We’ve been to Cappadocia three times in the past 2 years and plan to go at least once more before our time is up here this upcoming summer. We do some of our favorites each time, but have also tried out new things or hikes. I’ve combined our 3 trips into a suggested 3 day itinerary for nature and hiking loving families. This is light on the shopping and heavy on hiking and everything I list we have done with my kids (currently 5.5 and 8.5; were 3.5 and 6.5 at our first visit). If you want a more leisurely trip, just drop a few items. Daylight in winter can be as short as 7:55 am to 5:25 pm. If you’re there dead of winter, you might need to shorten your day. Summer is long from 5:15 am to 8:10 pm as its longest. Spring and fall are delightful as they are a nice balance between long enough daylight hours to do things and not waking up before 5 am for hot air balloons!
This post also assumes you are driving in from Ankara, like we did. If not, adjust as needed.
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7:30 am–leave Ankara
8:45 am–arrive Tuz Gölü and walk out onto the Salt Lake. Depending on the time of year, you can go quite far out as it is very dry. Take a walk and have a bathroom break. Take the toll road to Göreme.
11:15 am–arrive Göreme and check in to your hotel and drop your bags. Walk into town for some lunch
Continue the drive to Devrent (Imaginary Valley). This is probably our favorite spot. Tour groups tend to stay near the road, so if you hike just a bit back into the rocks, you’ll be alone. Blog posts are here and here.
Mix it up with some pottery shopping at Hitit Seramik Zelve. Kids can try their hand at using the potter’s wheel and they have a range of items from very cheap to very expensive! Post is here. For a longer trek, drive out to Avanos for more pottery options.
After dinner, get some dondurma or coffee and wander the town, poking into the shops. Get to bed early if it’s summer, as you’ll be getting up before the sun to see the hot air balloons!
Wake up before sunrise! You’ll want to leave about 45 minutes before the sun rises to get to the ridge above Love Valley to watch the balloons rise. You could just stay on your hotel roof, but it’s worth it to me to drive up to the ridge. The viewing point is here. Read about it here and here.
Head back to the hotel for breakfast. Most hotels serve it around 8. If you’re there in the summer, you’ll have time to rest a bit before eating (Sunrise is 5:15 on summer equinox!). If it’s winter, you’ll head straight to breakfast (sunrise is 7:55 on winter equinox).
Be ready to head out right after breakfast.
Head to Paşabağları Müze ve Örenyeri, the Fairy Chimneys. If you’re lucky, you’ll get there before the tour buses arrive. This is a very popular site, and it’s best to get there early to avoid crowds. If it’s already crowded when you drive up, flip it with Zelve Open Air Museum. Blog here.
Next up is Zelve Open Air Museum. This site is much less crowded than the Open Air Museum in Goreme. It shares a ticket with the Fairy Chimneys, so if you’re buying tickets it is important to go on the same day. Interestingly, this is the only site in Turkey that has pushed the issue on seeing proof of age for my children (under 8 are free). DS is big for 5, but definitely doesn’t look 8+! Blog here and here.
Depending on time of day, you might be ready for lunch. If so, I suggest a stop at Pal’s Kitchen on the way to Love Valley. Only complaint with them is the toilet is only a squat potty-which my kids hate.
Round out the hiking with a walk through Love Valley. You can make it a longer hike by parking on the main road and hiking the whole way in and out. Or you can drive in and park and then do a shorter exploration hike. The dirt road into the valley starts here. If you did the sunrise viewing, this is the valley the balloons flew over. Blog is here.
Finish your sightseeing with a horseback ride! If horses aren’t your thing, you can also do ATVs or a Jeep ride. Depending on the horse company you pick, they might pick you up from your hotel. So head on back, drop off your car and get ready for your ride. Rides are typically 2 hours and are popular over sunset, though they are fun any time of day. Your hotel can easily arrange this. Blog here.
If you didn’t do a sunset ride and have some energy (and daylight) left, hike up to the sunset viewing point over Goreme. You’ll see a large flag on the ridge. Walk through town to this point and then head up to the ridge. If you go along the ridge away from town, you’ll come to a pretty vantage point for sunset portraits.
End the day with dinner, and if you have energy, some browsing of the shops.
If balloons didn’t fly on day 2, try again on day 3. You could also go up on the roof top of your hotel to view some balloons again!
Breakfast at the hotel
Right after breakfast, head over to Göreme Open Air Museum. This is a very popular spot and gets really crowded. If you have a day that is a bit rainy or that the balloons didn’t fly, it’s a good day to go there early. Mornings where tour buses are slower are to your advantage. And if one day of your trip is a weekday, go then. Blog here.
Head back to your hotel and check out.
Drive to Uçhisar on your way south to the underground cities. If you like wine, go to Kocabağ Wines shop, where you can do a quick tasting and buy some Turkish wine. Street parking was easy near it. Or, you can go to the castle on the hill. It was closed for renovations though both times we were in Cappadocia in 2021. Depending on timing, you might want to grab some lunch or walk around the town. It is much more hilly than Goreme. Blog here.
Afterwards, you’re all done sightseeing! It’s about 2.75 hours back to southern Ankara via the toll road (3.5 hours without tolls) and you’ll be home in time for dinner.