Istanbul in winter
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 really 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:
What to do during winter in Istanbul?
Eat fish and drink raki:
Since the end of September the fishing season has resumed, it’s during this period that you will find a greater variety and a better quality of fish. You can find the restaurants that we recommend in the article : the best fish restaurants.
Among the seasonal fish we advise you to taste in the Lüfer in priority, which is a fish endemic to the Bosphorus, and the Kalkan, is the Turbot, which despite its unappetizing appearance is absolutely succulent.
To warm you up during winter do not hesitate to accompany your meal with some raki, it is the Turkish national alcohol. It is an anise-flavored liquor that is similar to the French Pastis. For the record, the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was very fond of it. It even happened that he woulf do with its advisors and relatives some “raki sofrasi”, dinners during which they debated drinking raki. It is very common to drink some in fish restaurants. This is called “make a raki-balik” (balik means fish in English).
Drink a salep or a 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 in coffee shops or even in the streets where some street vendors sell it.
The 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 Bozaci 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 producer 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.
The Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı 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 150TL. The price for the basic formula (hammam, scrub and massage) is 150TL. The only small downside of this is that the hours for women and men are not the same.
Link :kilicalipasahamami.com / Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Hamam Sk No:1, 34425 istanbul Cagaloglu Hamami: built in 1741, it is one of the most famous Turkish hammams. The price for the basic formula (hammam, scrub and massage) is 50 €.
Suleymaniye Hamami: located next to the Suleymaniye 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 35 euros.
Go shopping and go to the movie theater:
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 theaters with Imax 3D screen. In Istanbul most of the foreign films are in original version with subtitles in Turkish. Here is our top of the “shopping malls” of 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, 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. After 8 p.m. go to the Kozmonot bar, on the menu: over fifty different beers, a pretty fair selection of burgers and hotdogs, and especially a good atmosphere with local people. The place is full every night, it’s nice to meet people : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kozmonot/717896598287891
Visit the “big” museums:
If after visiting the classical monuments the weather is not appropriate to walk around, you can go to one of the many museums of the city. There’s something for everyone . See our selection of our favorite museums in Istanbul. We particularly recommend the Museum of Industry the “Koc Muzesi” 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.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 … 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 universe 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 little bit far from the city center (close to Ataturk Airport) but it’s worth the visit and you will easily occupy most of the day (it also has several restaurants). Perfect to please the kids: http://www.istanbulakvaryum.com/.
Go to a coffee 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 the servers, they will explained you the layout of the pawns or even the basic rules. In this kind of establishments you can also request playing cards (“Kart”).
For a wider range of game 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 ping pong room. The Cihangir district, stronghold of the hipsters of Istanbul, is also very nice.
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: Café close to Suleymaniye Mosque which offers an exceptional view of the city.
– In the area of Beyoglu: Kallavi Kafe: located in the Pera district, it 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.
Conventional guides recommend the Tophane area to smoke a hookah. We do not recommend it, many are tourists traps. Besides the price often exaggerated of a hookah, a classic scam that they put some fruit plates on the tables, if you eat them you are charged an excessive price.
Party in Beyoglu or Karaköy:
A good idea to warm up after a very cold day is to go party in the narrow streets of some neighborhoods of Beyoglu and Karakoy. The festive atmosphere will warm you up! For info : Nightlife in Beyoglu and for other addresses: Nightlife in Istanbul.
And to give you even more eager to come to discover Istanbul with us, here is a picture of last year in Istanbul under the snow: Cover picture credit : Koraysa from shuttersock