Istanbul is probably not on the forefront of many peoples mind when it comes to a Christmas vacation destination, but give this post a read and I might just convince you otherwise.
Despite not celebrating the Christmas holiday itself, Istanbul is still more than alive for the festive period. There’ll be decorations, Christmas trees and lights aplenty all along the streets – the city looks incredible lit up and you’ll really be able to feel the atmosphere all around you. While the locals may be fixed on New Years, there’ll be plenty of organised Christmas activities by the active ex-pat community.
Of course, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the religious celebration and the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul, San Antuan is the place to be for Christmas mass.
For the inevitable last minute gift shopping, look no further than the Grand Bazaar. Don’t forget to brush up on your bargaining skills beforehand – practically everything is for negotiation. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the 60 odd streets and throngs of people, so make a plan ahead of arriving to avoid a stressful experience. The top buys here are the carpets, scarves and jewelry.
New Years eve is a big Western celebration or rather a good excuse for a wild party and Istanbul is a unique place to experience the ringing of the New Year. Clubs & bars in Beyoğlu will be in full swing and you won’t have to look hard to find a great place to join in with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Don’t miss out the super street party in the Nişantası district!
What better way to recover those delicate post New Year heads, than a trip to the Hamam, or Turkish bath. The absolute best way to experience the Hamam, is to ask for the traditional style bath where you’ll be treated like a king. For an authentic experience, visit the Kasimpasa district where the Grand Hammam is located – built in 1533, it’s like stepping back through time!
Speaking of stepping back in time, the history of Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium stretches far far back in time and just by simply walking around you’ll spot ancient architecture, ruins and museums aplenty. A great way to see a lot in a short time for cheap – go on a walking tour of the city. Check out your hotel lobby, Trip Advisor or notice boards at tourist destinations and you’ll most certainly find a walking tour brochure. It’s also a good chance to meet up with fellow tourists and travelers.
A 7km walk along the ancient city walls is to appreciate how resilient and how formidable this great city was through the ages. Download the online English guide so you know what’s what on the walk.
If you’re looking to take a break from walking around, a leisurely afternoon cruise on the Bosphorous river is a must. While floating along the waterway that divides Europe and Asia, you’ll pass by the old Palaces which remain as magnificent as they once were. You won’t have to look very hard for them due to their imposing position on the banks of the Bosphorous, but do take in the Dolmahache Palace, and the exquisite Ciragan Palace – which is now a world famous luxurious hotel. I can see why!
One of the truly unique experiences of a holiday to Istanbul is a daytrip to the Princes Islands. This group of 9 islands have banned motorised transport so they are very tranquil in contrast to the bustling city. The favoured way to get around is on horse drawn carriages and it’s a relaxing tour around the amazing Victorian architecture.
Visiting Turkey is a wonderful opportunity to partake in some authentic hookah smoking. Take a visit to Yeniçeriler Caddesi and look around for the plumes of smoke rising from the cafes. While you’re at it, you can try the Turkish tea, the national drink and served everywhere. It’s the simple pleasures in life!
For food, you are really spoiled for choice. Obviously you’ve got the famous Turkish Delight, which you can buy fresh almost anywhere. I recommend trying out the different flavours, especially Pistachio. Walking around, you’ll see little Doner places dotted everywhere. It’s a cheap and filling snack but there’s so much more.
If you’re into fish – try the local favourite Balik-Ekmek, which is a fried fish sandwich. It’s much much better than it sounds! Kumpir is one my personal favourites, it’s simply baked potato with a variety of fillings, but so so good.
For desert, you won’t miss the many Turkish ice cream vendors along the streets. They’re often up to tricks and showing off their ice cream magic to curious crowds. Far from home at Christmas, you might be surprised to find that roast chestnuts are a common and welcome winter treat at a lot of street corners in Istanbul. For a few lira, you’ll have delicious hand warmers.
So there you have it, a million different reasons to visit Istanbul this winter vacation. If you’re reading travel websites, it’s likely you didn’t need much of a push anyway!
Have you been to Turkey recently? What was your experience, have you got any tips or must-sees not on our list? Let us know in the comments below!