A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FAIRYTALE WORLD OF CAPPADOCIA

Tucked away in central Turkey is the country's most stunning destination - Cappadocia. Dreamy moonscapes make up this iconic region, an otherworldly panorama filled with fairy chimneys, rock castles and cave dwellings. It's a place where visitors sleep in cave hotels, chase balloons at sunrise and frolic the conical valleys throughout the day. I've been to this part of Turkey three times now, and I'm convinced there isn't anywhere else quite like it in the world. Below is a guide to all-things Cappadocia. I've included my favorite cave hotels, sightseeing tips, photo locations, balloon flights & viewpoints, cave pools, transportation suggestions, hirable guides and more.


Balloon watching at sunrise from the highest rooftop in Goreme.


This charming budget hotel is home to one of the dreamiest pool settings in all of Turkey.

On the hunt for a magic carpet at Galerie Ikman.

Chasing hot air balloons at sunrise through the epic valleys of Cappadocia.

PLACES TO STAY IN CAPPADOCIA

The hotel options in Cappadocia are unlike anywhere else I have traveled to. Almost all properties are built in and around the region's iconic fairy chimneys, creating the ultimate storybook setting. Where else in the world can guests stay in a converted cave room with conical panoramas just outside their door? And all the more appealing are the prices. Cappadocia hotels are as affordable as they are unique with most properties boasting budget to moderate price tags.


Goreme or Uchisar? The ultimate question that all Cappadocia visitors must answer. Regardless of where you decide to stay, you'll get to visit both towns (it's a five-minute drive between the two). For visitors with five or more days in Cappadocia, I suggest splitting overnight stays between the two towns to fully experience both destinations. In a nutshell, Goreme is the tourist hub of the region with the most properties, restaurants and tourist agencies. It has far more fairy chimneys than Uchisar, and its location is generally better for watching the balloons go up at sunrise. Goreme is geared toward budget travelers, whereas neighboring Uchisar caters to upscale travelers looking for a more luxurious stay.


Flintstone vibes poolside at Local Cave House.

Treating myself to a classic Turkish breakfast at Museum Hotel.

This staircase led to my suite at Museum Hotel, and the views were stunning.

The panorama of Uchisar from Argos Hotel might be my favorite view in Cappadocia.

Turkish tea overlooking Goreme on the Koza Cave Hotel rooftop terrace.

Imperial Cave Suites is home to some of the loveliest fairy chimneys in Goreme.

There's nothing quite like watching the balloons at sunrise over Cappadocia.

Most rooms in Cappadocia are stone rooms or cave rooms, like this one at Koza Cave Hotel.

The heated pool at Museum Hotel feels amazing at sunrise or sunset.

Views that are worth the early wakeup call, I promise!

Breakfast with incredible views over Goreme at Koza Cave Hotel.

Yunak Evleri is a bit out of the way, but the setting is pretty epic.

ARGOS (UCHISAR)

Argos is the most luxurious hotel option in Cappadocia. Formerly an ancient monastery, the property now houses more than 50 beautifully designed rooms, ensuite indoor cave pools and an on-site upscale restaurant. Also, my favorite view in all of Cappadocia happens to be on their property.


IMPERIAL CAVE SUITES (GOREME)

Imperial Cave Suites celebrated the opening of its newest building in early 2020, and the new space is stunning. Built amongst some of the prettiest conical formations in Goreme, the property has created an utterly surreal setting. The hotel currently boasts 24 rooms, a brand-new indoor pool, an underground hammam and an on-site restaurant. It's one of the more upscale options in budget-friendly Goreme.

KELEBEK SPECIAL CAVE HOTEL (GOREME)

Perched on a cliff overlooking sweeping views of Goreme, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel is a solid choice for a visit to Cappadocia. The hotel is a cluster of fairy chimneys with beautifully transformed cave dwellings that ooze with character and charm. Prices are very reasonable.

KOZA CAVE HOTEL (GOREME)

For the highest rooftop terrace in Cappadocia, book a night or two at Koza Cave Hotel. The family-run property offers a variety of cave rooms and stone rooms built in and around a cluster of fairy chimneys. There is also a rooftop terrace covered in Turkish carpets, pillows and decor for balloon watching at sunrise.

