Are day trips to Cappadocia from Istanbul possible? Yes. Is it the absolute best way to see the Cappadocia region? No, but it’ll give you a flavour and a whistle-stop tour of the lunar landscape rock formations and underground cities if that’s all the time you can dedicate to the area. I really recommend spending more time around Capaddocia if you can work your itinerary to do so.
There’s quite a bit to see with much of it spread out across quite a big area. Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it covers the whole area between Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Avanos. Plus one of the really fun things to do in the area is to go on a sunrise hot air balloon ride and see the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia from above. And to do that you’ll need to stay overnight.
Organised One Day Trip to Cappadocia or DIY?
If you’re going to Cappadocia just for one day there are two ways to do it. You can organise everything yourself or you could join an organised Cappadocia trip. The benefit of joining an organised full day Cappadocia tour is that your tour operator is taking care of the logistics. But you’re committed to following the schedule regardless of whether you want to explore something else you see along the way.
When you book a day trip yourself obviously you need to sort out everything from your airport transfers to Istanbul Airport and from the airport you choose in Cappadocia. Plus how you’re going to get around all the sights. But it’s not necessarily a bad idea or too hard to organise and I’ll show you how you could do it.
Getting to Cappadocia from Istanbul
Whichever option you take you really only have one way of getting to Cappadocia and back to Istanbul in one day. And that’s by flying (and it’s an early start). If you only want to spend one day in Cappadocia but you’re happy to give up two nights then there are night buses. But the overnight bus travel time is about 12 hours so it’s not truly a day trip.
When you fly there are two Cappadocia Airports you can use.
Nevsehir Kapadokya Airport
Nevsehir Airport (you’ll see it written as Nevşehir Airport ) is a tiny airport about 43km outside of Goreme which is one of the main towns in the Cappadocia area. And it takes about 40 minutes to drive directly to Goreme.
Turkish Airlines has quite a few domestic flights running throughout the day. As an example, you can leave Istanbul around 6:30am in the summer and arrive just before 8am. The latest flight back is around 9pm.
This could be a good choice if you’re going on an organised tour (i.e. a Red Tour, not a whole day trip that’s been organised for you). You could arrange to be collected from a hotel in Nevsehir and the timings would work well.
Kayseri Erkilet Airport
Kayseri Airport is a bigger, more modern airport a bit further out at 81km from Goreme. Driving time is just over an hour. But if you are on a shared airport transfer it could take you a couple of hours before getting dropped off in the central location you want.
Again Turkish Airlines has flights has early morning and late flights so you can do a day trip from Istanbul. Flights arrive from about 8am and you can get a return flight as late as midnight. So it’s a long day but you really do have the full day. Just make sure you leave enough time for getting to and from the airport.
Depending on the time of year you go and what time you arrive you might be treated to the magical sight of hot air ballooning. The hot air balloon flight normally leave just before sunrise. When I arrived on my first day in Cappadocia the transfer minibus turned off the road into Uchisar and the whole sky was just a hot-air balloon spectacular. It was absolutely breathtaking!
Check for COVID special Health / Safety Measures
I travelled to Turkey for New Year 2022 and at that time we weren’t allowed to book domestic flights without a special code that was being issued to track movement in the country. The only way I could book to fly within the country was if my flights were within 24 hours of an international flight into or out of the country.
The information I looked at seemed to suggest that I could only get the code as a Turkish resident. But other tourists had managed to get codes issued via travel agents and the like.
So look into flight times on Skyscanner if you’re doing the DIY option but make sure you check the situation before you try and actually buy your flight tickets. In the summer it doesn’t seem like there are any restrictions but things are still a bit dicey so the restrictions could come back. Check the Important Announcements page on the Turkish Airlines website for up-to-date info.
If there are organised tours running when you want to go then it’s likely you don’t need that anymore. And if you do, the travel agency will sort it out for you so it might be a good reason not to DIY things. But check the situation when you’re planning to go.
