Things to Do in Cappadocia
Cappadocia’s wind-sculpted volcanic tufa has created an impressive series of valleys, dotted with towering “fairy chimneys” and dramatic rock formations. Taking its name from the pigeonholes carved into the tops of its fairy chimneys, Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi) is stunning, and visitors to Cappadocia shouldn’t miss it.
Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscapes draw admirers from around the world. And its “fairy chimneys,” soaring rock pinnacles topped with lids like mushroom caps, are at the region’s heart. See them from one of the popular sunrise balloon flights, but they’re equally impressive up close, as they're used as homes, hotels, and ancient churches.
Uchisar Castle (Uçhisar Kalesi) is Cappadocia’s tallest fairy chimney, Mother Nature’s castle in the form of a volcanic rock outcrop visible from miles in any direction. While not a castle by the standard definition the outcrop was used during the late Byzantine and early Ottoman periods as a natural fortress for protection against armies on the surrounding plains. Erosion has revealed a honeycomb-like structure of cavities within the rock, many of which were used as natural dwellings until the makeshift village was evacuated during the 1960s.
A climb up 120 steps leads to the summit of Uchisar Castle — a perfect vantage point for watching a sunset over the stunning Cappadocian landscape.
Cappadocia is already well known for its unusual rock formations, but at Devrent Valley—nicknamed Imagination Valley—these large stones are the densest cluster found anywhere else in the region and they seem to take on a life of their own.
This unique town, located in the heart of Turkey, is an excellent jumping off point to some of Cappadocia’s most fantastic attractions. From the fairy chimneys in Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia to the incredible cave churches at the Göreme Open-Air Museum, this region offers a variety of stunning sights.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable attractions in Cappadocia, Turkey, the unusual edifices at the Göreme Open-Air Museum (Göreme Açık Hava Müzesi) are an important part of monastic history. A popular Byzantine settlement in the fourth century, the cave churches found at Göreme were carved out of soft volcanic cliffs.
The most thoroughly excavated of Cappadocia’s many underground cities, Derinkuyu spans an impressive eight floors, reaching depths of over 280 feet (85 meters). The subterranean labyrinth of cave rooms and tunnels is fed by a remarkable ventilation system and provides fascinating insight into Cappadocia’s troglodyte history.
Cappadocia’s underground cities—vast multistory complexes carved into the region’s famous volcanic rock—are among the most impressive underground dwellings in the world. Kaymakli Underground City is one of the most visited, with eight floors reaching depths of 262 feet (80 meters) and a history dating back to the eighth century BC.
The Zelve Open-Air Museum sits on site of the remains of a Byzantine monastery that was carved into the rock face in ancient times. Zelve was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century, and in fact the area was inhabited right up until 1952. 15 years after locals abandoned the site, Zelve was turned into the open-air museum that can be seen and explored today.
The site features various remnants of local life, including houses, a tunnel joining two of the valleys, a mill, and a small mosque. Beyond the mill, the Balıklı Kilise (Fish Church) can be found, while the impressive Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church) adjoins it.
The three valleys of Zelve are a great spot for trekking around and exploring in peace, as it isn’t as popular with tourists as the Göreme Open-Air Museum nearby. The site also has a good walking trail looping around the valleys, giving access to various caves and chambers and featuring dramatic crags and pinnacles along the way.
Monks Valley (Paşabağ Vadisi) in Cappadocia is famous for its perfect fairy chimneys, sculpted from ancient lava, ash, and basalt. Often known as Pasabag, Monks Valley is famous for its opportunities to hike among the boulders and into the hills that ring the area. If you just want to relax, in the small village by the road there are stalls serving hot spiced wine in winter, and freshly-squeezed juices in summer. There are also a few cafes where you can grab a bite to eat, and stores selling Cappadocia textiles and artwork.
Monks Valley was once home to hermetic monks who sheltered in the smaller cones atop the upper sections of the fairy chimneys. There was once a Simeon monks’ hermitage here too, and today you can still see the chapel dedicated to Saint Simeon who, fed up with all the attention he was getting in 5th century Aleppo when word got around that he could perform miracles, hightailed it to the top of the highest fairy chimney he could find, and only descended in order to receive food and drink from his disciples.