LOCAL CAVE HOUSE (GOREME)

It isn't the fanciest hotel in Cappadocia, but the pool setting at Local Cave House is by far the most stunning. The charming property sits tucked away in Goreme where towering fairy chimneys serve up a truly epic pool backdrop. It's a surreal setting, and might be worth booking a one-night stay just to experience the view.

MUSEUM HOTEL (UCHISAR)

This five-star boutique hotel is the only Relais & Chateaux property in Turkey. It's been designed to look like a living museum (hence the name) with furniture and design details that bring the name to life. Perched on the hillside at the edge of Uchisar, the hotel surrounds a dreamy Roman-style pool with heated water - a spectacular place to catch sunrise or sunset.

ROX CAPPADOCIA (UCHISAR)

Formerly a Greek house, Rox Cappadocia has been completely transformed into a luxury hotel that overlooks sweeping views of Goreme and Guvercinlik Valley. The hotel has become an Instagram darling in recent years, but the property's small size (only eight rooms) really prevents any sort of crowding, which is ideal for enjoying the spectacular terraces at sunrise and sunset.


SULTAN CAVE SUITES (GOREME)

A favorite amongst tourists, and for its popularity on social media. Sultan Cave Suites is home to the most famous rooftop in Cappadocia, an elaborate set-up of Turkish rugs, pillows, tea, food and sometimes the resident dog Izmir. It's a lovely spot to watch the balloons go up at sunrise, but be prepared to share the space with a dozen other guests.


TERRA CAVE HOTEL (GOREME)

Another charming cave hotel located next door to Sultan Cave Suites. While it doesn't have the iconic terrace set up that its famous neighbor boasts, the boutique property is a lovely place to stay. The rooms are clean, cozy and completely spacious.


YUNAK EVLERI CAPPADOCIA (URGUP)

Yunak Evleri is located in Urgup, a bit of a distance from tourist hubs Goreme and Uchisar. This part of Cappadocia is a bit more off-the-beaten-path, but still loaded with things to do. And this property boasts one of the most unique exteriors in Cappadocia with cave rooms built into the massive cliffs overlooking a transformed 19th century Greek mansion.


THINGS TO DO IN CAPPADOCIA

For first time visitors, I suggest at least five full days in the region. It may seem like a lot of time, but there's so much to see in this part of Turkey. I've been to Cappadocia three times, and I still discover something new with every visit. And it's such a bucket list destination that you really don't want to leave wishing you'd had more time. With five full days you can stay in both Goreme and Uchisar, as well as experience the best viewpoints, open air museums, underground cities, valleys, hikes and rooftops in Cappadocia. Also, the onslaught of early balloons mornings is draining, especially during the summer months. A longer stay in Cappadocia allows for a more relaxed itinerary that that makes the 12-16 hour days a bit less painful.


The incredible panoramas of Zelve Open Air Museum.

These dreamscapes are what make the hot air balloon rides so special in Cappadocia.

There are dozens of balloon companies to choose from in Goreme. I've used Turkiye Balloons on my last two visits to Cappadocia.

Surreal rock formations inside Love Valley.

My favorite carpet shop in Cappadocia is Sultan Carpets.

Hiking the trails of the Zelve Open Air Museum.

Soaking in the surrounds of Uchisar Castle.

One of a handful of Evil Eye Trees in Cappadocia.

Views in Ortahisar.

Up, up and away!

Look around at sunrise and you'll see most of Goreme's rooftop terraces filled with people.

Arrive early to Pasabagi to avoid the crowds of tourists.

