Cappadocia or Kapadokya, as they call it locally, is the magic land of Turkey where I’ve always wanted to experience the hot air balloon ride. So, I planned to spend here two days of the two-week itinerary for Turkey, wishing to tick another fabulous moment on my bucket list. It’s just that as soon as I arrived in the middle of the landscape that seems to have fallen off the moon and stuck to Earth, I realized it would take longer to explore it properly. Caves, tunnels, underground cities, and fairy chimneys, sculpted by rains and winds, have challenged my imagination throughout the visit.
I don’t think I would exaggerate saying that it is one of the richest places in the world when it comes to historical events and natural phenomena. Over time, the greatest empires have battled over these lands. Cappadocia being located at the intersection of some very important commercial routes. Therefore, over the course of a few centuries, it passed under Persian, Mongolian and Roman domination, and underwent battles in the name of religion as well. The process of discovering the mystery surrounding the region is far from being over.
What is sure is that the honeycomb or mushroom-shaped relief, or any other similarity you can find looking at it, began its transformation millions of years ago. Some volcanic eruptions have eroded the soil, and the ash solidified into a soft rock called tuff. Subsequently, the rain and winds have sculpted the rocks so much that some strange shapes have been created, similar to mushrooms, animals or even masculine intimate parts. Depending on everyone’s vision.
People who lived in Cappadocia over the centuries
Besides meteorological phenomena, humans contributed to the metamorphosis of the plateau that comprises Cappadocia. The first inhabitants, Hittites, those who were part of the Hittite Empire, with the capital in Hattusa, were the first to dig into the soft rocks. Many years later, the Cappadocian Christians dug real underground cities. Some arranged even on 8 floors, in an attempt to hide from the persecution of the Romans. Many of these cities are still in the process of being discovered.
Today, Cappadocia is a popular destination worldwide and a must-see place to visit in Turkey. The nearest airport is just 40 minutes away from the main city, Goreme, and this means that the number of tourists is always very high. However, despite the massive growth of tourism in the area, Cappadocia keeps a mysterious aura.
Although most of the tourists who come here prefer to discover the places through different tours of local agencies, differentiated by colors, we decided to do this on our own. Especially because we had a rented car and we came directly from Istanbul to here. So, in the two and a half days spent in Cappadocia, we were able to visit a lot of attractions that I recommend to you as well through this guide of the top 15 places to visit in Cappadocia.
Top 15 places to visit in Cappadocia
15. Pasabag or Monks Valley
Pasabag is one of the first places we have visited, due to the fact that it is halfway between Avanos, the town where we stayed, and Goreme. The name comes from “Pasa’s Vineyard” and has a lot to do with the vineyards in the area. Although at first glance the soil seems arid and sandy, it is actually extremely fertile, especially for pumpkins, beets, and grapevines. In this region, the monks built shelters and churches and cultivated the vine, a tradition preserved today. The wine produced here has won numerous international awards, a sign that it is a very good and appreciated variety. In Monks Valley, you can also admire some shaped rock, rocks where monks used to live and pray. The most prominent of them is a three-level chapel dedicated to Saint Simeon.
14. Viewpoint Cafe Restaurant
Like any other trip, a trip to Cappadocia necessarily involves a rooftop where we can enjoy a spectacular view. Although the city of Goreme is filled with restaurants, cafes and other places where you can sit and relax, along with a delicious meal in front of you, we haven’t found any rooftop restaurant, or, if we did, it belonged to certain hotels and they only served breakfast. Well, we accidentally discovered the Viewpoint Cafe Restaurant. The place where we had the most beautiful view, both to the city and to Mount Aktepe, very similar to the Grand Canyon of United States.
It is the ideal place to watch the sunset while enjoying chicken rice, kebab, hummus, baklava or whatever you may want from the Turkish cuisine. Find details in their menu on the site. And if you want the experience to be even more authentic, I recommend you to smoke a hookah on the terrace.
