Ramadan 2018 in Istanbul​ – is it a good time to visit?

Ramadan 2018 in Istanbul​ – is it a good time to visit?

 

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, known as Ramazan in Turkish, will run from May 15th to June 14th in 2018. It’s a month of fasting, prayer, empathy and celebration across Turkey. Ramadan time in Istanbul has a different atmosphere to the rest of the year.

 

Is it a good time to visit?

You might be trying to decide whether it’s a good idea to visit Istanbul during Ramadan and if so, wondering what you’ll find. Will restaurants be open during the fasting hours? Will it be antisocial to have an alcoholic drink? Should more conservative clothes be worn?

In fact, Istanbul is even more special than usual during Ramadan

Istanbul-style Ramadan is more liberal than elsewhere. During the day there’s anticipation in the air and after sunset you’ll find a festival atmosphere. Trees are draped with fairy lights and mosques display sparkling celebratory messages between their minarets. Families and friends come out together to promenade and in some areas, temporary stalls sell religious items, traditional snacks or treats for children.

Across the city and in our neighbourhood, spirits are up

Restaurants, bars and clubs are generally open as usual, other than in the very conservative districts. Non-Muslims are welcomed and local people are as kind and generous as ever, or more so. Dress codes aren’t affected, so you can feel free to wear whatever you normally would in your own country.

Restaurants are quieter during the day, but become very busy approaching the time for fast to be broken. This happens at sunset and is called iftar in Turkish. Many restaurants offer a special banquet-like menu with unusual dishes out on display, so it can be a great opportunity to taste something new.

 

 

Would you like to get involved?

You may decide to try the fast yourself and then join the crowd at sunset for well-deserved iftar. In recent years Ramadan has fallen over the longest of mid-summer days, but this year the days are shorter and even if you’re busy sight-seeing during the day, it could feel manageable for you. If you do join in, don’t be surprised at your huge appetite by the end of the day and that food can taste so delicious!

If you don’t fast, it’s still perfectly fine to join an iftar table for a very memorable experience. Shared tables and restaurants in more conservative areas might not serve alcohol with this meal, in which case it’s respectful to follow suit. Other restaurants, including many in our neighbourhood will have no such constraints.

Iftar on the streets

You’ll see temporary tables and marquee tents in public areas crowded at this time. These are for local families and dignitaries to enjoy iftar provided by the neighbourhood governors.

Sometimes there’s a wonderful iftar picnic held along Istiklal Cadessi, just 5 minutes walk from our apartments in Galata. We’re hoping this will happen again this year, though it’s not clear yet.

 

Istiklal street iftar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Istiklal iftar in 2013 | photograph TRT Haber Foto Galeri

 

Seasonal food

Special foods as well as atmosphere are available at this time of year, so don’t miss the chance to try them if you can. These include:

Ramadan pide – a freshly baked round flatbread, very large for sharing widely

Güllaç – a milky pudding with pomegranate seeds and ground pistachio nuts

 

Ramadan drummers

Some neighbourhoods – though not usually Galata, our apartments’ area – preserve this tradition. An hour or so before dawn a drummer, likely plus entourage, walks the streets while beating rhythm, perhaps below your bedroom window! The purpose is to wake everyone in time for sahur, the morning meal that’s eaten before sunrise. It happens for only a couple of minutes and is an interesting cultural experience as a visitor. Once you’ve got the idea of it, earplugs and a little patience are recommended, unless you’re joining in.

 

So our advice would be to definitely come and enjoy Istanbul during Ramadan: the city and its people will be even more interesting than usual!

 

Ramadan dates for the future

2018 May 15th – June 14th
2019 May 5th – June 4th

 

Traffic and transport implications

Road traffic will be heavier every day just before iftar, with taxis harder to find. If it’s been a long hot day, light-headed drivers may be even more erratic than usual. On the last day of Ramadan in Istanbul, public transport will be very busy as everyone tries to reach extended family for the 3 day Şeker Bayram holiday beginning at sunset.

 

Museums and cultural attractions

These should be operating but may have special opening hours, particularly on the day just before Şeker Bayram, when they may be closed. It’s certainly best to check before heading out to them.

 

Do you have questions about Ramadan in Istanbul?

Feel free to comment or ask us any questions you may have, below. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Comments

  1. Agnes says:

    Hi Julia. I will be at Istanbul from 14 June-18June . With 18th leaving the city. May i know if places like grand bazaar is closed ? And tourist places ?? Thank you very much

    • Hello Agnes, most shops will be closed for the first day of Bayram, June 15th. On the second and third days, many are usually open but it depends on their family situations as the owners will balance the importance of family time with work time and income. Many in touristic areas should be open after the first day. I hope this helps.

  2. ilahi says:

    Hi,

    We are visiting Istanbul this weekend and we want to know if it is possible to have iftar at sultanahmet cami square and do you need to make reservations if you want to sit at one of the long tables?

    • Hello Ilahi, you don’t need to make a reservation for iftar at Sultanahmet Square, but you should arrive at least 30 minutes before iftar time to find a place to sit as it gets very busy. Have a lovely weekend!

  3. Ramadan is the month of blessing, togetherness, and celebrations, I would love to spend time in Turkey in the holy month of Ramadan.

    Ramadan Mubarak!

