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Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Houston, Texas
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Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

My wife and I will be exploring Istanbul for 10 days in January in celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary! The city has always been on my bucket list of places to visit and I am sure I will have plenty of questions over then next few months as I do my research here but I thought to first ask about travel in January.

From what I gather the weather is wintery but not extremely cold (like London or Paris which we have done in the past). We don't plan on going anywhere where we would need to dress to formally and we tend to be pack casual clothing that can be layered, jeans or slacks, shirt, a sweater, polarfleece, light rain jacket and a scarf, etc. Will the proximity to water make it seem colder at that time of year to bring a heavier jacket?

We also usually enjoy winter travel because there are less tourists and long lines for entry to places or restaurants. Will this be the case in Istanbul? Should we be aware of anything then like winter hours for attractions or local holidays. Are any major sights closed at that time of year?

Thanks

Mount Dora, Florida
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1. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Hi Chris, My husband and I also enjoy traveling during off-season periods. We like the reduction in the number of tourists, the less crowded conditions in the museums and bazaars and all places that tourists gather. We appreciate the fact that there are almost no cruise ships in dock in January rather than five or six ships pouring 5,000 passengers each into the city.

Istanbul during the winter seems more like Istanbul to me, than Istanbul in the summer buried under the enormous crush of tourists. I like everything better from the off-season hotel rates, to the reduced pressure from carpet salesmen to the often nearly empty mosque or museum room.

It is, however, quite cold in January, with an average high of 46 degrees and a low of 37 degrees. There is significant rain in January. It seemed to rain about 50% of the time we spent the entire month of January in Istanbul.

My husband hates temperatures below 70 degrees, so he travels with sweaters that can be layered as well as a heavy winter coat. I also travel with a few long sleeve shirts, and I did take my winter coat, which I did not use frequently.

It is important to take shoes that can endure a bit of wet pavement, and I like to take a small umbrella that fits in my purse. Although, when it starts to rain, there will be umbrella salesmen on the street.

Most of the things that you do in Istanbul are inside activities, so you are only exposed to the elements as you move from one location to another.

I do not know how to answer your question about the impact of the water on how cold it actually feels. I am generally satisfied if the temperature does not reach freezing, and it rarely freezes in Istanbul. My husband is miserable if his feet become chilled. I think temperature tolerance is a very individual thing.

We also do not pack dress clothing. We travel in jeans, slacks, sweaters, cotton shirts and occasionally a sweat shirt. Since we live in Florida we have little use for the type of clothing we wear during the winter in Istanbul. I was just thinking yesterday about packing my suitcase and I realized that I was taking the same pieces of clothing that I have been wearing for the past six years. I hope our friends have not noticed.

The museums are generally not open quite as late as they are in the middle of the summer. The Bosphorus Cruise only runs once a day leaving at 10:30am. You can check the Frequent Questions column on the right hand side of the forum home page for closing hours for last year. They will be similar to this year.

Generally everything is still open for business. You just will not have to make reservations far in advance, or wait 90 minutes to get a table in a restaurant. Some popular restaurants do, however, still require reservations. If I were going to 360 or Changha or the Imbat I would make a reservation a couple of nights in advance.

We now compromise and spend all of November and part of December in Turkey. It is less cold than January, but my husband still wears his winter coat. Although the flowers are not blooming in January, and you often have to carry an umbrella, I love Istanbul during the off season. I like drinking a hot salip on a chilly afternoon. I love eating seafood in the winter because it is in season and so much better. It is fresh and not as expensive as it is during the summer. I like to purchase a tiny bag of chestnuts from a vendor on the street. I like to snuggle under my warm down comforter on my bed and listen to the morning prayer call.

I love the fact that the city, while always busy, seems to lose that hectic quality it has during the middle of the summer.

This is a URL for average temperatures and weather conditions in Istanbul. Perhaps it will help you decide what you personally need to pack for the weather. weather2travel.com/january/…istanbul.php

Houston, Texas
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2. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Wow, thanks for your expert reply! Yes, the historical winter weather temps I saw are a bit cold but not too different from January in Houston where we live. And it sounds like the proximity to water isn't as big a deal as it is in the UK or France where the dampness just seems to make winter worse, I guess it may just be the chilly Atlantic.

My wife also brings a small umbrella and extra shoes as she doesn't like wet feet. I will probably travel in sneaker type shoes and bring a pair of light hiking boots that repel water and choose which to wear based on the day's forecast. We visited Athens and Crete once in December so the conditions seem similar from what I can see. I can stand colder conditions more then warm ones as we get enough heat in Houston!

Ellicott City...
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3. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Dear BR

I really hope you have been, or still are, a writer or author. Your comments are not only brimming with extremely useful tips based on real-life experiences, they also have this amazing consistency and frankness that makes them super enjoyable to read!

Look forward to reading more of your fun tales of Istanbul!

Hamburg, Germany
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4. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

I go to Istanbul every year and I've been there so far in all seasons except spring.

I will answer your question based on my own experience and based on what the locals there told me.

So I traveled to Istanbul during the first two weeks of February, which is relevant to your question since January and February are both the two coldest months, normally.

