Istanbul in winter: is it worth to go, what to see, what the weather and how to dress
My husband Dmitry and I have been living in Antalya for more than 9 years. I hope these articles and our travel experiences will be helpful. The information is updated regularly. So feel free to ask questions in the comments and on the telegram channel.
Last updated article 15.07.2020
What will you remember about Istanbul? The salty Bosporus breeze, the bustling waterfront and quiet narrow streets, tobacco smoke everywhere, kitties, chic mosques and graffiti-painted walls. Souvenir stores that don’t shout “hey, druk, come in, druk!”
The lack of traffic rules for both cars and pedestrians. The street food and classy restaurants. This city will be remembered for its contrasts. No matter what nationality you are, no matter how much money you have in your pocket, Istanbul welcomes you as an old friend and hospitably treats you to a cup of fragrant tea.
Istanbul is beautiful at any time of year: not only during the summer season, but also during the cold winter months.
Istanbul in winter: is it worth the trip
Most travelers perceive Turkey as a place to spend a summer vacation. In winter, tourists rarely come even to major cities. Many do not know how to have fun and what to see in winter in Istanbul, Izmir and other cities of Turkey.
Among the major cities in the first place in terms of attendance by travelers is Istanbul. The modern metropolis, which for almost five centuries was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, is literally saturated with history and architectural masterpieces that everyone should see.
Few people know that Istanbul was the capital not only of the Ottoman Empire, but also managed to be the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Latin until its fall. And there really is a lot to see there!
In addition to the opportunity to dive into antiquity and learn about the history of the country, there are several reasons why you should come to Istanbul not only in summer but also in winter:
- The mild climate, the absence of severe heat in December-February. Winter weather creates all the conditions for a comfortable stay, walks through the city streets, sightseeing.
- The onset of the period of seasonal sales, which give the opportunity to buy brand-name products at a relatively low price.
- Reduction of the cost of travel, which begins almost immediately after the New Year. Prices for services in the city are dropping. Tourists who choose to visit the country during the winter season can save significantly on their trip.
How to dress in Istanbul in January
The winter period in the country’s largest city is characterized by variable weather. The number of overcast and sunny days is about the same. However, in the city, especially in the areas adjacent to the Bosphorus Strait, a strong cold wind often blows. In addition, in midwinter (late December to the first two decades of January) it periodically snows.
Must read: Maiden Tower (Kız Kulesi) in Istanbul: history, opening hours, how to get there, photos inside
Going to go to the former capital of Turkey in the cold season, it is better to bring warm clothes.
Travelers will need:
- warm sweaters;
It’s best not to overload your luggage with down jackets and fur-lined jackets. But sunglasses are useful, because suddenly the bright sun may peek out.
An umbrella may be a useful item on a winter trip. The snow in the city rarely falls, but precipitation in the rain is a usual winter phenomenon for the locals.
What is the weather like in Istanbul in winter?
As the Turks themselves say – the weather in Istanbul, as the mood of the woman, can change 10 times a day.
Turkey is a country with a good climate. Despite the fact that during the winter temperature drops significantly (compared to the summer season), the weather remains quite comfortable.
In Istanbul, located in the northwestern part of the Asia Minor Peninsula, winter is not too cold. The thermometer reads +7 … 9 ° C on average. This value varies by month.
Weather in December
The first winter month is characterized by quite comfortable (by Russian standards) temperature. The thermometer mostly shows +9 … +11 ° C.
Despite the presence of clear sunny days the air can not be called warm. The reason for this is a cold wind blowing from the sea.
Clear weather in the period of December can suddenly change into cloudy. Sometimes there are clouds in the sky for days. At the same time there is precipitation in the form of drizzle, increasing the humidity index.
The second winter month is characterized by lower temperatures (compared to December). During the day the thermometer reads +4 … +6 °С. After dark the temperature starts to decrease, sometimes dropping to 0 … -2 ° C. During the month it often rains and breaks.
During the month often rains. Snow sometimes falls, slightly covering the ground and melting quickly. Usually snow cover is delayed for a maximum of 2 days. There is still high humidity in the air, and strong winds continue to blow.
During the last month of winter, the temperature increases. The daytime temperatures may reach +12 … +14 °С. It is cooler at night, but the temperatures are still positive.
The number of sunny days increases. But still often there is a sharp change of weather conditions. On overcast days it rains, sometimes changing to wet snow.
Cold winds persist in areas adjacent to the Bosphorus. The climatic conditions in the districts far from the sea remain quite comfortable.
What to see and do in Istanbul in winter
Wintertime Istanbul has a wide variety of attractions to suit all tastes. Visitors should not miss out on the architectural sites and history of the great empire of the Ottomans.
