When you are visiting the magnificent region of Cappadocia, you must visit Goreme; the most popular place in the region. Also regarded as the heart of Cappadocia, Goreme offers everything that you expect to get in this region. It is surrounded by valleys and various fairy chimneys and has a lot more to offer than you what you might assume after your first impression.
If it’s natural wonders you are after or you are a student of ancient history, you can’t wish to go to a better place than Goreme. It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it protects historic artifacts including church frescoes and ancient cave dwellings. All these when combine with the magical atmosphere screams, “don’t go without exploring me”. If you make a list of things to do in this region, you would need days to act upon that list, but at the top of the list would definitely be the fairy chimneys.
This beautifully mysterious place is located about 5 km west of Urgup, 12 km east of Nevsehir. According to a written document that’s said to be from the 6th century, it was previously called “Korama”. Then it was also called Matiana, Maccan, Avcilar, and maybe after a few centuries, it got its current name. According to an online travel publishing agency, Goreme is among the 16 most picturesque towns. If that doesn’t get you there, we wonder what will.
One thing that continues to amaze the tourists is the beautiful land formation of Goreme, but what most people don’t know is that the geological formation of these lands goes back millions years ago. It was when Mount Erciyes was still an active volcano and when its lava cooled down, it was sculpted by the power of wind and water. This gave birth to the captivating cone-shaped fairy chimneys, which you can see almost everywhere in Cappadocia. These chimneys are the main reason why this area was so popular among people who were looking for a refugee, as they were able to carve these structures due to their softness. When compared with the region, the town seems to be in a hole, this is why the erosion only revealed the bodies of the rocks and not the ends.
The town’s history can be traced back to the Paleolithic age, but the modern and more known-about history began, when the Christians, who flee from the war between the Sasanids and the Byzantines, as well as the Arabian invasions, started settling here. This happened at the beginning of the 7th century. The Iconoclasm movement in Byzantium resulted in more refugees seeking shelter in this area, during the 8th and 9th centuries. In the Goreme Valley, there are about 360 churches and monasteries as per the archaeological sources. The walls and the ceiling depict the Biblical scenes, engraved many centuries ago. During the iconoclasm period, decorations started to contain geometric figures, but after that period they were recreated with different figures and the images reveal the history of the region. If you want to see these and examine them yourself, you should go to the Goreme Open Air Museum, which is probably the best place to visit in this town, if you are looking for historical references. It contains many churches and they appear like classrooms.
At the center of the town, a Roman tomb in one of the fairy chimneys was found, what’s interesting is that it was carved as two columns. The presence of other tombs indicate that the town was used as a cemetery during the Roman period.
If you are coming to the town from Uchisar, you should take some time and appreciate the scenery. Instead of drawing out an image, just see the area and you would feel like you are witnessing a civilization, which has preserved its memories in the roofs, rocks carved into houses, and cave hotels that seem to be designed by an architect. If you are entering the town from below, you can see many chimneys. Stop there to examine them and you will see that some of these chimneys were carved as churches, and they appear like large buildings. You would see that they are popular for a fair reason. If you want to see more churches, you should take the dirt road, as there are several churches outside the Open Air Museum. Just make sure to give each church proper time, and learn about them from the locals.
The town can often be very crowded, especially during the day, when you are visiting the most popular places. At night, you would encounter fewer people, but the views can be amazing and if you look towards Uchisar, you will be enticed with a view decorated with lights.
Today, Goreme appears to be a slightly different place than a few decades before, thanks to the restoration of old buildings. There was not much use of concrete, as the hotels were restores in a way to preserve their original shape and textures, and maintain their pure connection with history. Going to Goreme and traveling within the town is very easy, from Nevsehir, you can get taxis, buses, and minibusses all day.
As we have mentioned before, this town is the most popular place to stay in Cappadocia, and here you will find everything this region has to offer. To get the complete experience, you should at least stay for three days, more if possible.
How to get to Goreme?
Plane: Nevsehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV) is the nearest airport, about 42 km away from Goreme. You can take domestic flights from Ankara, Istanbul, and Antalya. Then, you can take a shuttle bus, which would take you to Goreme in around 36 minutes.
The Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) is also an option. It’s about 75 km away from Goreme. You can take domestic flights, but this airport also supports international flights from Belgium and Germany as well as seasonal flights from Poland, Netherlands, and Austria. You can ride a shuttle bus to reach Goreme, which would take about 1 hour.
If you are traveling from Istanbul, it’s recommended to take a flight, as it’s a pretty long ride. But, if you want to enjoy the land view, you can take a train from Istanbul to Ankara. The travel time would be 3.5 to 4 hours. From Ankara, you can go to the bus station and take a bus for Goreme. The total travel time from Istanbul to Goreme would be around 8 hours.
