In case you are planning on visiting Cappadocia with your kids, here are 12 things that you can do here and all have a blast together!
After over 3 years of travel, we are finally exploring Turkey! Needless to say, it has been on our bucket list from the beginning, but everything comes into place at the right time.
Cappadocia in particular was a dream, with its surreal and very unique landscape, it was definitely a place to explore. Did you know that Cappadocia’s landscape was formed by volcanic erosion? Thick ash solidified into soft rock, called tuff, and over time the tuff rocks eroded with wind and water, creating the iconic fairy chimneys we see today? I have seen many photos on social media in the past years and I must admit, it made me wonder if it was a place more for couples or singles rather than families. I was so wrong!
Let me tell you more about the 12 things we managed to do in Cappadocia with your kids and have lots of fun!
Hot Air Ballon Ride in Cappadocia
Of course, a must-do when visiting Cappadocia is to book a Hot Air Balloon ride! There are over 100 companies offering this kind of experience. The only challenge is picking one! Every company offers basket size options: from up to 25 people to as low as 4. Of course, the price varies considerably!
How did we pin down the company to go with? First, we found the four companies that had the best reviews at the moment. Then we checked their price options and what they offered in their packages. We then emailed them asking for a bit of discount and then scheduled it!
Originally we booked with Fly Turkiye Balloon. However, on the day of the ride, we actually went with Atmosfer Balloon. Why? They all work together and depending on the availability they put you with one company or another. We also managed to book a private flight at a great price so we could enjoy this experience just the 5 of us. It was definitely worth it!
Let me share with you 2 very valuable tips we have learned thanks to this experience.
1. Make sure you book your flight at least a few weeks before arriving in Cappadocia. Depending on the time of the year it might not be easy to find availability last minute. There are over 100 hundred balloons flying every day and they are all full of people!
2. Make sure to plan on staying a few extra days in Cappadocia. Hot air balloons fly all year round, however, there might be some bad weather days. In that case, they will cancel, if necessary also on the morning of the flight. So you want to make sure you can stay longer. In our case, we had to wait 3 extra days from our original flight date due to bad weather conditions. Think about it, there are over 100 balloons in the sky, the weather conditions must be perfect to make it safe for them to be in the sky!
If you are going with younger kids, keep in mind that they must be 5 and older to fly. I would also recommend bringing some form of entertainment. In fact, we realized that after about 40/45 minutes in the air, once all the excitement passed it may get a bit boring for young ones. Luca sat down, looked out from the hole in the basket but was also ready to get down. Of course the next day he wanted to fly again! However, when you are just peacefully cruising around the valleys might not be as thrilling for a young child!
2. Watch the hot air balloons fly in Cappadocia
Whether you are planning to do the ride or not, make sure to wake up early at least one morning to see the balloons fly. It is just as magical as being on one!
What makes it so special? The fact that there are so many in the air at the same time. Plus they are flying in an incredible and unique environment here in Cappadocia, very distinctive for its “fairy chimneys,” tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Valleys of this area. People come from all over the world to be photographed with all these balloons in the background!
On the first morning here, we were staying in the campsite Göreme Camping Aquapark. At 5:45 am we started hearing them go up. We ran outside and were blown away by seeing so many in the sky. It brought tears to my eyes. The combination of that early morning silence and the glowing lights of these big balloons made it the most amazing show for our family. Well, most of it at least! Luca kept on sleeping!
A few days later we free camped in one of the departure spots of the balloons. Again we were pleasantly awakened by the sound of the balloons going up. We were surrounded by them and it was the most breathtaking moment. Initially, we decided not to get up, or simply take a picky. However, it is an irresistible show that you just cannot miss!
Anyway, there are other options, if you don’t have a campervan to sleep in, in order to be parked in a good spot for the early morning. People will climb to a few higher spots to see them or sit on one of the cave hotel terraces. Many will also go to the launching spot just to see them go up and use them for background in their “Instagram” photos!