CAVUSIN

As you head to Goreme from Avanos, you can't miss the iconic rock formation that towers over little Cavusin village. Located just off the main road, the massive cliff dwelling is riddled with abandoned rock rooms, windows and halls, and can be climbed and explored in a couple of hours. (ADMISSION: FREE)

DERINKUYU UNDERGROUND CITY

Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri is the remains of a historic underground city, located 30 minutes by car from Goreme. It's quite the adventure, if you don't mind tight spaces. The cavernous city is an underground maze of stone steps, tiny chambers and narrow passageways - most visitors get turned around, and even a bit lost in search of a way out. It's hard to gauge the depth of the labyrinth, but I've read that it goes eight levels deep. (ADMISSION: 50 TL)

CARPET SHOPS

Galerie Ikman is a family-owned Turkish carpet boutique that has become an Instagram darling in recent years. An ornate inner courtyard draped in carpets sits tucked away in this modest Goreme shopfront. The place is so popular with photographers and tourists that reservations and payment are now required to access the shop. For a slightly more authentic experience, visit Sultan Carpets. While they too require payment for photography, the shop is far more charming with hardly any tourists. (PRICES TO TAKE PHOTOS RANGE FROM 50 TL TO 250 TL, VARIES FOR IPHONE AND CAMERA)

GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Open Air Museum is a surreal wonderland of rock churches, chapels and decorative frescoes dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. It's the most popular tourist site in Cappadocia, and just a few minutes away from central Goreme. The place gets busy, so best to be at the ticket booth right when the museum opens. It's pretty empty the first hour of the morning. (ADMISSION: 25 TL)


HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT

Yes, a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia is as dreamy as those photos you've seen on Pinterest. There are dozens of companies to choose from, but my favorite is Turkiye Balloons. The experience of floating over Cappadocia's landscapes at sunrise is absolutely epic. Note that the balloon flights are completely dependent on the weather, so it's good to have a back up morning option in case flights are cancelled. The balloon company informs guests the afternoon prior to takeoff if there is a cancellation due to weather. Note that while the balloon experience is amazing, the photo opportunities aren't particularly good. The baskets are packed with people, and it's tough to shoot and get a good angle. I suggest enjoying the flight for the experience, and then spend a few mornings chasing balloons on the ground at sunrise. The best photos with balloons will be from the ground at Sunrise Point, Sword Valley or a hotel rooftop. (PRICES VARY BY COMPANY)

PASABAGI

If Fred Flintstone lived in Cappadocia, Pasabagi is the place he'd call home. The dreamy moonscape is located between Goreme and Avanos, and boasts some of the region's prettiest fairy chimneys. Pasabagi gets crowded, and it's almost impossible to get a photo without gobs of tourists midday. Best to arrive very early in morning, or just before sunset. Admission is free for visitors that arrive before 9 AM. (ADMISSION 20 TL)

LOVE VALLEY | ROSE VALLEY | SWORD VALLEY

Cappadocia is home to several enchanting valleys that can be reached by car, but for deeper exploration, you'll need an ATV or sturdy walking shoes. The valleys are riddled with abandoned cave dwellings, towering rock formations, ruins and passageways. (ADMISSION: FREE)

UCHISAR CASTLE

The rock-cut castle is completely dreamlike, a massive fairy chimney hollowed out with windows, tunnels, rooms, passageways and stairs. Its location next to the main road makes it an ideal stop for a quick photo, but for those that want to spend more time at the castle, there is plenty to see. This is the tallest point in Cappadocia, and visitors can climb to the top of the castle for spectacular views surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage Site. (ADMISSION: FIRST FLOOR IS FREE | 15 TL TO GO UP)


SUNRISE POINT

This popular viewpoint over Goreme offers visitors a sweeping panorama over the little town complete with vistas, fairy chimneys and cave hotels. A great spot to watch the sunset or the balloons go up at sunrise.


ZELVE OPEN AIR MUSEUM

Five minutes down the road from Pasabagi is the far less touristed Zelve Open Air Museum. A rock monastery settlement carved into the cliffs, the complex is a hive of abandoned cave passages, fairy chimneys and rock dwellings that can be explored on foot. (ADMISSION: 20 TL)


PLACES TO EAT IN CAPPADOCIA

Cappadocia is not known as culinary destination. Most restaurants in this part of Turkey offer up the same dishes with little variety amongst the menus - lots of kebabs, mixed grills and meat dishes. To keep meals from getting too repetitive, there are a handful of restaurants with noting that cook up a bit more variety, and others with views so spectacular that the food doesn't matter.

