Istanbul for Christmas can be a great getaway.
The first time I came to Istanbul myself was a mid-December, in the hope of escaping the over-commercialized festive fever gripping my home country. With the population of Turkey 98% Muslim, I wasn’t sure what I’d find.
The idea was to photograph the December 17th celebrations to mark the life and death of the Sufi philosopher Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî and I arrived on this mission. As it turned out it was my own life that was spun around very like the whirling dervishes I was trying to find. It all started a week into my trip as I descended a spiral staircase and met Tarkan at the bottom. Within a year we were living together in this, his city, soon followed by the birth of our son and the evolution of our business Istanbul Place Apartments – a new life like nothing I’d previously known.
So OF COURSE we recommend spending Christmas in Istanbul!
Here’s a look at what will be waiting for you:
Street lights and ‘Christmas’ trees
Many main streets, particularly famous Istiklal, will be strung with stylish festive lights between buildings. In our Galata neighbourhood there’ll be views of the tower with sparkling street lights too. You’ll also see decorated pine trees, particularly in public spaces and shopping malls. All this is actually intended to celebrate New Year, just around the corner, but the atmosphere is much the same as Christmas. Treat yourself to some hot, freshly roasted chestnuts from a street seller and it might feel even more ‘Christmassy’ than home!
Very little fuss
December 25th is just another normal day in Istanbul. Shops, banks, businesses, restaurants and tourist attractions will have their usual opening hours for that day of the week. Some larger shops might include Christmas music in their playlists but there’s no super-saturation with it as we experience in the West. Commercial pressure is at ordinary levels. Phew.
Crisp, cold weather and sometimes snow
We can’t promise it, but the city smothered in snow is a distinct possibility. The weather will certainly be cold and it can be wet, so do come prepared for all eventualities. If snow does arrive during your stay then city views will be magical and make life-time memories. Head straight up to the roof terrace if you’re staying in one of our Petraki Place Apartments to share the winter wonderland cityscape with seagulls and cats.
Saint Nicholas’ homeland
The boy who became St Nicholas lived in southern Turkey, then the province of Lycia, during the 3rd century. Orphaned young, he was generous with his inherited wealth and dedicated his life to helping the poor. He became famous for secret gift-giving and was soon ordained as a priest, later Bishop of Myra. One local family couldn’t afford dowries for their 3 daughters but found bags of gold mysteriously thrown through their open window. The gold is said to have landed in the girls’ stockings hanging by the fire, starting the tradition we know so well now.
Celebrations can be found
If you’d like to attend a special Christmas service or mass, they do happen in several historic city churches. The British Consulate Chapel of Saint Helena, up the hill, has a Christmas Eve service and our lovely local Crimean Memorial Church, just along Serdar-i Ekrem, holds a service on Christmas Morning. Saint Anthony of Padua, the city’s largest Catholic church is on Istiklal Caddesi and holds Christmas masses throughout Christmas Day in Polish, English, Italian and Turkish.
The big International hotels offer Christmas meals, often buffet-style, and will need to be booked in advance. Other than this it’ll be a challenge to find ingredients to make your own traditional meal, let alone all the trimmings. You’ll need to be creative on this one! Or just enjoy what is available: the many local restaurants will be open as usual with their own wonderful menus.
There are quite a few events amongst the welcoming expat community too. One personal favourite is ‘The Handmade Istanbul Holiday Market‘ in early December, a craft fair held in Saint Helena Chapel. The long established IWI Winter Festival, organised by the International Women of Istanbul, is hectic but nonetheless a favourite.
Alternatively, if you welcome the excuse to just forget about the whole thing, that’s absolutely possible too! We provide a mini Christmas tree with fairy lights in your apartment, but will happily hide it all away if you ask, without so much as a ‘bah humbug!‘.
Do you have questions?
We love Christmas in Istanbul – and throughout the rest of the year too.
Do feel free to ask us any questions you may have in the comments section below.
If you’d like to book an apartment with us for this Christmas or later into the New Year, we do still have some availability: ENQUIRE