Turkey Winter Bucket List: 15+ Places to Visit, Foods to Try & Things To Do In Winter

While most people think of Turkey as a summer destination, it’s also a hidden gem for winter adventures thanks to its cozy cosmopolitan cities, snow-capped mountains, and delicious gastronomic delights. In fact, we believe everyone should spend a winter in Turkey at least once in their life! 

Best of all, the winter activities aren’t limited to just big cities (although we have a Winter in Istanbul guide too! 😉)– you can shred some snow in Bursa and Palandöken (two of Turkey’s world-class ski and snowboard resorts), cozy up in a wood cabin along the Black Sea region, or enjoy a relaxing dip in Yavolva’s famous thermal baths. 

Of course, winter also offers the perfect opportunity — and weather — to search for treasures in a local bazaar, taste delicious winter-only delicacies, or take a dreamy cross-country train trip on the Eastern Express. 

Oh, and have we mentioned seeing Sultanahmet Mosque in a blanket of snow? How dreamy! 

Besides the practically never-ending list of things to do, winter in Turkey is an excellent choice thanks to the weather. You can stay in relative warmth if you travel along the western coast (i.e. Istanbul and Izmir, where temperatures rarely drop below 0 C / 39 F), or, if you want to see Turkey in all of its snow-capped beauty, travel to the east — the beautiful stone tombs of Erzurum can see temperatures as low as -35 C (-31 F)! 

If you’re looking for some ideas on what to do in Turkey during winter, you’ll definitely find them here. 

Drink Salep

Before we dive into our official Turkish Winter Bucket List, may we offer you a warm cup of salep? This delightfully cozy drink is made by taking powder made from wild orchids and mixing it together with hot milk, sugar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon powder. The result is a thick beverage that instantly gives off a feeling of warmth and coziness — no wonder it’s one of the most popular winter drinks in Turkey! 

You can order salep in cafes and restaurants, but if you’re especially lucky, you might even see traditional salep sellers (called salepçi) selling this drink from a portable brass samovar. 

Relax in a Hot Spring at Yalova Thermal Baths

Located just 1.5 hours from Istanbul by ferry, Yalova is known as the place for a relaxing thermal vacation — and makes for the perfect quick getaway if you don’t want to travel too far. The best thermal baths are found in a small town that’s appropriately called Thermal (Termal in Turkish), whose famous hot springs were formed more than 4,000 years ago as a result of an ancient earthquake. The first baths were built by Byzantine Emperor Constantine, although the town really became popular around the Ottoman period, after Sultan Abdülmecid’s mother went on a vacation and cured her rheumatism in the hot springs. 

There are about a dozen hotels around the town, but one of the best is Limak Thermal Boutique Hotel, which is coincidentally one of the oldest and most-developed hotels. Each room has a private bathtub with thermal water, as well as outdoor pools, Turkish hamam, sauna, and spa center.  

Speaking of which: most hotels also have their own spa and offer various massages, face treatments, reflexology, acupuncture, and more. 

Visiting Yalova in winter is especially cozy — just imagine sitting in a heated thermal pool while snow gently falls around you. Relaxing, isn’t it? 🙂 

Check out some of the best thermal resorts in Yalova: 

Cozy Up in a Cabin

There’s nothing cozier than sitting by the fire in a cabin and watching as the snow falls outside — and thankfully, there are plenty of amazing winter cabins in Turkey!

If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway from Istanbul, we recommend checking out Sapanca, which is less than a 2-hour drive (or a 3-hour bus ride). The city is famous for its beautiful Sapanca Lake, as well as surrounding natural wonders like waterfalls, rivers, and mountains. 

Some of the best cabins in Sapanca include Loca Sapanca Bungalov, Olea Deluxe Sapanca, and the amazing transparent glamping domes of Phalesia Glamping Otel.

Otherwise, the cabin capital of Turkey can be found along the Black Coast, and especially in places like Trabzon, Rize, Çamlıhemşin, and so on. Most cabins will typically have nice extras, like a pool, complimentary breakfast, and more. 

See the Snowy Landscapes of Cappadocia on a Balloon Ride

While Cappadocia is a popular destination all year, it’s especially beautiful during the winter: just imagine flying up to the sky while the fairytale landscapes below you are slowly in a blanket of snow. Magical, isn’t it? 

Going on a hot air balloon ride is definitely the highlight of any winter bucket list for Turkey — you can add to the magic by staying at a cave hotel, relaxing in a hamam, and visiting the underground city in Nevşehir on a tour.

