5 of the best road trips in Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia’s combination of dramatic scenery and well-maintained roads makes it a pleasure to explore by car.

As well as allowing you to see the region at your own pace, a road trip gives you the opportunity to really dig under Cappadocia’s skin, seeking out the less-visited spots that are often unfairly overlooked. Not only that, but you can time your arrival at the more popular sights to avoid crowds, giving you a better chance of having the place to yourself.

It’s easy too: hire cars can be picked up at the region’s airports and larger cities, and Cappadocia’s roads are kept in pristine conditions. Almost all major and minor sights are well-marked (keep your eyes peeled for the brown tourist signposts), and the roads are usually not busy, bar the occasional traffic jam on entering some towns. Other road users are generally considerate and law-abiding, though you should be prepared for the occasional demonstration of erratic driving.

Here are our picks for the best road trips in Cappadocia, to inspire you to get behind the wheel and start exploring this region of otherworldly beauty.

A sole tourist stands near a huge rock formation shaped like a camel
Wander among unusual rock formations in the Devrent Valley © art of line / Shutterstock

1. The Göreme circuit

Best road trip for fairy chimneys
Göreme– Göreme; 34km (21 miles), allow five hours

This short and easy road trip takes you through the heart of Cappadocia’s bizarre landscapes, giving you the chance to admire some of the region’s most impressive fairy chimneys. It starts and ends in the town of Göreme, a popular and excellent base for tourists exploring Cappadocia.

Head north from Göreme and within a few minutes you’ll see the dramatic rock formations of Güllüdere Vadısı (Rose Valley) on your right. They’re a great warm-up for the surreal landscape of Paşabağı, which you’ll reach by taking a right turn just past Çavuşin. Make a stop here to wander among the incredible fairy chimneys – it’ll cost you an entrance fee, but the rocks are among Cappadocia’s best. Then head a kilometer or two further down the road to Zelve Open-Air Museum, a beautiful cave village which was inhabited right up until the 1950s. Allow a couple of hours to explore this scenic valley.

From Zelve, it’s a short hop to Devrent Valley, where erosion over the millennia has fashioned the landscape into oddly recognizable forms: from the road, it’s easy to spot the camel, a stack of rocks which immediately recall the desert stalwart. Make a brief stop here to wander among the rocky outcrops and see what other shapes the rocks take.

Finish up by heading to the town of Ürgüp, then turn west for the return trip to Göreme, passing en route the iconic Three Beauties: a trio of fairy chimneys with particularly distinctive forms.

Planning tip: Tour groups tend to stop at Devrent Valley and Paşabağı in the afternoon and both places can get crowded. Consider timing your visit so you’re there in the morning instead.

2. Ürgüp to Soğanlı Valley

Best road trip for undiscovered Cappadocia
Ürgüp– Soğanlı; 50km (31 miles), allow four hours

Heading south from the town of Ürgüp offers a road trip through some of Cappadocia’s less-visited highlights. Your first stop is the peaceful village of Mustafapaşa, once home to a thriving Greek population and still lined with attractive houses and churches.

Continue south until you reach the ancient city of Sobesos, one of Cappadocia’s very few Roman-era historical sites. The ruins won’t detain you long, but they’re in a pretty setting and you’re likely to have them entirely to yourself.

Your final stop is the Soğanlı Valley, a beautiful canyon that’s home to a great concentration of outstanding Byzantine cave churches that see very few visitors. Leave the car at the visitor center and take an hour or two to walk along the valley’s well-maintained paths, admiring the remarkable churches with frescoes hidden within.

Detour: Just north of Sobesos, consider stopping at the Seljuk-era Taşkınpaşa madrassah, a beautiful structure bedecked with intricate stonework around its portal. This incredible, yet incomplete, building sees only a trickle of visitors.

Tourists follow a boardwalk down into a valley
Ihlara Valley, with frescoed cave churches, is one of Cappadocia’s highlights © vvoe / Shutterstock

3. The Aksaray loop

Best road trip for cave monasteries
Aksaray–Aksaray; 91km (56 miles), allow two days

The city of Aksaray is a good place to base yourself for visiting two of Cappadocia’s most impressive valleys. Drive east from Aksaray to Güzelyurt village, and park down at the entrance to Monastery Valley; from here, you can take a lovely walk down the valley, visiting the cave churches that line the canyon walls.

On returning to the car, make a quick circuit around the churches on the outskirts of Güzelyurt: Yüksek Kilise occupies a scenic spot on a high bluff above a small lake, while the gorgeous Kizil Kilise is built of red stone and stands unvisited in a pretty field to Güzelyurt’s east. Access is down a dirt track: this is one of the few times in Cappadocia you’ll need to drive on an unsealed road.

Overnight in Güzelyurt, and in the morning head to Ihlara Valley to learn why it’s one of Cappadocia’s highlights. Park at the trailhead, and allow a couple of hours to walk along the beautiful valley, checking out its richly frescoed cave churches en route. When you reach the car park at Belisırma, take the shuttle taxi back to the trailhead and pick up your car. En route back to Aksaray, make sure to stop at Selime, where you’ll find a dramatic cave village chiseled into the fairy chimneys and cliffs.

4. Göreme to Hacıbektaş

Best road trip for museums
Göreme–Hacıbektaş; 62km (38 miles), allow three hours

Starting in Göreme, head north to Avanos and stop for an hour to explore the town’s quirky museums. The underground ceramics exhibition at the western edge of town is an impressive port of call, while the Chez Galip Hair Museum has to be one of the world’s oddest museums.

Take the road heading west from Avanos for 25km (16 miles) until you reach the small town of Gülşehir, which is well worth a quick stop to admire one of Cappadocia’s most impressive Byzantine cave churches, the St Jean Kilise. The frescoes contained within are rich and evocative: look out for the synchronized dragon slaying by St George and St Theodore.

Drive on a further 27km (17 miles) to the final stop, Hacıbektaş, which has long been a centre for dervish pilgrimages. There’s a fantastic museum in the town that will tell you all you need to know about the dervish faith.

Detour: If you have time, you could divert between Avanos and Gülşehir to visit Özkonak, where you’ll find a small underground city. Explore the caves and passageways of this subterranean settlement and admire the ingenuity of its ancient inhabitants.

A track through grasslands leads towards a tall mountain
Erciyes Dağı mountain will be your companion on the drive from Sultan Marshes to Kayseri © Whitworth Images / Getty Images

5. Niğde to Kayseri

Best road trip for nature lovers
Niğde–Kayseri; 184km (114 miles), allow six hours

Your start point is Niğde, down in the south of Cappadocia. This modern city has little to offer the traveler except the outstanding cave monastery of Eski Gümüşler on its outskirts, which boasts some splendid frescoes.

Heading north, you’ll reach the Sultan Marshes, which are an important stopping point for migratory birds and thus make a perfect port of call for birdwatchers. From the car park, take a stroll along the boardwalks into the marshes, or enjoy a leisurely boat ride among the reeds. Keep a lookout for the wide variety of birdlife here, and don’t forget your binoculars.

Back in your car, head east and then north: on this road, you can’t fail to notice the impressive bulk of Erciyes Dağı on your left hand side. It’s Türkiye’s sixth highest mountain and offers an incredible scenic backdrop for your drive to the city of Kayseri. It’s possible to stop en route and enjoy hiking or winter sports on its slopes, but you may prefer to simply drive by and admire its perfect conical beauty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *