Is Cappadocia really worth the hype? Known for its iconic hot air balloon rides over a land of “fairy chimneys”, I also wondered if the most popular destination in Turkey would live up to my expectations.
What I found is that Cappadocia has so much more to offer beyond what you’ll find on Instagram. Sure, it’s an ideal destination to get dreamy shots in a flowy dress at dawn. But I would argue it’s even better for outdoor adventure AND culture.
In Cappadocia the region’s rich history and outlandish landscape go hand-in-hand. The “fairy chimneys” might look like they were built by aliens, but they were actually formed by volcanic eruptions over millions of years.
Fast-forward to the Roman era, Christians fled to Cappadocia to take refuge in these enchanting valleys, where they carved out the inside of these structures to build cave houses and churches. They also built underground cities to hide in whenever they were getting attacked.
Needless to say, Cappadocia didn’t just meet my expectations, it exceeded them. And while I usually don’t take a lot of tours when I travel, I would definitely recommend booking tours while in Cappadocia. The destination is a bit remote, making it hard to get around by foot, public transport, and even taxi. Tours are the most efficient way to experience the most the destination has to offer.
Best Cappadocia Tours for Every Type of Traveler
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Red Tour Cappadocia
Price: 39+ Euros
Time: 5-7 hours
Area: Northern Cappadocia
Best for: Nature and history
Included: Hotel Transfer, transport, guide, lunch, entrance fees.
Goreme and the surrounding outskirts are at the epicenter of Cappadocia. This is why taking a tour of the Northern region, also known as a “red tour”, is one of the most popular picks for travelers. It could be a complete coincidence, but the “red” may refer to the cardinal-colored valleys that make this landscape so remarkable.
My friend and I opted to take this best-selling red tour of Northern Cappadocia, and I am amazed by what we were able to accomplish in a matter of hours.
(Left) exploring through Imagination Valley. (Right) walking through Cavusin Village.
Our tour started with a visit to one of the oldest settlements in Cappadocia, Cavusin. What’s the most incredible is that people still live in these houses today. This area is apparently what inspired the cartoon the Flintstones!
After this we explored the dunes of Devrent Valley, also known as Imagination Valley. I can see why the rock formations are called “fairy chimneys”, as the structures take extraterrestrial shapes that don’t look like anything else I’ve seen on planet earth.
This tour also incorporates a stop in Avanos, a village outside of Goreme celebrated for its traditional pottery. The local craft has been passed down throughout the centuries starting with the Hitties in 2000 B.C.
The tradition is to use the mineral-rich clay from the Red River and form the pots using a foot-spinning technique. These pots are then hand-painted to perfection with incredible detail!
There’s many family-run shops you can stop at in Avanos to support this preserved art.
One of the biggest selling points is that the tour includes entrance to the Open Air Museum, one of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia. Here is where you’ll find the largest collection of rock-cut churches and monasteries carved out of caves. During the spring the museum is filled with cherry blossoms in bloom, and it is so lovely!
Unfortunately our plane was delayed when we first got into Cappadocia, so we missed this morning portion of our tour. We went the next day instead, but wanted to include it as this is typically what you’ll find in this Cappadocia tour.
Green Tour Cappadocia
Price: 50+ euros
Time: 7 hours
Best for: Hiking, nature, underground cities
Area: Southern Cappadocia
Included: Pick-up, transfer, lunch, guide, insurance, entrance fees.
One more time for people in the back: Cappadocia is just as much an outdoor adventure destination than it is an Instagram spot. If you’re into hiking and getting lost in nature, you could honestly spend a week in the region doing this in itself.
This popular outdoor adventure tour of Cappadocia explores the Southern side of the region’s underground cities, valleys, and hidden gems. This tour would be best for active travelers interested in escaping the crowds into nature.
The day trip starts with a visit to the Derinkuyu Underground City. Christians built these underground cities throughout the Roman era to escape persecution. This particular city is located 85 meters underground, and could accommodate up to 20,000 people!
In the late morning the tour includes a hike 4 kilometers through the Ihlara Valley. Unlike many of the stops along the red tour, the Southern region is filled with lush, green forests and rivers, especially in the summertime. Also throughout the valley you’ll stumble upon cave churches carved out of the rocks, dating back to the 7th-11th century.
