Thinking of traveling to Istanbul during the winter? You’ve made the right choice!
While Istanbul is an excellent destination year-round, it turns into a winter wonderland at the start of December, with its snow-covered cityscapes, cozy cafes, and a magical atmosphere that you can’t get anywhere else.
(If you just read that and are wondering, does it snow in Istanbul? — yes, it does 😉)
Whether you’re looking to celebrate Christmas in Istanbul or just want a unique winter destination, there are so many reasons to visit Istanbul during winter: you’ll get to try delicious food and drinks only available in winter, avoid the crowds (and practically have the tourist attractions to yourself), and see a different side of Istanbul!
In this Istanbul winter travel guide, we’ve taken the best things to do in Istanbul during winter, including where to go (the most colorful and cozy neighborhoods!), what foods and drinks to try, and some of the best Istanbul winter activities.
Let’s order a warm cup of sahlep and dive into some cozy winter escapes in Istanbul!
Traveling to Istanbul in Winter: What to know
To help you get started with planning your winter trip to Istanbul, we wanted to include some useful basics, including the average temperatures and winter weather in Istanbul, why you should visit, and some commonly-asked questions.
❄️ What’s the weather in Istanbul during winter? Istanbul has a daily average temperature of 5 C (41 F) in December, 2.5 C (36.3 F) in January, and 2.2 C (36 F) in February. There’s a possibility of snow in January and February, although snowfall is usually short and not as heavy as other countries. Speaking of which…
❄️ Does it snow in Istanbul? Yes, it does! You can expect snow between December through February, although when we moved here it was even snowing in March! However, the snow in Istanbul isn’t as ‘heavy’ as other countries, and temperatures rarely dip below -3 C (26 F). If you want to experience light snow yet still have the atmosphere of a winter wonderland, Istanbul is the perfect destination. 🙂
❄️ Is it cheaper to travel to Istanbul during winter? While there isn’t really a ‘low season’ in Istanbul, traveling in the winter months can save you some serious money on airfare and accommodations. If you’re looking to save money, it’s best to avoid the days around New Years Eve, as many people choose Istanbul as a New Year’s destination and hotel prices go up.
❄️ Do Turkish people celebrate Christmas or New Year? Although Turkey is a secular country, about 98% of the population is Muslim and, therefore, Christmas is not widely celebrated. However, Istanbul is a very cosmopolitan city with many expats and foreign visitors, so you’ll still see plenty of winter decorations around the city.
WHAT TO DO in Istanbul in Winter
See the Winter Displays
Despite Turkey being a Muslim-majority country, there are still plenty of winter- and Christmas-themed displays in Istanbul! Here are our favorite places:
Confectioner Cafer Erol (Kadikoy)
Address: Şekerci Cafer Erol, Osmanağa, Yasa Cd. No:19, Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey
Located on the Asian side, Confectioner Cafer Erol has some of the best Christmas decorations in Istanbul! While this candy shop has many seasonal displays, its especially famous come wintertime — Cafer Erol goes all out with hanging candy canes, a working ferris wheel, fake snow, teddy bears, and glittering Christmas lights decorated above its storefront.
If you’re spending the day in Kadikoy, be sure to also check out Kemal Usta Waffles and the decorated square in front (Moda Caddesi Erdem Apt No: 180 / B) and the two Beyaz Firin cafes in Kadikoy.
Address: Teşvikiye Cd. No:12, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul
The upscale neighborhood of Nisantasi (located in Sisli) comes alive during the winter, with hundreds of shimmering lights, themed storefronts, and decorated Christmas trees. The best place to see these winter displays is to walk along Teşvikiye street, especially around the City’s Nisantasi mall — there are dozens of lit-up trees adorning this street!
