Winter season isn´t the best time to visit Istanbul, as it can get very cold. Even more if you´re visiting during December and January. Although cold isn´t so bad and you can totally go outside, when it gets annoying is when it rains. Unfortunately, during our winter trip to Istanbul, 3 of our 4 days, we had either rain or snow. Luckily, there´s all kind of indoor activities in Istanbul, so you´ll not have to stay at your hotel bored.
Anyway, hopefully you will also have some sunny days. If that happens after the snow, you may want to go outside and take some beautiful photos. We´re going to tell you all you need to know before spending the winter in Istanbul. Here is where to go and things to do in winter in Istanbul, what to wear and what´s the usual weather.
Things to do in winter in Istanbul:
Visit the Topkapi Palace
The old Ottoman palace, is one of the most famous museums in Istanbul. A must visit, no matter if it is raining or it isn´t. Most of the places of the Topkapi palace are covered, so you will not get wet and it´s for sure one of the best Istanbul indoor activities
The Topkapi palace is an important part of the history of Istanbul, it begun being built during the XV century when the sultan Mehmed, made Istanbul the capital of the Ottoman empire.
The palace wasn´t just the place where the Sultan and his family were living, but also where many institutional activities took place. That´s the main reason why the Topkapi palace is so big and why you´ll find all kind of relics in its museum.
There´re two main things you should see in Topkapi Palace and you´ll have to pay a ticket for each.
The Topkapi palace and museum
The ticket to the palace is 40TL (6/7 €). Inside you will find the beautiful gardens, some of the most important buildings, the ottoman kitchen, their dresses…
At the end, there is an amazing view from the topkapi palace, where you can admire a beautiful skyline!
The Topkapi palace harem section
The harem was the place were the mother and the wives of the sultan used to live. Just so you have an idea, there are more than 400 rooms in this area. The tickets for the Topkapi palace harem are 25 TL (4€) extra per person but it is worth the visit, as it is one of the most beautiful areas of the palace.
Hagia Sophia: A must do in Istanbul in winter
The church of Hagia Sophia was built many centuries ago. It was one of the biggest Christian cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Later on in 1453 the Ottoman empire converted it into a mosque, until 1935, when it started to be a museum. It is impressive how after centuries, you can still see things from both cultures and religions in the same place. Another reason to visit Hagia Sophia in winter, is seeing it covered with snow from outside! All this make a visit to Hagia Sophia one of the top things to do in winter in Istanbul. The tickets to visit Hagia Sophia are 60 TL (10€). And if you are wondering which is the best time to visit Hagia Sophia, go as soon as it opens.
Visiting the Blue Mosque of Istanbul in winter
The Blue Mosque is one of the biggest and the most important mosque in Istanbul. Unfortunately, when we visited it, almost all of it was under construction. It did not seem as impressive as we had in mind. We still advice you to visit it and it still would be one of the best things to do in winter in Istanbul. The interior of the blue mosque is where you will be able to admire not just how big it is, but also the beautiful art there is inside. The outside of the Blue Mosque is what we liked the most, as it´s the most photogenic building in Istanbul. The entrance to the Mosque is free. It is open during the whole day for Muslims, but for tourists there are certain hours where you will not be allowed to enter.
Things to do in winter in Istanbul:
The underestimated mosque of Istanbul. Although it´s not as famous as the historical buildings said above, if we had to choose, we would first come here. The mosque itself is as impressive as the blue mosque. It´s impressive from the outside and the inside, but the best of it, is the view you get of the city. Although you may freeze, coming to see this view after a big snow, could be the best thing to do in winter in Istanbul. These spot is algo a good one if you are looking for a place to see the sunset in Istanbul. Süleymaniye Mosque has some nice views!
Indoor activities in Istanbul:Basilica cistern
It´s located just 5 minutes walking from Sultan Ahmed square. Basilica cistern is an old water supplier and another one of the top things to do in winter in Istanbul. The underground Basilica cistern was built between 527 and 565, with the purpose of providing water to Byzantine palace in the bad days. The calm water and the low light between the old columns, make a perfect long exposure photography. Unfortunately, they do not allow to bring your tripod which makes it harder, but you can always place the camera on the ground, and you will be able to get the shot. At the end of your walk through the Basilica cistern, you will find the sculpture of the medusa and discover it´s fantastic story.
Indoor activities in Istanbul: Galata tower
Another mandatory thing to do in Istanbul in winter time, is visiting the Galata tower. We can´t tell you exactly how many stairs there is to make it to the top but it sure is high, anyway you can take the elevator so don´t worry. In the top of the Galata Tower, you will find another famous view of Istanbul, where you can see both, the European and the Asian side. Although in the balcony you will not be that worm, there is also a charming restaurant in the same floor, where you can get to try some delicious turkey food while enjoying the view, of course you will be warmer there. Galata Tower, is usually really crowded. Therefore, you need to make sure to plan your visit before going and check when is the best time to visit Galata Tower.
Things to do in winter in Istanbul:
Hotel rooftops views
Istanbul is famous for having many view points all over the city. Therefore, there are many hotels with amazing views. At the beginning of the blog we started telling you, that you won´t have to stay bored in your room. Waiting for the sun when the weather isn´t good. But that doesn´t mean you should not stay at the hotel. Another great indoor activity is chasing rooftops in Istanbul. If you stay at the Four Seasons or the Adamar Hotel, you will sure find amazing views that will make you not want to go anywhere. Imagine our surprise, when we went up to the 6ht floor at the Adamar Hotel, which is where we were staying, and we found the view of Hagia Sophia all covered by the snow. The view was so beautiful, that we decided to spend the whole morning taking photos from the hotel.
Get warm in Istanbul in winter: the Grand Bazaar
Another Istanbul winter activity is walking and shopping around the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is the biggest market of Istanbul, and one of the oldest in the whole world. Around 20000 people go to work each day there, and there between 300000 and 500000 visitors every day. Just so you can have an idea of how big it is, there are more than 3600 stores. If you are still not convinced to go, you should know that you´ll not find any warmer place in Istanbul to hide from the cold. Doesn´t matter if you want to buy something or not, it is another one of the must things to do in winter Istanbul. There is anything you can imagine, from Turkish spices to small snack stalls. But the most typical thing of the Grand Bazaar are theTurkish lamps, which give it a special and colorful vibe.
Trying Turkish tea at the Grand Bazaar
Of all the many snack stalls, you should at least stop by in one and get to try the famous apple tea. It is a very typical turkey drink(we´re sure you have seen one of the many viral instagrm photos). If you are a sweet tooth, we advised you try one of the many candies they make in Istanbul. You will find out that most of them include pistachio in their ingredients. One of the most famous Turkish desserts is the Künefe. Going to a turkish teahouse is also one of the must things to do in winter in Istanbul.
What to wear & how is the weather in winter in Istanbul
It can get very cold from November to January. Even in February can get cold in Istanbul, but comparing with other cities, it´ll even feel good. Anyway, some days temperatures in Istanbul can go down a bit, and you may even have some snow in Istanbul. Therefore, make sure you have enough clothes. Including a warm coat, couple of sweaters, a hat and gloves in your suitcase could be a really good idea. A must if you are planning to be outside. Don´t go like us in this picture with just a sweater, because we were literally frozen.
Overall, although most of us prefer to travel during warmer days, going to a big city in winter time also has some advantages and with all the things to do in winter in Istanbul, we are sure you will not envy those who visit the city during summer.