Enjoy Winter Sports in Bursa…

What’s winter without a little skiing or snowboarding? If you’re looking for some serious snow, then definitely check out Bursa, which is practically on every list of the best places to visit in Turkey in the winter

Bursa’s claim to fame is the nearby mountain of Uludağ (the name literally translates to Great Mountain), which is the highest mountain in western Turkey at an elevation of 2,543 m (8,343 feet). The biggest ski resort is called the Uludag Ski Center, where  you can buy 1-, 2-, or 3-day tickets — or even a season ticket if you plan to stay for longer 🙂 

Likewise, there are plenty of hotels near the ski resort, as well as places to rent equipment. 

As a bonus, Bursa is also one of the easiest day trips from Istanbul! You can spend a quick weekend break to go skiing in Bursa, or spend a few days exploring the city and surroundings (there’s plenty of things to do!) 

… Or go Skiing in Palandöken!

Sitting at an elevation of 3,200+ meters (10,000+ feet), it’s no wonder why Palandöken is one of the most popular ski resorts in Turkey. 

But that’s not all: the snow is a fine-grain light powder, there are more than 20 tracks at the Palandöken ski resort, and the season lasts for almost 4 months!

One thing to note, though, is that Palandöken is catered more towards intermediate and advanced skiers. Palandöken also has the only ski jump in Turkey (the Kiremitliktepe Ski Jump), which is often used by Olympic players to practice. 

Explore the Ancient City of Erzurum 

After you’re done skiing in Palandöken, why not explore the nearby city of Erzurum? After all, you’ll most likely pass through the city on your way to Palandöken, as it’s only a 20-kilometer journey between the two places!)

Known as the capital of Erzurum province, the city of Erzurum is famous for its historical architecture (especially those built during its golden age between the 13th and 14th centuries) and remnants of the Byzantine and Seljuk empires. 

The symbol of Erzurum is none other than the Çifte Minareli Medrese, a religious school (madrasa) with two minarets. Other popular landmarks include Yakutiye Madrasa (which serves as a museum on Turkish and Islamic art), Erzurum Castle, and the Erzurum thermal springs.

If you’re really up for an adventure, the nearby city of Uzundere also offers ice climbing trips, and hosts an Ice Climbing Festival in the winter.  

See the Snow-Covered City of Kars  

While we’re on the topic of traveling through Eastern Turkey, why not take a detour to the mystical yet enchanting city of Kars? Also known as the ‘final frontier of Eastern Turkey,’ Kars is an essential winter destination because it’s one of the snowiest cities in Turkey! 

The city is an excellent base for two or three days, as it’s famous for its Belle Epoque-style architecture (the city was under russian occupation for nearly 40 years, hence the unique style of buildings), neat streets, and gourmet offerings (there’s even a local specialty called Kars gravyer cheese!) 

Likewise, be sure to visit the nearby ruined medieval city of Ani and Lake Çıldır, where you can walk on a frozen lake and take a ride in a traditional horse carriage. 

Just be sure to pack a lot of layers, as Kars is quite cold — temperatures can plummet as low as −30 °C (−22 °F) during the winter months! 

… and the best way to get there is via the Eastern Express! 

If The Most Epic Train Journey In Turkey and The Top 10 Most Beautiful Train Journeys Across Turkey pique your interest, then you’ll definitely want to buy a ticket on the Eastern Express!

Like the name says, the Eastern Express is an epic 30-something hour trip across the vast plains of Turkey: it starts in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, and finishes in the eastern city of Kars (the city we just talked about above!)

There are two types of journeys: the regular Eastern Express is used by commuters and locals, and there are only pullman wagons (with regular seats – there are no compartments with beds!). Likewise, the Eastern Express has 50+ stops along the way, which makes for a very long ride.  

Meanwhile, the Touristic Eastern Express (Turistik Doğu Ekspresi) is geared towards tourists. The entire train is made up of sleeping wagons, and each cabin includes 2 beds, a table, seats, and a wash basin. Unlike the regular Eastern Express, the Tourist version only stops at a few key cities for 3 hours so that tourists can go out, explore the city, and come back on board. After all, the point of the Touristic Express is the journey, not the destination. 😉 

The Touristic Eastern Express runs only between December to March, making it one of the best things to do during winter in Turkey! 

Warm Up at a Hamam

Is there anything better than escaping the cold snow at a relaxing hamam? An integral part of Turkish culture, a hamam is a type of public steam bath where guests can warm up in the steam room, get scrubbed by the hamam attendant, and add a massage or other treatment. Afterwards, you’re free to relax in the lounge room, which is filled with fluffy pillows, low tables, and typically a complimentary cup of sherbet or tea.