St. Anthony of Padua Church
Address: İstiklal Cd. No:171, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Located near Istiklal Street, St. Anthony’s is the largest Roman Catholic church in Istanbul and is an especially popular place for locals to visit and pray around Christmas time. Outside of the church, there is a giant 10-meter Christmas tree, while the inside is also adorned with trees, Christmas decorations, and mosaics. Entrance is free.
Address: Suadiye, Bağdat Cad. No:422, 34740 Kadıköy/İstanbul
With its giant bow, twinkling white lights, and classic yali architecture, the Vakko building on Bagdat Caddesi has one of the best winter displays in Istanbul! Vakko is one of the oldest fashion brands in Turkey, and its headquarters on the Asian side is a popular place to take photos in wintertime.
Address: Mesrutiyet Cad. No:52 Tepebasi 34430 Istanbul
With its Belle Époque elegance and Ottoman grandeur, the Pera Palace is the place to see cozy Christmas decor in Istanbul — their lobby is lit up and features a traditional Christmas tree! Conveniently located in Beyoglu (the hotel is a short walk from the Galata Tower), the Pera Palace also offers a warm and inviting retreat from the chilly weather — there’s an on-site French cafe that serves delicious treats. 🙂
Visit a Christmas Market
Surprise, surprise — there’s a Christmas market in Istanbul! Every year in December, the Four Seasons Bosphorus hotel puts on a traditional Christmas market, complete with delicious food booths, souvenir stalls, kids workshops, and even an ice skating rink. After December 25, the hotel turns into Winter City and keeps the skating rink until spring. For information and tickets, check out the Four Seasons’ press office.
Warm Up at a Hammam
After a long day of sightseeing in the chilly weather, there’s no better way to warm up and relax than by visiting one of Istanbul’s traditional hammams (Turkish baths). Most hamams will have a special package where you start by sitting in a hot room with steam, before moving onto the göbektaşı (a slab of marble) to get an exfoliating massage with a special mitten. Afterwards, you can add on extra services (like a massage) or sit on the sofas and enjoy the atmosphere.
Some of the most popular hammams in Istanbul include Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam, Aga Hamam (couples can go together!), and Hürrem Sultan Hamam (for a super luxe experience).
Find Your Next Read at a Book Bazaar
Is there anything cozier than curling up with a good book in the winter? Find your next great read at the city’s most famous book bazaar, Sahaflar Carsisi. Located near the Grand Bazaar, this winding street has dozens of kiosks that sell secondhand books (although some also have new titles as well). Most books are in Turkish, although keep an eye out and you might find some in English!
Here is the full address: Sahaflar Çarşısı, Medrese Çk. No:4, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul.
If you’re on the Asian side, there’s also a similar book bazaar in Kadikoy — look for Akmar Kadıköy Sahaf near the center and go inside the passage.
Whether you’re shopping for Christmas presents or looking to treat yourself with a little gift, shopping is one of the best winter activities in Istanbul — and we’ll tell you why. 😉
Turkey has two major sale seasons every year: the summer sale in June and July, and the winter sale in December and January. (Technically there are also the spring and autumn sales, but that’s a different story)
During the Istanbul winter sales, practically all of the stores have major discounts, whether that’s reducing prices up to 70 percent off or offering bonus deals (i.e. buy one get one free). The reason is that many stores want to free up inventory for the new season, therefore, try to clear the previous season’s collections as fast as possible — which is perfect for shopping-savvy travelers, since you’ll get the best discounts and a new wardrobe 🙂
Turkey’s official tourism board sums it up perfectly: “The excitement of a brand-new year, glittering display windows, bustling crowds in search of the best New Year’s gift, and a joyous shopping experience in the heart of winter… If you plan to welcome the holiday season in İstanbul, you’ll definitely encounter festive discounts along the illuminated streets.”
A classic favorite to go shopping is along Istiklal Street, although you can go to literally any major mall and find the same discounts. Our favorites include Cevahir Shopping Mall, City’s AVM (with lovely winter decor!), and Galataport on the European side + Tepe Nautilus AVM, Emaar Square Mall, and Viaport Outlet on the Asian side.
