Istanbul in February: 10 reasons to visit and guide for 2023

The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower in the Galata, Karaköy quarter of Istanbul, Turkey, just to the north of the Golden Horn's junction with the Bosphorus.

Are you wondering how to visit Istanbul in February?

Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world.

I’ve visited six times, all throughout different months of the year.

This includes three winter trips, in February, January and November!

And I’ll let you in on a secret – I much prefer Istanbul in winter to summer.

Wondering why? I go into the reasons in this blog post!

What’s Istanbul in February Like?

In February, a distinctive, quieter charm shrouds the Turkish capital. 

In this lesser-visited month, Istanbul’s sprawling markets and grand mosques whisper their history more gently amid the brisk winter air.

Unlike the hot, crowded summers, throngs of tourists thin out significantly during February. 

Istanbul’s historical buildings, like the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are way less crowded.

The Bosphorus Strait, a striking waterway that separates Europe and Asia, shimmers under the grey winter sky. 

The waterfront bustles less fiercely in winter, but sightseeing tours still operate – and are a fantastic sunset activity. 

Gone is the summer rush to secure accommodations. 

You can settle into a luxurious suite or a cozy boutique inn in the heart of Istanbul without the peak season price tag!

One of the perks of visiting Istanbul in February is the opportunity to enjoy hearty Turkish food. 

From the sizzling street food at the roadside stalls to the sumptuous spread in the city’s high-end restaurants, escape the winter chill by trying all of Istanbul’s culinary offerings!

While the temperature does dip, February in Istanbul is far from frozen. Generally, it’s a milder winter than the rest of Europe, although it’s not quite warm enough to be called a winter sun destination! 

You can check out some warmer places in Turkey in winter here.

Reasons to visit Istanbul in February

Istanbul makes the perfect city break, with history brimming at every step, plenty of wonderful food and a fantastic fusion of culture. And February’s one of the best months to visit! Here’s exactly why you should visit Istanbul in February.

1. Lower tourist traffic

Istanbul, Turkey - September 10, 2010: tourists visiting the interior of Aya Sophia - ancient Byzantine basilica. For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques

February, in the midst of Turkey’s off-peak season, becomes less hurried and much more accessible. 

The Blue Mosque, a symbol of Istanbul’s rich history, stands tall against the winter sky; and in February, you can enjoy the architecture at a more relaxed pace. 

At the sprawling Topkapi Palace, whispers of an Ottoman past resonate more clearly. 

There’s a certain serenity in being able to relish the exquisite Iznik tiles and opulent Ottoman treasures without being rushed along by the crowds!

Similarly, the Grand Bazaar, a maze of over 4,000 shops, takes on a different hue during the quiet of February. 

The normally hectic alleyways, lined with vibrant ceramics, delicate textiles, and intricately designed jewellery, are much less harried by the usual tourist crowd. 

So you can take your time, purchase all the Turkish goods you desire, and have unhurried conversations and fair bartering with the sellers!

2. Cheaper hotels

Another top reason to visit Istanbul in February is the fact that accommodation rates drop. 

Hotel rates have gone up in Istanbul in recent years, and while it’s still cheaper than many other destinations in Europe, you can snag a much better bargain in February. 

It also means you can enjoy a bit more affordable luxury at a better price tag! 

3. Cheaper flights

Airlines flying to Istanbul from different parts of the world also lower their fares during February. 

I flew to Istanbul with Pegasus, who is Turkey’s budget airline carrier. 

Flights can cost less than $50 if you book them in advance and off-peak!

As Pegasus is a budget carrier, you’ll need to pay extra if you have any extra luggage other than bags under your seat. 

4. Turkish Baths (Hamams)

TURKEY, ISTANBUL - June 4, 2021: Selimiye Hammam .Traditional Historical Ottoman Bath in Uskudar, Istanbul. It was commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Selim III in 1802 . It is used as Nevmekan Libraries and cafe after restoration.

The cool weather of February is the ideal time to enjoy a Turkish Bath or Hammam

These hammams offer a warm retreat from the winter chill; they’re an immersive experience into a rich cultural practice that dates back to the Ottoman era.

As you step into a traditional hammam, the contrast between the crisp winter air outside and the steamy, warm atmosphere inside couldn’t be more striking. 

You begin with a spell in the warm room, the hararet, where your body acclimatizes to the heat. 