When the weather is good, you can take long walks through the former Turkish capital. The streets are free of tourists at this time, so there is an opportunity not only to walk quietly through the city, but also to admire the surrounding views.
During the long walks you can take a break, sit in a cozy cafe and enjoy a cup of hot coffee with real Turkish sweets. The city restaurants offer visitors a varied menu, including dishes of world and national Turkish cuisine.
Where to go and what to see in Istanbul with children
The largest city in the country offers not only “adult” entertainment. Winter Istanbul is also suitable for families. There are many places where you can go together with your child.
The 29 pools are home to 4,000 sea creatures, including:
The cultural institution is open daily. Working schedule:
- 9.30-18.00 (weekdays);
- 9.30-19.00 (weekends).
Winter sales in Istanbul – when and where the discounts are
In early January, immediately after the New Year celebrations, the period of sales begins in the Turkish metropolis. Goods in stores are displayed at discounts. During the month the prices keep falling. Lovers of shopping, who came here in the second half of winter, can significantly save on the purchase of quality brand products.
Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Avenue shelters within its boundaries many stores, offering customers a variety of goods.
Other shopping streets are considered:
There are many shopping centers in Istanbul, most of which are concentrated in the European quarters of the metropolis.
- Kanyon (Canyon);
- Cevarlu (Cevarlu);
- Metro City;
- Zorlu Center;
- İstinye Park;
Shopping malls in Istanbul are not the only places where you can find shops. There are cafes, and also cinemas, which give visitors the opportunity to watch famous foreign films in their original language with dubbing in English.
Prices are also reduced in the city markets (the most famous are the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar).
In winter, during the recession of tourist activity, you can buy here with a sitka:
- interior items;
Even considering the low cost of goods, in Turkish markets you can and should bargain. This eastern tradition allows you to make a purchase, spending a minimum amount of money.
Buy a crispy bagel from a grandfather in Istanbul, inhale the aroma of Turkish coffee in a cafe overlooking the Bosphorus, immerse yourself in the history of the city with an experienced guide, or bask in the hammam, watch the fishing on Galata Bridge, or choose gifts at the Grand Bazaar – what will you choose? If you’ve never been to Istanbul, pack your bags and you’re sure to fall in love with the city – and you’ll be back! If you don’t make it to Istanbul yet, pack your bags: you’ll fall in love with this city, and you’ll be back for sure.
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Winter in Istanbul
When we talk about Istanbul, the summer sunny picture comes to mind: ancient fortresses and monuments, the Bosphorus Strait, oriental bazaars. Summer and sun appear in this picture as if by default. Turkey means summer. But Istanbul is a special city. In winter it is no less beautiful. The sights don’t disappear, the straits remain in place and the bazaars still beckon with their wares. Except that the crowds of tourists disappear from the streets, and you can enjoy all the charms of the ancient city without the hassle and queues. This is a big advantage of a winter visit to Istanbul. Worried about the weather? Do not worry, the climate here is comfortable, you will not freeze. And the summer heat does not have to suffer. Here is another answer to the question: should I go to Istanbul in winter?
We said that the weather in Istanbul at this time of year is comfortable. But don’t think you can walk around in shorts and a T-shirt. It’s winter, after all. Even if it is Turkish. The average temperature is about +10⁰. Therefore, warm clothing must be taken with you. Please note that the weather changes because of the wind Poyraz. It is damp and dank and brings snow and rain to the city in winter. It can snow all of a sudden. You can stand admiring the views of Istanbul in the sunlight and suddenly everything is covered with snow flakes. You won’t find snowdrifts here. What falls quickly melts just as quickly. Snow lies here for a couple of days at most.
There’s no point in hoping for weather forecasts. Specialists try not to give information for more than 1-2 days, and they are often mistaken anyway. The climate is very variable. But at the same time, the temperature almost never drops below zero.
If you describe the weather in Istanbul in winter in three words, it would be: wind, damp and rain. What kind of comfortable weather it is, you ask, recalling our previous statements. Well, first of all, winter here in any case, there are often sunny days and it is the perfect time to walk around. Secondly, when it rains, Istanbul takes on some special charm. The atmosphere is something that you don’t catch at any other time of year.
Weather in December
At the beginning of winter it is pretty warm here by our standards – something like +9 … +11 °. To feel the comfort of this temperature you can’t afford the cold streams of air coming from the sea. A clear day can turn into a cloudy one pretty fast. Sometimes the cloudy weather lasts for several days. Clouds don’t just cover the sun, but sometimes bring drizzle. The air is especially humid at this time.
