With the idea of a perfect Christmas hanging over all of us, the pressure to create not only the most memorable and magical festive season on the shoulders of parents and loved ones, but it's also not to want to pack up and go somewhere else for the holidays. With many places offering an authentic Christmas, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed even when away from home, but there are plenty of places which will provide a magical time, with limited fuss and Istanbul is one of them.
With Turkey being a predominantly Muslim country with over 98% of it's locals identifying as much, it's going to be low-key, but that doesn't mean you won't find decorations. You'll find street lights, Christmas trees and shop windows even decorated. While this isn't a holiday they particularly celebrate, with most gearing up for New Year, you'll find a relaxing amount of holiday spirit which will still have you feeling excited for Christmas.
Suppose you're someone who finds the entire season overwhelming, or you want a break from the usual and experience a low-key Christmas. In that case, travelling to Istanbul may be the perfect festive season getaway for you, here are some advantages as to why.
The most notable advantage of travelling to Istanbul for Christmas is that on the 25th of December, you'll find business as usual. Shops, banks, and restaurants will all remain open, with them even operating their standard opening hours.
If you're interested in sightseeing, you'll be happy to know that they also remain open, with less reported queues than other days of the year.
Depending on whether weather is important to you, you'll find both Istanbul, and Turkey itself, as experiencing a cold and darker month in December. It is also usually wet and chilly, so while you won't be escaping to the sunshine, make sure to pack layers like you'd wear at home if you're from the UK. However, you may find a speckle of snow dusting over your time away, although we can't promise this.
Although the country doesn't celebrate Christmas, you will find an excellent Christmas market you should experience. Described as 'much more about the spirit of Christmas and not about Christianity', you'll find decorations and seasonal gifts. Many Istanbul Christmas Markets run periodically over the month of December, so be sure to check when and where they are.
If food is a massive part of your Christmas Day, Istanbul have you covered. Many restaurants host a buffet-style Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. Make sure you book in advance for this.
If you find yourself missing out on the above, you may be able to find some of the ingredients if you're hoping to cook a traditional dinner yourself, but this will be a challenge. Take into consideration with Istanbul being a mostly Muslim population, pork will not be as readily available as other meat varieties; while you may find bacon at occasional restaurants, this isn't the overall norm.
For many, Mass or a Christmas Service is what makes the holiday season important to them, and you won't have to miss out on this, even if you're away from home. There are a handful of churches in Istanbul which put on a Christmas Eve Mass and Christmas Day services, including the Roman Catholic church, St. Antoine Church as well as Anglian church Crimean Memorial Church and unorthodox church, Church of St. George in Balat.
You'll find a limited amount of Jingle Bells and All I Want For Christmas, as Istanbul treats this time of year as business as usual. While some larger stores may opt to add an occasional song to their playlists, this will be few and far between, so if the music is a large part of Christmas for you, take this into consideration as much of the commercial elements will not be present.
Depending on your arrival, you may find that the crowds grow as it gets closer to New Year, this is primarily due to Istanbul being one of the top places to ring in the new year at. If you are planning on staying from Christmas to over New Year, keep in mind restaurants, and bars will begin booking up. While you get a low-key Christmas, New Year will be the complete opposite, something to take into consideration if you're hoping to get away from the hustle and bustle.
We mentioned this in advantages also, but on the flip side of the coin, Turkey is overall very wet and cold during December. If you're expecting the weather to warm and dry, this will be a disappointment. There is a greater chance of snow in Istanbul than there is a hot day, so keep this in mind when booking your stay.
Overall, Christmas in Turkey won't mean surrendering a lot when it comes to the festive season. While things are toned down, and with a limited fuss, you can still make your time away as magical and memorable as possible, it is just more in your hands.
With Istanbul being a predominantly Muslim country, be respectful of the locals' traditions and beliefs, and you'll have a wonderful time away with as much cheer and spirit as you would do at home.