3. Stay in a cave hotel in Cappadocia
As I mentioned in the previous point, you probably saw all those Instagram pictures of ladies standing on these amazing carpeted terraces, in beautiful long dresses, looking out at the balloons flying in the skies. You can find these beautiful terraces when you stay at a cave hotel. However, the access to this special morning show is only for guests of the hotel, so don’t try to just walk in, they do check your room number!
We didn’t want to miss out on this experience so booked a family room at Sultan Cave Suites for a couple of nights. Of course, we wanted to experience the hot air balloon show also from this lovely carpeted area, but we also wanted to see what it felt like to sleep in a cave!
This hotel, as well as the many others in the town of Göreme, are built over the ancient cave dwellings used for centuries by locals. In the case of Sultan Cave Suites all the original cave walls have been preserved and integrated harmoniously into the room designs. Luckily we had a few windows in our room which brought in a bit of natural light. However, be prepared for a completely different atmosphere than from being in a regular hotel room!
In case you want to explore more of the town, you can take a short walk down and you will be in the heart of Göreme. Here you will easily be able to book the other activities I am mentioning in this post!
4. Ride on ATV in Cappadocia
Do you want to do something fun? Maybe see the sunset in an incredible location without having to take the car, but rather have a bit more of an adventure? Rent an ATV! We went with Balloon Fly Travel Agency in Göreme.
Here is a bit more info about this option. Two people can ride on it. If you are outnumbered by your kids like we are, the guide will take your youngest on his ATV! They organize group tours, probably privates as well if you request it. We didn’t even think about it! Each group has a guide that will take you to explore a couple of locations to see the sunset.
A few practical tips for the ride:
1. Make sure you wear sunglasses, so much dust will come in your face and eyes while driving!
2. Don’t wear clean clothes, they won’t be any more by the end of your tour! They do spray you with air to clean you off but trust me, dust stays anyway!
3. Keep your good camera in the bag throughout the ride, otherwise, dust will get in it! Use it only when you stop at a location!
4. Have a great time, but be prepared for a lot of ATV traffic if you are going in high season!
5. Horseback riding in Cappadocia
The Goreme National Park includes most of the valleys in the area. Here you will have a chance to enjoy the beautiful landscape, fairy chimneys, settlements dating back centuries, rock-cut houses, caves, hidden churches, and lunar landscape. The most popular valleys include Pasabag (Monks) Valley, Zelve Valley, Devrent Imagination Valley, Pigeon Valley, Love Valley, Red Valley, Red Valley, and Swords Valley.
A great way to explore the different valleys in this area is by horseback riding! They offer all types of tours, from an hour to 2 or 3 depending on where you want to go. Many go at sunrise or sunset. However, in high season it probably isn’t the most magical moment to go. Why? Because everyone is doing the same thing! All the lovely spots are very busy, between horses, ATVs, cars, and jeeps everyone is out during that time.
Instead, if you pick a different time during the day, you will have the chance to enjoy the environment in all its beauty as well as a more silent way of exploring it. We went with Göreme Horse Ranch. We opted just for a 1-hour ride around although we were tempted to do longer. We went around 11 am on a cloudy day. It wasn’t too hot, no one was around and we were able to enjoy just the natural sounds of our horses walking on the trail. Our kids were enjoying so much the ride they were in silence too!
Once we got back the owner was very friendly and also offered us some Turkish tea. Human connection is a plus! Our kids also loved playing around the farm after the ride. What was special about this place? It was in front of a cave and it had ducks, dogs, rabbits and horses, lots of fun for kids!
6. Hike in the valleys in Cappadocia
As I mentioned in the point above when in Göreme you have the chance to explore plenty of valleys in order to witness Cappadocia’s incredibly unique environment. Honestly, we did so many different activities while we were here and hiking wasn’t one of our priorities. We did go on a short one on our first day around Sword Valley though. The kids ran, climbed everywhere, and explored this amazing area!
For hiking lovers this is heaven!
That said if you aren’t into hiking, but still want to explore these valleys you can do so by horse, ATV, jeep tour, or bike too!
7. Visit an underground city in Cappadocia
While visiting Cappadocia you cannot miss exploring an underground city! There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and 2, in particular, are worth visiting: Kaymakli, which is the widest, and Derinkuyu, which is the deepest.
