Last Updated on September 16, 2022 by Maggie McKneely
Visiting Turkey’s land of hot air balloons and caves but short on time? Here’s a one-day in Cappadocia itinerary to help you make the most of your trip!
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One Day in Cappadocia Itinerary
Turkey’s Cappadocia is a bucket-list-worthy destination. Every morning, hundreds of colorful hot air balloons fill the skies over an ancient region marked by bizarre rock formations. Horses are still the only allowed mode of transportation in many of the valleys, and many of the hotels are located in caves that have been inhabited for thousands of years. There’s nowhere else quite like it in the world.
Unlike some of my other one-day trips (looking at you, Lisbon and Venice), I didn’t actually plan to only have one day in Cappadocia. I booked three nights at the wonderful Tulip Cave Suites and thought we’d have at least two full days of exploring all of the region’s caves and rock formations and historical sites. But a few days before my mom and I arrived, the forecast said our second day in Cappadocia was going to be wet and dreary, a problem in an area where all the activities are outdoors. So I made a Plan B and figured out how to make the most of just one full day of good weather.
So while I hope you don’t need this itinerary and actually have more time to enjoy the area, this itinerary made us feel like we didn’t miss out on anything, despite only having sunshine for one day in Cappadocia.
Tips for Visiting Cappadocia
Cappadocia doesn’t really have public transportation; however, that doesn’t mean you need to rent a car. And with the tiny roads and crazy parking situation in most of the villages, I do not recommend doing that anyway. (Though you can certainly rent a car at the Cappadocia airport if you really want to!)
Most hotels offer airport transfers for about €10 each way. If you are doing a tour or a hot air balloon ride, almost all the companies will offer to pick you up. Taxis are very common, and you can have your hotel arrange them for you if you are concerned about being scammed. If you are not doing a tour and want to visit places on your own, you can hire a private driver.
Many people opt to take a guided tour of Cappadocia, especially if they don’t have their own car. With only one day in Cappadocia to spend, we hired a private guide to help us make the most of our time and I’m really glad we did!
When looking at things to do in Cappadocia, you’ll notice that there’s a “red tour” and a “green tour.” These refer to different areas, the red focused around the Red Valley east of Goreme and the green farther out in western Cappadocia. If you only have one day, your tour should include sites from both the red and green itineraries. This full-day private guided tour hits the highlights from both and I definitely recommend it.
Most activities are outdoors and very exposed (hence why the rain made me create a one-day In Cappadocia plan!). So be sure to pack your sunscreen in the summer and dress warmly for winter in Turkey. (And here are things to do in Cappadocia specifically for when the weather is bad).
Where to Stay
“Cappadocia” is actually the name of the entire region, not a town. The towns where you’ll find the balloons and the caves are Göreme, Ürgüp, and Uçhisar. Of the three, Göreme is the most centrally located and has the widest variety of hotels and restaurants. Most of the national parks and historic sites are here as well. You’ll find both regular hotels and cave hotels, but since this IS Cappadocia, you should definitely opt to stay in a cave – this is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so!
We stayed at Tulip Cave Suites and loved it. The price was affordable, it offered an amazing view of the balloons, and we got to spend the night in a 5th-century cave church. So cool!!
One Day in Cappadocia Itinerary
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Start your day with one of the most epic experiences you can have in Turkey – a Cappadocia hot air balloon ride! It’s the thing Cappadocia is most famous for. Unless you have a severe fear of heights, a hot air balloon ride is a non-negotiable part of any Cappadocia itinerary!
Over 100 hot air balloons fly over Cappadocia every morning, so naturally, there are a ton of different companies to choose from. However, a few years ago, a majority of those companies came together to form a co-op, so most of them offer the same prices for the same experiences. A sunrise ride will cost between $150-$300, depending on the length of the ride and the size of the basket (I.e. how many people you’ll be sharing the balloon with). Companies will pick you up directly from your hotel (around 4 AM, just FYI for you night owls lol). And almost every company ends the ride with a champagne toast and certificate of completion.
Our hotel had a partnership with Butterfly Balloons, so that is who we went with, and we had a wonderful experience.
When you are planning your trip to Turkey, this is probably the very first thing you want to book because they sell out months in advance. And if you have more than one day in Cappadocia, book a ride for multiple mornings in case they have to cancel for bad weather (don’t worry, you won’t be charged until the flight actually happens).
The first stop after your balloon ride and breakfast is Pasabag Valley. It’s known as “Monks Valley” in English, but it could just as well be called the “valley of the giant mushroom-shaped rocks.” Pasabag Valley was once home to one of the region’s many monasteries, but today it’s one of the best places to see Cappadocia’s famous fairy chimneys (or, mushroom-shaped rocks). It has the highest concentration of them out of everywhere else in the area.
They’re called fairy chimneys because legend says that fairies built them for their underground homes. But the rock formations are, of course, simply a quirk of the way nature has eroded the unique volcanic soil of Cappadocia.
Regardless of where the formations came from, the whimsical Pasabag Valley is a really fun place to explore, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Unlike some of Cappadocia’s other historic sites, you can actually climb inside most of the caves here. There are caves where the monks lived, “stables” for their livestock, and chutes and stairs that lead to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors that you can go to if you’re feeling adventurous!
