This post contains affiliate links.
Should you visit Istanbul in winter?
Daniel and I are nearing the end of our two-month stay through January and February so I thought I’d share my thoughts. Although there are some cons to spending winter in Istanbul, 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 great reasons to book your trip!
5 Reasons to Visit Istanbul in the Winter
1. You Can Avoid the Crowds
The number one reason to visit Istanbul in winter is to avoid the crowds. This is a city of 15 million people, so even in January and February, it’s really damn crowded here.
I honestly can’t image 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. You Can Save Money
It’s no secret that traveling in the off-season is budget friendly because prices for accommodation go down along with demand. US News and World Report states that December through February are the cheapest months to visit Istanbul and, based on my experience, I can agree. 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. You Can Take a Ski Trip
If you visit Istanbul in winter, plan to go skiing. Uludag National Park is only a two-hour ferry ride away in the nearby city of Bursa.
There you can take the longest cable car in the world up through the clouds and into 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 Istanbul in the winter without adding it to your itinerary!
Riding the cable car in Uludag National Park
4. 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, the weather 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. Many Tourist Sites Are Indoors
There is so much to see and do indoors 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
And much more! 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 and that’s why I definitely recommend winter visits as well!
The intricate interior of Topkapi Palace
Plan Your Winter Visit to Istanbul
In January and February, you can take advantage of thinner crowds and cheaper prices throughout the city, and plan an awesome ski trip. Plus, the weather really isn’t too bad if you come prepared, and many of the main tourist attractions are indoors anyway.
All this adds up to make Istanbul a great winter destination, and one that I thoroughly recommend.
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!