The purpose of these underground cities was to protect the inhabitants from foreign invasion, allowing thousands of people to live their lives in total secrecy. During the 14th century, the caves provided Christians with a safe haven from outside threats, especially from persecution during the Ottoman Empire. They are made up of tunnel towns, underground villages, ancient temples, secret rooms, and hidden passages. Some of these cities can even be backdated way beyond Roman times!
We visited Kaymakli. This was previously named Enegup. It has eight floors which at its peak approximately accommodated 3500 people. There are storage and kitchen areas, wells, a water cistern, a winery, and a ventilation system. As we walked down we noticed many large, round boulders. At the time they were used to be rolled in front of doorways as barricades to protect the local inhabitants from potential attacks. Can you believe it? They were the original doors!
This is a fun experience for kids. They have a chance to run around in this labyrinth of passageways, most of which have extremely low ceilings! For us, it was remarkable to witness such an environment. It was hard to wrap our heads around the fact that so many people lived here at the same time, while we were a bit annoyed with the large group that entered with us! If you want to experience something completely different from what you are used to, this is a must-do!
8. Take photos in carpet store
As we were walking around downtown, we saw a huge carpet store with a little ad about drone photos inside. We were curious and checked it out. It is a very popular thing to do here now, but we didn’t know anything about it!
As the owner and photographer Sergio from Galerie Ikman explained, he started a few years ago just for fun with some of his family members. Shortly after he realized that it might also be a cool idea. Fast forward to 2021, many Instagrammers, as well as famous personalities, daily stop by this lovely carpeted courtyard to have their photo taken with his drone!
Our kids were thrilled about taking pictures here because it was such an original way and fun place! Our 30 minutes on the carpets were truly a great experience for the whole family!!! Plus Sergio is fun and very friendly which makes the experience even better! It was such an original photoshoot!
9. Visit the town of Avanos in Cappadocia
A few weeks before arriving in Cappadocia we read about this very unique museum in Avanos: the hair museum.
In order to visit this very particular museum, you have to go to Chez Galip’s pottery shop in the town of Avanos, about 8 km from Göreme. There is a very small fee to pay or if you purchase a piece of pottery, then it is free of charge. Keep in mind though you are not allowed to take pictures inside.
But what is the story behind this museum?
40 years ago Chez Galip had a French girlfriend who was studying pottery under him. Once her visa expired and she had to return to her home country, she decided to leave a lock of hair with him as a memory. As female visitors and students came by Chez Galip’s shop and learned about the romantic story, they too donated a lock of hair. Throughout the years this unique museum has grown considerably. From floor to ceiling you will see locks of hair of varying lengths, textures, and colors, each attached to a slip of paper with the donor’s name and country of origin (this is why photos are forbidden). A table at the end of the tunnel has scissors, duct tape, thumbtacks, pen, and paper, so women can set up their own lock of hair.
Now, every six months, the first visitor to the pottery shop is asked to select 10 locks from the museum. The women they belong to are invited back to his studio for a free week of board, lodging and pottery classes!
As I mentioned above the museum is in a pottery shop. While we were there, we asked if the kids could try and create a piece of pottery. Of course first of all we had a demonstration of the process. The potter gets a block of red clay and shapes it with the foot spinner. Once it is shaped he cuts it from the wheel and places it to dry in a dark area for about 45 days. Once they have completely dried, they are sent to a kiln where they are exposed to extremely high temperatures to remove all the moisture. The high heat increases the strength and sets the shape. Once dry it is ready for the artist to hand-paint Turkish designs.
Pottery has been produced in this region as far back as 2000 BC thanks to the Red River. This is the longest river in Turkey and it has supplied many generations of master artisans with red clay to produce artistic pieces of pottery.
Cosimo, Emma, and Luca had a chance to sit in front of the foot spinner and create a shape with the red block of clay. They loved having a chance to learn the process hands-on, feeling the texture of the clay, and trying to create the shape they had in mind. This was such a great learning experience for all three of them!