When I was there, it was SNOWING A LOT.

I know that "feeling cold" depends on the persons but believe me I am used to Germany's cold weather.

Temperature was around and below freezing for 4 days in a row. There was sleet which then slowly turned to snow.

Depth of snow varies a lot within Istanbul as well. The city is topographically hilly. The north receives more snow because it is greener and bounds the cold waters of the Black Sea. Similarly, it is much cloudier but comfortably cooler in summer.

The proximity to the water and the strong wind makes it bitter cold. That was your question concerning whether water will make the cold "colder". 2 proofs, one based on my own experience and the second scientific:

There was a screen in one of the streets in Istanbul. The screen gave the current ambient temperature of PLUS 1C. Beneath it, it was written: "Feels Like Temperature: MINUS 14C"!!

I was shocked as you might be right now. The humidity can reach 90% on most of the days because of the common fog in the morning, which can have hard time to dissipate because of the cold. Humidity makes you feel colder. Here is a scientific reason:

It is the heat capacity of the air: wet air has a greater heat capacity than dry air so it can remove more heat from you faster than dry air (with less convection).

Another proof of the common wintry weather is what some locals told me.

I asked many people in shops and restaurants and some Turkish friends I have there whether such weather is common. Their answer was a fast and sure YES. They told me that Istanbul receives on average three weeks of snow per year. Flurries or sleet are however more common and can be observed anytime from December through end of March (yes March is considered a typical winter month; the locals even told me that the worst snow storms usually come in March). Istanbul in winter is much colder than London and Paris (which both get less than one week of snow on average). But Istanbul has rather a more changing weather, meaning that sunny and warm days are not really seen as exceptions in winter.

That was not the end of the story. Strong wInds were more than uncomfortable. The wind was constantly blowing to the extent that it was snowing horizontally! I was getting everything on my face, coat and pant. Istanbul is reputed for being a windy city. The north- eastern winds are prevalent (60% of the time) and are particularly strong in summer. The south- western winds bring humid and stormy weather and are more common in winter. When both hit Istanbul in winter, you will get a typical damp, cold and sometimes snowy weather. There is even an article out of hundreds called "The wind battle over the city of Istanbul". Very interesting!

One last thing. Istanbul is also known for its unpredictable weather. Snow can come without any prior notice from the weather forecast. Why is that? Here is a scientific answer. Because of the Sea- Effect Snow. This term means that snow is produced when cold winds (in our case coming directly from Siberia) move across long expanses of warmer lake water (here the Black Sea), providing energy and picking up water vapor, which freezes and is deposited on the leeward shores (which is Istanbul). My Turkish friends told me that manifestations once happened in Istanbul for the Turkish Government not being able to predict snow events, which in 2003 led to jams and the death of a young girl.

It is also daylong gray in gray. We couldn't see the sun for about 3 days in a row.

But be sure that the sun will shine afterwards. We had one day with temperature hovering 13C. The day after we had rain with temperatures around 7C, so the snow melted quickly.

The major sites will be all open. The Hagia Sophia is closed on mondays, the Dolmabahce Palace thursdays and the Topkapi Palace tuesdays. They usually open around 9am and close around 5pm.

With a sunny weather, don't miss the Bosporus Cruise which you can take from the Eminönü port and last 2 hours (with about 4 hours break in Anadolu Kavagi on the Anatolian Side, near the Black Sea). There are there nice fish restaurants and a castle on a hill which you can meanwhile visit.

As I told you before the weather is unpredictable and changes tremendously from year to year. You might be lucky for some sunny days and warmer days (as it happened this year for example (8-12C)).

Despite the cold, I ENJOYED EVERY MOMENT and I wouldn't more if it was warmer and sunnier!!!

The snow was AMAZING on the shores of the Bosporus and we took a lot of pics. With the cold or without it, it only depends with who you are. Enjoy your holidays and be prepared!

Hamburg, Germany
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5. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Here is a pic showing how the strong wind with tthe snow is making it difficult to the three girls.

It is an article so you can read it too.

todayszaman.com/news-301660-snow-strong-wind…

Edited: 18 September 2013, 21:51
Houston, Texas
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6. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

WOW! Thanks for posting that bit of information, we will plan on packing a bit extra in the way of winter clothing for sure. Most of the travel books and online weather almanacs I checked indicated increased rain and cold but not snow, guess they are a bit out of date as it looks like last winter was especially icy.

Mount Dora, Florida
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7. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

I am not sure that Istanbul receives three weeks of snow every year. When we lived in Turkey we had one bad snowstorm on one day in the more than two years we lived in Turkey. It snowed most of the day, and there was probably 4-5" in the ground by the end of the day. The children had lots of fun sliding down the hills. The next day it all melted. We did not see any more snow.

Since we have been returning to Istanbul yearly we have gone several times during the winter. In 2008 we spent all 90 days of our Visa in Turkey while my husband took a language class in Istanbul. We were there for part of December, all of January, all of February and part of March. It did not snow at all in the city. We saw a couple of cars with a bit of snow on them. I assumed they had come from homes from a more elevated area.