WHERE TO GO in Istanbul in Winter
Now that we’ve gone over a few activities and experiences, it’s time to move onto the best places to visit in Istanbul during winter! We’ve specifically chosen these neighborhoods for their atmosphere, decorations, and the unique charm that they bring to the city during this magical season.
Beyoglu —There’s no doubt that Beyoglu is one of the top winter destinations in Istanbul — which is why it’s the first neighborhood on our list! With its classic Old World charm, Beyoglu practically beckons visitors to explore its enchanting streets. As the sun sets (which happens pretty early in winter lol), Istiklal Avenue comes alive with a mesmerizing display of twinkling lights and the sound of the historic tram clinking down the street. When it gets too cold, pop into the Pera Museum to check out their eclectic collection of traditional Orientalist paintings mixed with modern art. Other favorites include getting hot cocoa at J’adore Chocolatier, strolling through the Çiçek Pasaj, or visiting a centuries-old hamam at Ağa Hamam.
Şişli — Often referred to as the ‘most European neighborhood in Istanbul,’ Şişli is a mix of upscale boutiques, chic restaurants and cafes, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Teşvikiye and Nisantasi are two neighborhoods to add to your Istanbul winter bucket list — the streets are lit up in thousands of twinkling lights, and the major stores compete to see who has the best-decorated storefront for Christmas. 🙂
Kadıköy — Across the Bosphorus, we have the Asian side’s most famous neighborhood: Kadıköy! If you’re looking to escape the crowds and want a more laid-back atmosphere, Kadıköy is your best bet. Check out the Caferağa neighborhood for fashionable yet down-to-earth boutique stores or the Moda neighborhood if you want to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere among restaurants serving international cuisine. Be sure to take the historic tram ride and stop by the Moda Çay Bahçesi (Moda Tea Garden) for a cozy break!
Ortaköy – Famous for its waterfront and beautiful Baroque-style mosque, Ortaköy makes for quite a captivating scene when the mosque is blanketed in a layer of snow. You can add Ortaköy to your itinerary if you plan to visit Şișli and/or Beşiktaş, plus there’s a ferry that goes back to the Old Town (Eminönü pier / take the Ortaköy-Beşiktaş-Eminönü line).
Balat — There’s something especially magical seeing the colorful houses of Balat peeking under a snowy veil — just be careful when walking around the steep cobblestone streets! Other magical winter activities include browsing the many antique shops around the center, sipping a cup of Mardin-style Turkish coffee (in the company of cute cats!) at Cafe Naftalin K, or checking out the street art murals.
On a ferry ride! — Who can resist sipping on hot tea while crossing the snow-covered Bosphorus?
(That’s a rhetorical question) 🙂
If you prefer to spend winter in Istanbul in a cozy and easygoing manner, consider taking a leisurely ferry ride! There are dozens of routes to choose, from the short and sweet Eminönü to Kadıköy trip between Europe and Asia, to the full-day Long Bosphorus Tour.
We’re not finished with the Istanbul winter vacation ideas just yet! Here are a few extra places to add to your itinerary:
Pierre Loti — Named after a famous French travel writer, Pierre Loti hill is a lovely place to spend an hour or two drinking coffee and watching the ferries dock along the Golden Horn. There’s a cable car that will take you directly to the top for a small fee.
Ataturk Arboretum — While slightly harder to get to on public transportation (there are multiple transfers), the Atatürk Arboretum is a winter wonderland with its lush forest, frozen-over lake, and crisp air. It’s one of the best Istanbul winter attractions for nature lovers (or those who prefer peaceful places!)
Winter day trips from Istanbul — If you want to go beyond snowy Istanbul, there are plenty of excellent places to spend a winter’s day. The most popular day trip is Bursa (a 2-hour trip), which is famous for Mount Uludag, one of the top skiing destinations in Turkey. Another great option is Eskişehir, a university town famous for its colorful Ottoman-era houses, canals cutting through the city (its nickname is Little Venice), and modern art museum.
