21 Things To Do In Istanbul In Winter & What To Expect

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Post author Mehmet

Written by our local expert Mehmet

Mehmet is digital nomad who was born in Istanbul, Türkiye and now calls the Balkans region his home-office.

My hometown of Istanbul during winter is chilly but magical.

Here is what I suggest you see and do during winter in Istanbul. Plus, I have detailed what to expect weather and culture-wise when you’re in Istanbul in winter this year!

10 REASONS WINTER IN ISTANBUL IS A GREAT IDEA

Thinking about visiting Istanbul during the winter? Here are some cool reasons why it’s a great idea:

  1. Festive Atmosphere: Istanbul comes alive with festive decorations and holiday markets during the winter months. The city’s festive spirit, especially during Christmas and New Year’s, adds a touch of magic to your visit.
  2. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking winter landscapes of Istanbul.
  3. Experience the incredible winter sales in Istanbul.
  4. Winter in Istanbul presents the opportunity to indulge in unique seasonal dishes.
  5. By visiting Istanbul in winter, you have the advantage of avoiding large crowds.
  6. Exploring Istanbul’s cozy cafes is especially delightful during the winter months.
  7. A significant number of Istanbul’s tourist attractions are situated indoors, ideal for winter visits.
  8. The cold weather in Istanbul during winter is not as severe as you might expect.
  9. If you’re interested in skiing, Istanbul provides the opportunity for this winter activity.
  10. During the winter season, Istanbul offers more affordable prices.

So, why not bundle up and enjoy all that Istanbul has to offer during the chilly season?

If you’ve never been to Istanbul, you’re missing out. If you’ve been to Turkey’s largest city before but have never seen Istanbul in the winter, you’ve missed a massive chunk of your experience!

Winter in Istanbul is a veritable feast of wonder, beauty, and, occasionally, a little snow. The weather’s a little chilly, but you can still get some enjoyable days on the banks of the Bosphorus.

We’re talking about a city that spans two continents here, with more history in one single spot than you’ll see in entire countries worldwide. Istanbul has seen battles, sieges, and Byzantine and Ottoman Empires before a successful modernization, making the city one of the most cosmopolitan.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that visiting Istanbul is one of the best things to do in Türkiye in winter. Food, shopping, history, culture, entertainment, nightlife, you name it, you’ll find it, and more. Even in winter, Istanbul is an incredibly vibrant, lively, and bustling metropolis.

If you’re keen on heading to Istanbul this wintertime, let’s explore what you can expect and a few other valuable tips to help you have the best time possible.

Things To See And Do In Istanbul In Winter

Best Things To Do Istanbul - Basilica cistern

There is so much to do in Istanbul in the winter that it’s impossible to mention everything. Of course, as before, the only thing that winter stops you from doing is swimming, but if you’re desperate for a dip, there are plenty of hotels with indoor swimming pools!