  4. Fátima Martínez Valencia says:

    Hi! I am going to Istanbul for the sixth time on June. We are going from the 10th to the 17th. I would like to visit street markets, and I want to know if Fatih Wednesday market will be working normally on the 13th of June. Also If you could tell me any street market similar to Fatih on Mondays, to go on the 11th of June.
    This information is really important for me because has been impossible to find it on internet. We want to buy clothes and things of the like and those markets are amazing, I know them from the other times I’ve visited Istanbul and I love it. But this time, because of Ramadan, I have these doubts that I am asking for.
    Many thanks in advance!!

  5. Vanessa says:

    Hello we are spending fitr holiday in istanbul but we are planning to do shopping and visit touristics places. Are the shops closed ? And where do you advise us to go in istanbul

    • Hello Vanessa, most shops will be closed for the first day of Fitr (Bayram in Turkish). On the second and third days, most are usually open but it depends on their family situations as the owners will balance the importance of family time with work time and income. Many in touristic areas should be open after the first day. As for where to go, it will really depend on your interests: Istanbul is huge! Perhaps you should start in Sultanahmet (though not for the first day of Bayram when museums will be closed) to see something of the famous tourist sights and take it from there. We would advise you to buy a good guidebook before you go and research according to your interests.

  6. Safeyah says:

    What about shops! When does it usually open /close in ramadan!

  7. Hiya Julia,
    Can you advise what museums/ attraction are closed during Şeker Bayram? I know the Grand Bazaar will be closed, but is everything else open as normal, or shut on the first day (Thursday)?
    Thanks!!!

    • I wish we could give you good advice on this, but to find reliable information isn’t easy! The official website of Hagia Sophia only says “Hagia Sophia Museum is not available for visiting in the first days of Ramadan and Sacrifice Festivals for half time.” *Sigh*.

      Pera Museum website is clearer and says it’ll only be closed on the first day of Şeker Bayram. Last year Topkapi Palace was closed for the first half day of Bayram, then fully open for the rest.

      So our advice for the least disappointment would be to not plan a visit to the big attractions that first day, Friday 15th June, but to enjoy local neighbourhood life, where cafes etc. should be open and the atmosphere celebratory. Hopefully you’ll be OK for most museums the next day, the Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon.

      If anyone else has better information, please do chip in. Hope you enjoy whatever you find!

  8. Khizra says:

    Julia can you please mention any specific sufi night show during ramadan we are here near sultan ahmet till eid. I really want to see such things

  9. This is such an eye-opener. I had no idea that Ramadan is such a special time in Istanbul. I love the sound of the iftar picnic!

    • Thanks so much Fay, I’m so glad that the specialness comes across in the post. We’d love to see you in Istanbul any time you like.

  10. Mariam says:

    Hello.

    My husband and I would like to enjoy iftar at one of iftar tent. We are Muslim from other country and would like to find any iftar tent in Istanbul. Could you give us more detail ? Adress ? Is it free ? Thanks

    • Hello Miriam, it would be a great experience for you and your husband to have iftar in an Istanbul iftar tent! They’re usually set up close to a mosque and there are so many of these in Istanbul, you wouldn’t have to look very far. Büyük Camii in Kasımpaşa would be a good one to try if you’re staying in Galata where our apartments are. The tents are usually big and noticeable so you’d see them elsewhere too. As sunset approaches people queue up. No reservation is needed and the food is given for free.

  11. shirin Mayet says:

    We want to spend last 5 days of Ramadan in Istanbul. And the next ten days touring .
    Can u advise how is eid morning celebrated in Istanbul. Do woman go to a mosque and how long is the eid celebrations Holiday. Is there a eid festival shopping spree.
    Thank u

    • Hello again Shirin, that sounds like a really good travel plan. Eid is called Şeker Bayram in Turkish and lasts for 3 days. It’s a time for visiting family and particularly, if you’re a child, for receiving gifts of sweets. The visits can lead to congested traffic in busy Istanbul, so be prepared for that. People may also visit family graveyards. Women can certainly go to mosque, you’d just have to ask at the door which part of it. We’re not aware of a particular shopping spree event but the shopping opportunities in Istanbul are great anyway. Enjoy your trip!

  12. shirin Mayet says:

    Please advise. We are a muslim couple who want to spent the last days of Ramadan in Istanbul. We are from S Africa. We want to celebrate Ramadan and Eid in a area of Istanbul which is local and original. I have stayed in Sultanahmed area which was too touristy, no locals around. Can u suggest other suburbs where we can experience Ottoman Ramadan.
    Do u think I should book into a local holiday house so I can be with the locals?

    • Hello Shirin. We agree with you that much of Sultanahmet is over-touristy and commercialised these days, not only for Eid/Bayram but all year round. Our own neighbourhood of Galata is much less touristy than Sultanahmet, but it’s also less conservative than other areas, so it doesn’t have traditional iftar tents and may not be what you want either. The very authentic neighbourhood to our north west (25 mins walk) is called Kasımpaşa and the main mosque there is Büyük Camii – this would be a good place for you to go. Although in Galata we offer holiday apartments, they’re for your private use so you wouldn’t be sharing the interior space with locals. You could however stay in one of our apartments and explore a different neighbourhood, perhaps starting with Kasımpaşa, every evening!

  13. That sounds really amazing! What an experience it must be to have everyone together. I would love to experience that.

  14. Ramadan sounds magical! Thanks for the dates ahead of time. That will make it easier to plan for a future trip.

    • Julia says:

      Hello Donna. Magical is a good word for it, inspiring too. There are parallels with Lent on the Christian calendar, but the community comes together for iftar in a way that’s unique and very accessible to visitors. I really hope you can book that future trip!

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