exceptional rock formations, cave dwellings and a distant volcano. The diverse terrain, which seems like it comes from another planet, stretches for miles between Göreme and Uçhisar. Take a break midway through your hike at a charming café in the middle of the valley.
The site is named after the many pigeon houses carved into the rocks. The birds served as important messengers for the former inhabitants of the caves; they were also kept as pets.
While some visitors prefer to explore the strange territory alone, others like to take a guided tour. Learn about the people who inhabited the cave dwellings carved into these rocks. Unlike most of the other former cave settlements in Cappadocia, Pigeon Valley does not have churches.
Imagine you are skipping across the surface of Mars as you hike through some of the strangest terrain you are ever likely to see. Take photos of the unusual rock formations with a backdrop of the snow-capped Erciyes Volcano. Stop in at the tea garden for a break and a chat with the owner, who may take you for a guided tour of the valley.
Uçhisar Castle is a highlight at the southern end of the valley. Climb to the top to enjoy astonishing views of houses and caves in every direction. Visitors can enter the valley for free.
Pigeon Valley extends for about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest from Göreme toward Uçhisar. Look for the many signs in Göreme for the scenic hiking area, which is called Güvercinlik in Turkish. Many hikers park at one end of the trail, walk to the other end and take a bus back to their car.
8. Cavusin Village
The quiet Cappadocian village of Cavusin is famous for three things: beautiful churches, abandoned rock houses, and great hiking opportunities. The village is dominated by its cliff from which a clutter of empty cave houses spill down precariously, making for a fun place to explore. The area of the village where people live today is nice and quiet — most people work in agriculture and you’ll see that the little cafe by the mosque is the local hotspot.
At the top of the cliff which looms above the village, look out for the famous Basilica of St John the Baptist. It dates back to the 5th century AD, making it one of the region’s oldest cave churches. It’s also one of the biggest cave churches in Cappadocia. You’ll enter the 1,500 year old chapel via a footbridge. Once inside, notice the chapel’s grand arches and images of crosses and stars. In the village, there’s also the lower church to check out. Dedicated to the famous Cappadocian general Nicephorus Phocas, who was victorious in the Byzantine era, this church dates back to 960 AD.
The village of Cavusin is also the starting point for hikes into Rose Valley, Red Valley, and Meskendir Valley.
9. Kaymakli Underground City
Kaymaklı is a city dug deep into the soft volcanic rock in the Cappadocia region. There are around 100 underground cities in the area although only a few are open to the public. Kaymaklı is the largest of them. It is estimated that around 3,500 people once lived here.
Built under a hill known as the Citadel of Kaymaklı, the city consists of 8 underground levels made up of low, narrow, sloping passageways. The city is arranged around the ventilation shafts which bring in air. Early inhabitants chose to live some of the time underground as protection against the heat and the marauding tribes who regularly passed through the region looking to attack and plunder.
The city was opened to visitors in 1964 although only 4 of the 8 levels are accessible. The first level was meant for stables, the second level had a church and some living areas, the third level was kitchens and storage. Current inhabitants of Kaymaklı still use parts of the undergound city for storage, stables and cellars.
Known in ancient times as Vanessa, the town of Avanos is situated in the Nevsehir province of Turkey. The city is well known for its production of ceramics which utilize the red silt of Kizilirmak River. A famous site near the city is Ozkonak Underground City, an ancient city on the slopes of Mount Idis which extends 130 feet into the earth.