Turkey is full of incredible archaeological sites – from the amphitheatre at Aspendos to Hierapolis in Pammukale -, but Cappadocia is surely one of the most intriguing with its curious natural rock formations and history as the site of a Byzantine Christian settlement. While you don’t necessarily need a Cappadocia itinerary to happily spend 2 to 3 days in Cappadocia as the vast landscape is perfect for exploring on foot, there are some gems in the area that certainly shouldn’t be missed.
When planning a trip to Cappadocia, you’ll notice that there’s no such place name particularly clear on the map – that’s because Cappadocia is a large geographical region encompassing several towns and small cities.
So, to see all of Cappadocia, you’re best off spending a week hiking around the amazing landscape to see the so-called fairy chimneys and venture south to the underground tunnel systems.
However, if you don’t have such a long break or are wondering how many days to spend in Cappadocia to see the main highlights without hiking around the region, then you’ll be happy to learn you can see a lot in just 2 days in Cappadocia.
Although, if you want to include a hot air balloon ride over the magical landscape and delve into the ancient history of the communities who lived in the rock, then it’s better to spend 3 days to make the most of your trip without rushing around.
Many of the hotels in the area are themselves built into the rocks that make up the unique landscape, so even a night in a hotel with the haunting sound of the Azan calling to prayer at dusk echoing through the valleys is an awe-inspiring experience that you won’t get anywhere else in the world.
The two closest cities to the Cappadocia region are Nevşehir and Kayseri, so the best way to get to Cappadocia is by flying into Kayseri Erkilet Airport via Istanbul IST or Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen SAW, and then taking a bus for the one-hour drive into Göreme.
Or, you can fly via Istanbul IST Airport to Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport before taking a bus for 40 minutes into Nevşehir. As you’ll need to transfer in Istanbul, the journey is simple from most major locations which travel to Istanbul like Madrid, London and Paris.
If you stay in the larger city of Nevşehir, you’ll need to take a bus or travel with an organised tour (such as a green tour or red tour) to visit the main sites which are based around Göreme. However, if you have more than 3 days in the area, you can also enjoy hiking trails from Nevşehir.
The best option, however, is to stay in Göreme, as you’ll be able to stay within the caves built into the volcanic rocks and walk around the historic site directly. If visiting the underground city of Derinkuyu or the historic city of Avanos, you’ll need to take a bus or organised tour from Nevşehir.
Trains are very rare in Turkey so the only local public transport option is the bus (something you should keep in mind on any trip to Turkey), but the journeys are short and the roads are well-maintained as the area is very popular with tourists.
Though the bus network is well-developed in this area, it can be very convenient to rent a car for your trip and get around that way. This gives you the most freedom and flexibility.
During the day, however, you’ll spend most of your time on your feet, so make sure to bring comfortable clothes, walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen.
The caves can be chilly even in the heat of summer, so it’s also a good idea to bring some layers to cover you, especially when the sun goes down.
2 to 3-Day Cappadocia Itinerary
Our Cappadocia itinerary will have you on the ground wandering the main site of Göreme which is full of amazing rock formations, above the ground in a hot air balloon to see the landscape in full, and underground in the enormous cave city of Derinkuyu for a full experience of Turkey’s most popular geographic region.
Your first day should be on the ground, seeing the incredible rock formations of Göreme National Park, caused by lava flowing from the now-extinct volcanoes, Erciyes Dağ and Hasan Dağ, either side of the valley, then shaped into the pinnacles and ridges we see today by harsh winds and rain.
While these curious and often quite phallic rocks can be found across the whole region, there’s plenty to see in Göreme National Park, which appears to be the centre of the monastic activity in the area with several chapels and churches built into the rock.
You should explore the whole area of this UNESCO World Heritage Site on foot over day 1 in Cappadocia, however, make sure to visit the following highlights.
Located just a 15-minute walk from Göreme village, is the Göreme Open Air Museum which you have to pay a small fee to enter. The wonderful site in the centre of the Göreme National Park hosts many cave dwellings from the 4th century CE dotted around amongst some of the finest examples of post-iconoclastic Byzantine chapels and churches of the 10th to 13th centuries CE.
By guided tour or solo, follow the paths leading around the site to enter the caves and churches to get an understanding of how the troglodyte communities lived, far away from invading Roman and Arab forces, protected by their hidden properties and religious sanctuaries in one of the world’s largest formerly inhabited cave complexes.
There are several places to eat in the National Park, however, the more central you are the more expensive it will be. Double-check the prices before purchasing anything to make sure you’re happy with the cost and the price hasn’t been hiked up for tourists.
While visiting the site, make sure to visit the most important and stunningly well-preserved churches built into the rock.
