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When is the best time to visit Istanbul?
I found myself asking this as I planned our trip because unlike beaches or national parks, cities are pretty accessible any time of the year. Now that Dan and I are nearing the end of our two-month stay through January and February, I want to share my thoughts on spending winter in Turkey.
There are, of course, some downsides to visiting Turkey in the winter, but all in all, I think it’s a great place to be for the season. If you’re on the fence about visiting Istanbul in the winter, here are five convincing reasons to book your trip!
1. To Avoid the Crowds
Winter in Turkey is ideal for travelers who hate crowds because Istanbul is a city of 15 million people.
Let me repeat that: 15 million people live in Istanbul.
That number is honestly insane, and it shows. Even in January and February, it’s really damn crowded here and I honestly can’t imagine how bad it is in peak tourist season when even more people fly in. You can definitely expect the main sites to have super long lines and the top restaurants to require reservations.
Right now, though, I’m enjoying the ability to walk straight into the Hagia Sophia Museum or Topkapi Palace on a Saturday afternoon. Like everyone else on earth I prefer not to wait in lines or be pushed through crowds, so visiting Istanbul in the winter was a perfect solution!
Inside the Hagia Sophia Museum
2. To Save Money
It’s no secret that traveling in the off-season is budget-friendly – prices for accommodation simply go down along with demand. US News and World Report stated that December through February are the cheapest months to visit Istanbul and, based on my experience, I can agree. Winter is the best time to visit Istanbul if you’re pinching pennies and I’m constantly amazed at how affordable everything has been during our stay, especially our semi-last-minute trip to a tourist hot-spot like Cappadocia.
3. To Go Skiing
If you visit Istanbul in winter, plan to go skiing.
Uludag National Park is only a two-hour ferry ride away from Istanbul but you’ll be thrust into a whole new world. Take the longest cable car in the world up through the clouds and you’ll discover a winter wonderland. Even if you don’t want to ski, the park has hiking, sledding, tubing, and so much more. I took a two-day / one-night trip to go skiing in Bursa and wrote a guide so you can too – don’t visit Turkey in the winter without adding it to your itinerary!
Riding the cable car in Uludag National Park
4. Because, I Promise, The Weather Isn’t All Bad
I’m writing this in mid-February and it’s currently sunny and 55 degrees outside. Sure, in the past few weeks there have definitely been stretches of cold rainy days (and even some snow in early January) but as a whole, winter in Turkey is manageable if you dress warm and bring an umbrella.
January and February are almost identical with average lows of 38 degrees Fahrenheit and average highs of 48 and 49 degrees Fahrenheit. During my stay, we’ve had some days in the 50s (and a rare few in the 60s) while most fall in the 40s. These are also the two coldest months of the year, so visits in December or March would be even warmer.
Yes, January and February are fairly wet, but I’ve found that it’s often a drizzling rain that you can still walk in rather than downpours that trap you inside. Either way, though, this leads me to my final point…
5. Because Many Tourist Sites Are Indoors
There is so much to see and do indoors in Istanbul that it’s easy to plan around the weather. Some of the most famous indoor attractions are:
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Bazaar
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque
- Basilica Cisterns
- Topkapi Palace
- Archeology Museum
- Museum of Modern Art
- Suleymaniye Mosque
- Pera Museum
- Dolmabahce Palace
- Whirling Dervish show
Not to mention eating your way through the city’s phenomenal food scene, drinking Turkish coffee (ok I admit it’s not for me, but you should try it at least once), smoking shisha, and shopping for souvenirs. Because the city is so big there are also plenty of trivia nights, open mic nights, improv shows, and other events to keep your schedule full even when it’s raining outside.
Of course, Istanbul is better under the sun but there is still a lot to see and do even on those cold, gray days, that’s why I definitely recommend visiting Turkey in winter as well!
The intricate interior of Topkapi Palace
Plan Your Winter Visit to Istanbul
Winter in Turkey in great for budget-travelers looking to save money, off-season adventurers who’ll do anything to avoid a crowd, and pretty much anyone who loves exploring the great indoors. Plus, winter is definitely the best time to visit Turkey if you’re into skiing because you can ride the longest cable car in the world and hit the slopes at Uludag National Park. As long as you come prepared with warm waterproof clothes and some flexibility in your travel plans, I know you’ll have a blast!
Ready to visit? Browse the Turkey Series to see the top Instagram spots around Istanbul, learn how to ride Cappadocia’s famous hot air balloons, discover 13 things to do at night in Istanbul, and so much more!