Here are a few recommended places to visit in Istanbul in December, January, and February.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN ISTANBUL THIS WINTER
  1. Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet – Located in the heart of Sultanahmet, this is one of the most famous and most beautiful sights in all of Istanbul. You can go inside, or you can stand outside and marvel. The choice is yours
  2. Hagia Sofia, Sultanahmet – Directly opposite Blue Mosque is Hagia Sofia. It was once a church, then a mosque, then a museum, and now it’s a mosque again. It might not look quite so stunning from the outside, but trust me, the interior is amazing
  3. Basilica Cistern, Sultanahmet – Head underground to visit ancient history. This old cistern used to serve Topkapi Palace, but it was built as far back as the year 532. You’ll see intricately decorated columns statues (including Medusa) and learn all about history. It’s super atmospheric and one of the best things to do in Istanbul
  4. Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet/FatihGet ready to haggle! This is the oldest and biggest covered market in Europe, and inside, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to take home as a souvenir. Just don’t get lost; it’s quite the maze in there
  5. Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Eminonu – While nowhere near as big as the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Spice Market is a great spot and ideal for photos. The colorful spices beg you to purchase them, but there’s more than that inside. It’s old, too – dating back to 1664
  6. Suleymaniye Mosque, Fatih – Make sure you wear comfortable shoes for this one because it’s quite the hill walk, but the views from the top are more than worth the effort. The mosque itself is beautiful, and it dates back to 1557. As with all mosques, you can go inside as long as you’re dressed correctly, but just walking around the complex and taking in the views is a wonderful thing to do
  7. Bosphorus Bridge, Ortakoy – Down by the huge Bosphorus Bridge is Ortakoy, a busy and fun area to spend a little time in. This area is famous for kumpir (jacket potatoes) and waffles with all manner of toppings – you have to try them! 
  8. Balik ekmek in Eminonu and the Galata Bridge – Balik ekmek is a fish sandwich, but this is a super-special and very tasty one! Enjoying this popular street food snack down by the waterside is a fun thing to do, and you can walk over and admire the famous Galata Bridge as you do so
  9. Dolmabahce Palace, Besiktas – Hands down, one of the best things to do in Istanbul is to visit Dolmabahce Palace, and no matter what month of the year, there will always be a queue. Built by the Ottoman Empire when they thought Topkapi was getting a bit old, this was also the official Istanbul residence of Ataturk and where he died on November 10, 1938
  10. Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet – Speaking of palaces, Topkapi is the OG, and this place is opulence on another scale. With amazing views over the Bosphorus, you’ll need to get there early as the queue is often huge all day long. It’s worth it, though
  11. Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Sultanahmet – Exploring the archaeological history of Istanbul is one of the best things to do on a cold and rainy day, and you’ll find plenty in this museum to keep you interested
  12. Gulhane Park, Sultanahmet – If you happen to visit Istanbul when it snows, this park turns into something that looks like Narnia. But even if it’s not snowing, it’s a beautiful spot and a break from the hustle and bustle of the city
  13. Istanbul Aquarium, Floya (Bakirkoy) – Over the other side of the city, close to the old Ataturk Airport, you’ll find Florya, a fun area packed with activities. One of those activities is the Istanbul Aquarium, a great day out for all the family.
  14. Shopping Malls – Istanbul isn’t lacking in the shopping department, and countless huge ones are dotted all around the city. Check out Mall of Istanbul and Cevahir as just two options, but all of the city’s malls are packed with activities other than shopping, so they’re great for escaping the cold
  15. Istiklal Street, Taksim Square – Wrap up warm and make your way down the famous Istiklal Street in Taksim. It’s always super-busy, so do watch your bag around this area, but it’s a fun spot and really vibrant
  16. Football match – Whether or not you support any of the Istanbul teams, heading to a football match is a fantastic experience. The top three teams are Galatasaray, Besiktas, and Fenerbahce
  17. Turkish coffee house – You’ll find traditional tea and coffee houses all over the city, but the oldest are in Eminonu, Fatih, and Sultanahmet. Enjoy a warm drink to escape the cold and do something traditional all at the same time
  18. Eat local food or take a food tour – What better time to work your way around the city’s top food spots? You could even take a food walking tour and learn about food as you try it
  19. Whirling Dervishes – Galata Mevlevihanesi is a famous spot to learn about the whirling dervishes, and there are shows throughout the week. You’ll have to get there early, however, as this is a very popular activity
  20. New Year’s Eve – take a cruise on the Bosphorus or party at a nightclub or restaurant
  21. Turkish Bath – both a cultural obsession and a way to keep warm, heading to one of the traditional Turkish baths in Istanbul is a great idea

You won’t get to see and do everything during winter in Istanbul on just one visit. You probably won’t be able to see and do everything within the space of a few visits, but you’ll adore walking around and unearthing sights you may never have seen otherwise.

The list of Istanbul winter activities, food options, and other tourist highlights above is by no means exhaustive, and simply grabbing a coffee and wandering will show you old buildings that starkly contrast the city’s modern-day feel.

Istanbul In Winter: What To Expect From Istanbul In The Winter 

Winter in Istanbul - Hagia Sophia in winter morning

Wintertime is the best time to go to Istanbul because you escape the heat. While the city doesn’t bake in the same way the southern beach resorts in Turkey do, it’s still pretty hot during the summer months, and with the huge crowds you see every single day, it feels much more desirable in reality.

There is an absolute plethora of things to do in Istanbul in winter. From December through February, you can explore more freely. Many places will still be bustling, but at least you can walk around without sweating!

