12 Magical Places to visit in Turkey in winter
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Turkey is one of my favourite countries. It’s famed for its dreamy beach destinations on the Mediterranean coast and the fascinating metropolis of Istanbul; but honestly, Turkey is so much more.
There are so many places in Turkey that you could spend years visiting them. The balloons of Cappadocia, the ruins of Ephesus, and the beaches of Marmaris are just a few!
But what’s it like to visit Turkey in winter? I’ve been to Turkey four times, and actually, three of them just so happened to be during winter. I didn’t necessarily plan these trips; it was just the convenient time to visit. I was drawn in the very first time I went to Turkey in winter, though – I stumbled upon a magical world, full of snow-covered valleys, cosy cafes with Turkish tea in hand, and after a cold day’s sightseeing, I would find a hammam to defrost in!
But it’s important to remember that Turkey is a huge country – and there’s another side to Turkey in winter. If you head to the Mediterranean coast, temperatures are pleasant – not what they are in the summer by any means, but warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine!
So, whether you are after some winter sun or a snowy winter wonderland, Turkey may be the answer. When it comes to winter weather, it is very much the definition of the best of both worlds.
As I haven’t been everywhere in Turkey in the winter yet, I have enlisted some of my fellow travel bloggers to help me write this blog post. Together, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to visit in Turkey in the winter!
Places to Visit in Turkey in Winter
Cappadocia is perhaps the number one place to visit in Turkey in the winter. Located in the Taurus Mountains region of Anatolia, Cappadocia is a desert-like landscape punctuated by cave houses. It is most famous for its hot air balloons, which float up in the sky at dawn every day – even in winter.
During winter, the thermometer drops to temperatures well below freezing, leaving the entire landscape coated with a layer of snow. And what a landscape it is – weathering, erosion, and volcanic eruptions over the years all created this unique backdrop of canyons, gorges, and caves.
These caves came in particularly useful for the early Christians who wanted to hide from Roman persecution. Many of these caves are surprisingly well-preserved, with Byzantine paintings on the walls and rock still intact. The best place to learn about this fascinating history is at the Goreme Museum. Of course, all of this is open during the winter!
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Cappadocia, a cave hotel is a must. While these caves are made to stay cool in summer and warm in winter, there was something special about retiring to my cave when the weather was cold outside; I reached cosiness levels that I don’t think I would have found in the summer!
Hotel Recommendation – I stayed in the Dervish Cave House – check it out here.
Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s got a phenomenal history spanning back through the centuries – did you know it used to be called Constantinople and was the last Roman city?
I’ve been to Istanbul on all of my trips to Turkey (and I love it a little more every time). So, I’ve experienced it in winter and summer, and Istanbul in winter is definitely my preference.
One of the main reasons for this is because it’s not everyone else’s preference! In the winter, the lines to the main tourist attractions are short, whereas in the summer, I waited 90 minutes to go up the Galata Tower, and I left the Grand Bazaar after 10 minutes because of the crowding.
In the winter, it’s not like that at all – I experienced barely any queuing to get into the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, and taking the metro was an easy, stress-free process.
Then there’s the fact that hotels in Istanbul are way cheaper in winter. I paid $25 per night for a really nice hotel with breakfast in November, compared to over $50 per night for a not so great hotel with no breakfast in July.
Hotel recommendation – by far the best hotel I have stayed in Istanbul (for the best price!) has been the Pera Centre Hotel and Spa – check it out here.
Istanbul is hot in the summer and cool and dry in the winter. You will need a coat if you’re visiting Istanbul in the dead of winter, but there is a high chance that you’ll experience some winter sun, and will be able to enjoy a freshly pressed orange juice (the best drink ever, by the way) al fresco.
But even if the weather isn’t the best – most people don’t come to Istanbul for the weather. All of the Istanbul attractions are open in the winter, and you can spend your day mosque hopping, visiting museums, and browsing markets to your heart’s content – occasionally stopping off for a Turkish tea, of course!
