Most visitors to Cappadocia visit the Goreme Open Air Museum for good reason. Where else in the world can you find a grouping of 1000 year old cave churches with magnificent Byzantine era paintings of Biblical scenes?
However, a significantly smaller number of tourists make it the Zelve Open Air Museum just a few kilometers away.
Which museum will you visit on your trip to Cappadocia?
First let’s get the basics out of the way.
Goreme Open Air Museum:
Entrance Fee: 30TL + 10TL for the Dark Church + 15TL parking if you drive
Audio Tour: 15TL
Location: The hills east of Goreme
What to see: The remains of an ancient religious cave dwelling community consisting of churches (with beautiful frescoes), a kitchen and dining room, storage rooms, and residences.
Zelve Open Air Museum:
Entrance Fee: 10TL + 5TL parking if you drive.
Audio Tour: None
Location: Near Paşabağ around the corner from Cavusin village
What to see: 4 ancient churches and a cave community
Only one of Zelve’s churches has frescoes which is the main reason it is less popular. However, it is four times as large as Goreme Open Air Museum covering three small valleys that butt up against towering cliffs. It was an active village until 1952 when the government moved the residents to Aktepe village due to the danger from falling rocks. The open air museum has been renovated with over 1.5 kilometers of nice sidewalks to make movement easier. With fewer visitors each guest has the opportunity to linger and explore the large area. If you have children, they will love the opportunities and freedom of Zelve. Does this sound inviting to you?
Goreme Open Air Museum, on the other hand, is smaller and more crowded which means less time to take in the wonders you will see. But, as we stated above, Goreme’s museum is unique in the world and, in our opinion, worth a visit.
Before the printed word how did the early Christians teach the stories? They painted them. The frescoes were painted over a couple of centuries and the development is easy to see. Some churches contain simple red paint and stick figures while others dazzle with full color panoramic scenes of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ.
Expect to spend about 2 hours at either museum, bring your camera, and wear sturdy shoes since the ground is uneven, and you will have to climb a metal staircase or two. Both parks have cafes and souvenir sellers. Going with a guide is an option (just ask your hotel to set it up), but the Goreme Open Air Museum has posted signs detailing each cave area as well as the audio tour available. The Zelve museum has signs as well, but they are not as detailed as Goreme’s.
In the end this decision comes down to time and personality. We recommend seeing the Goreme Open Air Museum if you only have time for one. However, if you have seen your fill of cave paintings and prefer the less crowded sites, then maybe Zelve is a better choice.