Nevsehir is a regional transport hub and provincial town for the surrounding area. It's close enough to the sites of Cappadocia to make it practical as a base from which to tour, but it doesn't have the same 'charm' as the smaller Cappadocian towns and villages. Useful place to find buses and any bus coming from the west will stop here on the way through. The city is about 30 km to Tuzkoy airport and 100 km to Kayseri airport. It's 1150 meters above sea level, experience a Continental climate, has a population of 283,247 (2012), and an area of 5.467 square km.
Hotels and Pansiyons are plentiful here but the size of the place makes it a little tricky to get around without your own transport. It's useful to know that you can find services here that aren't available in the wilds of the interior but with any luck you won't need them.
It does have a decent archaeological and ethnographical museum with Byzantine, Hittite, Roman and Ottoman artifacts and a couple of interesting mosques that are worth a visit if you are here for the day.
Göreme has, to some extent, become the focus of the Cappadocian tourist industry. It's proximity to the Open Air Museum, Zelve and other bits and pieces of fairy chimney charm, coupled with it's downright cheapness has been drawing people from all over the world for the last 20 years or so.
Basic accommodation and supplies are here in volume as a result of the rapid response to the areas tourist potential and Göreme is a favorite amongst budget travelers, many of whom stay a while, sometimes finding work in the tourist industry themselves.
Central location and cheapness apart you may not feel there's much to distinguish Göreme from it's neighbors. It is, perhaps, less organized and a little bit more laid back than Ürgüp or Avanos and it's probably livelier than either in the season. If you're looking for somewhere to hang out for a while, meet people and maybe blend in a little then Göreme is probably the place for you.
Göreme Open Air Museum
This is the one place that everybody who comes through Cappadocia goes. It's a nicely packaged instant version of what the whole area has to offer and it's a good place to start.
The open air museum is about 2 km from the town of Göreme itself and you can comfortably walk it. Walking in Cappadocia is usually fun anyway. As you approach you'll pass the bus park on your right, complete with its row of souvenir shops, and on your left the buckle church (Tokali kilise), one of the finest examples of frescoes in the area. Entrance is included when you buy your ticket at the main gate so you'll probably end up visiting it on the way out of the museum. Try not to forget it.
It is impossible to give details of all the churches and rooms in the valley here as you could easily spend half a day wondering about and looking at them all. Basically what you'll find is the remains of a monastic community who made their home in this valley. Most people are struck by the frescoes and the quality of these varies from excellent to very tatty. Keep an eye open for the strange symbolic decorations in some of the smaller churches and chapels. Bear in mind when buying your ticket that the Karanlik church (recently restored and with the freshest frescoes) is not included in the price and will cost you extra.
Over the last 2 years or so an extensive protection program has been put into place. The churches are very prone to erosion and to prevent this they are slowly being covered with a resilient artificial surface designed to halt their gradual destruction by nature. This looks kind of weird at first glance but it makes sense.
The frescoes that many tourists come to see can be divided up into Pre and Post-Iconoclastic. The earlier works rely entirely on symbolism to communicate their messages and may look childish and simple in comparison to later works. Their form is a result of the early church's disapproval of the portrayal of the human form in religious art. The works which postdate the resolution of the Iconoclastic controversy (mid 9th Century - see Ecumenical Councils) are much more figurative. It is interesting to compare them and realize that both styles are telling the same stories of Christ and the Saints.
Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River, which gets its name from the clay that it deposits. This clay has provided Avanos with pottery for centuries and the town is still dominated by this industry despite the inroads that tourism has made in the area. The main street has numerous shops and workshops selling plain and decorated pots and plates and you can watch the potters at work using kick wheels, the design of which has remained unchanged for generations. Many of the workshops will encourage you to have a go yourself. It's harder than it looks.
Avanos is a possible base for exploring Cappadocia with accommodation and services available at reasonable rates. The town has retained some of its charm and is a pleasant place to spend half a day or to stop for lunch. The town has a tourist targeted Hammam (Turkish bath) which is popular with tour groups and is also close to the Selcuk built Yellow Caravanserai, a restored Han (travelers 'service station'), and the Özkonak Underground city, a smaller version of those at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.
Today Avanos is also famous for its carpets and textile.
If you're not looking for a party Uçhisar makes an excellent base from which to explore the unique Cappadocian landscape. It's a sleepy little town, less dominated by the tourist trade than Göreme or Avanos and with an atmosphere that can fool you into thinking you're in Turkey in the late 70's rather than the late 90's.