Likewise, hamams are a common sight across Turkey — some of the most famous include Hüseyin Paşa Hamamı in Gaziantep, Ürgüp Şehir Hamamı near Cappadocia, or Hurrem Sultan Hamam in Istanbul.

Stroll Along Uzungol Lake

Located in Turkey’s Black Sea region, Uzungol is a large lake (the name translates to Long Lake) that’s nestled at the bottom of lush forests and mountains. Despite gaining some popularity in recent years, it’s still very much off the beaten path — and an excellent winter destination in Turkey. 🙂

Uzungol is an easy day trip from Tabzon or Rize (it’s a little over an hour’s drive) and has plenty of things to do. You can take a stroll around the perimeter of the lake, go up to the mountains and enjoy a cup of tea with an amazing view of the lake, visit one of the local shops, or take an epic photo on the famous Uzungol swing. 

Click here to check prices & availability for the Full-Day Private Tour to Uzungöl from Trabzon → 

Drink a Cup of Bozaaa

When you think about the sound of winter, what do you hear? The sound of snowflakes softly falling? The crunch of sleet beneath your feet? Or perhaps a crackling fireplace? 

For many Turkish people, the arrival of winter happens right after they hear a man yelling Boooooza! Bozaaaa! — then you truly know it’s time to bust out those fuzzy socks and warm jackets. 😉

One of the oldest Turkish drinks, boza is made by fermenting grains like wheat or millet. The result is a slightly tangy drink that’s full of probiotics and even somewhat nutritious! Like salep (mentioned above), the drink can be topped with cinnamon or roasted chickpeas. 

The most iconic boza seller is actually a store called Vefa Bozacısı in Istanbul’s Fatih district (not too far from the Grand Bazaar). Vefa Bozacısı’s history goes back to 1876, and the interior has kept much of its original form. You can even buy a large bottle of boza if you really like it, as well as other specialties that the store products (like vinegar, sherbet, pomegranate syrup, and more). 

Or, of course, you can keep an ear out for the classic melodic sound of boooozaaaaa and buy at your neighborhood dealer. 😉 

See the Sparkling Winter Displays in Istanbul

Of course, no winter bucket list is complete without a trip to Istanbul. 😁

Once the beginning of December rolls around, Istanbul transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with twinkling street lights above Istiklal, beautiful winter-themed displays in shop front windows, and, depending on the weather, a flurry of snow. 

One of the best places to see Christmas displays in Istanbul is the neighborhood of Kadıköy. The most popular storefront is, of course, Şekerci Cafer Erol, who has become somewhat of a decorating legend at this point. Other decorated areas include Caddebostan (around Bagdat Caddesi), Nisantasi, and along Istiklal Caddesi. 

Go Souvenir Shopping at a Bazaar 

Whether it’s the Silk Bazaar in Bursa, the Coppersmith Bazaar in Gaziantep, or the legendary Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, there’s no better way to escape the cold than by ducking into a historic bazaar — and doing a bit of souvenir shopping while you’re at it. 🙂

Stroll Along Snow-Covered Ottoman Houses in Safranbolu

Speaking of bazaars — we couldn’t not mention the city of Safranbolu, which was an important stop for caravans on the East-West route of the Silk Road. The city is famous for its traditional bazaar and caravansary, which is where Silk Road merchants rested and slept on their journey. 

However, the main stars are the beautiful white and brown Ottoman-era houses that make Safranbolu famous. In fact, the city of Safranbolu became a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to these traditional houses! You could easily spend two days exploring the city and seeing all 2,000+ Ottoman-era houses, checking out the bazaar, or going to our favorite place — the traditional caravansary — and visiting the Coffee Museum inside.

Of course, Safranbolu is especially beautiful in snow: imagine seeing the snow-covered Ottoman mansions while warming up with a warm cup of kahve (coffee) and eating the delicious Safranbolu specialties (we recommend the peruhi dumplings).

See “The City of Santa Claus” in Demre

Did you know that Santa Claus was born in Turkey? It’s true 😉 

Saint Nicholas was born in Myra (modern-day Demre), a small town not too far from Antalya during the Roman Empire. Although there isn’t much information on his life, St. Nicholas was known for his generosity and eventually became the Bishop of Myra. 

Nowadays, you can still see the remains of Myra (Demre), visit the fascinating tombs carved into rocks (above), and visit the St. Nicholas Church (which is now home to the Santa Claus Museum). 

If you really want to learn more about Santa Claus, there’s an excellent tour that goes to the main sites of Demre with a guide.

Photo Credits: Cappadocia via yonatan anugerah | Safranbolu in Snow via Karabük Gündem


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