Built in the 12th to 13th century, the Karanlık Kilise is one of the most stunning of the churches located in the Göreme Open Air Museum as the seccos (paintings covering the inside walls done on dry plaster rather than wet plaster like frescoes) is incredibly well-preserved due to the lack of sunlight reaching inside the church, giving it its name, the Dark Church.
This church holds wonderful examples of post-iconoclastic Byzantine art, as images of angels and the birth of Jesus are clearly visible on the church walls, ceilings and pillars even after a thousand years.
Previously, images of biblical or religious figures were forbidden even in Christianity as the second commandment forbids worshipping idols or images of divine beings to prevent idolatry.
In the post-iconoclastic Byzantine period, religious folk favoured images of Jesus and divine beings from the bible and many churches and chapels were created and decorated with this religious imagery.
The Tokalı Kilise is one of the oldest and largest in the region, with four chambers making up the old and new church, which both date back to the 10th century.
Inside the church, you can see a very colourful and detailed secco painting detailing the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection covering the main wall of the old church and displaying numerous artistic styles as the painting was added to over many years.
Inside the new church, you’re struck by the vibrant – and expensive – blue pigments which cover the north wall and stand out even a millennia after its original painting.
Restored and protected in the 1970s by the Turkish government, experts from Italy also come every year to clean and maintain the paintings in the Tokalı Kilise to ensure they are well-preserved and always marvellous for visitors.
Although this chapel dates back to the 11th to 12th centuries, it’s more indicative of anti-idolatry Christianity, with many symbols decorating the upper walls and ceiling that represent Christ, without depicting him directly.
The appearance and spacing of the symbols indicate there was no intention to paint further, however, images of Jesus, his disciples and Saint Barbara have been added to the lower parts of the walls.
Amongst the symbols are geometric patterns, writings, and strange animals, some of which are still trying to be interpreted by historians.
At the end of your first day, you should head to the east part of Göreme Open Air Museum towards Lover’s Hill (Aşıklar Tepesi) where you can watch the sunset over the incredible scenery.
Day 2 – Hot Air Balloon, Hiking & Iconic Cappadocia Sites
For your second of 2 days in Cappadocia, you have a couple of options depending on the weather, or a full-day itinerary depending on your transport and how much time you have.
When preparing for your trip to Cappadocia, you’re sure to have come across numerous pictures of the area, and you’re hard-pressed to find a single photo without numerous hot air balloons dotting the sky. So why not take a trip?
There are numerous tour agencies and hot air ballooning companies around Göreme to choose from and most have a similar price, you can either opt for a group trip including breakfast once landed, or splash the cash for a private trip you’re looking for a romantic excursion with your loved one.
Each flight usually takes off at sunset for the best views and winds in the area and takes 3 to 4 hours depending on the weather conditions. The views of the troglodyte dwellings and peculiar rock formations below are absolutely stunning in the morning light and grant you a new perspective of what you’ve explored the day before.
It may be expensive for travellers on a strict budget, but if you have the opportunity to go, a hot air balloon ride is a magical experience and is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia.
Some days the weather isn’t suitable for a hot air balloon ride so it’s good to have a plan B that’s just as exciting in case your ballooning experience is cancelled due to strong winds. Fortunately, Cappadocia is full of wonderful sites and panoramic views, so you should definitely go on a hike around the area.
There are many different hiking routes around Göreme, including Pigeon Valley, Lover’s Valley, Rose Valley and Rocket Valley, and, while you could spend a few days in Cappadocia following all of the trails, one of the best, especially in the morning before it gets too hot, is the Zelve Valley hike.
For a total of 6 miles (2 and a half to 3 and a half hours) in a circular walk beginning and ending in Göreme centre, you can walk amongst the beautiful pinnacles, shrubs and streams, coming across small houses and dwellings dug into the rock faces, finishing at a stunning viewpoint to see over the city.
Towards the beginning of your hike you can take a small detour to discover El Nazar Church, a small church caved into a solitary pinnacle, complete with seccos on the 7 by 7 metre interior, where 62 of the once 100 saints colourfully painted on the domed ceiling remain.
You can find hiking routes online, via tour agencies or hiking apps such as Wikiloc that show routes others have taken in the area, complete with photos, difficulty and elevation. Each of the hikes around the area is relatively flat and has good ground underfoot, but you should still prepare well for your hike with good walking shoes, plenty of water and a hat, as shade is limited along the valley.
One of the most impressive sites to visit in Cappadocia is the amazing labyrinth of underground tunnels and homes known as Derinkuyu Underground City.
A 30-minute bus ride from Nevşehir or 40 minutes via private car from Göreme, you can only enter the with a tour guide, so it may be beneficial for transport and entry costs to simply go with an organised tour from Nevşehir.
Of the 36 underground cities in the Cappadocia region, Derinkuyu is the largest and was constructed in the 8th century BCE, before being expanded and used by the Byzantines and then Seljuks.
