With centuries of fascinating history, some of the world’s best architecture, epic nature and mouthwatering cuisine, Turkey is one of the best countries to visit any time of year.
While many tourists visit the beaches in the summer, there are countless things to do in Turkey in winter.
Go skiing in the mountains, hike through forest and along the coastline, explore historical castles and feel the magic of Turkish cities.
Plus, Turkey’s exceptional cuisine is even more delicious when the weather’s cold.
Here are the best things to do and places to visit in Turkey in the winter.
What’s the weather like in Turkey in winter?
Before packing your bags to visit Turkey in winter, take a look at the weather conditions.
Turkey’s a huge country with different climates, so the weather will vary greatly depending on where you’re going.
But contrary to popular opinion, Turey does have very cold winters!
In Turkey, it’s possible to experience all four seasons at the same time.
While you can catch the winter sun on the western and southern coasts of Turkey, you can also enjoy views of the eastern mountains blanketed with snow during the depths of winter.
For example, while the average high temperature in Istanbul, located in the northwest of the country, in winter is 11°C (52°F), in Antalya, located in the south of the country, the highest average temperature in winter is 17°C (63°F).
On the other hand, weather conditions in ski resorts usually experience extreme cold – although the exact temperature varies depending on their location.
While the average low temperature in Erciyes ski resort is -8°C (18°F), the average low temperature in Erzurum Palandöken ski resort can reach the almost polar -16 °C (-3°F).
So make sure you pack your bags wisely, thinking about the location and activities you will be doing during your winter holiday in Turkey.
Things to do in Turkey in the winter
Turkey is a country that you can visit both in summer and winter. With dynamic history, exceptional cuisine, and natural beauty, Turkey has always been one of the most attractive countries for travellers.
The country draws visitors from all around the world. Many of these travellers come during their summer holiday to enjoy Turkey’s spectacular coastlines, or spend a city break enjoying the culture and architecture of Istanbul (which is one of the best-connected cities in the world).
But tourists still visit in winter – and many say that they prefer the cooler winter climate to Turkey’s sweltering summer.
So, what are the best things to do in Turkey in winter? Here’s the top five.
- Skiing: Did you know that Turkey is an incredible ski destination? The country has fantastic mountains for snowsports and towns that are catered toward skiing tourism, especially in the eastern part of the country.
- Winter Sun: Tourists visiting southern Turkey in winter from less sunny countries (mainly in Northern Europe!) usually spend their holidays on the coastline which basks in the winter sun. If the weather is warm and you don’t mind slightly chilly water, you can even swim!
- History: Turkey is one of the historically richest countries in the world. If you are looking for indoor activities, there are countless indoor attractions and museums to visit. It’s even possible to find various historical artefacts from 1750 BC to the present day in Anatolia, where many civilizations, such as the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, ruled.
- Nature: Besides its historical richness, Turkey is also one of the richest countries in terms of natural beauty. Hiking, camping, and climbing are popular activities during the winter as well as the summer; in fact, many tourists prefer outdoor activities in the cooler winter rather than the sweltering summer.
- Food: With well-known foods, like döner, baklava, and kebap, Turkey is one of the best destinations to try local food. In the winter, Turkey has plenty of wholesome dishes that will warm you up!
Places to visit in Turkey in winter
Let’s start with the biggest and oldest city in Turkey: Istanbul.
Istanbul is one of the best-connected cities in the world when it comes to flights; you can fly here from all over Europe, Asia, Africa and even to the Americas.
Besides the exceptional transportation links, Istanbul is an incredible city to visit during winter thanks to its variety of indoor activities, a wealth of history and extraordinary restaurants.
The city binds the European and Asian continents and was the capital of two of the world’s most significant empires, the Roman and Ottoman.
You’ll need almost a month or maybe more to finish exploring Istanbul, but here’s where to start!
Arguably the most popular destination in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, which dates back to 537 AD and was originally built as a Christian basilica in Roman Constantinople.
After the fall of Constantinople, it turned into a mosque, then it was a museum and recently turned back into a mosque!
Plus, the beautiful Blue Mosque is well worth visiting, and Süleymaniye Mosque stands on top of one of Istanbul’s seven hills.
Istanbul is also famous for its bazaars, which are among the most incredible sights of Turkey. Visit the Grand Bazaar to go souvenir shopping and take in the smells and tastes of the Spice Bazaar.
Museum-wise, don’t miss Topkapi Palace Museum, Pera Museum’s Ottoman-era Art and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, amongst many others!
Plus, take in views from the top of Galata Tower and see the city from a Bosphorus Strait cruise.
There’s so much to see in Istanbul any time of year – it’s the perfect winter city break!
Magical Cappadocia is ideal for a winter holiday in Turkey. With beautiful snow-covered landscapes and captivating history, Cappadocia has always been a popular spot in the winter months.