There are some pleasant mid-range and cheap hotels and pensions here and food is acceptable at several establishments. Uçhisar's Kale or fortress is visible for miles around and has become the town's major tourist attraction, offering, as it does, fine views over the surrounding countryside.
Uçhisar is also a good place to begin a walking tour from because it's down hill in every direction and because you can take in Pigeon Valley, named for it's myriad nesting holes carved to encourage said birds.
Ortahisar, meaning middle fortress in Turkish, is 6 km from Ürgüp and about 10 km from Nevsehir city center. The village is at 1200 meters above sea level with about 4,000 inhabitants, and its name is coming from a massive 90 meter high rock, similar to Uçhisar. This rock was used for many centuries since the Hittite period as a castle to protect local inhabitants from invaders and to scout the region. There are many rooms and tunnels inside, and the top is accessible by a staircase. Once you get on top, there is a breathtaking view of Cappadocia and the Erciyes mountain at the background. Carved tuff rooms around the village are used as a natural cool depot to store citrus, apple, potatoes etc. The village is surrounded by vineyards as well.
Besides this castle-rock, there are several churches in and around Ortahisar from early Christians; Sarica church, Kepez church, Pancarlik church, Tavsanli church, Cambazli church, Balkan stream church, Hallac dere hospital and monastic complex, and Uzumlu church in Kuzulcukur area. These are all Turkish names given by the local people, not their original names.
There is a private Ethnography museum in Ortahisar, recently opened in 2004 and showing examples from the daily village life, agriculture, kitchen, carpet weaving, Hammam, Henna night and marriage. It also has a cafeteria and a restaurant to relax and enjoy the local food.
The unfortunately named Ürgüp is probably the busiest of the small towns in the vicinity of the Cappadocian sites. It's possibly the tastiest as well, recent development has mushroomed leaving a grim legacy of poorly designed and serviced buildings. The road down into the town however does take you past some pleasant rock carved dwellings, accommodation and restaurants. It's worth wondering around the old town for a taste of what the place must have been like before we all arrived.
This said it does offer services, such as banking, which are a little scarce elsewhere. It has a scattering of hotels and pensions of varying degrees of sophistication and a couple of good places to eat. The town has also a certain night life with small bars and discos.
A strong contender for favorite place status, the Zelve monastery complex is situated about 10 km out from Göreme on the Avanos road. Lacking the elaborate frescoes of Göreme and other sites there's still plenty here to see. The series of valleys can provide you with a couple of hours walking, climbing and crawling about and in addition to the marked highlights (the Fish and Grape churches) there are innumerable rooms and passages to look at.
Zelve was inhabited until quite recently but you can almost see the place crumbling before your very eyes. There's probably an element of risk involved in exploring too enthusiastically but a guide should be able to balance the thrill of stumbling through pitch black tunnels by torchlight with an element of safety.
It's probably a good idea to make the most of the place while there's still something to see. There seems little chance of a restoration scheme along the lines of that in place at Göreme and even if tourists were to stop visiting today natural erosion processes do their damage every winter.
The Ihlara valley is very nice. Removed a little from the rest of the Cappadocian sites it can be a little tricky to get to but it's worth a full day if you can spare one. The gorge is 16 km long and both sides are lined with rock carved churches, about 100 in all. You can look at the more important of these in a couple of hours but it's very pleasant to spend an afternoon following the river down the valley and exploring on your own.
The climb down to and especially up from the gorge can be demanding and probably shouldn't be attempted if you're feeling frail. To make the most of your time here a full day and a picnic is a good idea and will repay the effort in terms of a relaxed days pottering about admiring the churches and the valley's beautiful scenery.
The underground cities of Cappadocia are worthy of a visit. Let's take Derinkuyu for example. The one time home of up to 20,000 people, it's 8 levels descend into the Anatolian plateau 50 km south of Göreme. Stop and think about that for a while. A large, market town sized community digging a settlement out to guarantee themselves a degree of protection.
There are 8 floors of tunnels but 4 of them are open to the visitors and this is enough to give you an idea of the sensation of living in a labyrinth like this. The ventilation shafts, circular and descending from the surface to the lower levels, bring home the scale of the enterprise while the massive circular doors - which were rolled across the passages and sealed from the inside - remind you of the motivation for moving underground in the first place.
Derinkuyu is by no means the only such city you can visit here. There are actually 40 or so subterranean settlements in the area although only a few are open to the public. Kaymakli, 10 kilometers to the north of Derinkuyu, is smaller and less excavated but 4 levels are accessible and the experience is pretty much the same. Not For The Claustrophobic.