Pasabag Valley is not very big – it would take an hour maximum to explore the whole place, and much less time if you just want to see the highlights.
Admission info: Pasabag Valley is open every day from 8 AM – 5 PM and the entry fee is 25TL.
Not far from Pasabag is another valley with multiple names. Devrent Valley is nicknamed in English “imagination valley” because many of the formations resemble animals – the most famous of which is a giant camel-shaped rock. It can be a game to count just how many animals you can find among the red rocks.
There’s no entry fee here and no official hiking trails – it’s one of the few places you can immerse yourself into Cappadocia’s alien landscape and explore on your own. It can also just be a quick stop to take a cheesy photo with one of the rock animals – whatever suits your style! (I opted out of the cheesy photos, personally lol).
Because it is free, all of the tour buses stop here, so try to arrive early or during lunchtime to avoid most of the crowds.
Goreme Open Air Museum
The Goreme Open Air Museum is the crown jewel of Cappadocia’s historical sites, making it a can’t miss part of any one day in Cappadocia itinerary. It’s home to the largest and most accessible collection of byzantine cave churches in the world.
Between the 2nd and 11th centuries AD, Goreme Valley was a hub of Christian activity. The valley’s natural defenses were attractive to the Christians fleeing persecution (“Goreme” means “unseen,” because the cave churches were hidden from enemies). Over the years, over 60 monasteries, each with their own church, were built in the area. It was also home to one of the most famous saints in Christianity – St. Basil the Great of Kayseri.
Today, the site comprises about 13 of those original churches, many of which are decorated with frescoes dating back to the 11th century. The most famous is the Dark Church, so-named because of its lack of windows. But that’s also the reason it has the most beautiful and well-preserved paintings in the entire region. (Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside any of the churches, but they are amazing!)
Admission Info: Goreme Open Air Museum is open from 8 AM – 5 PM and the entry fee is 100TL.
Tip: Before you leave, don’t forget to walk across the street from the parking lot to the Buckle Church to see some incredible but different frescoes!
Uchisar Castle Overlook
Uchisar Castle is the name for the tallest and grandest of Cappadocia’s rock formations. At 300 feet high. Uchisar towers over the landscape. With extra time, you could climb the 235 steps to the top for an amazing viewpoint of the valley, but this is a one day in Cappadocia itinerary – there is no extra time. Fortunately, there’s an overlook on the way to your next stop that’ll let you take great pictures of the castle and its many cave rooms.
Kaymakli Underground City
One of the coolest (literally and figuratively) places to visit during one day in Cappadocia is definitely the underground city of Kaymakli. Of the underground cities that have been built in Cappadocia, Kaymakli is the largest (and yes, Cappadocia has multiple underground cities – so crazy!!)
Like the hidden monasteries in Goreme Valley, Christians carved the caves of Kaymakli as a hiding place from the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century AD. It’s unlikely anyone lived here full-time (because sunlight and water are really important things for human life lol), but they were used as hiding places through the 14th century.
The city has 8 levels, 4 of which are open to the public. As you follow the maze-like path deeper into the city, you’ll see chapels, bedrooms, kitchens, stables for livestock, even wineries! Because it’s underground, it’s several degrees cooler than outside, so bring a jacket.
Admission Info: Open from 8 AM – 5 PM and the entrance fee is 60TL.
Tip: There’s very little signage or information here, so it’s worth hiring a guide to take you through the underground city. Otherwise, it’ll just look like a bunch of stone rooms.
One of the stranger facts about Cappadocia is that they use pigeon poop for fertilizer. In fact, they rely on pigeons so much that you will see pigeon house caves all over the place – more so than caves for people! There’s even an entire valley dedicated to raising pigeons and harvesting their poop and it’s just outside the main town of Goreme – the aptly named Pigeon Valley.
Cappadocia has a lot of hiking options, but many of them are too long or too out of the way if you only have one day to spend. Pigeon Valley, however, is neither too long (4km, 2.5 miles) nor too out of the way (it ends near Goreme’s town center). So if you want to end your day with a nice walk, this is a perfect option!
Full disclosure, my mom and I did not walk through the valley. We had plenty of time, which is why I am including it here, but I think we were hot and tired by this point and decided to pass on it. Instead, we took lots of pictures from the overlook at the valley’s head. Otherwise, we certainly would have done the trail!
Last but most certainly not least, end your day with a traditional Cappadocian dinner. You will find traditional Ottoman-style seating (aka cushions on a floor around a low table) in Istanbul, but the restaurants in Cappadocia are far less touristy. And, Cappadocia is one of the only places where you will find authentic Turkish kebab – meat roasted in a clay pot for over three hours, and then cracked open with a hammer at your table. It is quite the experience!
Dibek in Goreme offers both of these experiences and was one of our best meals during our entire trip to Turkey (which is saying something, because Turkey knows how to do food). Because they are very authentic, you do have to call and order your kebab 3 hours ahead of time, because they only cook what they know they will sell.
One day in Cappadocia is not long enough, but sometimes you just have to make do! Hopefully, this Cappadocia itinerary will help you make the most of your time in this fairy tale land.
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