Garlic butter shrimp at Reserved Cappadocia.

Much needed dose of fresh greens at Reserved Cappadocia.

THE GRAPE (GOREME)

The Grape offers a menu with both variety and high-quality dishes that includes fresh salads, soups, seafood, meats and homemade deserts. Dinner views here are particularly lovely with the surrounding fairy chimneys lit up at night.


KEBABZADE RESTAURANT (GOREME)

For traditional Turkish cuisine, Kebabzade is a solid choice that serves kebabs, mixed grills, pottery meat and fresh breads. Reasonable prices, and centrally located in Goreme.


PERI EVI CAFE (UCHISAR)

A tiny family-run cafe that faces a sweeping panorama of Uchisar Castle. There's nothing particularly special about the Peri Evi offerings - it's just a nice spot to break up the day and enjoy the view over a glass of fresh lemonade.

RESERVED CAPPADOCIA (UCHISAR)

Reserved Cappadocia sits on the edge of Uchisar, and is one of the trendier restaurants in the region. The space is completely modern and chic boasting a full bar and outdoor terrace seating. Fresh, artfully plated dishes include homemade soups, fresh salads, seafood, meats and variety of deserts.

HOW MANY DAYS IN CAPPADOCIA

While it's possible to see the nuts and bolts of Cappadocia in just a couple of days, I highly recommend spending five or six days in the region. Sunrise balloon chasing makes for early mornings and long days, so it's nice to have the luxury of extra time here. Also, extra days gives you extra sunrise opportunities (plan on balloons flights being cancelled at least one morning). This part of Turkey is incredibly affordable and a good value for what you pay, so if you plan to extend a leg of the trip, might as well be here. Also with five or six days, it's possible to divide overnight stays between Goreme and Uchisar.


Zelve Open Air Museum.

GETTING TO AND AROUND CAPPADOCIA

It's a quick, cheap flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, the gateway to Cappadocia. From the airport, rent a car for the duration of your stay. While the individual towns are small and walkable, everything else is pretty spread out, and a car makes all of Cappadocia much more accessible. From the airport, it's a one hour drive to reach Goreme and Uchisar. The driving in this part of Turkey is pretty low key - the roads are wide, empty and deserted.

LOCAL GUIDES & PHOTOGRAPHERS

Cappadocia is an easy place to travel without a guide, but for visitors that want a more in-depth experience, a private guide can provide history, context and background to this historically rich destination. Additionally, the region's stunning beauty makes for completely unique photos, and if you're ever going to hire a private photographer on vacation, this is the place to do it.


NIYAZI GENCA (PHOTOGRAPHER)

He is one of the kindest souls I met in Turkey. Originally from Istanbul, Niyaza has lived in Cappadocia for years and has so much knowledge about the region. And as a photographer, he knows all of the best locations for photos - valley viewpoints, trail vistas, hotel locations, etc. He is very active on Instagram, and can be reached via DM @niyazigenca or by text on WhatsApp +905012221683.


VIKTORIYA SENER (PHOTOGRAPHER)

When it comes to photo spots in Cappadocia, I always turn to Viktoriya Sener. She runs one of the most amazing accounts for shooting locations in Turkey - @tiebowtie. I've shot with her several times, and she knows all the best locations in Cappadocia, as well as the best times for photos based on location. Viktoriya can be reached via DM on Instagram at @tiebowtie.photo.


ASYA SERTKAYA (GUIDE)

Asya is one of the best guides in Cappadocia. She leads private tours through the region - ideal if you're looking for a more in-depth experience. She can be reached via DM on Instagram at @asya_cappadocia.


DENIZ YILMAZ (PHOTOGRAPHER)

Another great Cappadocia photographer. He does a lot of wedding photography, but can be hired for other photos as well. Deniz can be reached via DM on Instagram at @icappadocia or his website.


Niyazi Genca and Deniz Yilmaz brought me to this stunning spot in Love Valley.

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