Best activities to do in Goreme – Top things to do
Goreme Open Air Museum
Goreme Open Air Museum is one of the top attractions in not only Goreme but in Cappadocia as well. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, it attracts a huge number of visitors every year. Just 2 km away from the Goreme, the museum is an ideal place to visit if you like art and history. It was opened in 1950 and got registered by UNESCO on 6 December 1985. Being the largest open-air museum in Turkey, it has a lot to offer from historical architecture to fascinating art. It gives you a completely different experience as you go through the turnstile and step inside, you would feel like you are on a historical journey beginning from the 4th century BC until the 13th century AD. You would see a lot of amazing things there including the Byzantine churches and their beautiful architecture and art, the monasteries, and the paintings.
The whole area is called the Goreme Open Air Museum and it contains a valley as well, so it’s unlike many other museums that you might have seen in other countries. For about 10 centuries, it hosted monasticism, which became an established institution. Monasticism emerged here in the 4th century when St. Basil, the Bishop of Kayseri, an important figure for the Christians, started this system, meant to provide religious and thought education to people. The rock-hewn churches, living areas, dining halls, chapels, and tombs, can give you a better outlook of the history than you would anywhere else.
When you step inside the museum, you can see the Male and Female Monasteries, which were originally built in the 11th century. These are multi-story buildings, but only two floors are open to visitors. Located at the entrance is Saint Basil Chapel, which also goes back to the 11th century. Go to the Apple Church (Turkish: “Elmali” Church) and you will be mesmerized by the art it contains. It’s considered one of the most beautiful churches in the museum. It was painted sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries, and it is named so, because there is a fresco in this church, with the image of Archangel Michael holding a ball in his hand that looks like an apple.
Then, you can go see Saint Barbara Chapel, which features colorful red geometric paintings and dates to around 1100AD. The church was devoted to St. Barbara, a popular saint at that time who was martyred by her father after she secretly became a Christian. Yilanlı Church also dates to the 11th century and it’s named so because among the frescos, is a green dragon that looks like a snake.
Dark Church (Turkish: “Karanlik” Church) is another very fascinating church and its frescoes are preserved since the 11th century. It’s quite difficult to reach and its source of light is a tiny window, maybe that’s how it got this name. To visit the church, you have to get a separate ticket, your ticket for the open-air museum won’t get you inside it. So, don’t just ignore it because you have to buy a ticket, your visit will be worth it, as it’s the most preserved church in the region.
Your next stop would be at Saint Catherine Chapel. It’s a unique cave church that dates to the 11th century. It is said that the church was financed by a female donor named Anna. Sandal Church (Turkish: “Carikli” Church) is a well-preserved cave church that dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. It has elaborate paintings and the length and size of the figures are surely an amazing thing. Its name comes from the footprints on the floor under the Ascension scene.
Another church that you must visit is the Buckle Church (Turkish: “Tokali” Church), which is outside the museum but doesn’t require a special ticket. It’s the largest church in the area, and it contains some fascinating Virgin Mary frescos.
An amazing attraction in this town is the Rose Valley (Turkish: “Gulludere” Valley). It’s popular for the fairy chimneys that take different shades with daylight.
The valley lies between Goreme and Cavusin village. If you are going from Goreme, you can take the Meskendir Valley trail, which will connect you to the Rose Valley trail. Located in the foothills of Bozdag, the valley is one of the most magnificent hiking trails in the region and it covers a 3.5 km area. You can take a walk, see the beautiful landscape, pick fruit from the trees, and see the churches and the monk cells.
Also regarded as Hill of Lovers, there is something different about Love Valley (Turkish: “Baglidere” Valley) that makes you truly love it. The fairy chimneys are beautiful and unique, and most of them have cylinder bodies and different colors and hats, they truly do present an incredible image.
The valley covers an area of about 4800 meters, and it’s a very green valley, unlike many other valleys. To enter the valley, you can either follow the signs on the Goreme – Avanos road or the Uchisar – Goreme road.
The Kiliclar Valley is within the Goreme Open Air Museum area, and it contains several churches. You can enter the valley from the pathway opposite the parking area below the museum. You will enjoy this valley in every season, and every season offers a slightly different flavor.
The area that lies on the north of the Goreme road contains the tunnels and the rock silhouettes alongside the fairy chimneys, which with their interesting shapes would amaze you.
Go to Sunset View Point
The most amazing view of the town can be enjoyed from Sunset View Point. You have to hike there and then you will get a panoramic view of the town. The hike is fairly easy, so no worries there. If you want to see the sky filled with balloons, then come in the morning, and if you wish to see a clear sky, the evening is the best time.
Enjoy the local dishes
Whether you want to eat Turkish cuisine or any foreign dish, you will find them there. Kebab is a popular Turkish dish, and you might have tried it in Istanbul or Ankara, but the dish you would find there is a bit special. The initial process is the same, the kebab is baked inside a clay pot, but then they open the pot on your table. Eat the Kebabs while they are hot and you would notice the difference. The local cuisine would definitely be a great memory for you.
Spend the night in a cave hotel (experience the cave hotel)
Cappadocia is popular for its cave hotels and rock formations and Goreme has also got plenty of them. If you sleep in a cave hotel, it will be like walking down the memory lane to the ancient civilization. There are other hotels as well, and if you are with family you might prefer them, but try to spend at least one night in a cave hotel. You can choose from different options, and keep in mind they will have beds and bathrooms.
