Istanbul has it all: over 2500 years of history, culture, and traditions, amazing landmarks, vibrant nightlife, and breathtaking views. This transcontinental metropolis is a fast-paced cultural melting pot you can’t afford to miss.
A lot of people begin planning their winter trips by looking at the weather forecast for a particular month, but I am gonna give it to you straight: forecasts for Istanbul in the winter can be wildly inaccurate and are constantly changing.
Do not even try to plan your Istanbul trip by just looking at the long-term forecast because I can almost guarantee that the weather will be different.
Despite the city’s age, thankfully many remains of Istanbul’s opulent past remained intact. The cultural heritage of the metropolis is impressive.
Who hasn’t heard of landmarks such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Dolmabahçe Palace, Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar.
And then there are the lesser known, but not less beautiful, spots such as Süleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern, the Galata Tower, as well as numerous churches from the Byzantine era.
And now…The Reasons Why We Think You Should Spend Winter in Istanbul
Winter is considered to be the off-season in Istanbul and with the cold temperatures come the lovely low prices. The cost of accommodation in Istanbul drops dramatically once most tourists leave around the end of October and you can easily find discounted hotels and apartments especially in January and February.
And it’s not just accommodation that’s cheaper – flights to Istanbul are much more affordable too and you’ll find that some excursions and activities in Istanbul will also be heavily discounted.
If Istanbul is the jump-off point for your Turkey winter holiday, then good news – accommodation at popular tourist attractions across the country like Cappadocia will also be super affordable. Result!
If there’s one complaint that locals and foreigners have about Istanbul, it is that it’s too crowded. But what do you expect for a city with over 17 million people? (And that doesn’t include the tourists who arrive in droves during the late spring and early summer in Istanbul.)
The result is that when you’re thinking about what to do in Istanbul, you have to factor in queuing times. Interested in visiting the Hagia Sophia mosque? Factor in a couple of hours queuing in the hot sun. What about the Blue Mosque? Cue another few hours jostling and sweating in a long, slowly moving line. Hungry? Well, even popular restaurants (especially those with amazing views) require advance reservations during the summer.
In winter, you don’t have to deal with any of this. With fewer tourists in the city, there are simply shorter lines or usually no queues at all, even during the weekends! You end up with much more sightseeing time and importantly you can tick off your list of what to see in Istanbul slowly, without feeling like you have to rush from one attraction to the next because you’ve wasted time queuing.Hotels are less crowded too. In our post-Covid world, packed-out accommodation is an understandable concern for many people and in this case, a winter trip to Istanbul is your best bet as during the low season most hotels are only about 50% full.
3) Istanbul in Winter Isn’t As Cold as You Think
And that’s coming from someone who really feels the cold. Honestly, when you compare the average Istanbul winter temperature to other parts of Europe, you can see that this city experiences a fairly mild (if rather wet) winter.
Sure it can snow, but this doesn’t happen often and it definitely isn’t cold enough for the snow to stay on the ground for weeks.
The weather is actually so unpredictable that some winter days can feel like early spring (with temperatures at +12°C/53F or higher) and then you get a cold snap where the temperature drops dramatically into single digits.
Generally, winter in Istanbul is rainy, cold and windy with the thermometer hovering somewhere between +4°C to +10°C (39F to 50F).
If you are visiting for the first time and are concerned about winter weather, Istanbul in December might be for you as you are likely to get a few sunny days and it isn’t as cold.
If however, you want a colder winter holiday and are keen to photograph Istanbul under a blanket of snow, then plan your visit for January or February (though remember, this is Istanbul and snow isn’t guaranteed).
And really, if you dress warmly, have a decent umbrella and some water-resistant shoes, you shouldn’t have any problems with the Istanbul winter.
4) The Perfect Mix of Eastern and Western Food
The century old mix of cultures also had a huge impact on the food scene. In Istanbul, you can enjoy different cuisines, varying from authentic Ottoman food, over typical Turkish food with its delicious mezes and meat or fish dishes, to the modern kitchen of the West. If you still have some appetite left, by all means, try one of the many Turkish desserts. Please, don’t ask me directions to the closest McDonalds … live a little!
Did you say drinks? Sure, you can go for rakı, the national anise drink, choose one of the quality Turkish wines or enjoy an array of fresh juices.
5) The City with Vibrant Nightlife
Thanks to Istanbul’s unique geographical location many the top nightlife venues are located by the Bosphorus or on a rooftop offering a view of the magnificent skyline. The nightlife is vibrant, with an abundance of choice to satisfy everybody’s taste.
If partying through the night is not your thing and you prefer to relax with on a cafe terrace, then you have plenty of options for that too.
6) The City of Serious Shopping
Shops galore in Istanbul. You can go luxurious and mainstream by a visit to one of the many modern shopping centers spread all over the city. Or you can hunt for authentic, handmade items by local designers and craftsmen in less touristic parts of town.
If you like to bargain, then the Grand Bazaar is of course shopping heaven on Earth. Also, don’t forget to stock up on exotic spices, olives or the great selection of nuts available.
7) the City with Breathtaking Views
There is no shortage of breathtaking views from the city. One of my favorites is the city’s silhouette seen from a boat on the Bosphorus during sunset. In second place comes the view from the bridges, unfortunately you need a ride to experience that. For a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul, you can visit the Galata Tower or one of the many rooftop bars.
Winter is the best time to go to Istanbul for shoestring travellers looking for a cheap city break; travellers who love exploring cities without hordes of tourists; foodies after unique gastronomic experiences and anyone who loves wandering around museums and exploring historical buildings and architectural wonders.
Whilst this former capital of the Roman and Ottoman Empire might indeed be wet, windy and possibly snowy, the truth is that the winter temperature in Istanbul isn’t that bad as long as you are dressed properly. A warm coat, scarf, gloves, waterproof boots and a solid umbrella are what you will need to explore this city comfortably in the winter.
And remember, there are so many things to do in Istanbul in winter that there is no way you will be stuck inside just twiddling your thumbs.
Do not hesitate us for more information or even for a full organized package!
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