Cappadocia Family Travel
Cappadocia had been on my travel wish list for a long time. I wanted to see its incredible-looking valley of cave houses. And Instagram and its ubiquitous shots of balloons at sunrise only made me want to go more.
When we started sketching out 10 days in Turkey, I contacted local tour operator Travel Atelier and was told that three days was sufficient to see the highlights. That worked out perfectly with the time we had. In the end we planned five days in Istanbul (my blog post is here), three in Cappadocia and then two on the coast in Bodrum, before taking a ferry over to Greece to continue our holiday. We hired Travel Atelier to handle everything. Most places in the world we’re great simply arriving by plane or train and exploring on our own, but we didn’t know Turkey at all, much less driving in Turkey. This was one destination where it made sense to maximize our trip by paying for a guide and driver to take us around. And Travel Atelier had impressed me with their focus on family trips.
Traveling to Cappadocia
There are two primary Cappadocia airport options – Kayseri and Nevsehir. We flew direct from Istanbul to Kayseri and then back to Istanbul from Nevsehir (and on to Bodrum) based on the schedule we wanted. Either airport works just fine. Nevsehir is a little closer. Travel Atelier handled both of our transfers.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is small – only 200 square kilometers – but there are several villages and a lot of potential places to stay. Murat and Ismail at Travel Atelier recommended staying at argos in Cappadocia, in the village of Uçhisar. We loved the choice. We honestly didn’t care about going up in balloon – it’s an added expense, you need to leave from your hotel too early, and my 9-year-old daughter hated the last one we did (although she was three years younger at the time) – but I wanted a location where I could see the balloons at sunrise even if the rest of the family was sleeping. And we wanted good restaurants and at least a few shops to walk to when we weren’t with our guide. Uçhisar was perfect for all of that.
We loved argos in Cappadocia. Our rooms were literal caves – albeit upscale, nicely-designed caves! We had two rooms next to each other with a mostly-private courtyard between them. It was roughly a two-minute walk to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast every day and one dinner, and it was maybe three minutes to a large nearby cave perfect for viewing the balloons in the morning.
If you stay at argos, be sure to take the tour at least one day to see the hidden parts of the hotel. There’s a huge cave that used to be a monastery. There are ruins and artifacts discovered during construction. And there are long tunnels, including one that’s been converted into a wine cellar complete with a large cave for wine tastings and private dinners. The coolest things are below the surface and we never would have known about them without the tour.
What to Do in Cappadocia
Normally in a blog post I list everything we did and what we liked and what we didn’t like. Cappadocia is a little different though. When you go to Cappadocia with kids, or without kids, you want to simply explore; see as much of the valley as possible. If you have two days, explore for two days. If you can go for a week, you’ll be able to see a lot more.
We loved everything. Seriously, it’s not a place where you’ll feel like anything is a waste of time. It’s such an amazing location in the world that it’s a privilege to be there, seeing everything and learning about the history.
Over our two full days we visited the Göreme open-air museum, a stop on virtually every itinerary, and the Pasabag fairy chimneys – tall limestone pillars that mostly look like fairy chimneys, although a few resemble penises. We also went to Chez Galip, where the kids got to make pottery on a wheel with a master potter, and we visited the underground city of Kaymakli. If you’re claustrophobic you may want to stay away from the underground city. The tunnels were very small. Our short kids had to duck, so if you’re taller than five and a half feet or so, well, it’s not easy to walk through.
A highlight was a 1.5-hour walk through a valley in Göreme National Park with Ismail our guide. He had done a spectacular job everywhere of avoiding crowds – difficult during the post-Ramadan holiday week we visited – but our valley hike was even better. The location was stunning and we only saw two others in the valley the entire time we were there, other than a guy selling nuts and one selling drinks.
One amazing thing about Cappadocia with kids – most of the area is a national park, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it’s not roped off. Most places you can hike and explore and climb anywhere you want – just don’t damage anything. Our kids loved running up and down the rocks at the fairy chimneys, and rock climbing during our valley hike. It’s basically a natural playground.
Cappadocia Balloons at Sunrise
As I mentioned, we didn’t go up in a balloon. Hotel pickups are around 4:30am or so, and we were just getting over jet lag, so to wake the kids up that early wasn’t appealing. Compared to Africa and other famous ballooning locations it’s not extraordinarily expensive – $150-200/person – but that still adds up with five people.
I walked around every day at sunrise. Our first and last mornings the balloons were flying. The second day I turned the corner near the hotel where I expected to see 100+ balloons and there weren’t any. The wind was slightly too strong for them to go up, and in the summer there’s no option for an evening flight (too hot) or even the possibility to switch to the next day, since the flights sell out well in advance, so you don’t want to base your whole trip around a balloon ride.
The other thing I noticed is that a lot of balloons weren’t even in the air for sunrise. It looked like the Turkish equivalent of balloon air traffic control was limiting how many could take off at any given time. It would still be pretty to go up in an early morning flight, but I would think not being in the air when the sun peeked over would be a little less interesting? At any rate I was great viewing everything from the ground.
Where to Eat in Cappadocia with Kids
We went to some amazing Cappadocia restaurants, all booked for us by Travel Atelier. They were perfect choices for us – we’re foodies, and we wanted to experience Turkish cuisine. The restaurants we would highly recommend are:
The Old Greek House (Mustafapasa)
So good, especially the meatballs and white beans. Great setting too.
Ziggy Café (Urgup)
We had a great dinner at Ziggy Cafe. Excellent mezes of course. The kids really liked the chicken skewers and Ziggy potatoes. The pastrami pockets are amazing, and loved the shakshuka.
Dibek Restaurant (Göreme)
The chicken stew in a broken pot is reason enough to head to Dibek, but the okra, beans with meat, and tel kadayif (shredded wheat type dessert) were excellent as well.
Aravan Evi (Ayvali)
One of our new favorite restaurants in the world – probably one of our top five favorite meals ever. Loved Aravan Evi‘s setting and philosophy (everything served is grown on their farm), and the food of course. The bread and dipping sauce were excellent, as were the lentil soup, rice in grape leaves with a tzatziki-like sauce, beans, bulgur and beef stew. We would return to Cappadocia just to dine here again.
Elai Cappadocia (Uçhisar)
Just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, Elai has an upper terrace that’s a perfect spot to watch the sunset. A slightly more international menu than some of the other places we ate.
We received media rates from Travel Atelier and argos in Cappadocia. Airport transfers are normally 120 Euros from Kayseri and 105 Euros for Nevsehir (updated 2022). Our full-service trip for five people (two kids under 12) would have been 980 Euros plus airport transfers. That includes a guide, driver, lunches, wifi and drinks in the car, parking, entrance tickets, etc… – pretty much everything other than the hotel.
argos in Cappadocia starts at 225 Euros a night. I highly recommend booking argos or any other local hotel through a tour operator like Travel Atelier to get lower rates, upgrades, breakfast included and other benefits.
Tipping in Turkey
In general around the world we tip $15/person/day or so for a guide and $10/person/day for a driver. If it’s only two of us I may bump that up to $25/person/day for a guide and $20/person/day for the driver. I think I tipped our Cappadocia guide $150 and our driver $100. It seemed appropriate. Both were excellent.
Have you been to Cappadocia with kids? What did we miss? Would you recommend the balloon ride?