After this, you proceed to the hot room, or sıcaklık

Here, on the heated marble slab, under the ornate domed ceiling, you partake in the ritual of cleansing and exfoliation.

Following the bath, wrap up your experience in the relaxation room, sipping on a warm cup of Turkish tea or perhaps an invigorating glass of sherbet.

It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Istanbul in winter!

5. Comfort food

The winter chill in Istanbul is an excellent excuse to delve into the city’s culinary scene, rich with hearty dishes that warm you from the inside out!

Turkish cuisine is, in many ways, the soul of Istanbul, and in February, it’s all about comfort food that carries a touch of home, a hint of tradition, and a dash of seasonal freshness.

Begin your gastronomic journey with a bowl of Mercimek Çorbası, a Turkish lentil soup that’s a staple during the cooler months. These are sold in restaurants across the city and they’re delicious – I live on these when I’m in Turkey! 

Dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, is another traditional dish features grape leaves filled with an aromatic mixture of rice, spices, and sometimes ground meat – I’m veggie and can usually find some that I can eat! 

They’re perfect paired with a warming cup of Turkish tea. 

6. Indoor attractions

Aerial view over Hagia Sophia with glittering mosaics of Biblical scenes in vast, domed former Byzantine church and mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

One of the best parts of Istanbul as a winter travel destination is that many of its mesmerizing attractions are indoors, sheltered from the February weather!

These historical sites are a fascinating insight into the city’s rich past; their indoor setting are the idea spot to explore on colder or rainier days!

First on this list is the Hagia Sophia

Once a cathedral, later a mosque, and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia is a spectacular journey through time. Marvel at its massive dome, intricate mosaics, and sweeping marble pillars.

Not far from the Hagia Sophia lies another iconic Istanbul attraction – the Basilica Cistern

Descend into this ancient underground water storage, with soft lighting, the water reflecting on the ceiling, and columns rising from the water.

Also don’t miss the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, a collection of three museums – the Archaeological Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum

These museums house a treasure trove of artefacts from different periods and regions, including Sumerian, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine eras.

7. Shopping

Shopping in Istanbul is an ideal activity for the relatively quieter month of February! 

The city’s vibrant markets, particularly the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, have thousands of gifts and souvenirs on offer. 

Reduced tourist traffic lends a different atmosphere to these marketplaces, and browsing them is much more relaxed! 

The Grand Bazaar is an iconic Istanbul attraction. 

One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, it’s a maze of over 4,000 shops selling everything from jewellery and ceramics to textiles and antiques. 

February’s smaller crowds mean you can navigate the labyrinthine alleys more freely, take in the Bazaar’s unique sights and sounds, and engage more personally with the shopkeepers. 

This could even translate to more bargaining power!

Not far from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Market.

As you walk into this covered market, you’ll be greeted by an intoxicating blend of aromas, colors, and flavors. 

Rows upon rows of stalls sell a dazzling array of spices, herbs, teas, dried fruits, nuts, and Turkish delight.

With fewer tourists around, you’ll have the time to sample, smell, and select from the vast selection of produce at a more relaxed pace.

8. Valentine’s Day

The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia and the Istanbul roofs, beautiful sunny panorama.

Valentine’s Day in Istanbul holds a particular charm!

The city, with its blend of breathtaking historical sites, delectable cuisine, and picturesque vistas, is a canvas for romance. 

Visit with your partner and stroll hand-in-hand along the Bosphorus strait, the sun slowly setting, casting a golden hue on the water.

For a history-loving couple, a visit to Istanbul’s historical sites like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, or Topkapi Palace on Valentine’s Day is a shared journey through time. 

When it comes to food, Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. 

You can indulge in a romantic dinner at one of the city’s many rooftop restaurants like Mikla or 5.Kat, both of which offer stunning views of the city. 

Enjoy a sumptuous meal, a toast with Turkish wine, and the stunning panorama of Istanbul – a perfect recipe for a memorable Valentine’s Day!

9. Easy Access to Turkey’s Winter Sun Destinations

Panoramic bird view of Antalya and Mediterranean seacoast and beach with a paraglider, Antalya, Turkey, Autumn

If you want to mix your winter trip to Istanbul with a dash of sunshine, Turkey has tonnes of winter sun destinations

Some of these are the warmest places in Europe in February! 

Just a short journey from Istanbul, these sun-kissed locations balance to the colder city atmosphere.

