Goreme National Park: The Complete Guide

hot air balloons over buildings in Turkey, photographed at sunset

Wissanu Arreechote / EyeEm / Getty Images

A visit to Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience akin to landing on another planet in terms of the region's unique landscape of volcanic rock formations. The area is made up of seven parts meaning there’s plenty to keep you busy whether your main focus is hiking or you prefer exploring archaeological sites, underground cities, ancient churches, or wineries. Undoubtedly, one of the most iconic sights of Cappadocia is the hot air balloons. Hundreds of balloons go up every day taking people over the peaks and valleys of this special place. 

Discover the best hikes, things to do, and places to stay in Goreme National Park with this guide.

Things to Do

  • Visit the Towns in Cappadocia: You will be most likely be based in the town Goreme for your adventures but there are other special towns to visit in the region including Urgup which is famous for its rock cones, Mustafapasa which offers beautiful houses and carved churches to explore, and Avanos which is famous for its local handicrafts.
  • See the Underground Cities: There are several underground cities in Goreme National Park with some of them dating back to 3000 B.C. They were predominantly hiding places for Christians in the 7th century and offer a fascinating journey through history and human ingenuity. Some of the options include Derinkuyu and Kaymakli which are the most extensive spanning eight floors and four floors with churches, prisons, and kitchens within. It’s worth noting that people with claustrophobia or limited mobility may have difficulty with some of the smaller spaces and tunnels.
  • Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride: Whether you simply want to get up early and watch the balloons from one of many viewing points or take a balloon ride yourself, this is one of the most iconic things to do in Cappadoccia. It’s worth booking this as far in advance as possible.
  • Visit Goreme Open-Air Museum: Many of the trails in the park will take you through the open-air museum but make sure to take some time to wander this area of ancient carved churches and see the incredible frescoes inside.
  • Try Horseback Riding or Cycling: Aside from hiking, Goreme is well known for its cycling and horse riding. In fact, it’s also known as "the land of beautiful horses" with everything from two hours to full-day treks available taking you through the trails.
  • Try Some Local Wine: Home to some excellent wines, why not pay a visit to one of Cappadocia’s wineries? Turasan and Kocabag wineries both offer tastings and tours of the vineyards. Turasan’s rock-carved wine cellar is sure to impress. If you love wine, it may be worth being based in Urgup rather than Goreme town.
  • Enjoy the Local Handicrafts: From handwoven rugs, beautiful ceramics, and handmade baskets and musical instruments, there are some incredibly talented artisans based in Goreme National Park. Enjoy a cup of Turkish tea or coffee and have a browse.
Full Moon over the rock formations of Love Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey
Anton Petrus / Getty Images

Best Hikes and Trails

The best thing to do when you arrive at your hotel is to ask for a trail map as there are so many incredible trails through the park. Here are some of the most popular and impressive trails in Goreme National Park:

  • Pigeon Valley: This is one of the park's most popular, and shortest, hikes stretching between Goreme to Uchisar Castle. The route takes around two to three hours to complete and it goes through the heart of the valley with cave dwellings, impressive rock chimneys, and likely a few pigeons on the way.
  • Rose Valley: You can either drive to the Rose Valley trailhead or take the Meskendir Trail which connects to it. Along the trail. which ends at Red Valley, you’ll be treated to unique, pink-tinged sandstone rock formations, hence the name. Combined with Meskendir, this hike takes around 1.5 hours.
  • Red Valley: You can reach Red Valley by car or by taking the connecting Rose Valley Trail. This is one of the most impressive valleys in Goreme National Park and is where you’ll see the landscape and history the area is so famous for including the fairy chimneys, churches, and paintings. You will also experience amazing views of the surrounding valleys and Uchisar Castle. There are some cafes dotted around this route, particularly at Sunset Viewpoint. The hike will take around an hour to complete unless combined with Rose Valley.
  • Love Valley: This is a gentle, longer hike with towering fairy chimneys dotted throughout the route and multiple ranches along the way where you can catch a glimpse of Goreme’s famous ponies. The hike takes around three hours but you can extend it to see Uchisar Castle.
  • Ihlara Valley: If you have a car, or have a driver, and want to hike somewhere with some lush green scenery the Ihlara Valley is a great choice. The valley is so lush because of the gorge that runs through it. Just over an hour’s drive from Goreme, this is the site of Derinkuyu Underground City, over a hundred churches, and Selime Monastery. This would make for an ideal day trip.
View of trees in the deep gorge of Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia.
Newlander90 / Getty Images

Where to Camp

Wild camping in Turkey is perfectly legal and a great way to experience the rugged nature of Goreme National Park and Kizilcukur Valley. The only requirement is to follow some rules to protect the landscape, outlined on the Turkey Tourism website.

  • Alice - Tiny House: If you’d like a cooked breakfast provided then Alice - Tiny House, which also offers free parking and garden space to enjoy, is a convenient respite and an easy way to meet other people.
  • Kaya Camping Caravaning: Just outside of Goreme town, this camping and caravan park offers excellent facilities including showers and toilets, kitchen, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, and a swimming pool.

Where to Stay Nearby

One of the most exciting aspects of Goreme National Park is that almost all of the accommodation is located within the town of Goreme. This means that whatever hotel you choose, and there are many options, you will always be within walking distance of the best hikes and amenities.

  • Arif Cave Hotel: Found at the top of Goreme National Park, the panoramic views of the mountains and fairy chimneys from this hotel's cave rooms and roof terrace are unbeatable. The hotel offers tours at the front desk, including balloon rides.
  • Milat Cave Hotel: A budget option, close to the center of Goreme, Milat Cave Hotel offers comfortable rooms with mountain views, a hot tub, and continental breakfast included.
  • Museum Hotel Cappadocia: This luxury hotel is pure opulence, from the sweeping views of the national park to the expansive outdoor pool. Aside from the usual excursions, the hotel offers cooking classes and an ecological garden that's open to guests.
Aerial view of Goreme Village at dusk with street lights on
Tolga_TEZCAN / Getty Images

How to Get There

The quickest way to get to Goreme National Park is to fly from Istanbul to Goreme and then take a taxi (or book a pickup) from the airport to the national park which will take around an hour. The flight will take just over an hour so your entire journey should take two to three hours.

Driving is also an option if you’re looking for an exciting road trip through the mountains between Istanbul and Goreme. The route also takes you through the capital city of Ankara if you’d like to break up the journey. Directly, the journey takes just over eight hours with plenty of gas stations on the way. There are many car rental places available in Istanbul, especially near the airport.

There is also a night bus between Istanbul and Goreme which is the cheapest way to get there if you don’t mind sleeping on the bus

Tips for Your Visit

  • Try and plan to spend at least four days in Goreme National Park if you want to make the most of it.
  • The park has simplified the tour system into red, blue, and green tours to make sure you see the best sites. All three are full-day tours and offer a convenient way to get around without hiring a car.
  • Pack plenty of fluids for your hike as there are few refill spots on the trails, particularly on quieter routes.
  • Don’t underestimate the Turkish sunshine. Avoid hiking during midday and wear sunscreen.
  • In winter, the snow can make some trails difficult, make sure to pack the right gear for hiking icy terrain.
  • It can get quite dusty on the trails so some people like to wear a face-covering when hiking.
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