In January in Istanbul, it is colder than in December. During the day the air gets warm to only +4 … +6 °. At night the temperature drops and can go below zero. For the second winter month it rains a lot. Snow falls much less often and melts almost immediately. The maximum time it stays on city streets is two days. As in the previous month, in January, the weather is influenced by strong sea winds. The humidity in the air is high.
The closer to spring, the warmer it gets. Here and the last month of winter in Istanbul sometimes pleases residents and tourists with a pleasant +12 … +14 °. At night it is still cool, but without the minus degrees. In February there are more clear days, but the regime of variability in the weather remains. The farther the city districts are from the sea, the more comfortable the weather conditions are. But in the areas near the Bosphorus the cold winds do make themselves felt.
What clothes to wear
Since the climate is so changeable, how do you know what clothes are the best to wear to admire the beauties of Istanbul in winter? First, take some warm clothes with you. They will definitely come in handy. A jacket or windbreaker will be very useful. Take a lightweight down jacket too. Bring sweaters, blouses and scarves. If it gets cold during the walk, you can always insulate yourself. Do not forget the reverse situation, when the sun looks out, and the air begins to warm up. You’re sure to take off excess clothing, so choose closet pieces that are easy to throw off and easy to carry around. But it definitely shouldn’t be shorts or light skirts. Save them for summer.
The best option is jeans and a sweatshirt. As for footwear, give preference to sneakers or boots without heels. This way your feet won’t get tired during the long walks. Gloves are not a bad idea, either. Considering that Istanbul can be sunny during the winter, sunglasses are a good idea. Take an umbrella to protect you from the rain. The old local merchants can help you if you have no desire to lug an umbrella around the city. At the right time they can buy umbrellas at affordable prices.
Perhaps you plan to visit some fancy local restaurant. For such an occasion, put an evening gown in your luggage. One is enough.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Istanbul
It will come as a surprise to many that at the end of December, the streets of Istanbul have the same atmosphere as in European cities. Although the Turks are predominantly Muslim and therefore don’t celebrate Christmas, they love celebrating New Year’s Eve. A couple of weeks before Christmas they decorate the Christmas trees and the brightly colored lights appear in the stores. But it is impossible to say that Christmas passes unnoticed here.
During the winter holidays there are a lot of Christian tourists in Istanbul. They enjoy spending time in the city. Some take a boat ride on the Bosphorus on Christmas night. A holiday cruise with dinner and a special show is one of the favorite options for visitors to Istanbul. You can also celebrate Christmas in local restaurants as well as nightclubs. The organizers prepare a special entertainment program for visitors. If you want a more spiritual atmosphere, there are Catholic churches in the city where Christmas services are held. For example, the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, or the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
The Christmas fairs familiar to Europeans are also held here. One of them is organized at the beginning of winter in the German Lyceum, which is located in the Beyoglu district. Visitors can find festive decorations, sweets, souvenirs and various handicrafts made by German craftsmen on the stalls.
Interestingly, the Russian-speaking diaspora in the city holds two fairs on the eve of the holidays: in the Beylikdüzü and Maltepe districts. Here you can also buy souvenirs, Christmas toys and sweets. Russian products are also presented. Guests of the fair have the opportunity to taste the traditional Russian delicacies: blinis, caviar, pelmeni, etc.
About two weeks before New Year’s Eve the winter bazaar begins in the Feriye Palace. The set of goods here is traditional: souvenirs, gifts, festive decorations. Note that among other things there are creative master classes and other activities.
Every year on the eve of winter holidays the International winter women’s festival takes place in Istanbul. We can not tell you the exact location of it, because it periodically changes. You will need to check this information for yourself. At this event, held since early December, you can buy local souvenirs as well as gift products from other countries. The festival usually has an area for children who can meet Santa Claus himself there.
What to see
Naturally, in winter you don’t go to Istanbul for sunbathing or for a dip in the waters of the Bosphorus. At this time of year you come here for walking and sightseeing. The presence of historical monuments is not affected by weather conditions. On the contrary, all the key tourist attraction points become more accessible. There are not as many people as in the summer and the city will appear to you more calm and cozy. Some come here from December to February for shopping, some go on a gastronomic tour. All these options for leisure in winter are especially good.
When planning them, be sure to take into account the capricious nature of the local weather. Prepare several itineraries and programs so that you have something to do both on a sunny and cloudy day.
We’ll share a couple of itinerary suggestions with you. If it’s a sunny day, head to Beyoglu on the European side of Istanbul. Walk from Taksim Square down to the Galata Tower. Then you can go down to the seaside neighborhood of Karaköy or to Cihangir, which has a spectacular view of the Bosphorus. You can take a ferry to the Asian side of the city. If the weather is calm, it is worth extending the boat ride to the Prince’s Islands.