For lunch you’ll be able to cool off in Belisirma Village where you can eat lunch atop floating docks on the river.
Blue Tour Cappadocia
Price: 45+ Euros
Time: 7 Hours
Area: Turkish villages throughout the area
Best for: History, architecture, nature
Included: Pick-up, transfer, lunch, guide, insurance, entrance fees.
The Blue Tour incorporate the lesser-known villages of Cappadocia, and a deeper dive into the region’s history. The Ottoman and Greek influences are found here in everything from the architecture to the food and decor.
The first stop along this journey is Mustafapasa (say that three times fast!) This is the biggest Greek town in Cappadocia, naturally with plenty of massive Ottoman mansions to explore.
A short drive from here is Sobessos, a nearby village with entirely different cultural influences. Sobessos was a Roman City in Cappadocia, filled with churches, monasteries, and mosaics. However, all of this glory was only discovered about 10 years ago!
Lastly the tour also stops in the Sognali Valley, known as one of the best “hidden gems” of Cappadocia. Today people still live in these beehive-like structures, while the valley is often used for cattle and sheep.
Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Tour
Price: 250 Euros+ per group
Time: 1 hour (morning or evening)
Area: Various locations
Best for: Landscape views, relaxing
Included: Hotel transfer, guide, champagne, 360 views
This attraction in itself is probably one of the reasons why the destination became so popular in the first place. According to several local guides I spoke with, it was really the Instagram shots of hot air balloons at sunrise that blew up tourism in the region (pun intended).
Although we decided to watch the hot air balloons rise from our hotel, it is definitely an experience that seems to be worth the hype. There’s nothing more magical than seeing all of the aforementioned valleys, villages, and rock formations while the sun comes up over the horizon.
There are multiple tour companies that offer this experience. I would recommend checking online first for a reputable company and booking in advance. Tours will include transport, balloon operator, and a glass of champagne after taking flight.
Horseback Riding Tours
Price: 30 Euros+
Time: 1-2 hours (morning or evening)
Area: Rose Valley
Best for: Landscape views, relaxing
Included: Hotel pick-up, equipment, water, and guide
I definitely would make sure horseback riding is at the top of your list as one of the most authentic Cappadocia experiences. Cappadocia actually means “land of beautiful horses” because wild horses have roamed the valley for centuries.
Today you can still spot wild horses in the valley, and its only common for locals to ride horses in certain parts of Cappadocia. At one point walking through Goreme, I literally saw a man on a horse in a cowboy hat trotting through town, right next to a guy cruising in a vintage mustang. You can’t make this stuff up.
This horseback riding tour from Goreme was the highlight of our trip. The company picked us up and brought us to their family ranch in the “Rose Valley”. Here we picked out our horse, helmet, and with a little refresher on riding, we were off.
The trails weaved through vineyards, cherry-blossom trees, and fairy chimneys scattered throughout the valley. Our English-speaking guide was extremely helpful during our 2-hour tour, and put my nervous mind at ease.
My friend Kelsey was much more comfortable as an amateur equestrienne than I was. The guide taught us how to work up to a faster trot, but I was more comfortable just walking. The picture above is when our guide told me to hug my horse, which clearly just made me more nervous (LOL).
ATV Tours in Cappadocia
Price: 35+ Euros
Time: 1-2 hours
Area: Love or Rose Valley
Best for: Adrenaline rush, outdoor adventure
Included: ATV, helmets, water, transfer.
If you’d rather explore the valleys on four wheels instead of four legs, you also have the option of taking an ATV out for a spin. As opposed to horseback riding that is more low-key and relaxing, this would be an ideal option if you are looking for more of an adrenaline rush.
There are a couple different companies that offer this experience in several locations throughout Cappadocia. One of the most popular is within the Love Valley near Goreme. Here you can drive along the ATV trails among the fairy chimneys and rock formations for a pretty incredible experience.
If you do book this tour, make sure that you stay on trail and be mindful of those that might be horseback riding nearby. When horseback riding our guide had to stop and tell a couple people that they were actually on the horse trekking trail.