10. Open air museum in Cappadocia
In the area, there is 2 open air museum. We decided to visit the Göreme Open-Air Museum which was closer to us. It was believed to be a Byzantine monastic settlement, later a pilgrimage site from the 17th century. It contains the remains of many churches carved into the famous Cappadocia stone. There are also many beautiful frescoes that can be seen when exploring the various structures. At the time, the catholic religion wasn’t accepted so people went into hiding in these caves to continue professing. It is fascinating what people will do when someone is trying to limit their freedom!
The cost to enter is 100TL, kids under 8 are free. However, keep in mind that no photos are allowed in the chapels. Plus the most famous chapel requires the payment of an extra 30TL per person, which I refused to pay! I will be ok with the photos I saw from outside in the description displayed. The environment is lovely but we did feel that the entrance was a bit pricy!
11. Rent a old car and go for a drive in Cappadocia
As we drove into Göreme, we noticed quite a few old cars. Mass immediately decided that we should take a ride on one of them! His idea was to drive it himself. However, once we went to book it we learned that they actually come with the driver. Apparently, a tourist that wasn’t very good with stick shift broke it and since then they changed the service.
We stopped by Travel Expert Travel to book our ride. They had a few options, but Mass and the boys wanted to ride in this beautiful red car!!!
We hopped in and took a 30-minute drive around. We went up to a couple of viewpoints, took some photos. We also got a great shot with Uchisar castle as our background! The kids loved sitting in the driver’s seat and pretend driving.
12. Taste the Testi Kebab in Cappadocia
Of course, while visiting Cappadocia we were also interested in the culinary aspect of it. We had to try the Testi Kebab (pottery kebab)!
This unique method of cooking kebab is typically found in this region. It is made with lamb cubes, shallot onions, tomatoes, garlic, long green pepper, black pepper, butter, tomato paste. In the past, it was cooked in large clay pots and served directly on the plates. However, portions never seemed to be equal, so Avanos potters started producing smaller single-serve pots. This also allowed the meat to cook much better.
Usually, you can be served a Testi Kebab within 30-45 minutes. However, to have real experience you should find one of the restaurants that take pre-orders to prepare the Testi Kebab in advance for customers. In fact, it needs to cook and simmer for about 90 minutes. Once your Testi Kebab is ready, it is brought to you in a special red clay pot with a mini hammer to crack and open your pot. By using the mini hammer, the waiter cracks and opens your pot and pours the delicious kebab onto your plate.
Unfortunately, we were not that organized to pre-order our meal. However, we did try the Testi Kebab in two restaurants and really enjoyed it. In fact, we had it at Seten restaurant in the cave hotel, however here they break the pot open for you once they bring it to your table. Instead at Viewpoint Restaurant in the Göreme downtown area, they let you break it yourself, see the video below! Anyway, both times we really enjoyed the experience and our meal.
Recommended side trip!!!
Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake)
One side trip that is definitely worth your time is to the famous Tuz Gölü, the salt lake. It is about a 2-hour drive from Göreme.
What is Tuz Gölü?
This is the second largest lake in Turkey. The lake occupies a ‘tectonic depression’ and is fed water by two major streams but has no outlet at all. It covers a huge area of about 1500 square kilometers/580 square miles, however for most of the year is very shallow, especially during dry summer when the water evaporates leaving a thick crust of salt on the surface. The salt is extracted, worked, refined, and sold in the local market, thus making this the biggest industry for this area. Tuz Gölü it’s not only the biggest salt lake in Turkey but one of the biggest in the world as well.
Once you arrive there, you will enter a big building where they sell many products, as well as tourist accessories. There is also a restaurant and a delicious Turkish ice cream stand. As soon as you walk out you can start walking on the lake. Make sure to take off your shoes to enjoy the true benefits of walking on salt. Yes, you will be walking on salt! In the dry season, in fact, there is barely any water so you can walk quite a distance and find a whiter effect on the ground the farther you go.
We were there for a long time, running around, looking for the biggest pieces of salt, dipping our feet in “salt puddles” taking photos, and playing. It was such a unique experience for our family!