Most tourists who come to Cappadocia on vacation, choose to stay in Goreme and that’s because it is the most famous city in the region. Here, you can find most of the hotels, restaurants, shops, and agencies for hot air balloon rides. It doesn’t have impressive dimensions, it’s rather a small place, easy to walk in one day. I recommend you to do this if you have more than three days to spend here. Otherwise, it makes no sense, considering how many wonderful places you have to explore outside of it. And if you only have two days, I’ve already listed a few places in Goreme that you should not miss.
Like all the sights of Cappadocia, Goreme has an interesting story behind its name. It means “you can not see us here” and it is a kind of slogan for Christians hiding from the Muslim invasion inside the underground cities.
12. The view at Salkim Tepesi
The next on the list of the top 15 places to visit in Cappadocia is Salkim Tepesi. A point discovered by chance, while we were heading from Goreme to Uchisar. The place is arranged on a platform where you have an excellent view over a wide valley, sprinkled with the famous structures of the tuff rock, but also overlooking a part of the city of Goreme.
Here, you will meet many handcraft objects, but also some spaces decorated with things that instantly make you think of Cappadocia. Trees with talismans in the shape of an eye, called nazar, a flag of Turkey, but also camels you can ride. Which I don’t reccommend. Basically, here you have plenty of possibilities to make a complete photo shoot. If you spot an interesting souvenir, don’t forget to negotiate for it. Locals are already expecting this, and for this reason, they will start with a much higher bid than the value of the object.
For Uchisar, I would have liked to have more time to discover all its corners. It is the highest point in the region, but also a giant mushroom-like castle. Its rooms are similar to those you’ll find in the underground cities, but not all of them are accessible to the public today. Instead, whole families of pigeons have their home in them. In the past, the excrements of these birds were collected by farmers and used as fertilizers for vineyards and orchards. Near Uchisar there is the Pigeon Valley, a tourist attraction included in the tours available to local agencies, but to which I have not arrived. As the name tells, you probably guessed it is a valley full of pigeons and maybe their favorite place in Cappadocia.
Besides the archaic castle, in Uchisar there are many possibilities for accommodation, many hotels being opened here. There are also souvenir stalls in the streets located at the foot of the hill.
10. Devrent Valley
A camel, a duck, a snail, a mushroom? What can it be? Dervent Valley or Rose Valley or Imagination Valley, the place in Cappadocia that will challenge your imagination with every sculpture crafted by Mother Nature. There are no churches or grottos, practically nothing to which people have intervened. Everything has its original form, just as it was left by the patina of time, along with meteorological phenomena. The most famous “statue” is a camel, surrounded by a fence because many tourists have tried to ride it.
9. The view at Sultan Cave Hotel
We didn’t stay at Sultan Cave, but at a hotel maybe even more beautiful, but not as famous, in Avanos. However, I added on my list of top 15 places to visit in Cappadocia the view from the Sultan’s terrace. Some kind of Instagram brought me here. Because that’s exactly what happened. Like every time, before embarking on a new destination, enthusiasm carries me through the Instagram feeds of other travelers. There, I always have a big source of inspiration. So, that’s how I discovered this hotel and I knew I had to enjoy the panorama from the best rooftop in the city. Although we didn’t have the balloons raised in the background, it was worth getting here.
8. Avanos ceramic stores
Pottery is the craft the Cappadocians of Avanos have passed from generation to generation. So it’s no surprise that here you will find many stores with pots, mugs, ashtrays, fridge magnets, and handmade glasses. The custom in itself is not chosen at random. The locals took advantage of the red mud deposited on the banks of the Red River, which separates the city from the rest of Cappadocia and which is the longest river in Turkey.
One of my favorite workshops is right at the entrance to the town, just after crossing the bridge. You will surely recognize it for the multitude of colored pots that cover it. If you have time, I recommend you go to a pottery workshop as well. It’s an authentic experience that will teach you to appreciate even more the effort made for each and every mug.
7. Cavusin Village
One of the oldest settlements in Cappadocia is the Cavusin village, halfway between Avanos and Goreme, right at the foot of Aktepe Mountain. The landscape is similar to the rest of the areas, but what distinguishes it is the village life. You will see a rural Cappadocia, with women dressed plainly, men working in orchards and vineyards and hens who walk on the streets covered with rock powder.
There are two churches in Cavusin. One dates back to the 5th century and is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and one that is dedicated to the former Cappadocian emperor, Nicephorus Phocas. By the same pattern, you’ll discover two villages. The new village and the old Greek village.
6. Love Valley
The first thing I thought about when I got to the edge of this valley was how a marriage proposal would look like here. But especially how seriously the girl would take it. The look of the rocks is similar to the masculine intimate parts in such an obvious way that it leaves no room for imagination. So, it is easy to understand why this name was chosen, rather in a euphemistic way. These natural sculptures were created by the erosion of the volcanic rocks, and some of them can even reach 40 meters tall.
Famous for pottery, crossed by a beautiful river on which dozens of ducks swim, full of life during the evenings, very quiet during the days, colorful, small and chic. This is Avanos, a town not as famous as Goreme, but one that certainly deserves a glimpse of your time.
In the city crossed by Kizilirmark, Turkey’s longest river of 1355 km, the main activity of the inhabitants is the pottery. Followed by tourism and agriculture. People work to get grain, sugar beet, fruit, and wine. The atmosphere is a bit different from what you will find in Goreme. There are fewer tourists and there is more peace, the city seems to sleep until the evening comes. If you get here, besides handicraft stores, I recommend taking dinner at Dayinin Yeri Restaurant. The food is delicious and the service is impeccable. And if you are undecided about the accommodation, I warmly recommend the Sofa Hotel, where we stayed. I’ll tell you more about it in a future article.
4. The Sunset Point in Goreme
I remember the first day I was desperately looking for a place to watch the sunset. After several options, I chose a classic place, already famous for it. Even if we shared the field with other hundreds of people, the experience was magical. It is located on the Aydın Kırağı Seyir Yeri Street, exactly where a large flag of Turkey towers in the city of Goreme. It’s great to watch the sky get shades of red, while the valleys are lit up. Otherwise, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
3. Ikman Galleries
Instagram did it again! This time, it took my steps to the Ikman Galleries, a kind of trip in the stories with Alladin. The thousands of colored carpets dress the floor, the ceiling and the walls of the rooms. And from the crystal lamps, you expect a spirit to meet your three desires. In addition to upholstery and fabrics with sophisticated patterns, here you can find just about everything that your heart of authentic souvenirs collector can desire. So don’t forget to make space in the luggage for a pillow with Oriental motifs. Harder it will be to choose only one.
2. Goreme Open Air Museum
Any holiday in Cappadocia certainly will involve visiting one of the most famous tourist attractions here. Personally, I consider it the core of the region. That’s because you will find out here everything you need to know about the history of Cappadocia. It is a whole complex with churches and monasteries dug in the rock for which you will have to pay an entry ticket of 35 Turkish lire (about 6 Euro). It is a place so different, special and well preserved that was included in the list of UNESCO monuments in 1985.
If you come by car, you have to know that there is a free car park just outside the entrance. And if you walk on foot, the distance from Goreme is about 15 minutes. The time spent inside the complex varies depending on each one. However, for a full tour, you will have to spend about 2, 3 hours. Most of the churches are over 1000 years old but have been preserved so well that the colors of the paintings are still very bright and deep. Among the most important are Dark Church, Nunnery, Apple Church, and Snake Church. At one point, some pastors have scratched the faces of the Saints, believing they are sinful. For this reason, almost no figure is present, but the rest of the drawings are very well preserved.
1. The view from the hot air balloon
The main reason I wanted to go to Cappadocia is, obviously, the balloon ride. Although I had seen an infinite number of pictures of other travelers, I must admit that I have greatly underestimated the feeling I would have once I got up to 1000 feet above the spectacular landscape of Cappadocia. The experience itself lasts between one hour and an hour and 15 minutes, depending on everyone’s luck. I say this because the conductors control the balloon only up and down. The lateral movements being determined solely by the air currents. Surely it’s worth waking up at 3 am to enjoy a sensational sunset onboard the hot air balloon in Cappadocia. About this adventure, I will speak more broadly in a future article.
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