Izmir, the third-largest city in Turkey, is an excellent place to start. 

Less than an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Izmir offers a blend of rich history, vibrant culture, and mild winter weather. 

Stroll along the Kordon promenade, explore the ancient Agora, or just soak up the laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere!

Further south lies Bodrum, a favourite summer destination with charm even in winter. 

Known for its bright blue waters, white houses, and historical landmarks like the Bodrum Castle, it offers an inviting retreat from the winter chill. 

Fethiye, another glorious town on the Turquoise Coast, boasts a comfortable winter climate. 

Famous for its Blue Lagoon, ancient Lycian tombs, and rustic old town, Fethiye is as an ideal spot for winter sun. 

Finally, Antalya, often referred to as the Turkish Riviera, is a year-round haven.

Its mix of beautiful beaches, ancient Roman architecture, and warm winter sun is a magnet for those seeking respite from the cold. 

A visit to the old town of Kaleiçi or a walk along Konyaalti Beach, with the winter sun casting long shadows, is a must-have experience.

10. Skiing

Fancy seeing snow? Forfeit the winter sun and head to the slopes. 

A couple of hours’ drive from Istanbul sits Kartepe, one of Turkey’s prominent ski resorts, where snow is pretty much guaranteed in February!

During February, Kartepe is usually blanketed with a decent layer of snow, showcasing an array of slopes suitable for different skill levels, from beginners to the more adept. 

Beyond Kartepe, Istanbul has easy access to Uludağ, near Bursa. 

Uludağ is one of Turkey’s premier ski resorts, hosting a larger expanse of skiing areas compared to Kartepe. 

Apart from skiing, visitors can participate in snowboarding, sledging, and even ice skating.

Weather in Istanbul in February

Cityscape of Istanbul in snow

In February, Istanbul experiences a relatively mild winter; I actually had some sunshine while I was there, but it was apparently unseasonably warm!

Here’s a table of the temperatures to expect:

Average high temperature10°C (50°F)
Average low temperature4°C (39°F)
Average sea temperature9°C (48°F)
Average days of rain14

What to pack for your February trip to Istanbul

Pack warm clothing such as sweaters, long-sleeved tops, and jeans.

A heavy jacket or coat would be best for colder evenings or windy days.

Since the city experiences quite a bit of rain during this month, pack a waterproof jacket or a good quality raincoat.

Your packing list should also include comfortable, waterproof footwear – Istanbul’s best explored on foot, after all!

Packing an umbrella is also wise – and consider moisturizer and lip balm, as the winter weather can be dry.

Lastly, since many of Istanbul’s attractions are indoors, include a lighter layer of clothing, such as t-shirts or blouses.

Best things to do in February in Istanbul

Istanbul bosphoros

Here are some of the best things to do in this month in Istanbul!

  1. Visit the Hagia Sophia, an iconic Byzantine structure turned museum.
  2. Immerse yourself in Islamic architecture at the Blue Mosque.
  3. Descend beneath the city streets to explore the Basilica Cistern, a marvel of ancient engineering.
  4. Shop for spices, sweets, and souvenirs at the historic Spice Market.
  5. Head to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, to discover an array of Turkish goods.
  6. Take a leisurely stroll through the opulent rooms and courtyards of the Topkapi Palace, the former residence of Ottoman sultans.
  7. Experience a relaxing session in a traditional Turkish Bath (Hamam), such as the historic Çemberlitaş Hamamı.
  8. Visit the Chora Museum to admire its preserved Byzantine mosaics and frescoes.
  9. Take a ferry ride on the Bosphorus for unparalleled views of the city’s skyline.
  10. Savor the hearty flavors of Turkish cuisine in cozy local restaurants like Ciya Sofrasi.
  11. Explore the intriguing collection of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums located in the Eminönü district.
  12. Find a moment of peace in the beautifully landscaped Gülhane Park.
  13. Discover contemporary art in the Istanbul Modern, the city’s premier venue for modern art.
  14. For a taste of Istanbul’s nightlife, visit the bustling Beyoğlu district, filled with trendy cafes, bars, and music venues.
  15. Finally, escape the city for a day and head to the nearby Kartepe or Uludağ ski resorts for some winter sports.

Are you ready for your February vacation to Istanbul?

With history at every step and attractions that are virtually abandoned by tourists – plus romance in the air during Valentine’s Day, there’s a tonne of reasons to visit the Turkish capital in February.

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