What to Do in Cappadocia: 3 day Itinerary to explore the highlights

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Cappadocia is a stunning region in Turkey. Rent a car and explore its beauty, walk, drive, go up on the Hot air balloon, relax. There are so many things to do in Cappadocia and enjoy the unusual landscape of this region.

Cappadocia is located in the centre of Turkey on the eastern edge of Central Anatolia. The tourist region of Cappadocia has 3 volcanoes, none of them active. The past eruptions of these volcanoes left the area blanketed in cooled lava and ash. With nature forces at work over thousands of years, the landscape that you get to see today is quite unusual.

This region was our second stop in our 10-day trip to Turkey. If you are researching on what to do in Cappadocia, then this 3 days in Cappadocia itinerary is the right blog for you! Our stay in Cappadocia was for 3 days, but you can see and do things in 2 packed days in Cappadocia as well.

This was a dramatic change after our 3 sightseeing-filled days in Istanbul. We spent another 3 days in Istanbul before ending our Turkey trip. See this post on out Istanbul itinerary at the start and the end of the Turkey trip.

Disclaimer: This helpful post contains some Affiliate links. This means that if you click on any of the links in this post (AND make a purchase) I may receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. As such I thank you in advance should you decide to click & buy.

Best time to visit Cappadocia

The best time to visit Cappadocia is in the shoulder months of April to May and September to October. The day temperatures are moderate and nights a bit chilly.

How to reach Cappadocia

We took a flight from Istanbul to Kayseri airport. There are two airports in Cappadocia Turkey, the Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport and the Kayseri Erkilet Airport. We rented a car in Cappadocia to explore the region in 3 days.

A road trip from Istanbul to Cappadocia would take long (the distance is about 725 km) although you would get to make stops in between. I would not recommend it.

7 Best Things to do in Cappadocia Turkey

Enjoy the Hot Air Balloon Experience

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A hot air balloon ride is a must-do to enjoy the fantastical landscape.

My husband and I did the Hot Air Balloon experience on separate mornings since the baby was not allowed on this and we did not want to miss the experience. It was good that we could manage separate flights over 2 days in Cappadocia. He got up very early in the morning for his Hot Air Balloon ride on Day 1 of our Cappadocia itinerary. He loved the aerial view of the fantastical landscape in Cappadocia.

The Rose Valley from high up.

Day 2 in Cappadocia was my turn to get up early for the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. And it turned out to be memorable. Driving all over the day earlier had given me a good orientation of the region and I was able to relate easily to the Deverant valley, Zelve Valley, Rose Valley, Red Valley, and Cavusin. The hot air balloon experience really gives you a feel of the landscape and what makes Cappadocia as one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in Turkey. The landing was so smooth that the pilot told us not to bother with the landing position.

This is a popular activity in Cappadocia, so best to book it in advance. See the tour options here from Goreme:

Stunning Valleys of Cappadocia

There are many other things to do inn Cappadocia beyond hot air balloon experience. The unusual landscape of Cappadocia is home to many interesting valleys. You can hike in many of these. Pigeon Valley is home to thousands of pigeon homes carved into the rock faces. Love Valley is renowned for the famous phallic rock structures. Rose and Red Valley has the perfect panoramic viewpoint for sunset. Our first stop on the first day of the 3-day Cappadocia itinerary was Devrent Valley.

Yasemin, the hotel manager had organised an automatic car with a child seat in advance for us. The car was delivered to the hotel. We discussed our itinerary for the day with Yasemin and she made remarkable improvements to it, gave us a handy map and we were all set. My husband was driving on the right side for the very first time and hence was a bit cautious initially.

We started with Devrent or ‘Imagination’ valley. The interesting rock formations scattered all over as you drive through this valley do stretch the imagination!

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A camel or something else?

Ilhara Valley

On the second day of our 3 days trip to Cappadocia, we drove out to explore a different area – Ihlara Valley. It was good to drive through good straight roads with open fields on both sides, squashes lying in the open to be dried.

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The drive to Ilhara Valley is scenic.

Ilhara valley is one of the stunning natural landscapes in Cappadocia, but is mostly missed by tourists who visit this region for a day or two. The 14-km gorge here was formed thousands of years ago and makes for a great day hiking option.

We had planned to do a short hike in the Ihlara valley. But sure enough, we got lost! The signboards we followed got us halfway to Aksaray before we realized something was amiss.

