Mosque in Snow
Istanbul Mosque Pavilion in Snow, © Holly Chase

Winter is a splendid time to visit Turkey. Take advantage of cheaper transatlantic airfares and discover Turkey as most tourists never do. Snow transforms the countryside, while traditional and modern comforts enhance life in the cities. To really appreciate a Turkish bath, a steaming glass of tea, a cup of salep, or a shop full of fine carpets, experience them in January. Restaurants offer delicious winter foods, while concert halls, clubs, galleries, and museums present a rich buffet of cultural events.

Roasting Chestnuts in Istanbul
Roasted chestnuts perfume the winter air
Photo: Ceylan Zere

But in the provinces, activity around the most popular coastal areas and archeological sites slows down with the frosts of late autumn.

Balloon over Cappadocia
Winter ballooning over Cappadocia’s lunar landscape

Nonetheless, the crisp cold and bright sun of Anatolian winter are invigorating and inspire adventure.

Kaymak and Honey
Winter breakfast of Kaymak & Wildflower Honey
The richest cream is made from water-buffalo milk. Photo by Nilgun Erzik

Take a four-wheel drive Jeep trip into the Toros Mountains or make a sunrise balloon safari above the eroded volcanic terrain of Cappadocia. (All Cappadocia winter photos displayed here are courtesy of our fellow traveller and photographer, Dan.)

Cappadocia tufa cones
Cappadocia’s tufa cones are even more eerie with a dusting of snow

It’s easy to imagine the days of Marco Polo and caravans moving across the steppes of Central Asia when one encounters a thick-coated camel.

Bactrain Camel
Two-humped Bactrian camels offer alternative cargo transport

Whether you are inclined to luxuriate in the cities or strike out into the countryside, winter provides us with the opportunity to show you facets of Turkey that most visitors never see.

Erciyes Dagi Volcano
Erciyes Dagi Volcano: part of the geologic picture of Cappadocia

When you find yourself crossing the vast open plateau, you no longer wonder that Turkey has been a cradle of intellectual debate and spirituality for millennia. Whether you trace the footsteps of Alexander, St. Paul, or Rumi, or simply take a bus across the mystical plain, Turkey’s layers of history are apparent. And in the quiet months of winter, it is easier to hear the echoes of those who passed here before us.

Let us help you discover Turkey this winter…

Winter on the High Plateau
Land of Mystics: Winter on the High Plateau

Practical Packing

If you’re coming to Turkey for only a short visit, you’ll do well to bring your winter outerwear wardrobe essentials rather than to try to shop for those after arrival. It’s not that good hiking boots, jeans, sweaters, windbreakers, and long underwear are unavailable; you’ll see lots of them. However, you’ll probably find them to be more expensive in Turkey than in the US, and you’ll probably not want to invest an afternoon trying on footgear when you could be marveling at the splendors of Ottoman Istanbul. So, bring the basics but allow yourself a little homeward-bound luggage space for some stylish accessories.

Hand-made Turkish Socks

Turks like to be warm. To most Americans, many Turkish hotels and restaurants are likely to feel overheated. Thus, dressing in layers will give you more comfort both indoors and out.

What to bring:

Lightweight layers: silk and light wool turtlenecks; Thinsulate, fleece, or down vests; waterproof/breathable pullovers; and jackets with hoods or high collars. While sightseeing, you can wear jeans nearly everywhere, but there will be evenings when you may feel the need to dress up a bit. A well-cut pair of dark wool trousers paired with a turtleneck (plus a shawl or blazer) can take you out to virtually any restaurant or evening function.

Comfortable, thick-soled, waterproof foot-wear: Uneven pavements, cobblestones, and steep street-stairs can be hard on your feet. You may have snow, and even if it melts quickly, as it usually does in the major cities, you want to stay dry. You’ll see lots of glamorous girls in stiletto heels. If you want to wear yours, put them on after you reach your destination.

Warm glove and socks: Rural women of Central and Eastern Turkey, regions filled with sheep and goats, are renowned for their knitting of intricately patterned woolen socks and gloves.

Hand-made Turkish Socks

Today, many continue to knit traditional patterns in man-made fibers like Orlon. While these are bright and soft, they are not as warm as some of the higher-tech synthetics developed for sportswear. Keeping your hands and feet warm will greatly prolong your enjoyment of long walks through deserted ruins or explorations of unheated churches and caves.

A ferry heads towards the Haydarpasa Rail Terminal
Où sont les neiges…? Istanbul in January 2013!
A ferry heads towards the Haydarpaşa Rail Terminal
Photo: Ceylan Zere

What to take home from Turkey:

In both quality and styling, Turkish leather and suede have come a long way from the 1970’s and those hippie coats of sheep fleece. Without a doubt, the broadest and most stylish selections of leather clothing and accessories, for both men and women, are in Istanbul.

The meltdown of the Soviet Union released a flood of textile arts and crafts into Turkey. Resplendent silk ikat coats and embroidered hats of the Uzbek, Turkmen, Kirghiz, and Caucasian peoples are one-of-a-kind works of art that will also keep you warm.

Embroidered Turkish Hand-made Hats

Throughout their history, the pastoral Turkic peoples from Siberia to the Danube have compressed the wool of their flocks to produce dense felt that has comprised everything from yurts and rugs to animal trappings and shepherds’ capes. The craft has been given new life by modern Turkish artisans, and you’ll find fanciful, warm felt headgear and slippers in Istanbul boutiques.

Turkish Hand-made Hats


Turkish Hand-made Slippers

From the Covered Bazaar to hotel gift shops and pushcarts throughout the country, you’ll see attractive shawls and scarves everywhere: from domestic Turkish hand-loomed and hand-knit fabrics of wool, linen, and silk to an array of mass-produced jacquards and faux “pashimas” in a variety of natural and synthetic fibers.

Blue Mosque in Snow
Snowfall at the Blue Mosque, 2015
Courtesy Hurriyet Daily News