What to do in winter in Istanbul?
From mid-December to mid-March, winter sets in Istanbul, the temperature rarely exceeds the 10 degrees celsius. While you may have sunny days, the sky is usually gray. This does not mean that life stops, it is organized just a little differently. The central districts like Nişantaşı and Beyoğlu fill up and the shores of the Bosphorus are quieter. It is a pleasant time to visit Istanbul because there are almost no tourists, so you can enjoy all the monuments and museums of the city peacefully. Istanbul also offers another face in the winter, genuine and mysterious. Generally, it also snows at about a week during winter which will delight picture lovers!
Here is the list of activities to do especially in winter:
EAT FISH AND DRINK RAKI
The fishing season resumes at the end of September, it is during this period that you will find the most diversity and the best quality of fish. You can find the restaurants that we recommend in the article: The best fish and mezze restaurants.
Among the seasonal fish, we recommend that you choose the lüfer, which is a Bosphorus fish, and the kalkan (turbot), which despite its unappetizing appearance is absolutely succulent.
To warm you up during winter do not hesitate to accompany your meal with some rakı. Rakı is national alcohol, an aniseed alcohol similar to pastis. For the record, the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was very fond of it. It even happened that he would do with its advisors and relatives some “rakı sofrası“, dinners during which they debated drinking raki. It is very common to drink some in fish restaurants. This is called “make a “rakı-balık“ (“balık” means “fish”).
DRINK SALEP OR BOZA
These are two hot drinks, very popular in Turkey, that were already consumed during the Ottoman Empire.
Salep is a Turkish hot drink made from salep powder (root orchid) and hot milk, sprinkled with cinnamon. At the time of the Ottoman Empire, it was a common drink throughout the region and even as far as England and Germany, where it was an alternative to coffee, which was expensive and not widespread at this times. It is possible to drink some at coffee shops or even in the streets where some street vendors sell it.
Boza for its part is a fermented drink made from seasonal cereals (millet, wheat, bulgur…), sugar, yogurt ferments and sometimes vanilla. It is usually consumed between September 15th and May 15th and more especially during the winter months. Fermentation lasts five days, and, as for the salep, some street vendors still sell it in the streets of Istanbul. They are recognizable by their shoutings (“Boza Bozaaaa!”). One of the most famous shops selling boza is the Vefa Bozacısı shop located in the Vefa district of Istanbul. This shop has been open for over 130 years and is known as one of the best boza producers in Turkey, the setting and atmosphere will take you back in time.
GO TO THE HAMMAM
After a cold morning walking around the city, there is nothing better than the heat of a Turkish bath and the expert hands of a masseur to end the day.
– Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı: It is a hammam located in the district of Tophane dating from 1590. It has just been renovated. It is really beautiful and the service is impeccable. The price for the basic formula (hammam, scrub, and massage) is 570 TL. The only small downside of the hammam is that the hours for women and men are not the same.
– Çagaloğlu Hamamı: Built-in 1741, it is one of the most famous Turkish hammams. The price for the basic formula (hammam, scrub, and massage) is 50 €.
– Süleymaniye Hamamı: Located next to the Süleymaniye Mosque, the hammam was built in 1557 by architect Sinan. It has the advantage of mixed. The price of the traditional package (hammam, scrub and massage) is 50 €.
Do not hesitate to consult our selection of the most beautiful hammams in Istanbul.
SHOPPING AND CINEMA
A good option in case of rain or extreme cold may be to take refuge in the large shopping centers of the city. Most have ultramodern cinemas with Imax 3D screen. In Istanbul, most of the foreign films are in original version with subtitles in Turkish. Here are our top 5 of the shopping malls in Istanbul. From mid-December until the beginning of January there will be sales, don’t miss it.
We advise shoppers to take a walk to Nişantaşı, it’s the fashion district of Istanbul, you will find all the major international brands, but also of the Turkish designers. The area is quite trendy.
And while there, enjoy a drink in nice a neighborhood…
If you’re in the district, take the opportunity to drink coffee or a cocktail on the Atiye Sokak street or behind the mosque on Akkavak Teşvikiye Caddesi street. After 6-7 pm, you can also enjoy the neighborhood’s many bars like Joker No 5, a big fashionable bar with an impressive selection of different spirits, Kozmonot, the neighborhood’s hipster “rendez-vous”, or Socrates, the bar of the quirky football magazine of the same name and offers great food and homemade cocktails. These places are full every night, it’s nice to meet people. More stylish, you can also go to Spago, the gourmet restaurant of chef Wolfgang Puck of the prestigious St Regis hotel.
For other addresses read our article: Where to have a drink in Istanbul?
VISIT THE MUSEUMS
If after visiting the classical monuments the weather is not appropriate to walk around, you can go to one of the many museums in the city. There’s something for everyone. See our selection of our favorite museums in Istanbul. We particularly recommend the Museum of Industry the “Koç Müzesi” where you can visit airplanes, trains, cars, and even a submarine, we recommend also the energy museum “Santral Istanbul” which includes a section dedicated to contemporary art and other to energy, and the Military Museum, where you will find a large collection of military artifacts from antiquity to the present.
VISIT THE AQUARIUM
Opened in 2011, the aquarium of Istanbul covers over 6000sqm, it is one of the largest in the world. There are over 10,000 sea creatures including giant rays, tiger sharks, and many other species. This is a very interactive museum benefiting from advanced technology. Following a geographical itinerary (via a water pipe of 80 meters) you will pass in 16 different universes from the Black Sea to the Pacific.
In addition to the aquarium section, you will find many activities such as feeding the fish, attend a 5D projection and many more.