We retraced our steps back, found a very narrow road and took it, the road got even narrower as we entered the village and we heaved a sigh of relief as we found the 4 restaurants near a water stream where we had a very good lunch (at one of them). You can hike along the stream where you can see some churches as well.

It was early evening and we were tired, so decided to skip the hiking along the stream. It wasn’t an easy decision given that we are unlikely to come back to this region.

See an Open Air Museum


We enjoyed our time at Zelve open air museum. Goreme is the more popular open museum in Cappadocia but it can also get very crowded. It was nice to have Zelve with so fewer people. I think Zelve was stunning and less touristy. It was already hot and we made slow progress with a toddler.

Zelve Open Air Museum is located 5 kilometers south of Avanos. The small area has 15 Byzantine-era cave churches and walking paths inn decent condition lead you to the main churches. Zelve is open from 8 AM until 415 PM. It takes at least 2 hours to explore this area.

What do you mean I cant read a map as yet?
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The many rock formations in Zelve Valley.

Cavusin was next on the agenda but walking around in Zelve valley (with the baby) had drained us and we decided to give it a miss. We then drove via Pashbagi (where you see some mushroom formations) to Goreme for lunch.


Goreme is the famous open air museum in Cappadocia and a must on any Cappadocia itinerary. But fame brings crowds. It has well-preserved rock-cut churches with famed frescoes and monasteries. The Dark Church is the best of the lot. This museum is open from 8 AM until 7 PM. It would take you about an hour to 1.5 hours to explore this place.

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Centuries-old frescoes in Goreme open-air museum make it a popular tourist site.

We went to Goreme open air museum and some guide in the parking lot told us it is crowded and hot and not a good time to visit with a baby. Instead, he suggested that we go to Avanos. He pulled out some pottery place card where we could see how the pottery is made and of course buy. Clay Pottery from Avanos is one of the Turkish souvenirs to buy. We had no desire to go to Avanos but the number of tourist buses was a bit discouraging especially after having Zelve mostly to ourselves.

We visited Uchisar town first and then came back to Goreme museum. The churches were interesting and so was the Dark Church, but by now I was getting irritated at paying twice for this place. It is best to visit this place in the morning or early evening, to avoid mid-day crowds.

Visit castles in Cappadocia

We decided to kill some time and drove towards Uchisar castle, saw the Pigeon Valley and Uchisar town. The road between Goreme and Uchisar has some great viewpoints (one right before Panorama restaurant) of the Goreme Valley and Uchisar town.

Uchisar castle has been the main point of defence for the Cappadocia region. In the past, people had also carved their homes into the outside walls of the castle. There is nothing much to look at within the castle. The view from here is quite stunning though.

Are these pigeons real?

Visit the sunset point

The sunrise from your hotel or the hot air balloon ride is quite special. But so is the sunset in Cappadocia.

It was evening by the time we finished visiting Goreme museum on Day 1 but still a bit early to go to Kizilcukur (sunset point). Since we had nothing to do, we drove there and decided to wait for the awesome sunset that we were promised. Soon, in the next hour, the entire place was filled with buses and cars and people. There were some hiking trails marked from the valley to Cavusin which seemed interesting.

10 min before the sunset, the baby pooped. I being the first-time-hyper-mommy wanted to first change her and this took more time than I realized. Clean baby, no great sunset photos….ah, well, such is life!

I caught a bit of the sun going down.

We drove back to the hotel after a packed and interesting day.

Visit an underground city

It is believed that the underground cities of Cappadocia were initially built during the 7th and 8th centuries BCE by people, who carved their living spaces into the region’s soft volcanic rock. Derinkuyu Underground City and Kaymalki Underground City are famous Cappadocia attractions. Derinkuyu is the largest underground city of Cappadocia, consists of 12 floors.

Our first stop on Day 2 of Cappadocia itinerary was at Kaymakli underground city. Kaymaklı underground city features a maze of tunnels and rooms carved 8 levels deep into the earth. My husband feels a bit claustrophobic and I wasn’t sure how Kaavya, my baby would react but we decided to experience the underground city. And we were glad we did!

Kaavya was asleep throughout the tour and it even though it broke my back carrying her, it turned out to be a good experience. It was bizarre to see the 8 different levels where people actually lived, stored their food, made wine, and prayed.

