The Unexpected Snowfall in Istanbul
My first trip to Istanbul in winter was unspectacular – you might even say it was bad. It was during the middle of March 2022 when I set off to Istanbul with the anticipation of welcoming the spring season. The first few days of my trip went smoothly as I explored the enchanting old quarter known as Sultanahmet. Then on the third day, out of the blue, it started snowing. I was unprepared for such weather, and it was quite unusual and rare for Istanbul to be covered in snow during the middle of March.
That’s the bad news. The good news? It happened to be the first time I ever witnessed snow. While many people might have been disappointed by the lack of sunshine, I chose to embrace the positive aspects during this unforeseen snowfall that lasted for weeks. Slowly, the magic of this understated, underrated season has steadily revealed itself.
Regardless of what specifically attracts you to Istanbul’s snow season or where you plan to travel, make sure to keep reading. I’ll not only help you avoid the mistakes I made during my first trip to Istanbul in winter, but I’ll also show you the amazing experiences that have now become a defining part of winter in Istanbul for me.
How Cold Does it Get in Istanbul?
In winter, Istanbul can get quite chilly. The average temperatures range from around 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. However, it’s good to know that sometimes it can get even colder, especially in January and February. So, it’s a good idea to bring warm clothes to stay cozy during those colder months. If you decide to visit Istanbul when it’s snowing, it’s a good idea to have appropriate footwear like winter boots. Istanbul has many hilly areas, so walking around can be tiring and challenging.
Best Places for Photos in Istanbul During Winter
Istanbul is famous for the Hagia Sophia, a mosque that played a central role in the religious, political, and artistic life of the Byzantine world. Winter is the ideal season to visit because there are fewer tourists. However, after the pandemic, many tourists started coming to Istanbul, and when I went back in December 2022, there was a long line to get in.
Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
When it started snowing, one of the first places I visited was Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, to take pictures of it covered in snow. Unfortunately, the courtyard of the mosque was closed for restoration even after my third visit to Istanbul. Nevertheless, the outside of the Blue Mosque is just as amazing and impressive as its inside. The good news is that the mosque has been fully restored since late April 2023, which makes it an even better reason to visit Istanbul now.
Bosphorus at Ortaköy
During my time in Istanbul, I had a plan to try Kumpir, which are Turkish stuffed baked potatoes. I can’t say if Ortaköy has the best Kumpir, but it was a nice introduction to this dish which you can find a lot of Kumpir stalls here. Plus, I got to visit Ortaköy mosque at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. I bought a Kumpir and found a nice spot to enjoy the warm stuffed potato. As I looked out at the Bosphorus, finishing up my meal and getting ready to leave, it started snowing, creating a beautiful scene that I couldn’t resist capturing in pictures.
Experiences Not to Miss in Istanbul
Balat, Galata Tower and Moda
Istanbul is a huge city with excellent public transportation options like buses, metro and ferries. Now, let me quickly mention a few things you shouldn’t miss out on. One of the best things to do is to relax and enjoy a Turkish coffee in the charming surroundings of the Balat neighborhood.
The area around Galata Tower is also lovely to explore, even though it’s a bit hilly and difficult to walk around. Trust me, every step you take will be worth it. Now, is it worth going up to Galata Tower? Absolutely! When you go up to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the entire city. What’s even better is that the entrance fee is included in the Istanbul museum pass, so don’t forget to grab one for yourself.
Another area that I really like is Kadıköy, which is known as the Asian side of Istanbul. There’s a street called Moda Caddesi that you should check out. The area is filled with fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes and live music venues. It’s a more laid-back area, and I found myself going there often for things like getting a haircut, attending yoga classes and working on my music transcripts in coffee shops. If any of you are remote workers, Moda is the perfect place for that.
Go to a Hamam
Brad, my best friend in Istanbul, asked me, ‘Do you want to go to a Hamam?’ I couldn’t believe that I had spent 2 months in Turkey without visiting a Hamam (Turkish bath) yet! I suppose it was because of all the fun stories I had heard from people. Now, I was standing in front of this old Turkish bath, not knowing what to expect. After the bath, I felt clean and relaxed, realizing that it was exactly what I needed, especially during the cold months. Visiting a Hamam in winter turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had.
Indulge in a Turkish Breakfast
“I just discovered that Turkish breakfast is a thing,” I exclaimed, surprised, while savouring a delicious bite of bread dipped in Kaymak, a thickened cream. With my right hand already reaching for a spoonful of menemen, a Turkish dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, I found myself at a breakfast restaurant called Otlangaç Kahvaltı, accompanied by Rosie and Brad. Our initial plan was to visit Dolmabahçe Palace, but to our disappointment, it was closed without any apparent reason. It was only when Rosie, my Taiwanese friend, started speaking Turkish that we discovered there was a private event happening, and the palace was not open to the public. It was a stroke of accidental fate, where you lose something and gain something unexpected.
Whether it’s winter or any other season, one thing you must not miss when visiting Istanbul is experiencing a traditional Turkish breakfast. It’s a feast with a wide variety of delicious dishes, including Börek, Gözleme, Menemen, Pide and my personal favourite condiment: Kaymak.
In a way, I’ve come to love Istanbul during the winter, although I didn’t feel that way at first. But when I look back and remember all the enjoyable moments I had, I realize how much fun it was. If you can plan a schedule that focuses on the places you find interesting and experiences that keep you excited, the magic of this underrated, understated season will wrap itself around you.