As well as a fascinating system of tunnels, narrow passages and stairs leading down 85 metres, Derinkuyu has many rooms and chambers which had many uses, from houses to wine cellars; there’s even a church.
Although it may be claustrophobic for some, one of the intriguing things about the design of the structure, and what makes it bearable for many tourists, is the amazing ventilation system that allows fresh air to pass through the tunnel system.
As well as this, the city was equipped with a well and water system to allow clean water to pass through for the some 20,000 people that possibly inhabited the space at any one time.
If you’re looking for a cultural activity for your evening in Cappadocia, you can organise a trip to the Saruhan Caravanserai, a stunningly beautiful building which showcases whirling dervish dancers in the evenings (hours can vary depending on the season).
The performance lasts around one hour and shows the impressive spinning performances of the dervish dancers who followed the teachings of Mevlana Rumi using music and dance to bring themselves closer to god.
The music is performed live by three musicians singing, and playing traditional drums and flute, helping the dancers meditate in prayer and dance as well as keep rhythm with one another.
You can reflect on the impressive show with family or friends afterwards over a traditional serbet, a traditional Turkish fruity soft drink, before heading back to Göreme for a Turkish kebab or traditional local dish, mantı (known internationally as Turkish ravioli).
Day 3 – Avanos, Paşabağları Open Air Museum & Nevşehir
For your third day, is time to leave the centre of the region and explore what else the famous location has to offer.
North of Göreme, about 15 minutes driving, is the small city of Avanos, with plenty to see and do over a whole day.
Learn about the way people lived in the region over the last two millennia in the Cappadocia Living Heritage Museum (Kapadokya Yasayan Miras Museum), seeing artefacts donated by locals and collated by the students of the local university to form an archive of the people’s history.
Amble along the Kızılırmak riverside, the longest river in Turkey, flowing from eastern Anatolia into the Black Sea, once forming a border of the Persian Empire. There are not many significant rivers in Turkey, so the lush green surrounding the river makes for a delightful stroll, as well as a short boat ride along the river.
Visit one of the many pottery and ceramic workshops in Avanos; with red clay from the river banks (giving its name Red River), pottery has been a main industry in Avanos for centuries, with the practice dating back almost 4 thousand years. A trip to a pottery workshop to witness first-hand how the items are made is not to be missed.
You’ll notice in the pottery workshops that one of the many objects that are made are wine jugs, and, as seen by the presence of a wine cellar in the Underground City of Derinkuyu, the region has a long history of winemaking.
Thanks to the hot summer weather, the fresh river water and the clay and mineral-filled volcanic soil, Cappadocia is a perfect region for grape cultivation and is one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions, with a history spanning 4,000 years. You can taste the local wines in several small shops across the town.
Below Avanos is another amazing historic site similar to Göreme, with peculiar-shaped pinnacles rising from the ground, but this time amongst the bright green leaves from the surrounding vineyards.
Many caves are built into the rock structures, including homes, churches and so-called pigeon houses, which were used to collect pigeon droppings to be used as fertiliser on the farms and vineyards.
You can spend a day hiking around the area, coming across various ancient religious shrines and enjoying the stunning views of the mushroom-shaped rocks spanning the land.
You can also do ATV tours of the area if you want to rest your feet for a while, however, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be allowed to explore independently – you’ll be shown around by a guide and must stay within your tour group
If your trip to Cappadocia ends on the third day or you don’t want to go too far, visiting Nevşehir Castle is a great option for a relaxed final day. In the city centre, this hilltop castle complex is impressive even from the street, but is all the more fascinating once inside.
The fortress was constructed by the Seljuks in the 1200s, redesigned by the Ottomans centuries later and intended purely for military purposes, although in more recent years, the hillside residences were found before being excavated and uncovered for the public to visit.
Sometimes called an underground city, this hillside complex of houses and chambers is more similar to the cave dwellings of the troglodytes, as they are not connected by underground tunnels, but dug into the rock.
The entrance to the site is free and offers visitors a final hilltop glimpse over Nevşehir and the amazing landscape of Cappadocia.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
Aysel Inn House – Located in the town of Avcilar, this cosy guesthouse is a great base in Cappadocia. There are several lovely rooms to choose from, a great breakfast, an inviting terrace and free bikes and parking for guests.
Divan Cave House – A 4-star hotel in Göreme, this hotel has some rooms in fairy chimneys. All rooms are traditionally decorated with beautiful carpets and luxury linens. There is also a great breakfast served daily.
Diadem Cappadocia – This guesthouse and hostel is a good budget option. It is centrally located in Göreme and they offer both private double rooms and dorms along with plenty of other amenities.
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Cappadocia is one of the most intriguing geological and historical sites in Turkey thanks to its amazing natural landscape that has been utilised by monks and their communities over 1,000 years ago to create a wonderfully weird world.
Are you planning to visit Cappadocia? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!