With freezing temperatures, wind-swept seas and frost gathering on its many minarets, Istanbul in winter is nothing if not atmospheric: and with fewer tourists hitting the city sights, it’s a great time to explore. Make a beeline for the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Dolmabahce Palace, normally rammed with tourists, climb the Galata Tower without the dreaded queue or hunt out some Christmas bargains in the Grand Bazaar, where fewer tourists means greater haggling potential. Winter is also a great time for shopping in Istanbul with many of the city’s malls and shops along Istikal Caddesi holding sales in the run up to Christmas and throughout January.
Alternatively, the cold weather makes a great excuse to head indoors and the city has plenty of undercover sights to check out. Start out with a visit to the Istanbul Modern Art gallery, then tour the city’s many museums and galleries – the Pera Museum, the Sakip Sabanci Museum and the Dogancay Museum are all worth a visit. Afterwards, pay a visit to a Hamam – traditional Turkish baths – to wash away the frostbite with a steamy and soapy massage.
Winter in Istanbul brings a number of festivals to the capital. The popular Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, running since 1990, is held each November in venues around the city with a varied roster well known and upcoming artists, and the Istanbul International Short Film Festival hits the city the same month. More dates for film buffs include the International Meeting of Cinema and History Film Festival in December and the ARM Independent Film Festival in February.
Finally, make sure you try some of the city’s winter treats – huddle up in a teahouse along the Bosphorus where you can tuck into a thick slab of baklava and sample a glass of Sahlep, a hot milky drink with ginger and cinnamon, or hunt out a cup of traditional boza – a bulgur-based savory soup sold from street carts during the winter.