Visit a monastery

After lunch at Ilhara valley, we drove to the Selme monastery. It is quite a climb but well worth the view. There are lots of photo opportunities with bizarre rock formations, interesting play of light and shadows. Everyone looked at us in disbelief as we carried the baby all the way up!

Selme monastery is the largest religious structure in the Cappadocia region with a cathedral-sized church cut directly into the volcanic tuff. The entrance ticket to Ilhara valley covers Selme as well.

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View of Ilhara Valley from Selme.

On the way, it should have been a straight drive back to Urgup. Except that we took some detour from Derinkuyu which was not towards Kaymakli and very soon landed up just 13 km short of Soganli monastery! Stunning scenery.

I consulted the map and yes, this was an expensive detour in terms of time. Had we been on our own, we would have driven to the Soganli monastery, but Kaavya was not happy in the child seat for so long. After much consultation with the map, we found our way back to Urgup.

Tips for Things to Do in Cappadocia

1. Do the key sights on foot before you see them on the hot air balloon. I found this gave me a better perspective of the area we were flying over and I was able to appreciate all the views much more. A one-hour flight is enough for the experience. So if you need to save money, don’t hesitate to take the one-hour flight.

The entire region has good viewpoints.

2. Goreme open air museum can be quite crowded, so either do it very early or in the late evening. And I found Zelve equally interesting though, for some reason, everyone goes to Goreme and not enough to Zelve.

3. Underground city experience is great. We like to do things at our own pace with the baby and hence didn’t take group tours. We also prefer to read signboards and occasionally listen to audio guides instead of hiring personal guides. But I think a guided tour here would have enhanced our experience and knowledge.

4. It is best to rent a car to explore the different regions in Cappadocia. If you don’t want to rent a car and drive yourself, it is best to take one of the popular tours in Cappadocia.

Red Tour: This covers Goreme open air museum, Fairy chimneys, Devrent valley, Avanos

Red Plus Tour: This includes Zelve open air museum, Goreme viewpoint, Fairy chimneys, Devrent valley, Avanos

Green Tour: This includes Pigeon valley, Ilhara Valley and Selme monastery

For a 2 day trip to Cappadocia, it is best to combine Green and Red Tour in Cappadocia.

Cappadocia 3-day Itinerary

Day 1: Hot air balloon (for my husband), Deverant valley, Zelve open air museum, Uchisar castle, Pigeon valley, Goreme museum, Sunset point

Day 2: Hot air balloon (for me), Kaymalki underground city, Ilhara valley, Selme monastery

Day 3: We had an easy day enjoying the cave hotel. We spent most of the day playing with her in the garden, except for a nice drive to Ayvali village for lunch.

But without a toddler, the 3rd day would be great for a day hike.

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A cave at Zelve.

Where to stay in Cappadocia

A stay in a Cave Hotel is a great experience in Cappadocia. Valleys, rock formations and caves have formed naturally in this area, and some of these caves have housed people over the centuries. The unique landscape and human intervention that made rooms carved in soft rock material gives you a chance to stay at cave hotels. 

Explore other cave hotel options in Cappadocia

We stayed at Esbelli Evi and I cannot recommend this boutique hotel enough! The cave room, the lovely breakfast and all the helpful tips by the manager, Yasemin on our Cappadocia itinerary made the stay at Esbelli Evi wonderful.  We did what Yasemin calls the ‘Highlights of Cappadocia‘.

Food in Cappadocia

The breakfast spread at our hotel, Esbelli Evi was excellent and set us up well for the long day ahead. We had nice meals mostly based on recommendations given by the hotel manager on local restaurants.

Do ensure that you have a meal at both Old Greek House at Mustafapasha and Gamirasu Hotel at Ayvali. Lunch on the first day was at Orient restaurant in Goreme. The food is delicious and good value for money.

Yasemin had reserved a place at Ziggy’s for dinner that day and it was an enjoyable meal.

There are several restaurants near a water stream in Ilhara Valley, you could eat at any of them. We had chosen to go to Bellirsima for lunch. We had a nice dinner at Han Ciragan in Urgup.