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Does It Snow In Istanbul

Snowy winter months Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul, Turkey_Depositphotos_384441158_S
Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul

Let’s also answer the often-asked question, ‘Does it snow in Istanbul in December?’ Yes, occasionally, it does, in fact, snow in Istanbul. Snowfall isn’t as common as it used to be, though.

For the last few years, there has been very minimal snowfall, when in the past, there used to be abundant amounts for a time every single year. If you’re lucky enough to visit the city when it snows, you’ll see that Istanbul in the snow is absolutely gorgeous. We landed on February 12, 2023, and missed the city’s biggest snowstorm by just a few days this winter. 

However, it does rain. This is a coastal city, so you can expect clouds often, but don’t let that put you off. There are some beautiful sunny days to be had, and even if it is raining, there is a certain charm about Istanbul that makes you forget the need for an umbrella.

There is something special about getting wrapped up warm and wandering around the city’s amazing sights. Grab a takeaway coffee and walk with it along the shores of the Bosphorus, seeing where the day takes you.

Are There Crowds During Winter In Istanbul

Turkey Travel Blog_Things To Do In Istanbul In Winter

Yes. Istanbul is famous for being super busy, and traffic is always heavy. During our trip this winter, it was busy, busy!

However, you need to roll with the crowds. If you’re heading to Istiklal Street in Taksim, you’ll see a sea of people no matter the time of the day or night – even in the early hours! Besiktas is always buzzing, although places like Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Kadikoy, and Uskudar tend to quieten after midnight.

So, what can you expect in Istanbul during the winter months? Have a great time—lots of Istanbul winter activities to do. You’re not restricted in terms of things to see and do, and you may find that prices are a little lower, except for New Year. The only thing you can’t do is swim in the sea – unless you want hypothermia, of course.

Is Istanbul In Winter Expensive?

Best Places In Turkey To Visit For Every Kind Of Traveler - Istanbul Bazaar

The great thing about Istanbul is that you can make it as cheap or expensive as possible. It depends on what you choose to do and where you choose to eat.

You can eat at super-expensive restaurants and pay thousands of Turkish Lira for the benefit. Or, you can head to a local ocakbasi (BBQ restaurant) away from the main tourist streets and fill up on delicious local treats for a much lower price tag.

During the New Year period, you’ll always find that hotel prices skyrocket. There are numerous things to do in Istanbul in December; this is the holiday season.

If you’re not concerned about spending the festivities in the city, it’s best to avoid that time and choose another week. You can always find great value deals for hotels and hostels in the city online, and because it’s so easy to get around, it doesn’t matter where you stay unless you have a specific preference.

To give you an idea of what you can expect to pay, here are a few examples as of Feb 2023

Coffee – 30-50 Lira

  • Water – 5 Lira
  • Two-course meal in a local restaurant – 350 Lira
  • Three-course meal in a seafood restaurant (Galata Bridge/Bebek/Besiktas) – 500 Lira
  • Local beer 40-50 Lira

 

Bear in mind that the exchange rate fluctuates, and at the moment, the prices for things in Tukey have changed dramatically in the last two years. That said, the price in USD or euro remains much the same.

Winter in Istanbul

In terms of the price of activities, many are free. For example, you can visit the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet for free and donate if you choose. The Grand Bazaar is also free, except for what you buy

The Istanbul Tourist Pass is an excellent way to save cash and avoid queues at the door. Various packages allow you entrance into different places, but you can expect to pay 50 Euros, depending on how many days you want to purchase.

Dolmabahce Palace and Topkapi Palace are two of the most expensive high-profile spots you’ll want to see if you prefer to pay at the door. Dolmabahce Palace charges a fee for basic entry and an extra for the harem. However, both are must-visits; once you see inside, you won’t care that you had to pay! Topkapi Palace is 500 TL to get in and visit the harem.

Istanbul Weather In Winter

Rain

Cold weather differs from place to place since every country has its own type of climate. If you plan to visit Istanbul in January, be prepared to get a little wet, as the chance of rain is high. January is typically the wettest month of the year, with about two weeks of non-stop rain and cold winds.

It also goes without saying that it’ll be pretty cloudy over there, so ensure you’re prepared for only a few hours of sunlight daily.