I have spent a bit of winter in Istanbul every year since 2008, and I have never seen any snow on the ground. I think it does snow once in a bit, but I do not think you get 21 days of snow. I spent most of my life in Idaho. The temperatures often do not get above freezing for a week or more at a time. We measure snow fall by feet not inches. Generally the ground is covered with feet of snow from December through mid-March. I am sure based on this experience, Istanbul always seems less cold than the other places I have lived.

One thing I always notice about the weather during the winter, is that there are some days that are delightful. There are times when the predicted weather on the evening news is not good, but you wake up to sunshine and blue skies. On one of those days in February, we woke up to unexpected blue skies and decided to take the Bosphorus Cruise. We barely made it to the ferry, but what a magical day. We were the only people in the entire ferry compartment on our side of the ferry. The sun was brilliant. The air was clear. We got some fantastic photos and were totally invigorated. We did not, of course, spend much time outside. We ducked out to take photos, and then hurried back in to the ferry where it was warm and toasty. It was really the most memorable Bosphorus Cruise we have ever had.

Even when it is quite cold outside, the restaurant owners of Istanbul make it possible for you to eat outside. One of my favorite restaurants has heavy plastic on the sides of the outside dining. They use big propane patio heaters, and there are always spare blankets to wrap around your knees (and a cat or two for your toes, if you are so inclined).

Turkish people do not like to be cold. I have never been in any building that was not adequately heated. Normally the rooms are a bit too warm for my comfort zone. They also bundle up the children. I see toddlers with snowsuits, covered by heavy winter coats, and wool hats covered with snow hoods. Sometimes the children have on so much clothing they just cannot walk. I tend not to wear lots of heavy clothing, and I always attract concern. Once an older lady opened a package on her lap on the tram. She took out a big shawl and wrapped it around me. I know she was thinking I was a crazy American who did not know how to dress for winter. I had a very difficult time convincing her to take it back when it was time for us to exit.

One cold winter day we were visiting several of our friends in Sultanahmet. I had consumed many glasses of tea. When we reached the tiny restaurant owned by one of our friends, I could not abide the thought of another glass of tea, so I asked for Diet Coke. Our friend shook his head and announced that I could not have Diet Coke, because all his Coke was cold. Cold Coke!! I so seldom get Cold Coke in Turkey, I immediately assured him that would be fine. He assured me that if I drank cold Coke I would become very ill.

After some discussion, he suddenly got an idea and disappeared. In about three minutes her returned. He had the largest glass I had ever seen. He had placed a Diet Coke in the glass and filled it with boiling water, so it would get warm and be safe to drink. Whenever I think about winter in Istanbul I think of the concern people have for cold temperatures and how generous they are to make sure you are warm.

The time I remember being the most cold was the third week of March. I had not packed appropriate shoes. They got wet, and I thought my feet were literally frozen lumps. When I am prepared, I am never miserable.

As I said, I have not been in Turkey in many years when it has snowed, but it does snow occasionally. It seems like a celebration when there is snow. Sometimes the schools close. The children love to play in the snow. Things slow down a bit because they have no other choice. I never objected to the snow because I knew it would only be on the ground briefly.

Houston, Texas
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8. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Hi Chris - I live in the Woodlands and want to give you a bit of advice as well. Rather than pack for all occasions and conditions, let me assure you that within a short walk, cab ride or metro trip you can be at a mall or a bazaar that will have whatever you may need at the most amazing prices. Probably less than it may be paying for an additional piece of luggage these days. Need a scarf? Earmuffs? Wool gloves and cap? Heavy socks? Another sweatshirt or sweater? Umbrella? Rain poncho? Fleece jacket for under-layering? Wind breaker? All there. And everything mentioned here can be bought for $15.00 or less.

The most useful garment I took was a heavy poncho. It allowed me to layer with sweat shirt and sweater without feeling like the Michelin Man.

Have a great time.

Hamburg, Germany
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9. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Well..last year there was 29 days of snow accordong to the Turkish Meteorological Station in Atatürk Airport. The year before there was only 4 as well as in 2008... It really depends since the weather is really unpredictable in Istanbul.

You are right that some winters were mild and relatively sunny but this is not the rule. I am just saying expect anything from mild to cold.

I went there 3 times in winter and there was snow. You were there for 2 years and you had one big snow.

Sometimes it is not about snow. Usually snow has hard time to stick on the ground because it lies on the Sea... its rather about how cold you feel that is more important; even the rain there might be uncomfortable.

But sure nice days are there too, you are right!

Hamburg
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10. Re: Excited to be planning out our trip to Istanbul in January!

Because of my business I had the "pleasure" to go to Istanbul in January quite often and I simply disliked it because of the very unconvenient weather conditions.

As a tourist I personally would avoid going to Istanbul at any rate, it's simply no fun.....Yes, there are a lot less tourists and perhaps you have to queue less but it is really unconvenient with low temperatures, humidity, rain, snow and wind. I would be missing too much: Outside dinners in the evening in a restaurant on the Bosphorus or in Yesilyurt at the Marmara Sea, a Bosphorus Cruise and a trip to the Prince Island in warm sunny weather, strolling trough Tahtakale and much more.......

But....it's also a matter of personal taste.....