For your Turkey trip planning, do read –

Places to visit in Turkey: The classic ‘Cultural Triangle’ Itinerary

Istanbul Itinerary: Best places to visit in the city that straddles East and West

Take this Istanbul walking food tour to enjoy the best of Turkish street food

Turkey beach holidays: Sea, sand and ancient ruins at this Mediterranean paradise

Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia: A Photo Essay

Visiting the ancient city of Ephesus: Attractions & Travel tips

[This post was originally published in 2018, and later updated in 2023.]

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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

22 thoughts

  1. Cappadocia has been on my list for a long time, mainly because of the balloon pictures! But I see there is so much more to do, like the Zelve Open Air Museum – that sounds fun, and it is good to note it isn’t so crowded. I’d love to explore the underground city!

    1. Sam, although stay at a cave hotel and hot air balloon are incredible experiences, Cappadocia has a lot more to offer. The underground city is a surreal experience. Imagine 8 levels below the ground!!

  2. Hey have been to Turkey and Greece in 2014 and you can find some of the stories in my blog also. I must say your blogposts have been an inspiration for me tow once again write about Capadoccia and you may soon see some of them coming up in my blogpost. I would like to visit this place once again just to click pictures. I loved your blogpost.

  3. That balloon flight is reaallly exciting! I would love to visit and try their balloon ride while enjoying the perfect view of Cappadocia. I really love all of your photos, captured all of the beautiful views of Cappadocia.

  4. Balloon ride is what came to my mind first when I started reading your blog. Will keep in mind your tip to take road trip first.That was sad missing the sunset moment, but I am sure you must be smiling away recollecting this incident 🙂 Food by riverside sounds so good. I want to get there soon.

    1. I am sure the balloon ride is equally magical if you do it first. Seeing the valleys on foot first just made me relate to the aerial view better.

  5. I love Cappadocia! Even though we did not do the hot air balloon flight, we watched them from our hotel’s terrace early in the morning and it was quite the spectacle! We also stayed in a cave hotel and I absolutely recommend that! I understand you have a baby so renting a car made sense, my husband and I rented a scooter and ATV and the experience was brilliant. We also went to Kaymakli Underground City, and it was so chilly inside! It’s one place in Turkey I recommend people to visit.

    1. Medha, wasn’t seeing all those people live, sleep, cook in that underground city a surreal experience? I really enjoyed the history and the landscape in Cappadocia.

  6. Fantastic advice about how to visit Cappadocia. Especially the tip about visiting the valleys by car/foot first before taking a balloon ride. The Rose Valley looks so calm and beautiful from above. I’m not keen on crowds, so I would probably pick to see Zelve instead of Goreme. Thanks for all the great info.

  7. The photos are stunning! I have never tried riding a hot air balloon, but it’s one of my childhood dreams and I promise to fulfill it someday. It must be a very wonderful experience, I can’t help but be jealous.

    1. Your first experience of a hot air balloon should be here, and then you needn’t do it ever again because all other landscapes will pale in comparison. 😊

  8. I’d love to explore this region and really enjoyed your post, especially the photos taken from the air. Interestingly I remember someone criticising the number of balloons in the air as a negative but I think it makes the site even more wondrous to see so many balloons sailing in the skies. I would definitely like to explore by car too, a great way to see at your own pace.

    1. The number of balloons are really too many, but it doesn’t take away from the experience in any way. And unlike crowds on ground, it doesn’t even mean any delay. You are not pushing through crowds to see the landscape. The sky is large enough for everyone to enjoy:-)

  9. What a good tip to do the sights on foot first. I haven’t been to Cappadocia and do like the idea of a long dreamy balloon ride, but if I’m honest an hour would probably be quite long enough for me

  10. I love the fact everyone goes here for the hot air balloons. 😀 But seriously, if I went, (as I have never been) I would love to check out that sunset at Kizilcukur, I am such a sun seeker. The view looks perfect.

    1. Everyone goes because the landscape is so unique. Not just a balloon ride over flatlands or vineyards or fields. I would recommend it to everyone, despite the crowded skies. That sunset point is great too.

  11. Oh, this post takes me back! I’ve visited years ago and I still talk about that trip. 🙂
    Your photos of the Goreme valley are beautiful! I can only imagine what beautiful morning you had when taking the hot air balloon ride, even though doing it separately. And how lovely that the hotel manager organized a car with a child seat for you.
    The one thing I didn’t do in Cappadocia you’ve reminded me off is that I didn’t stay at the cave hotel. A reason to go back some day, right! 😉

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