Are you considering an upcoming trip to Istanbul and other Turkish cities? If so, you are probably wondering about the best time to visit Istanbul and the other considerations you should make.
When you invest the time into researching your vacation destinations, you can avoid the headache of expensive tickets and annoying crowds. Additionally, there is no best time for everyone, as different people have specific preferences for activities and weather.
For example, if you want to compliment your Istanbul trip with a few resort days in a southern Turkish city on the Mediterranean coast, you might choose summer instead of spring or autumn.
And if you are a fan of history and prefer to design your trip around spending time at Istanbul’s historic sites, going in the spring or autumn will be much more comfortable and less crowded.
So no matter what your trip preferences are, this article will give you everything you need to know to make the most out of a trip to the famous city of Istanbul!
Why You Should Visit Istanbul
Istanbul is one of the most important cities, and its history dates back over 2500 years. The Greeks built the original structures in 667 B.C.E. when the name of the city of Byzantium, and its strategic location meant that control of Istanbul was constantly changing between different empires.
So from the early Greek history to the Roman and Ottoman empires in later centuries, Istanbul is one of the most historic cities. You can see world-famous sites such as the Galata Tower, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar.
And Istanbul is the only city on two continents at once, with the gorgeous Bosphorus splitting the two sides. Lastly, if the fantastic views and rich history aren’t enough, the city is also a central hub for the unique Turkish culture and food.
The restaurants blend western and eastern cuisines with a complex Ottoman history to give you an unforgettable food experience. And if you enjoy late-night partying, there are tremendous rooftop spots with views of the Bosphorus.
Overall Best Time to Visit Istanbul
It’s difficult to recommend the best time to visit Istanbul for everybody, but the short answer is that March through May is the best time to visit.
In these months, the crowds will be less dense, and the weather will be comfortable. You’ll have plenty of time and space to enjoy the history, culture, and food scenes without fighting crowds and hot/cold weather.
But everyone has their specific preferences, and you shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of the fall season. Additionally, consider whether you are combining your trip to Istanbul with touring other southern cities along the Mediterranean coast.
In this case, it’s worth waiting until summer when swimming and beach weather are ideal. But March through May is the best overall time to visit Istanbul because the moderate weather and smaller crowds will be comfortable, allowing you to travel more easily.
Additionally, springtime in Istanbul features many festivals, live concerts, and art events such as Contemporary Istanbul and Biennial of Istanbul.
Cheapest Time to Visit Istanbul
Because of the cold temperatures and rainy/snowy weather conditions, you’ll find the cheapest flights and hotels between December and February.
Usually, the lowest fares are in January. You’ll also find incredible deals if you plan to travel to other cities within Turkey. It’s still possible to enjoy yourself in Istanbul during this time of year.
And as you have probably experienced in other cities such as New York and London, there can be a certain charm to a place during the winter.
As long as you dress warm enough, you’ll appreciate how Turkish culture adapts to the cold weather, and warm tea or Turkish coffee will taste extra fantastic. You can also enjoy the southern Mediterranean cities during these colder months, and they won’t have large crowds of Turkish vacationers.
But don’t expect to be able to swim and tan on the beaches. During these cheapest times, you’ll miss the comfortable weather and the most beautiful sunny views. Boat tours on the Bosphorus will also be freezing.
Least Busy Time to Visit Istanbul
As you might expect, the least busy time to visit Istanbul overlaps with the cheapest time, which is between December and February.
Besides the lower prices, you won’t have to battle crowds of tourists or Turkish vacationers as you tour the city, take in the sights, and enjoy the many historic attractions.
Compared to the summer months when world travelers flood Istanbul, you’ll have an easier time walking through the crowds of Taksim square and waiting in line for popular destinations such as the Hagia Sophia.
You can also consider September-November less busy in Istanbul, but some Turkish holidays bring out more crowds than in the winter. But these least-busy times come with a price, as the weather is usually cold and rainy.
If you want to blend having fewer crowds with enjoyable weather, you should schedule your trip for springtime. As flowers bloom and Turkish culture wakes up to the warmer weather, Istanbul’s full beauty emerges before the busiest season starts in June/July.
Worst Time to Visit Istanbul
Overall, the worst time to visit Istanbul is in the winter months because you can expect rainy and cold weather.
Snow is also common in Istanbul between December and February, and foggy conditions will take away some of the beauty of city views, especially viewing the Bosphorus waters and taking boat tours.
But on the flip side, these poor weather conditions also make the winter months a cheap time to travel in Istanbul, where you’ll find fantastic flight prices and cheaper hotel rates.
If you don’t mind braving cold/wet weather or plan to do mostly indoor activities (tours, attractions, etc) then these months might be okay for you. Lastly, it’s worth keeping up with certain national/religious holidays and how they impact city life.
For example, the Muslim holiday Ramadan occurs each year for 30 days, with the dates shifting by ten or more days each year. Expect many closed restaurants during these months while many locals adhere to the fasting requirements.
Things to Consider
Depending on which part of the world you are traveling from, Turkish culture and city life might be an adjustment for you.
Whether it is understanding cultural traditions, how their money works, or more pressing matters like food safety and physical safety, it’s worth learning about the following considerations.