More Things to Do in Cappadocia
Thousands of years ago the Melendiz River cut its way through the land between Mount Hasan and Mount Melendiz creating a magnificent canyon that’s roughly 328 feet (100 meters) deep. Today, travelers visit the Ihlara Valley to hike the canyon, observe its cave churches, and experience it’s oasis-like environs.
Situated along the K?z?l?rmak (Red River)—the longest river in Turkey—Avanos is a small town in Cappadocia known for red earthenware pottery that was originally created by the Hittites during the Bronze Age. Explore the lovely stretch of old town that overlooks the river and stop into the pottery shops selling their rouge-colored wares.
Carved directly into the rocks of Cappadocia, Selime Monastery is one of the region’s most fascinating cultural attractions. Experts believe it took more than 200 years to shape the monastery, beginning in the eighth or ninth century. The structure, which could house some 5,000 people, included a cathedral-sized church with stone columns, camel stables, living quarters, a missionary school, water well and a huge kitchen with a chimney.
There’s a bit of a climb to get up to the monastery structure, and visitors are free to climb inside many of the structures as well. The view from the top looks out over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia.
The Rose Valley (Güllüdere Vadisi) in Cappadocia is filled with enormous, cone-shaped rocks and offers some of the region’s best hiking. Home to the Cross Church (Haçli Kilise), the Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise), and other sighes, the valley is particularly striking late in the day when the sinking sun brings out the stones’ rosy glow.
Smaller than Cappadocia’s other subterranean cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, Ozkonak Underground City (Özkonak Yeraltı Şehri) is also much less crowded. On the northern slopes of Mount Idis, as you hunch to stroll the tiny corridors of this ancient city you'll feel very big compared to the people who once lived here. Likely built in the Byzantine era, though perhaps even older, Özkonak Underground City was rediscovered in the '70s by a local farmer who wondered where his excess crop water was going. Turns out it was going into a huge subterranean city stretching ten floors deep and able to house 60,000 people.
Reaching a depth of 40 meters in total, today only the first four floors of Özkonak Underground City are open. As you wander the tiny corridors, you'll see the sophistication of the city which had a built-communication system made up of pipes that connected all 10 levels. Look out for holes in the walls too — these provided ventilation in the event that Özkonak city would have to close itself off to the outside world if enemies tried to invade. The underground city also had its own winery and water well, and if enemies did get too close, well Özkonak’s inhabitants were more than ready to pour hot oil on them through secret holes designed for that very purpose.
The quiet Cappadocian village of Çavuşin 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 Çavuşin is also the starting point for hikes into Rose Valley, Red Valley, and Meskendir Valley.
Learn about Avanos’ rich pottery-making history in the underground Guray Museum. The innovatively designed museum—hidden away in the caves and tunnels beneath the Guray Ceramic showroom—is full of ceramic art and artifacts, from ancient Chalcolithic finds to modern masterpieces.
Famous for the castle-like rock formation looming 90 meters high above the town, Ortahisar, or Middle Castle, is, well, right in the middle of the Cappadocian towns of Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, and Neveshir.
Though it is becoming more popular with visitors, Ortahisar is still a quiet farming town that’s sleepier than many of the other Cappadocian hotspots that are today bursting with boutique hotels. Life in Ortahisar is based around the cobbled streets which extend from the central square, and wandering the streets lined with stone houses is a great way to get a taste of life in a traditional Cappadocian town.
The town is also known for the Culture Museum Restaurant, where a series of dioramas in the upstairs room displays traditional life in Cappadocia, while downstairs the restaurant isn’t a sideline next to the gift shop, it’s in the actual museum. Just a few kilometers is a museum of another kind, Goreme Open Air Museum. You can walk there from Ortahisar if you have good hiking legs! Also, 1km northeast of the town center, you can visit Hallacdere Monastery where intriguing animal heads are sculpted on the walls.
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