Turkish Dinner and Dancing Tour in a Cave
Price: 35 Euros+
Time: 4 hours
Area: Near Goreme
Best for: Dancing, dinner, and lots of laughs
Included: Hotel pick-up, dinner, unlimited drinks
From “pottery” kebabs to a variety of Turkish tapas called “Meze”, there’s definitely a foodie scene in Cappadocia. There’s no shortage of restaurants either, as the destination has gotten even more popular. Most of the restaurants in places like Goreme are great for a rooftop view over lunch.
However if you’re interested in dining in a cave or seeing a Turkish dance show, you’ll have to venture a bit further outside the city. That’s why my friend and I decided to book an experience at this cave restaurant with Turkish dancing.
Our guide picked us up at our hotel and brought us to an underground restaurant inside a massive cave. The place was packed with other tour groups, so I’m happy we were able to get a front-row seat for the dancing.
The dinner was 3 courses with unlimited beer and/or wine. I can honestly not tell you what I ate as I was too mesmerized by the dancing.
Folk dancing is traditionally performed at big occasions like weddings, festivals, and even when men leave for (obligatory) military service. Each region has its own style of dance and traditional attire, including Bar, Zeybek, Hora, and Horon.
The show also incorporates the audience in the dancing, usually in a humorous way. I was even called up a couple of times to participate, which made me very thankful for the unlimited wine.
The end of the show was a sort of a traditional wedding ceremony, where I was chosen to be the “bride”. Covering in a red veil, male participants from the audience tried to impress me in what was essentially a dance off.
One man, who was probably around 55, literally did a somersault and a cartwheel for me. Naturally, I choose him as the “winner”. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard!
Hiking Tours in Cappadocia
Price: 45 Euros+
Time: 5-7 hours (morning or evening)
Best for: Active travelers, outdoor adventure
Included: Hotel transfer, transport, museum entrance, and local guide
This hiking tour is gives a good overview of the entire Cappadocia region by combing elements of the blue, red, and green tours together.
The tour starts with exploring the Red Valley of the Northern region. Here you have the opportunity to trek around the ruins of Cavusin, the Old Greek Village that is still inhabited.
You’ll also visit Kaymakli, the widest underground city in Cappadocia built from volcanic stone. After this the tour takes you trekking through the Pigeon Valley.
The tour finishes with a visit to Ortahisar rock castle. This is considered to be the biggest fairy chimney in all of Cappadocia, so you’ll definitely work up a sweat hiking around the area.
Salt Lake Day Tour From Cappadocia
Not even if, but WHEN I return to Cappadocia, this is definitely a tour I need to take. It seems that this is one of the only tours online that offer the experience of visiting the nearby Lake Tuz, which means “salt lake”.
The lake happens to be the second largest in Turkey, and supplies over 60 percent of the country’s salt. The pastel pink waters are dotted with small islands with flamingos along the shorelines. Lake Tuz is considered to be a protected area in Turkey because of its unique beauty and wildlife.
This tour also includes a visit to the underground city of Talarin, dating back to the era of the Hitties. You’ll also take a few stops along what was formerly the ancient Silk Road that connected the East to the West.
Istanbul to Cappadocia multi-day tour
If you’re wondering the best way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, you’re definitely not alone. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t realize that they are actually on opposite ends of the country, which makes it a little more difficult for a day trip.
You do have a few options. If you really only have a day, you can take a day trip there by flying in the morning and leaving in the evening. You can do this on your own or with some tour groups.
There are groups that leave from Istanbul at night and arrive in Cappadocia in the morning by bus. I personally wouldn’t recommend this option, but it does exist.
There are also several multi-day tours from Istanbul to Cappadocia that take care of flights, accommodation, and transport for you.
For example, this 3-day tour of Cappadocia for less than 150 euros, accommodation, transportation, and a few meals included! I found that this was a popular option for solo travelers or those that wanted the convenience of having their entire Cappadocia trip planned for them.
You can either choose to book a trip that starts from Istanbul, so your flight is included in the tour cost. Or, you can simply book a multi-day trip from Cappadocia. Most of these tours will then pick you up at the airport.
I can’t wait to come back to Turkey, and specifically spend more time in Cappadocia. This truly is such an incredible country.
A few more pins for inspo!
A special thanks to Tourmania for hosting my friend and I on our tours while in Cappadocia and providing us transport to and from the airport. You can check out all of their Cappadocia tours here.