Lycian Tombs around Fethiye
The town of Fethiye, on the Mediterranean, is far enough south to enjoy many sunny, warm days during winter. While it isn’t really the weather for a leisurely swim, you can enjoy daytime temperatures in the low-mid 20s (Celsius), with more sunshine hours than in northern Europe.
The mild climate makes it a perfect time to explore the surroundings of the city. Fethiye is located in the centre of the Lycian Way, which connects intriguing, archaeological sights of this often-overlooked ancient culture.
You can get a glimpse of the 2400 year old Lycian Amintas Rock Tombs from the old town, right in the city. The tombs are chiselled into a sheer vertical rock-face, and extensively decorated with freezes and free-standing columns – a truly royal appearance.
Hire a car and discover other treasures of the region! Lycian relics are found as far north as Damian, and south to Antalya. When you visit, don’t miss the Hadrian Castle Gate and the excellent Antalya Museum.
The city of Fethiye is a popular summer holiday destination. It has an international airport and accommodation of all standards. In winter it’s easy to find a vacancy for little money. You will find some nightlife year-round. The waterfront promenade is lined with tea houses and restaurants, where locals enjoy the winter sun over a drink, accompanied by live music on weekends.
Contributed by Juergen from Dare 2 Go
Bursa is an amazing place during winter that you should definitely visit. The city is located in the northwestern part of Turkey and it is one of the most populous cities in the country.
While the city is great at all times of the year, it is especially popular in winter, with a very popular skiing resort located in the mountain Uludağ next to the city. You can get there by using the almost 9 kilometres long gondola or by driving there.
This is an ideal place for skiing and snowboarding because there are about 25 slopes. These slopes range in difficulty, so whether you are a beginner or an expert, you can enjoy it here! Furthermore, there are many hotels, restaurants, clubs, shops, and many other facilities, so you can easily stay here for a couple of days.
Besides skiing and snowboarding, there is more to do in Bursa! Another tip is to check out one of the thermal baths of the city. These baths contain water from the mountain that is rich in minerals and very warm. It is a great place for relaxation. Another great thing about Bursa is the beautiful scenery around the town – it looks especially breathtaking when it is snowing!
By Dymphe from Dymabroad
Troy is famous in Greek mythology for the Battle of Troy, where the Greeks used a Trojan Horse to end a ten-year war. The story of Odysseus and a select force of men hiding in the horse is famously told in Homer’s Iliad. The ancient site was buried for many years until German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann made the first excavations in the 1870s.
Troy overlooks the plain along the Turkish Aegean coast, atop the mound of Hisarlik. It has 4,000 years of history to explore year-round at one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. Troy’s remains are the most substantial evidence of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world.
An advantage of visiting Troy in the winter is smaller crowds – and less of a wait to climb inside the recreation of the Trojan Horse. Pro tip: If you’re in a group, give your phone or camera to someone to snap a photo of you with your head popping out of the giant wooden horse!
The average highs in Troy in winter are around 10 degrees Celsius (50 F), and the lows are about 3 degrees Celsius (39 F). It’s a bit chilly at this time of year, but it doesn’t rain much, so you are still likely to be graced with blue skies!
Troy is included in the itinerary of many package tours that visit other famous Turkish sites like Gallipoli, Ephesus, Pamukkale and Cappadocia. Many of these tours begin and end in Istanbul. Another advantage of visiting Turkey in winter is that you can potentially book a tour last minute, with significant savings.
I visited Troy when I booked a week-long guided tour around Turkey. I bought my tickets just a couple days before departure at a travel agency located in a hostel in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet neighbourhood. It was an incredible experience at an amazing price!
By Alex Kallimanis at Wanderlust Marriage
The hot water springs at Pamukkale have been soothing aching limbs since Roman times. The natural thermal baths that pepper the windswept region of the Anatolian wilderness have slowly dripped down the mountainside creating a solid calcium carbonate as they cool. The result is the dramatic white calcite pools of Pamukkale – one of the best things to do in Turkey in winter.