What to See and Do on Your Cappadocia Day Trip
There are many beautiful places to see and on a short trip, you’re only going to get a taste of what the region has to offer. Because you’ll have limited time I’d recommend against using public transport. The buses seem decent and they’re definitely cheap. But they might not be as frequent as you need and you’ll want to have all your transport running like clockwork.
If you take this organised Cappadocia day tour through Viator they take you to:
- Uchisar Castle
- Kaymakli Underground City
- Pigeon Valley
- Devrent Valley
- Fairy Chimneys in Pasabag / Monks Valley
- Goreme Open Air Museum
- Ortahisar Castle Panorama
- Pigeon Valley
Red Tour Full Day Tour – One of the Best Day Trips
However, if you DIY your day trip then joining a North Cappadocia Tour (also known as the Red Tour) is good idea. It’s a full-day trip, usually with a professional tour guide, that covers a number of popular tourist destinations. It’s a popular option because the places it goes to are all within a fairly compact area.
The exact stops and order depend on the company you use. They have different starting points to even out the visitor loads but they usually includes most of the following sites:
- Uchisar Castle
- Goreme Open Air Museum
- Fairy Chimneys / Pasabag
- Devrent Imagination Valley
- Cavusin Village
Here’s one you can book online I think this one and the one above are both well organised. But you won’t necessarily get much time at any of the stops.
If you’ve been to Cappadocia before and are doing a mop-up trip then the Green Tour will take you to some alternative places. (There’s also a Blue Tour but you can’t really fit it into a day trip where you have to get back for a flight.)
Usual Green Tour Itinerary
- Esentepe Viewpoint / Goreme Panorama
- Kaymakli Underground City or Derinkuyu Underground City
- Ihlara Valley for a short hike
- Belisirma in the valley to stop for a lunch of delicious Turkish food
- Selime Monastery
- Pigeon Valley (just the panorama / view point)
- Sometimes a stop at the onyx factory
Because of the weather conditions, the winter isn’t a great time to do the Green Tour. It’s much nicer (and more sensible) to do the hike in Ihlara canyon in the summer.
Book a Private Tour to Have the Easiest Time
If you’re not doing a full day organised group excursion then I suggest either hiring a car or booking a private tour. That way you’ll get to see as much as you can in the short period you’re in Cappadocia. Plus you can mix and max the itinerary to your liking.
This private tour with Turkish Heritage Travel covers a set itinerary but they do provide a tour guide.
Book a Local Taxi Driver for the Day
If you want to make your own itinerary without driving then there are two particular taxi drivers that took me around the area and acted as my local private guide. They both work for Goreme VIP Taxi and I’d really recommend using them for a full days Cappadocia tour.
Just tell them all the places you want to go and agree a set fee for the day. They’ll suggest some other options nearby if you want, too. If I went back just for the day I’d get them to pick me up at the airport and start the tour straight away from there.
The drivers I used were Goreme Yellow Taxi, here’s his Instagram (he has a contact form in his bio) and Black Snake. Mr Yellow Taxi was very quiet, polite and gentle and gave lots of information about the area. You might need to ask him to speak up so you can hear all the knowledge he’s imparting but he’s really nice and told me a lot about the attractions.
Black Snake goes by that name because his actual name is very tonal in pronunciation and foreigners butcher it, basically! He’s very outgoing and energetic but also kind. He helped me find a pet shop when I got upset about some skinny stray dogs at the Fairy Chimneys. And then he got me a table at a great restaurant you normally have to book for a few days in advance. His number is +905322247406
Another driver that I haven’t used but that has good reviews on Tripadvisor is Cappadocia Yellow Taxi
They’ll take you on the Red Tour route if you want but you get to choose where to go. Love Valley / Baglidere Valley is quite dramatic to visit. And Red Valley and Rose Valley are beautiful at sunset when the light bounces off the red stone.
My Advice for a One Day Trip to Cappadocia
That’s my advice on how to enjoy a great one day trip to Cappadocia from Istanbul. By my overall advice is that if you can shuffle things around a bit to spend more time in the region then do. It really does feel magical when you’re there and you can easily fill a good few days. Anyway, whatever you decide, have a super time!
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