When it comes to accommodation in Cappadocia, make sure that you stay in a cave hotel; the region is famous for them.
Also, watch sunrise and sunset over the enigmatic landscape, do a hot air balloon ride at dawn and discover an underground city on a guided tour.
You can also do some incredible hikes, visit Uçhisar Castle and the open-air museum to learn a little more about the ancient sites in the area, and take part in an ATV tour around the landscape.
Antalya is possibly the best place in Turkey for winter sun.
The southern coastal city of Turkey, it’s one of the best places to visit in winter if you want to swim in the Mediterranean (the warmest month is November!) or enjoy beaches.
It also has some impressive hotels, most of which are still open in the colder months; a top tip is to look for hotels with heated pools that are open year-round!
If you don’t fancy a swim, it’s worth seeing all of the historical attractions in Antalya.
Explore museums like the Suna Inan Kırac Kaleici Museum, Atatürk’s Museum, and the Antalya Archaeology Museum; Antalya is an ancient city with countless historic ruins.
Alternatively, you can both go skiing in nearby Saklikent or try watersports off the coastline of Antalya!
Kas is a glorious peaceful town, popular as a summer destination.
While it’s heaving in the peak tourist season, it is also wonderful when the summer crowds depart!
Besides catching the winter sun, Kas is known for its diving sites.
Diving isn’t as common in the winter months, but you can still do some trips to Kas’ sites, particularly in November.
It’s also a wonderful town to just take in, explore the coastline (it’s part of the Lycian Way) and enjoy some of the glorious beaches!
There’s also plenty of ancient sites to enjoy in and around Kas, including the gorgeous crumbling ancient city of Myra, which is located in nearby Demre.
You can read more about visiting Kas in winter here!
Izmir is the third biggest city in Turkey. With wonderful culture and epic natural beauty, is one of the best places to visit in the country.
Offering fairly mild weather and fascinating historical attractions, there’s so much to enjoy in Izmir in winter.
While in Izmir, don’t miss city tours of Alsancak and Konak (these run even in winter), the authentic Kemeraltı bazaar, the city views from Kadifekale and the Historical Elevator and the surrounding beautiful villages.
Plus, there are plenty of winter festivals that take place in Izmir!
Fethiye is a famous summer holiday location in Southern Turkey, and it can be very crowded in the warmer months!
However, this beautiful coastal town during winter is much more peaceful, and it boasts lots of outdoor activities like paragliding and hiking.
Bodrum is a popular city to visit in the summer months, but it is also a wonderful place for winter; it’s a year-round destination, unlike some small towns in Turkey.
As well as enjoying long walks on Bodrum’s stunning beaches, don’t miss the many historical attractions of the city, including Bodrum Castle, Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Antique Theatre of Bodrum, the historic Bodrum Port and Myndos Gate.
Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, is one of the best destinations for history fans. In the city, you’ll find the gorgeous mausoleum of the father of modern Turkey, Atatürk, who was the first president of Turkey.
Also don’t miss the Anatolian Natural History Museum, Ankara Castle, the TBMM Museum which is the first modern parliament building of the Republic of Turkey, the Air Forces Museum and the Mineral Research and Exploration Şehit Cuma Dağ Natural History Museum.
All of these museums are open year-round, and they’re perfect to explore if the weather’s chilly outside!
Plus, Ankara has a wonderful selection of local restaurants to try authentic Turkish cuisine, and plenty of hammams – Turkish bathhouses that are ideal for warming up in if you’re cold!
If you want to travel to somewhere truly unique that not many tourists make it to, head to Kars. It is one of the best places to visit in Turkey in winter with outstanding natural beauty and historical artefacts.
But one of the best reasons to visit Kars in winter is the journey to reach it!
The Eastern Express is a historical and unique train journey that departs from Ankara and travels 1300 kilometres east toward Kars.
During this journey, you’ll pass through cities including Kırıkkale, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum, all covered by a blanket of snow, and end your journey on the frozen lake named Çıldıron Kars.
January is the best time to take the Eastern Express for magical snowy scenes, and the journey takes 25 hours.
When you get to Kars, don’t miss the castle, the Kars Cathedral, Museum of Apostles, Church of St Gregory and do a day trip to the fascinating abandoned city of Ani.
Çanakkale is perhaps most famous for wars that took place in its perimeters, including World War I and the Greek War.
If you are a history buff, Çanakkale is a perfect destination, as stories of WWI, Gallipoli, and the ancient city of Troy are accessible from here.
In winter, the city is less crowded and all of the attractions are still open.
In Çanakkale, you can discover the Ancient City of Troy, see the Trojan Horse from the 2004 movie “Troy” and visit the Troy Museum to see archaeological discoveries.
Also, head Gallipoli, and learn about one of WWI’s major battles, where 500,000 men lost their lives. Europe in Winter editor Claire’s great-great uncle was sadly one of them.