Pamukkale is the site of the Roman city of Hierapolis – a holy city that has had a thermal spa operating since the 2nd century BC. In this hot but beautiful part of Turkey, strolling around the ancient crumbling city is best done in the cool of winter. Visit the well-preserved theatre standing proudly amongst the swaying golden grasses, illuminated by the soft winter sun. At the end of a day exploring, soak in the (rebuilt) thermal baths before catching one of the most remarkable sunsets in Turkey.
Entry to the site is only possible during opening hours, however you’re free to leave anytime you like. Enjoy a drink watching the sun set over the calcite pools, then finish the day by strolling downhill to the modern town where all the accommodation is located. Unusual for Turkey, the price of food and drink within the complex is extortionate so bring your own supplies with you.
By Paul from Anywhere We Roam
If you are looking for snow-covered cities to explore, Ankara, Turkey’s capital, is one of the best places to visit in Turkey in winter. Even though Ankara is not a common destination in Turkey among travellers, the city offers plenty of activities even in winter. It’s an ideal place for history and architecture lovers, as the town is home to plenty of ancient sights left from the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman eras.
With museums, galleries, and architectural marvels, there are a plethora of things to do in Ankara. Start your exploration by wandering through its historical neighbourhood with well maintained typical Ottoman white houses. The pass through the neighbourhood leads to Ankara Castle offering splendid views of red-rooftop houses. Afterwards, see the Temple of Augustus, and visit the remains of the Roman Bath.
One must-visit place in Ankara is the mausoleum of Ataturk, called Anitkabir. With its museum, a burial area, and a garden, the site tells a detailed story of the former ruler of Turkey many locals admire. Museum-lovers can pay a visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations to learn more about this part of Turkey, learn about how prisoners lived in the former Uluncanlar Prison Museum, or see the daily lives of Turks in the past centuries at the Ethnography Museum.
If you are looking for winter-specific activities, you can go ice skating at Bahcelievler Ice Skating in the Cankaya district of the city, or join the snowball fight at Seymenler Park.
By Baia from Red Fedora Diary
Antalya offers a lot of opportunities for tourists in winter. Whether you like nature or history, you will need at least 3-4 days to see everything Antalya has to offer. Antalya is the perfect winter destination for many reasons. Firstly, the weather is quite warm and sunny, and secondly, there are nearly no other tourists at this time of the year.
If you go to Antalya in winter, you can visit Kaleiçi (the old town) where you’ll find the famous Hadrian’s gate, but also have the chance to buy souvenirs and enjoy the local food. Next, you could visit the Antalya Archeological Museum, where you’ll learn about the history of the city.
If you have more time in the city, you can take the bus to see the famous Düden falls, where waters drop off a cliff directly into the mediterranean sea. Just a few miles away, you’ll find the famous Lara beach. It’s a stunning beach where you can bathe in the sun or visit Sandland, a fantastic sand sculpture festival.
When planning your trip to Antalya, make sure to have an extra day to visit the Perge, a historical site outside of Antalya. It is easily accessible by metro and definitely worth it.
By Robin from Everything Yoga Retreat
The Eastern Express Train to Kars
Imagine waking up in a cosy sleeping wagon to watch the sunrise over a snowy Euphrates River landscape. This is just one of the multitude of delightful experiences aboard a trip on the Turkish Railways Eastern Express (Doğu Express) from Ankara to far eastern Turkey. Skiers can alight at Erzurum for Palandöken, a high-altitude European-like experience, or at Sarıkamış for more laid-back scenıc skiing.
This route has become so popular in recent years that a special tourist train (Turistik Doğu Express) now runs daily in winter. And winter is the best time to take this route – the frosted, snow-covered landscape is magical. The train features special stops for off-train excursions. Kars, at the end of the line, is known for Russian-era stone buildings, fantastic cheeses and the nearby incredible ruins at Ani.
