7 Reasons to visit Istanbul in Winter

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Julia Bayne who runs Istanbul Place Apartments with her husband Tarkan Çetindamar

I’m a winter baby and I love when the temperature drops so I can roam Istanbul to my heart’s content without getting too hot. It’s really lovely to visit Istanbul in winter, as Julia Bayne, business owner at Istanbul Place Apartments – offering historic apartments for short stays in Galata – knows well. You remember her, don’t you? Julia was a professional  photographer in the UK before moving to Istanbul and still loves photography as you’ll see on the instagram account for Istanbul Place Apartments. She’s one of the women I featured in Discover the Istanbul Women Created, a piece I wrote a few years ago. You can imagine how pleased I was when Julia agreed to share these 7 Reasons to visit Istanbul in winter.

Why visit Istanbul in winter?

Peak seasons for discerning visitors to Istanbul are considered to be spring and autumn – with high summer being very busy, often super-hot and best avoided. Spring and autumn/fall are really lovely times to be in the city, but many other travellers will be thinking the same thing!

So if you’d like to experience a more intimate, quieter side of this multifaceted, multilayered destination then how about you visit Istanbul in winter?

1: The weather

The city spread out before you in all weathers, any time you like, from one of Istanbul Place Apartments’ roof terraces

Winter weather in Istanbul varies wildly but offers more frequent sunny days than you might be used to at home in a temperate climate. Rain does occur but more often skies are blue, though winds may blow up the Bosphorus from the south to warm things up one day, then down from chilly Siberia the next! On average the winter season is short, sharp and mild.

It’s surprising to many visitors that a blanket of snow over the city is usual at some point – and an absolutely beautiful cityscape sight. If you’re staying in one of our apartments with a private or roof-terrace view, this can become a memory of a lifetime, particularly as the call to prayer reaches you across snow-capped domes and rooftops.

Bring good waterproof walking shoes/boots and layers to wear so that you’re well-prepared to explore comfortably. With good footwear you’ll be able to make the most of the cobbled, sometimes steep streets and easily peel off layers for frequent café-stops. Istanbul is known for its entrepreneurial population and if it rains or rain is forecast, umbrella sellers will appear on the streets as if by magic!

2: The hot drinks

Have you heard of Sahlep and Boza? They’re both traditional winter drinks, from Ottoman times. Originally they were sold on the street but these days more often in cafés.

Sahlep is hot and creamy, made from crushed orchid root. There are great variations in quality/concentration of the root used and what it’s mixed with, so do watch out for this. It’s usually served with a sprinkling of cinnamon and is deeply warming.

Boza is a cold malt drink, made by fermenting various grains. It has a subtle, tangy taste and a very low alcohol content.

Both are only available in winter-time and so they feel all the more special for this.

3: A winter hamam experience

Welcome drinks on arrival at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam

There’s nothing like emerging out into a crisp winters’ day thoroughly warmed and cleaner than you’ve ever been, from one of Istanbul’s stunning historic hamams.

My current favourite is the 16th century Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı in Karaköy, just a 20 minute walk down the hill from our apartments. In recent years it’s been sensitively restored and the architecture’s stunning.

After resting on a heated marble slab you’ll have warm water poured over you and be soaped down with an exfoliating kese, in centuries-old style. Literally a hand-held experience, your own personal attendant will lead you through the various marble rooms and stages of cleansing. It’s an incredibly nurturing treat and bonding across time if done with friends – who will all need to be the same gender.

4: Interesting shopping

The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, bustling commercial hubs with 4000-plus shops, transform into more intimate and leisurely destinations in the winter months. You can wander labyrinthine alleyways to discover Turkish rugs, ceramics, and handcrafted jewellery without the crush of summertime shoppers. Bargaining with shopkeepers is an art you might feel you have time to practice, and you’ll find a deeper connection to the city’s trading traditions.

Our personal favourite shopping destination is Çukurcuma, for antiques and curios for our apartments’ interiors. Though street-based and potentially chilly, it does have a few cafes amongst the shops and is a short walk from Galata, meaning it’s easy to head home and warm up again if staying with us.

If a contemporary shopping experience is more your thing then for fashion we recommend the stylish streets of Nisantasi and for more general high-end brands the malls at Istinye Park and Kanyon.

5: The great indoors – historic buildings, mosques and museums

Now that you’re warmly dressed, well-sustained by authentic winter drinks and freshly hamam-scrubbed, you can arrive in good shape at any of Istanbul’s myriad historic buildings and explore their fascinating interiors as your reward!

Below are the better-known ones, just in case some of these are still new to you. They’re all full of interest and lingering is recommended.

Hagia Sophia
Topkapi Palace Museum
Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque)
Basilica Cistern
The Grand Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar
Dolmabaçhe Palace
Suleymaniye Mosque
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Ortaköy Mosque

Lisa has plenty of other, more unusual ideas of what to see and do in Istanbul elsewhere on her website.

6: Learn about Rumi

Sema ceremony at Galata Mevlevihanesi

The founder of the Sufi Mevlevi (Whirling) Dervish order, Rumi, died in mid-December 1273. The anniversary of his death is famously marked in the southern Turkish city of Konya, but Istanbul also pays tribute. In previous years the Galata Mevlevi Museum on Galipdede Caddesi has held ticketed ceremonies which are beautiful to witness and fascinating.

7: Escape Christmas

Much as many of us in the western world love Christmas, it can be a refreshing change to occasionally escape it! In Istanbul you’ll find December 25th is an ordinary day for most. With no commercial pressure in the run-up, no Christmas songs following you around during your grocery shopping and no family expectations to meet, it might be tempting?!

Many thanks to Julia for these 7 Reasons to visit Istanbul in winter. When you book your stay with Istanbul Place Apartments use the code Insideout23 and let them know what suggestion you like most from Julia, so they’ll know I sent you. Book direct here.


Here are some helpful tips for planning your trip to Istanbul and Turkey.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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    1. Hi Sher, You’ll have to click through on the Istanbul Place Apartments link in the article and ask them directly. I do not own or run the apartment business.

  1. Hi Lisa,
    finally getting my act together have been to Mesopotamia about a month ago. Can I ask if you know which of the above listed museums you can use the ordinary Museum Card for? I’ve looked at their website and am none the wiser. I and your 5 Unsung Places book are coming to Istanbul in December.
    Thank you

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