Also, visit Bozcaada and try the local Turkish wine alongside the delicious food and head to the Altar of Zeus and the ancient Greek ruins at Assos for a spectacular view of the Aegean Sea.
Located between Istanbul and Ankara, Bolu is a small town with Ottoman architecture. However, the main attraction is not the city itself but its mountain.
Here, you can relax at tiny chalets in Yedigöller National Park while relishing in the stunning view of Lake Abant, a freshwater lake covered in a blanket of snow.
There’s also the charming Lake Gölcük, equally beautiful in winter. Plus, if you fancy snowsports, the Kartalkaya-Bolu Ski Resort is nearby.
Pamukkale is an area where you can find both natural beauty and history together. The area gets its name from the travertines, which look like a cotton castle, and it’s also famous for its thermal pools.
If you have cardiovascular disease, skin problems, or intesting problems, you should visit Pamukkale in winter to benefit from these thermal pools.
Of course, they’re also worth visiting to admire the spectacle and relax!
The best time of year to use the thermal pools is February, which is neither as hot as summer nor as cold as January. The sunset is also incredible from here!
In addition to the thermal pools, the Roman ruins of Hierapolis, which are a UNESCO historical heritage site, are located here, along with other ancient Greek cities like Laodicea and Aphrodisias.
If you’re staying in places like Izmir or Marmaris, it’s possible to take day trips to Pamukkale, even in the winter season.
If you are looking for a destination where you can enjoy both indoor activities and winter sports, head to Bursa.
Sitting at the foot of the Uludağ, Bursa attracts many tourists during winter. Whether you want to discover historical sites with UNESCO World Heritage status, or ski in one of the best ski resorts in Turkey, Bursa offers a range of things to do in winter.
The city was the capital of the Ottoman Empire before Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul (with its old name, Constantinopolis).
That’s why you can find a lot of museums, historical artefacts, and mosques in Bursa.
Some of these historical sites that were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status like Ulu Cami, the Yildirim Bazaar, and the Karagoz Museum.
Bursa sits at the foot of the Uludağ, where you can find the biggest ski resorts in Turkey. Uludağ is the highest peak in the region, at 2543 meters.
The ski resort welcomes visitors with 34 accommodation facilities and slopes of different levels.
If you are looking for a place to ski or snowboard, Erciyes, Kayseri is one of the best places in Turkey.
The Erciyes Ski Resort, which has more than thirty red, black and blue slopes, is one of the most modern ski resorts in Turkey.
Plus, the ski season lasts almost six months here!
55 km away from the centre of Kars, Sarıkamış is another prime Turkish snow sports destination.
Sarıkamış Ski Resort attracts thousands of people in winter with over 21 kilometres of slopes for skiing or snowboarding.
What makes Sarıkamış special is its type of snow. Here, you’ll find powder crystal snow, which isn’t found anywhere else in Turkey (it’s usually found in the Alps!).
This type of snow is the most comfortable and safest for skiing – so if you’re just learning the snow sport, Sarıkamış is a great option!
Konya is a traditional Turkish city not too far from Cappadocia.
While Konya has very cold winters – sometimes cooler than locations in Northern Europe – virtually all of its attractions, like historic mosques and the Mausoleum of Mevlana Rumi, who was a Persian Sufi mystic, are indoors and open throughout the winter months.
Konya is often accredited for being one of the birthplaces of Sufism.
Konya is also home to a few lovely and affordable hotels with traditional Turkish hammams, where you can enjoy pools with heated water and a traditional Turkish spa.
FAQs about Turkey in winter
How cold is Turkey in winter?
It really depends on where you go in Turkey! You might see temperatures of over 20 degrees Celcius (70s Fahrenheit) if you’re on the south coast, but some of the mountains can have temperatures that are far below freezing.
Is it good to visit Turkey in December?
Although Turkey isn’t a majority Christian country (the government estimates around 99% are Muslim, but it’s not secular and the number of practicing Muslims is lower), Christmas is still celebrated in Turkey – just don’t expect the same festivities as other European countries.
The weather can be warm in December, especially in places like Antalya, but rain is also common in this month!
Is Turkey worth visiting in January?
Yes, whether you want a winter city break in Istanbul, a ski trip in some of Turkey’s mountains or to catch some winter sun on the south coast, you’ll find plenty to love in Turkey in January.
Where is the warmest place in Turkey in winter?
The Antalya region is usually regarded as the warmest place in Turkey in the winter.
Can you sunbathe in Turkey in December?
Possibly! You may be lucky and get temperatures of around 20 degrees and not much cloud.
What is the coldest month in Turkey?
January is generally the coldest month.
What is the best month to go to Turkey?
I personally prefer Turkey in winter – the country has a certain kind of magic that isn’t as present in summer. I’d recommend visiting in February or March for slightly warmer weather!