The journey begins in Turkey’s capital city, Ankara, which is easily reached by high-speed train from Istanbul, or by the excellent Turkish bus network from other cities. The touristic train features sleeping wagons and a restaurant car, while the regular train has couchettes. The scenery is the same, so the decision on which train is a budgetary one. The Kars airport offers convenient flights back to Istanbul – or you can head up to the Black Sea coast and move onto Georgia.
By Douglas from Rails Tales
Yedigöller National Park
It all started with the landslides that created seven lakes, lakes that are now a sight to behold. The Yedigöller National Park is named after these lakes. The park is known to many as the seven lakes park.
This fantastic woodland – which sits between Instanbul and Ankara- is like something straight out of a novel. In summer, the colossal trees, flowing waters, and diverse flora create a perfect environment for picnics and camping. However, in winter, it becomes a magical world of white that pulls you into hiking, photography and enjoying the curious presence of wildlife like deer, foxes, and squirrels.
The Yedigöller National Park is for travellers who want a serene place where they can connect with life and enjoy great sightseeing. Winter is a better time to visit because visitors are fewer, the park is freer, and the enchanting appearance of the place leaves an unforgettable memory.
By David from Awesome Traveler
Konya is one of Turkey’s biggest cities, but again, is a place that is not generally on the tourist trail. But, it’s actually a really significant place within Turkey, as it is the home of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. Here you can visit the Mausoleum of Mevlana Rumi, which celebrates the Persian mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and explains more about Sufism and, what Konya is perhaps most famous for, the Whirling Dervishes.
The Whirling Dervishes come from this area of Turkey, but it’s actually surprisingly difficult to catch a show here. When I visited last January, they were only available on Saturdays. Konya is also famed for selling high-quality carpets and an array of different Turkish sweets!
While it does get cold in winter in Konya – there will probably be snow – it is generally brisk and clear, and the attractions (which are conveniently mainly indoors) are fairly quiet. We also snagged the best ever deal in Konya – the five-star Bayir Diamond Hotel and Convention Center was less than $50 per night. With a spa complex including a Turkish hammam, a pool, and a gym, it was an amazing place to warm up after the freezing temperatures outside!
Hotel Recommendation – The 5* great value hotel was the Bayir Diamond Hotel and Convention Centre – check it out here.
Izmir is the third biggest city in Turkey and is famous for its modern flair, millennial history, and proximity to the touristic attractions of Ephesus, Pergamon, Kusadasi, and Alacati. Although very suitable for a summer destination, Izmir is beautiful in every season. We spend a memorable Izmir New Year’s Eve a couple of years back, which we always remember fondly.
Izmir is a great winter destination not only due to mild weather – days can get windy and wet, but mild sunshine winter days are a delight – but also because few tourists come during the winter months, allowing visitors to experience the authentic facets of this beautiful city. The winter ski resort Bozdağ is also close to Izmir and is a favourite with the locals.
Izmir offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities for culture enthusiasts, such as the Konak Square with the famous Izmir Clock Tower and the Yali Mosque, as well as the Governor’s Mansion and City Hall. Ancient history enthusiasts should by no means miss the well preserved Izmir Agora, while more recent history buffs will enjoy a visit at the Ataturk Museum.
The traditional shopping bazaar Kemeralti will keep you entertained for hours, regardless if you enjoy shopping or not. This is a quintessential Turkish experience and should be savoured as such, alongside a glass of Turkish Tea. For panoramic views over the city do not miss the historic Asansör and complete your stay with a walk along the seaside promenade, the Kordon.
Winter in Turkey: The Destination Shortlist
Whether you’re after a snowy trip away or some winter sun, I hope that this post has shown you how many wonderful Turkish winter destinations on offer! European holidays are definitely not only for the summer, and Turkey in winter stands out as one of the best destinations in the region.