WHAT TO TRY: Turkish Winter Food & Drinks
It wouldn’t be winter without a few seasonal-themed drinks and dishes, would it? Thankfully, Turkey has plenty of delicious recipes to warm up even the coldest visitor — plus, visiting a cozy cafe or restaurant is one of many excellent indoor activities in Istanbul during winter. 😉
Salep — If you ask a Turkish person about their favorite winter drink, a good majority will answer salep! We like to describe this drink as “coziness in a cup” because that’s exactly what it is. Salep is made by taking powdered orchid tubers, mixing it with hot milk and sugar, and slowly stirring until it becomes thick. It’s then sprinkled with ground cinnamon and other spices, and voila! You can find salep in most cafes during the winter, including chains like Mado, Vitavien, and Espressolab.
Boza — One of the most unique drinks in Turkey is none other than boza, a type of fermented wheat drink that’s sold in cafes and bottled in stores. While it’s certainly an acquired taste (some people love it, others hate it!), it’s a must-try during the winter time. The most famous cafe is Vefa Bozacisi, which is conveniently located within walking distance of Suleymaniye Mosque and the Grand Bazaar and has been making boza since the 1870s. 🙂
Roasted Chestnuts — A popular winter snack around the world, roasted chestnuts are also a common sight in the streets of Istanbul, especially once fall and winter come around! Street vendors across the city sell roasted chestnuts (kestane) in small paper bags, with the most popular found around Istiklal Street and Eminonu.
Tarhana soup — When you think about it, soup is an excellent winter dish, isn’t it? A popular winter soup in Turkey is Tarhana soup (Tarhana Çorbası), which is made of tarhana, mint, tomato, peppers, and spices. In fact, the reason why it’s such a popular winter food is twofold: it helps fight colds and flus and strengthens the immune system thanks to the vitamins found in the soup!
Hot chocolate — No winter is complete without a comforting cup of hot chocolate. 🙂
While not technically a traditional Turkish drink, hot chocolate has become so popular that it can be found in many cafes around the city. Çikolata Kahve İstanbul (in Çengelköy) has legendary hot chocolate, but if you don’t want to make the trip over to the Asian side, the Espressolab franchises also have excellent hot cocoa.
WHERE TO STAY in Istanbul During Winter
From cozy family-run apartments to over-the-top luxury hotels, here are some of the best places to stay in Istanbul in the winter:
Pera Palace (Beyoglu) — If there’s one hotel that perfectly captures the holiday spirit, it would definitely be Pera Palace. Built more than 130 years ago to host passengers on the Orient Express, the hotel welcomed legendary guests like Agatha Christie, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway, and the first president of Türkiye, Atatürk. Come wintertime, the lobby is decorated in a dazzling display of Christmas trees, velvet bows, and lights. One of our favorite activities at Pera Palace is the afternoon tea, where you can try unlimited sweets and tea in the span of 3 hours (and there’s live music!)
Peradays (Beyoglu) — The perfect ‘home away from home’ retreat located just a block away from Istiklal Street! It’s no wonder why they have a 9.4 rating — the owners are super sweet and provide a real family-run guesthouse experience. As a nice bonus, the reception is decorated with Christmas trees during the winter. 🙂
Park Hyatt Istanbul Macka Palas (Sisli) — A mainstay of Sisli, a stay at Park Hyatt is sure to get you in the Christmas mood: there are two giant nutcrackers adorning the entrance, and each of the hotel’s balconies are decorated with Christmas wreaths.
La Vita Suites (Kadikoy) — Located in the heart of Kadikoy, La Vita Suites definitely fits into the neighborhood thanks to its tastefully modern decor and warm atmosphere. A nice bonus is the complimentary breakfast and the sauna (perfect after exploring in the cold weather!)