One of the best things about Goreme is that you can walk out from your hotel and immediately be immersed in one unusual sight or another, and there’s always a fairy chimney not too far away.
Two of our favourite half day adventures:
Goreme Open Air Museum
This isn’t a ‘museum’ in the traditional sense, and would be better named something like ‘Goreme Open Air Heritage Site’. You won’t find cases of exhibits and text boards dryly charting history through the centuries. Instead you’ll be scrambling around cave churches, exploring troglodyte dwellings and admiring a sea of fairy chimneys from the best viewpoint in town.
Granted UNESCO world heritage status in 1984, the Open Air Museum is a vast monastic complex just a 15 minute walk from the centre of Goreme. Comprised of 11 refectories, each with it’s own church and living quarters, the site was inhabited by monks and nuns and dates from the 10th Century.
The pathway around the complex follows a natural anti-clockwise direction, and is very well laid out so you won’t miss anything.
Two hours is plenty of time to see everything.
The famous rock churches house some beautiful frescoes, with the colours hardly faded since their painting hundreds of years ago.
Each church is different, some more elaborate than others.
Some of the cave churches were also used as burial sites for the monks and nuns who used to live in the community.
It’s worth paying the extra entrance fee to visit the 12th Century Karanlik Kilise (Dark Church). It’s a bit more of a scramble up but worth the extra effort, and lira, for the frescoes that include the nativity, the last supper and the crucifixion.
- Go early in the morning, or over lunch time to avoid the tour groups.
- There is very little shade so take your water, dodgy sunhats and plan not to be there during the heat of the day in summer.
- There are only a couple of toilets so factor in queuing time if visiting in busy periods.
- Photography isn’t permitted in most of the cave churches and there are often attendants there to enforce this policy. There are still enough superb views and caves to photograph, so this doesn’t detract from the experience.
- Visiting the Dark Church for an extra TL8 fee is worth it, but you can pay in cash at the church entrance if you can’t decide at the entrance barrier. You may be all churched-out by the time you reach it!
- There is a cafe on site but it’s very expensive and not great quality. Far better to wait until you’re back in Goreme.
- Walking up the road to the museum you’ll pass a couple of ‘ranches’ with several fed-up looking horses waiting for their next tourist rides. Most of the animals seemed to be in a poor condition, and I could see the rib cages of most. So in the interests of animal welfare I’d suggest you don’t use these operators if you want to go horse riding. It would seem Cappadocia is no longer the ‘land of beautiful horses’.
As you walk back down the hill towards Goreme, don’t miss the Tokali Kilise (Buckle Church), which is included in the museum ticket. The frescoes in here are particularly colourful, some dating back to the 10th Century, narrating in great detail the life of Christ. The church is also much larger than it’s sisters back at the museum.
Opening hours: 8am – 7pm (or 5pm during winter)
Cost: TL15 (plus TL8 for the Dark Church)
Walking back down the road from the Museum back towards Goreme you’ll pass an entrance to the famous Love Valley on the left, just before you reach the monstrosity that calls itself the ‘Tourist Hotel’. It is signed Gorkun dere (Love Valley) but blink and you’ll miss it. The path skirts around the edge of the hotel grounds and once you’re on it, just follow it along for half a mile.
To be honest I wasn’t over-awed by the rock formations here. Sure, they look like colossal pricks and have understandably been the butt of many a rude joke or photograph, but for me they didn’t quite stand up to all the hype. Probably because I’d been expecting the valley to be vaster, when in fact it was a small clearing only about 10 minutes from the road, with just a few columns. Perhaps size does matter after all! Still, it’s not something you see every day, and you can scramble up around the bases to really appreciate just how big these things are.
- You can do a pleasant circular walking taking in both Love Valley and Zemi Valley, although when we were there in February 2014 there had been a rock fall in the latter and it was considered a bit risky to walk there.
- Again there is very little shade so take some water with you. There are a few path-side stalls selling bottled drinks and some of the usual tourist tat.