Shop from the local hubs
Throughout the town, you will find small and big hubs that sell Turkish delights. However, to get the best quality items, you have to spend some time. Kilim rugs are among the famous products in Turkey, and you will see several shops selling them. The prices of the carpets depend on their quality.
Go for a hike
The ideal way to admire the unique architecture and landscape of Cappadocia is to go for a hike. The region has a lot of day hikes to offer beginning from Goreme. To begin with, you can hike from Goreme to Uchisar, another popular place in Cappadocia. You can hike to the castle that’s located on the highest mountain in the region, and provides great views of the area. But, you don’t necessarily need to go to the top to get the views, if you just hike around the main hill, the views from there would be amazing too.
The hike would take around two hours one way, and on your way, you can stop at the Pigeon Valley. The valley got its name due to the rock formations that appear like pigeon houses. It’s a popular and beautiful valley and it takes you through many rooms and caves connected through tunnels. You can take some time and explore them.
Rose and Red Valleys are other attractive day hikes. They got their names because they have rock formations in rose and red colors. The hike for both valleys begins from the Goreme Open-Air Museum and is then divided into two paths. One path would take you to the Red Valley while the other takes you to the Rose Valley. You can follow the signs to stay in the right direction. There are many viewpoints along the way and the rock formations would definitely mesmerize you.
It should take you only one or two hours to complete each hike (one way), but that depends on how often you stop. If you are starting early, you can do both on the same day, otherwise, hike one per day.
Another magical hike is the Love Valley, which is among the most popular valleys in the region. If you walk from Goreme, it’s just 40 minutes away. If you start early and have the energy, you should hike the Pigeon Valley and the Love Valley both on the same day. It will take about 3 hours only.
Durmus Kadir Church
The name for this basilica cave church is not known, so it got its name after the owner of the vineyard it is situated in. It’s at Karsibucak of Goreme and near to the town Municipality. It’s a sixth-century church, but its history is not certain.
If you are a history lover, we advise you to visit this church that has got a very elegant carved architecture and when compared with other regional churches, it possesses some unique different characteristics features. There are no frescoes but it contains incredible rock embroideries. The building was made using squared stone that’s why its architecture represents a unique style. There is a priest throne in the middle of the church, which has got three steps on each side. There is a baptistery as well as tombs carved into the walls and the pillar. These are some features that are absent in other regional churches. It’s also bigger than other churches; it has a rectangular plan, and it was carved into rocks with three apses. You can enter the church via a tomb chapel.
Yusuf Koc Church
Just like the Durmus Kadir Church , the original name of the church is not known, so it’s named after the owner of the property on which it was built. To get to the church you have to go through Goreme to the vineyard and then going further ahead. Due to the height of the entrance it’s accessible only by means of a ladder. The 11th century church was closed to the visitors for quite some time.
It’s a common belief that the church was used for baptism, vows, and confessions and not public rituals, so that’s an interesting fact. The small size of the church gave strength to this belief as well as the frescoes on the walls that are preserved till today. Most of the frescoes show the founders of the church, their son, and saints. You can read their names clearly. The frescoes on the left side of the entrance depict Holy Virgin Mary and gospel scenes and on the ride side are Helena and Constantine who are holding a cross. The frescoes on the ceiling dome show Gabriel and Michael.
Originally, the structure was built on 6 columns, but these have now crumbled. It is cruciform in design and has two apses. The design of the building resembles Hidden Church (Turkish: “Sakli” Church) in Zemi Valley, so if you feel like you have seen it before, maybe this is why.
Carved into rocks, this church is located in Karsibucak of Goreme. It was used for manufacturing linseed-oil, hence it’s called Bezirhane (meaning: linseed oil press). The church had tar-like coating inside just like all the linseed-oil factories. Just like the Durmus Kadir and Yusuf Koc Church, it was built on 6 columns. Two of those columns have crumbled, while the other four have survived. It’s said that the church was constructed without any frescoes.
One of the best-preserved caravanserais, Agzikarahan Caravanserai is not within Goreme, but we advise you to visit it. The name of the building comes from the blackness at the entrance gate. It’s among the largest caravanserais in this region and even though it’s smaller when compared to the Saruhan Caravanserai constructed in the Seljuk period, the stonemasonry at the gate is extremely fascinating.
To reach there, you can follow the Aksaray – Nevsehir direction from the beltway, and there you will see signage before Acigol. Keep in mind that tour bused don’t make a stop here, so your best chance to visit it is when you are on your own.
St Hieron’s Chapel
Located along the road going to Uchisar, the chapel is a funerary cave church. It is named after St. Hieron, a devout Christian who was martyred in the 3rd century. Carved into the rock and decorated smoothly, it was built with a single apse and a rectangular plan. Inside the chapel, there are no frescoes, but embossed crosses in a room with tombs.
So that was pretty much everything we could tell you about Goreme. Now, it’s up to you to visit this spectacular, historically rich place and get amazed by all the attractions. Don’t forget to taste the local dishes and get a souvenir from a hub.