“I’m coming to Cappadocia! What sites should I visit?” This is a hard question to answer because there are just so many incredible places to see in Cappadocia. The hardest part of touring Cappadocia (and Turkey as a whole) is deciding what great sites not to visit! Nevertheless, here are top places to see.
Valleys to Visits
Most of the top destinations in Cappadocia are valleys which water has carved through the volcanic rock. These valleys feature Cappadocia’s stunning geological features, cave churches, and human settlements. Another post features the “Top 10 Churches to Visit,” but here we focus on the topic areas.
The most popular, must-see valley is the Göreme Open Air Museum. The area can be crowded during peak season for a simple reason—the best churches in Cappadocia are located in close proximity here. You can see four of the top churches (Dark Church, Sandal Church, Apple Church, and Buckle Church) and stunning scenery during your one-hour visit. If you have extra time, scamper around the hillside above Buckle Church to explore endless carved churches and rooms.
Another popular site is Ihlara Valley. Though it is a one-hour drive from Göreme, here you can enjoy spectacular scenery and great churches as you walk along the river at the base of a gorge. Ihlara can be crowed in the afternoons, but is the recommended site to visit during the hot summer months because of the water.
My personal favorite valley is Soğanlı Valley, about one-hour south of Göreme. This remote valley has a small creek, nice hiking trails, quality churches, and, most importantly for good visit, amazing outdoor restaurants. Soğanlı Valley gets few tourists, so you can roam around the medieval rock settlement in peace and experience the aura of ancient monasticism.
Another great valley is the Zelve Open Air Museum, near Avanos. A nice paved path leads around this ancient settlement, which has some sixth-century churches (though without painted frescos). Zelve has stunning natural beauty, without the crowds.
If you enjoy a nature hike, Red Valley (aka, Rose Valley, between Göreme and Çavuşin) is Cappadocia’s most beautiful valley. With stunning fair chimneys, red rock formations, along with many cave churches and monasteries, Red Valley offers the most spectacular views in Cappadocia. Gömeda Valley (near Mustafapaşa) offers a beautiful, 5-km hike through a river gorge with many ancient settlements. And closer to the city of Göreme, three valleys make for great nature hikes—Love, Zemi, and Pigeon (ask in any shopkeeper in Göreme and they will point you the way).
Cities to Stay
Most tourists stay in Göreme because it has the best cave hotels and coolest fairy chimneys. Many hotels in Göreme have great views looking into Red Valley, so you can watch the hot-air balloons while eating breakfast. Göreme has the most hotels and best restaurants. This is “ground zero” for tourism in Cappadocia, so can be touristy and crowded. Even if you don't stay in Goreme, it is a great place to visit for shopping, eating, and exploring.
If you have money to spend, Uçhisar offers high-end hotels with panoramic views of Cappadocia. For less touristy options, Avanos and Ürgüp are delightful towns with affordable hotels and a lively city-center. These four cities are all 10-minutes apart from each other, and they form the “heart” of Cappadocian tourism. Nevşehir is the provincial center, but few people stay there. If you really want to go off the beaten path, check out the old Greek towns of Mustafapaşa and Guzelyurt.
People visiting Cappadocia should experience an underground city. Tourism websites narrate many stories about these “cities,” but the historical reality is that we know very little about these “cities.” They were likely built during the Byzantine period (7th century and later) and served as underground farmers where people hid their family and livestock during foreign raids. Despite popular history, they were not built by Christians avoiding persecution, nor were they “cities” where thousands of people permanently lived.
Cappadocia has dozens of underground cities, and more are getting discovered each year. Here are the top ones. Kaymaklı is the recommended underground city to visit. A walk through the four-floor space allows you to experience the best features of underground settlements. Gaziemir (near Ihlara) is another remarkable underground site. Though only one-floor deep, it is large and spacious. Derinkuyu is the “biggest” underground city, but claustrophobic, crowdy, and not very interesting.
Those are the top sites to visit in Cappadocia! You can explore them on your own. But if you want to maximize your time here in Cappadocia and get proper explanations, we recommend you hire a guide.