If the day is overcast, rainy and windy, you’ll still have plenty to do and see. We suggest an itinerary for this weather that includes visits to sites that can be explored from the inside. These include the Archaeological Museum, Grand Bazaar, Dolmabahce Palace, and Topkapi Palace. You will spend at least two hours in each of these places. Conveniently, some of these sights are a short distance from each other.
But on a snowy day you should not hide under the roof. It is better to warm up and take a walk. Snowy Istanbul is beautiful. You can immerse yourself in the fabulous winter atmosphere and take lots of spectacular pictures.
There are many sights in the city, but we will allocate the most interesting, according to the reviews of tourists.
– Naturally, it is worth to see the Hagia Sophia Mosque . Its appearance is familiar even to those who have never been in Istanbul. This is the main religious site of the city. Originally this building was an Orthodox temple, and then in the course of its history, it changed its status several times. First, the cathedral was turned into a mosque, then a museum was organized here. And not so long ago, it obtained the status of a mosque again.
– The indispensable object of any tourist route is the Galata Tower. It was built in early 6th century. In addition to its historical value the Galata Tower attracts visitors to the city and an excellent viewing platform. The view from it is spectacular.
– Be sure to visit the local shopping areas: Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar.
Not even for shopping, although you can also buy souvenirs there, but first of all for an immersion in the historical atmosphere. Trade in these places went back to Ottoman times. Grand Bazaar, or Kapaly Charshi, is practically a small town consisting of six dozen covered streets. Here you will be offered to taste the aromatic local coffee or relax with a hookah.
– Almost all tourists go for a walk along Istiklal Street. There is a concentration of cafes and restaurants. Many people come here for the local stores. And someone prefers to walk along the street on a ride on an old streetcar.
– A visit to the Blue Mosque, which is also worth including in your tourist itinerary, you will remember for a long time. The interiors of amazing beauty impress any visitor and are sure to imprint in the memory.
– Another historical site with stunning interiors is Topkapi Palace . It was built in the late 15th century and is rightly considered a masterpiece of architecture. You can hardly study all the details of the palace decorations. There are so many of them that you will have to spare a whole day for the excursion. Speaking of excursions, you can visit them only if you adhere to the dress code. No open clothes are allowed.
– In terms of architectural beauty the Dolmabahce Palace can compete with the aforementioned Palace. Here you do not have to stand in long lines. You can stroll through the marvelous garden with peacocks, peek into the harem, and enjoy the views of the Bosphorus from the garden square. The palace also has a special feature. Here you can find the unique crystal chandelier which is the second largest in the world.
– Theodosia Cistern, Basilica Cistern, and Nakkash Cistern. They are called Byzantine cisterns – and they are ancient historical water reservoirs. In those years they were used for the city’s water supply. They are well preserved and one of them (Basilica cistern) holds water even now.
– Kyz Kulesi or Maiden’s Tower. There are several legends related to the origin of the name of the tower, and any local resident can tell you them. The building is situated on a rock in the waters of the Bosphorus. These days it has a restaurant where families with children as well as couples in love come to visit. Live Turkish music played in the evenings creates a special atmosphere on this island. The tower is also visible from the shore. A good place for this view is Yuskudar promenade.
– If you like the works of craftsmen, you should visit the Carpet Museum. It is located in Sultanahmet Square and has a collection of about 2500 carpets woven from the 13th-14th centuries until the 20th century.
There are fewer tourists in the city in winter and therefore local vendors lower their prices considerably. It would be strange not to take advantage of such great discounts.
And don’t forget about New Year’s sales, which are organized by stores and shopping centers. Go to Istiklal Street for souvenirs and sweets, visit the Grand Bazaar for pottery and jewelry, or go to the Egyptian Bazaar for spices. All the outlets will offer you attractive prices.
Where to stay in Istanbul
Find a hotel in Istanbul is not a problem. Difficulties may arise with his choice, because there are many hotels. It is preferable to stay in areas closer to the attractions. Yes, hotels on the outskirts will cost less, but to get to the main tourist spots of the city will take quite a long time. You’ll save money, but you’ll spend more time. This means that the sightseeing program and walks will have to shorten. The most popular among tourists hotels in Fatih and Beyoglu districts, which are located in the European part of Istanbul.
When choosing a place to stay overnight, consider the proximity of public transport, because even in the historic center you have to travel quite a decent distance. If you have a sensitive sleep, then pay attention to the location of mosques in the area. There are calls to prayer from them in the morning. Also note that in some places the street life does not subside until deep into the night, which can also make you uncomfortable. If you are not up for an uphill gradient, you should consider hotels in a different part of the city.