Snow

Snowy winter months Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul, Turkey_Depositphotos_384441158_S
Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul

Additionally, you can expect it to snow during the coldest months of the year – such as in January. While the snowfall won’t be as heavy as in the North American colder months, this city does experience a fair amount of snow in December and at the beginning of January.

Therefore, make sure that you take warm and waterproof clothing with you. There’s nothing worse than trying to see the city’s sights only to be completely drenched and soaked to the skin.

Still, if doing stuff outdoors is not your cup of tea, don’t worry because there are a lot of fantastic indoor museums and palaces to explore.

Statistics And Averages For January Weather In Istanbul

Istanbul on a rainy day in January.

If our colorful descriptions haven’t been very helpful so far, then maybe these statistics will give you a clearer idea of what the weather looks like in January in Istanbul.

Average Temperatures in Istanbul In January

  • Average overall temperature: 6 to 7.2°C or 43-46°F
  • Average high temperature during the day: roughly 8°C or 46°F
  • Average low daytime temperatures: 4°C or 39°F
  • The average temperature during the night is 6.6°C or 44°F

What To Pack For Istanbul In Winter

Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul. Locals walking on a rainy night in January

So, what do you need to pack for spending winter in Istanbul? Istanbul can be pretty chilly and snowy in January until the end of February, so ensuring you pack items that can handle a range of winter weather conditions is key.

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Where & What to Eat While In Istanbul In Winter

If you’re a foodie, you’ll be in gastronomical heaven in Istanbul.

There is nothing you cannot find. Avoid places like Sultanahmet or Taksim if you want to eat more authentically. The restaurants will tell you that they’re serving authentic food, but it’s so touristic that you’ll end up paying a considerable amount more, and the taste won’t be the same – still good, but lacking that special something.

You’re far better off heading away from the tourist streets to Besiktas, Uskudar, or perhaps spots in Fatih. If you’re unsure, ask someone in your hotel where they eat and go there! You’ll pay much less and have a more authentic experience.

Be sure to check out chicken shish, Adana kebab, Urfa kebab, sarma beyti, and lahmacun as just a few dishes to add to your list. Of course, you have to wash it all down with a glass of Turkish cay (tea)

If you’re a seafood fan, the fact that Istanbul is on the banks of the Bosphorus makes for some fantastic experiences. You can eat the famous Balik ekmek, a fish sandwich in Eminonu. That will cost you just 10TL, and it’s just as fresh and delicious as the sit-down restaurants under the Galata Bridge.

Galata Bridge Istanbul -5

Those restaurants are ideal for a special evening if you want to eat freshly caught fish (a huge range) and drink the local raki. Beware – it’s powerful!

Head over to Taksim, and you’ll find international food everywhere. There are some fantastic Italian restaurants on Istiklal Street, and you’ll also spot Chinese, Indian, and Mexican food; for a more upmarket take on Mexican dishes, head to Nisantasi, just above Besiktas.

Of course, we can’t talk about food without talking about the world-famous Nusr’et. This is where you can buy the iconic gold steak, but a word of warning: it doesn’t come cheap! This restaurant has gone global, and everyone’s talking about Salt Bae.

There are three Nusr’et outlets in Istanbul – with the main one in Etiler. If you prefer a lower cost and still high-quality steak, some other great steakhouses exist in Etiler, Ortakoy, and around the Bebek area. If you want to book a table, you’re best doing it weeks ahead; otherwise, you’ll be disappointed or have to queue for hours.\

…and of course, it would not be Türkiye without Turkish delight. Just try and eat one; I bet you can’t. It’ll be more like five.

Great Places to Go for a Cozy Cup of Coffee on a Rainy Day

  • Archeo Cafe
  • Noir Pit Pera
  • Güney Galataespressolab (located in Taksim)
  • The Friends Cafe (located in Kadikoy)
  • Walter’s Coffee Roastery
  • Antik Balat

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Istanbul - Roko Vladimir & Mate with Medusa head

So, now you’re ready to visit Istanbul in winter. After you visit Istanbul in winter, please let us know what else we can add to this guide.

 

Comments (3)

    1. In Istanbul, some tourist attractions and businesses may have reduced operating hours or seasonal closures during the winter months, but the city generally remains active and vibrant throughout the year.

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