It is a bit far from the city center but it is definitely worth a visit, and will easily occupy you a large part of the day (it also has several restaurants), perfect to please children.
GO TO CAFES AND PLAY TAVLA (“BACKGAMMON”)
In Istanbul, you will see many people in small cafes playing tavla (backgammon). It is a national sport, in Turkey, everyone plays it. Do not hesitate to ask for help servers, they will explain to you the layout of the pawns or even the basic rules. In this kind of establishment, you can also request laying cards (kart).
For a wider range of games you can go to the Ağa Cafe Bilardo Salonu in the district of Cihangir, in addition to the Turkish traditional games, it has pool tables and even a ping-pong room. The Cihangir district, a strong-hold of the hipsters of Istanbul, is also very nice.
GO TO A NARGILE CAFE
The nargile, or hookah in English, is a large water pipe used to smoke tobacco. It is possible to find all flavors (peach, mango, chocolate, apple…) and some places are dedicated to it. In this kind of coffee, you sit to smoke the hookah and you can also play Tavla (Backgammon) Here are some nice addresses:
– Towards the old town: Sultan Teras, a café close to Süleymaniye Mosque which offers an exceptional view of the city.
– In the area of Beyoğlu: Perla Kallavi Cafe, located in the Pera district, has 4 floors and offers a beautiful view of the city.
– On The Bosphorus: Huqqa, to eat dessert and smoke a nargile on the Bosphorus.
If you are in the area of Etiler and want to smoke a nargile, go to Balkon. This cafe opened fifteen years ago has stunning views of the Bosphorus and Bebek.
STROLLING TO THE GALATAPORT, ISTANBUL’S LAST CULTURAL AND ARTISTIC CENTRE
Take a day trip to the Galataport in the Beyoğlu district, and for the less chilly, a 1.2 km walk by the sea, open to the public. Formerly the passenger hall of Karaköy, Tophane and the Tuesday Market (Salı pazarı) and also the freight hall of Istanbul, Galataport is the latest major project of the city of Istanbul. A true hub where all kinds of activities are gathered, Galataport offers a cultural and artistic space where you will find historical monuments such as the Tophane Clock Tower, the Tophane Pavilion, the Nusretiye Mosque, a legacy of the city’s immaculate history, but also the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Painting and Sculpture. The area dedicates a part to the shops for tourists passing through the port as well as to the locals who wish to go shopping, and a living space with its cafes and restaurants in an incredible atmosphere.
WINTER EXHIBITIONS NOT BE MISSED
November 23 – March 6 – “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” – Byzantium in Popular Culture – Pera Museum:
Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition at the Pera Museum called “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture, curated by Emir Alışık, navigates through the eclectic presence of Byzantium in popular culture. With the contribution of its advisors Brigitte Pitarakis, Elif Demirtiken, Felice Lifshitz, Haris Theodorelis-Rigas, Jeremy J. Swist, Marco Fasolio, Roland Betancourt, Sinan Ekim, Vedran Bileta, and Yağmur Karakaya, the exhibition explores multiple and conflicting meanings of Byzantinism and questions popular culture’s interaction with the Byzantine legacy by scrutinizing a selection of motifs representing Byzantium in popular culture.
Accompanied by a comprehensive exhibition catalogue, “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” borrows its title from Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu’s novel Panorama I-II (1953–1954), where his protagonist exclaims these lines, being frustrated with postwar Turkish society. Karaosmanoğlu knew precisely what he meant by Byzantinism, referring to not only the social unrest and hostility among the nation’s citizens but also the superstitions raging among society at the time, for they found the chaos they were living in otherwise inexplicable. The exhibition has stripped Karaosmanoğlu’s exclamation of its connotations and has taken it at face value, as a genuine question, all the while aiming—among other things—to show that Constantinople/Istanbul is naturally—historically and geographically—Byzantinism’s home turf.
While the academic and archaeological “rediscovery” of Byzantium in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had in counterpart wide repercussions throughout a wide variety of artistic expressions like painting, architecture, drama, music, and literature, the fascination for Byzantium was amplified over time and blossomed into new directions—from unlikely music and literature genres and painting and film-making techniques to textile production and new narrative mediums like graphic novels.
As access to Byzantine heritage in Constantinople gradually intensified, access to material sources of inspiration for Byzantinism marked a shift from Ravenna to Constantinople. The urban framework of Byzantium’s capital city and its inhabitants are at the core of the contemporary renewed interest in it. These popular materials have broken the boundaries of historical re-enactment and historical fiction, forging the exploration of new ways to appropriate Byzantine forms, history, and materiality as a means to tell unique stories. Although Byzantine history is sometimes mobilized to kindle hostilities by the manipulation of historical facts, the Byzantine legacy is frequently utilized to reflect on complicated sociopolitical issues, too, and are both critically represented in “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”. Bringing togethercontemporary novels, metal music, comics and graphic novels, visual arts, video games, movies, and fashion, the exhibition reveals how Byzantinism is a far-stretching phenomenon to be encountered even in places one does not usually look.
For more information, click here.
December 9 – April 3 – The Skin, Body and I – SALT Beyoğlu:
CONTACT US FOR A GUIDED TOUR OR TAILOR-MADE PROGRAM
Haghia-Sophia under the snow, in winter.
In addition to our culinary walk (culinary and cultural walk on two continents), and our other programs (guided tours), we can put at your disposal our guides to help you discover our city in depth. If there are monuments, museums and specific activities you want to do, do not hesitate to let us know, we are very flexible, you are on vacation and Istanbul is a city where anything is possible. We also organize tailor-made tours outside of Istanbul. For more information, contact us.
We wish you a pleasant stay in Istanbul! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.