‘Deep in the heart of the Anatolian plains of the Turkish desert lie the magical fairy chimneys and open air museums of Cappadocia…’
Cappadocia is the name given to the ancient Kingdom in the desert of what is modern-day Turkey. Cappadocia’s existence was first recorded in the 6th Century BC. The region is so historic, it’s mentioned in the Bible, as well as the Jewish Mishnah. Cappadocia has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1985. Its fairy chimneys and carved rock homes are must-see sights for travellers.
Getting to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is by no means an easy place to get to. It sits in the middle of a semi-arid desert in the middle of the country. Unless you want to spend a few days in one of the four cities within Cappadocia, a trip there and back is a really long trek. We boarded an alarmingly early bus from Istanbul to the area of Sabiha Gocken regional airport. From Sabiha Gocken, we hopped an internal flight (1 hr 20) to Nevsehir Airport in Kayseri. Once there, we hopped a shuttle bus to transport us 70km through the desert to Cappadocia.
We left our Istanbul apartment at 3am and made it back in time to collapse into bed around 11pm the same day.
Flights to Cappadocia are also available from Antalya and Ankara to Nevsehir, and Ankara also has a bus service. The bus takes around 9 hours to make the journey, so flying might be the best option.
How big is Cappadocia?
Cappadocia is around 95 miles wide and stretches from Kayseri in the east to Aksaray in the west. Within these boundaries are the four cities of Kayseri, Nevsehir, Aksaray, and Nigde, as well as Goreme National Park. These areas contain the most popular tourist attractions and rock formations.
How long do I need in Cappadocia?
To have a chance to explore the main underground cities, the rock formations, the Fairy Chimneys, and still have time to enjoy the views, three days is recommended. We were only able to stay for a single day, so our tour was pretty short and sweet. We walked around 8 miles during our self-guided tour, despite the baking heat of the desert, and it was an unforgettable experience.
What should I take?
Comfy shoes are an absolute must. It’s rocky, uneven, steep, and there are no safety barriers if you decide to do a spot of climbing up the rocks to get a view of the landscape. If you’re out and about all day, then water and snacks are also a good idea. There are restaurants and cafes on the outskirts, but once you’re in the thick of it, there’s not much to be seen. After our marathon day, we scrambled for a cold beer while we waited on the shuttle to pick us up. I can’t recall ever drinking in more incredible surroundings.
What should I see?
Although many of the sights don’t make it on to the ‘must-see’ list, pretty much anything you lay your eyes on within Cappadocia is astounding. It’s impossible to be disappointed with anything you see. I was honestly just content to wander around, poking my head into caves and looking at homes carved into rock faces. If your time is short and you want to visit the most popular sights, hit up the following:
The fairy chimneys are incredible rock formations, formed over millions of years. They were initially caused by thick carpets of ash from volcanic eruptions. Over the course of history, the ash solidified and the ‘fairy chimneys’ are the by-product. Although entirely natural, they look like they’ve been deliberately carved. The fairy chimneys are one of the most popular sights within the Cappadocia region. They draw in tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Uchisar Castle is the highest point in Cappadocia, offering the most spectacular views across the rocky landscape. The castle sits atop a beautiful citadel of rock homes and a trip to the top is well worth the time taken to climb up.
Underground City of Kaymakli
Let’s face it, it’s not that often you get to explore an underground city, is it? There are nearly 100 tunnels, leading to and from the former homes and it’s an experience not to be missed. Visitors have been able to tour the underground city of Kaymakli since the early 1960s. The city consists of eight underground floors (how did they even do that??) and four are open to the public.
Goreme Open Air Museum
While it may not sound quite as exciting as the Fairy Chimneys or the underground city of Kaymakli, Goreme Open Air Museum is a jaw-dropping sight. The area is a huge monastic village, with carved monasteries and chapels sitting side by side in the rocky landscape.
The museum’s highlight is the amazing Dark Church. The Dark Church, which is so-called as it has no windows has managed to retain its colourful frescoes. The Church has been fully restored to its former glory and it’s an incredible sight. Goreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site within a World Heritage Site. There can’t be many places on earth with that claim to fame.
I hope this gives you an idea of what you need to know before you head out to Cappadocia.