First and foremost, some of the safety considerations you should understand include:
- Taxis: Make sure you only get in a Taxi with an official logo and be aware of the Turkish lira conversion so that you don’t get ripped off. Taxi drivers can easily take advantage of tourists who don’t understand the money rates.
- Driving: While Turkey has many of the same driving rules as other western countries, Turks commonly ignore these while driving. Be extra cautious if driving within the city and don’t assume people will stop at stop signs or obey other rules.
- Terrorism: While safety from terrorist events has gotten better over the past few years, government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State still recommend increased caution when traveling to Turkey.
- Avoid Southeast: If you plan to visit other Turkish cities, avoid the southeast areas along the Syrian border as safety concerns there increase dramatically.
- Water: Don’t drink tap water in Istanbul or you’ll get sick. Stick to bottled water.
In terms of practical tips for smoothly getting around the city, consider some of the following:
- Traffic: Istanbul has one of the worst traffic problems in the world, and it is hard to predict when you will get stuck for hours in certain locations.
- Public Transportation: Because of the traffic problem, you should plan on using the metro as much as possible and walking. Purchasing an Istanbul Card will make public transportation much easier.
- Traffic Application: If you plan to rent a car or use taxis a lot, consider downloading Istanbul’s Trafi app which gives real-time traffic conditions around the city.
- Cellphone: Depending on your cellular service, it might be best for you to buy a prepaid SIM card with Turkcell or Vodafone to stay connected while you explore.
While certain countries tend not to appreciate when foreigners attempt to speak their language, Turkish people love when you show respect for appreciating their culture by speaking Turkish.
Even though most tourist areas have people that speak basic English, consider downloading an app to learn a few basic words. Some of the most popular phrases include:
- I don’t understand: Anlamadım
- Hello: Merhaba
- What is your name: Isminiz ne?
- Where is: Nerede
- Please: Lütfen
- Yes: Evet
- Thanks: Teşekküler
- Goodbye: Görüsürüz
Lastly, you should consider some of the weather factors to make your trip as ideal as possible, including:
- Hot weather: Prepare for hot weather in the summer by packing plenty of water and wearing sunscreen. Because Istanbul is a crowded and dense city, hot conditions can be overwhelming.
- Cold weather: Istanbul winters are cold and wet, so be sure to pack warm clothes if you are traveling during the cheapest months between December and February.
- Mediterranean cities: Consider combining your tourism of Istanbul with a flight (or drive) to one of the fantastic southern coastal cities. Some of the best options include Bodrum, Kas, and Antalya.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you have read about most of the considerations you should make before taking a trip to Turkey, let’s explore some of the most common questions people have about traveling to Istanbul and Turkey.
What is the best month to go to Turkey?
If you plan to visit Turkey to enjoy its southern coastal cities like Antalya, Kas, Bodrum, and other fantastic places that have beaches and resorts, consider going to Turkey between June and September. But if your main goal is to be a tourist in Istanbul, March through May is the ideal time.
What is the cheapest month to go to Turkey?
Since winters can be cold and snowy and Turkey has many wonderful summer cities and coastal towns, the cheapest month to travel to Turkey is in January. You can still have a wonderful time in major cities like Istanbul but make sure to prepare for the cold.
How many days do you need to visit Istanbul?
As Istanbul is a large city with many historical sites and other famous tourist attractions, you should plan on at least 3-5 days to properly visit. You can technically see a few major attractions in just one day, but five days is ideal to enjoy the diverse neighborhoods and thoroughly explore the historical sites.
Is Turkey hot in May?
The southern Turkish cities such as Antalya, Bodrum, and Kas do begin getting noticeably hot in May, but other cities like Istanbul should still have reasonable temperatures averaging around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures will become hot as you approach July, especially in the southern destinations.
How much money is enough for Istanbul?
Depending on when you are traveling, you should check the latest conversion rates, but generally speaking, plan to bring 2-3 hundred USD per day per person. While the struggling Turkish economy means that your dollars go a much longer way, tourist attractions have also adjusted their prices to meet these conditions.
Do you need a visa for Turkey?
Even if you are traveling to Turkey as a tourist, you’ll still need to purchase a tourist visa through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The process is as easy as filling in your travel dates and passport information, and the standard e-visa lasts for 90 days.
Is English spoken in Istanbul?
While Turkish is the official language of Turkey, you can expect to hear a lot of English in a major city like Istanbul. Especially if you are in a tourist area, you can expect workers to know enough English for basic communication.
But you should also know that Turkish people tend to appreciate it when foreigners attempt to speak their language, so learning a few basic phrases in Turkish will go a long way!
Do Turkish people drink alcohol?
While Turkey is a Muslim-majority country where many people abstain from alcohol, it’s also a secular country where many natives and tourists enjoy beer and cocktails. You can find many wonderful rooftop bars as well as an emerging craft beer scene. Just be aware of being polite to Turkish culture during religious holidays such as Ramadan.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?
You’ve taken in a lot of information by this point, so let’s simplify things by stating that the best overall time to visit Istanbul is in the springtime between March and May when the weather is warming up and tourism isn’t too crowded.
But you should also consider Fall for a similar experience and summer if you plan to enjoy coastal southern cities and swim in the Mediterranean. Lastly, for the cheapest price, consider visiting Istanbul in the winter– just bring warm clothes!