Cappadocia, Turkey: The Ultimate Travel Guide to the Ancient City

Before 2023, I had yet to travel anywhere in eastern Europe, so I changed that fact by visiting Turkey for a week. Over the years (mostly due to social media), Cappadocia has been growing in popularity for people (like myself) who want to see hundreds of floating hot air balloons ascending along the glowing horizon simultaneously. Cappadocia is situated within the peninsula of Anatolia; from Istanbul, the trip is an hour-and-thirty-minute flight away, or nearly a nine-hour bus or train ride. The entire journey from Istanbul, if executed in one day, can take five hours before arriving to the deserts of Cappadocia—but trust me, it’s worth it.

Traveling to Turkey has always been on my mind because of the country’s ancient architecture and cave dwelling activities. I am also a lover of Turkish lamps. I even traveled to Solvang in California to buy one for my nightstand. When my eyes were first dazzled by the kaleidoscopic glow from a table lamp, I realized these storybook light fixtures become the focal point of any space and they always catch my attention.

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And just like Turkish lamps, Istanbul has a beautiful cityscape that at night mimics the radiating light of these prized furniture trinkets. Enveloped by the Black Sea, Istanbul is the most populated city in Turkey with a buzzing nightlife, however, I only stayed for a single night before my trip to Cappadocia, where I explores many mosques and bazaars. I recommend spending a day aimlessly walking into merchant stores because there are beautifully-detailed Turkish rugs and jewelry to discover. Below, the ultimate Cappadocia travel guide.

1. How to Get to Göreme National Park in Cappadocia

For your transportation from Nevsehir Airport to Goreme in Cappadocia, you can take a shuttle bus. There are seven shuttle buses that go between the airport and park daily, and the ride will take up to an hour. If you want to make your trip as easy as possible, I suggest staying in either Kayakapi Premium Caves or Luvi Cave Cappadocia, rock-strewn hotels that house guests in renovated cave dwellings with modern interior and amenities. For a loftier experience, Argos is a mountainous luxe resort that will take your trip to the fairytale land of Cappadocia to the next level. There, travelers really get to witness the prehistoric magic behind the weathered city. Most of these accommodations include a classic Cappadocian breakfast (think: menemen, cheeses, olives, cured meats, mediterranean dips, poached eggs, sliced tomatoes, and a fragrant Turkish tea).

2. Göreme’s Fairy Chimneys

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Before the emitting morning sunlight from the break of dawn reaches the peaks of fairy chimneys across Göreme National Park, wake up to catch the most opportune moment for the ride of a lifetime. The aftermath of a volcanic explosion of the ancient Erciyes and Hasan mountains has resulted in the gravity-defying rocky formations of pointing (fairy) chimneys that have been shaped by winds over millions of years. There are local touring companies or online pre-bookings (which I did) for a visit to the Göreme valley to see the magnetic interior of the Dark Church. The Red Tour reservation takes you to Uchisar Castle, Karanlık Kilise, and Dark Church with a small group. Experience a Dervish dance performance in one of the caves for extra costs, or just wander at the honeycombed rocks that construct the historic Uçhisar Castle. The castle is home to Pigeon Valley, where a population of Turkish pigeons have nested in the dark tunnels that were created by eroded streams.

3. Those IG-Worthy Cappadocia Hot Air Balloons

There are plenty of hot air balloon touring companies based in Cappadocia. Some budget-friendly experiences offer 60- to 75-minute rides in a basket of eight that glides over the towering rocks with English-speaking pilots. For a luxury hot air balloon excursion, The Royal Balloon company’s King Flight is a three-hour ride at a premium cost. Most bookings start at $180 and it is recommended to book at least one month in advance because as seasons fluctuate, Cappadocia is becoming more in-demand for travelers and sold-out days aren’t uncommon. There are hotels that offer booking services and tour companies that will bus you from your hotel or the Erkilet or Nevşehir airports, depending on how you choose to visit Cappadocia. Also, Uber (yes, Uber) now offers in-app hot air balloon excursions for approximately $159.

On take-off day, guests wake up at 4 a.m. and prepare to lift off from a colorful hot air balloon to see the majestic landscape of mountains that cascade along Cappadocia’s frontier. Hot air balloon rides are only serviced in the morning because the region is known for high-winds on some hot days. These giant airborne baskets will soar over 100 meters, and rides last at least an hour, with up to 20 riders per hot air balloon. The cost increases if you want to have less occupants in the hot air balloon at an extended time—up to 90 minutes or more for a luxurious excursion.

4. Where to Dine in a Cave in Cappadocia

With the richness of the volcanic soils that make Cappadocia a world wonder, wine-making has been a harvesting art form that has existed in the central region for centuries. The anatolian grapes of öküzgözü, kalecik karası, boğazkere, narince, and emir are grown throughout the wine-making grounds. Wines can be enjoyed after a hot air balloon ride or can be ordered at hotels in these local rock-carved towns, where overnight visitors like myself can enjoy alongside a meal at sunset before hitting the nearby markets.

At İnci Cave Restaurant Göreme, they serve homemade red wines in a warm, comforting cave that makes your meal feel as if you are eating in a rocky nook. Turkish lamps are strewn across the cave’s ceiling and palm leaves line up the other dinner tables. They are known for their kebabs and torched soup dishes that include cuts of vegetables, seafood, veel chops, and appetizer plates. There are more cave eateries like Inci in the area, such as Family Cave restaurant or Topdeck Cave.

Other local dishes served street-side include testi (pottery) kebab, kayısı yahnisi (an apricot and meat slow-cooked inside a clay pot), and zerdeli pilav (rice infused with grape molasses resting on a bed of chickpea mixed with almonds, raisins, and coconut).

5. Cappadocia’s Open-Air Bazaars

If you can’t make it to the vast Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that spans over 60 streets, the smaller, open-air markets in Cappadocia offer fresh produce, herbs, and spice blends. Inside these markets, you will more than likely have a run-in with a googly-eyed stray cat that freely roams around the city and embarks on adventures for scraps. In fact, most of Istanbul and Cappadocia is home to thousands of cats.

At these weekly bazaars held in Cappadocia, you should carry cash for the local villagers who are selling goods. Handmade ceramics, onyx and zultanite jewelry, carpets, dolls, fruits, and miniatures are common sales items at these vast street markets. I stocked up on local spices that aren’t offered in the U.S., such as Pul Biber (Turkish red chili). There are so many merchant shops to scour through—truly a shopaholic’s dream.

6. Wellness, & Those Epic Hamams

An emblematic wellness practice of the Eastern European country is their hamams (or spas) that offer massage and hygienic services at the hotels. Inside the luxe Kayakapi cave hotel, I recharged before my long flight back to California. These Turkish bathhouses are equipped with traditional body scrubbing tools, hot-air exposure, cold showers, and many premium amenities. The interior walls and architecture of these spas are impressively embellished with religious iconography and arched doorways that gleam full of light.

Turkey is an immensely diverse country with great historical influences. The welcoming culture, community, and innate detail of Cappadocia is a sight to marvel at and can be observed for hours. Every corner of the region’s landscapes naturally shine and pulsate with life as the sun’s rays kiss sacred bedrock, making the region a great wonder of the world.

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