Istanbul is at its best in late May and early September, when temperatures are mild and sunshine is plenti-
ful. High season, from June toAugust, is the most expen sive, crowded and hottest time to visit, but the summer arts and music festivals are highlights in the city’s cultural calendar. LateNovember until March or April can be damp and dreary.
However, Istanbul is still mild in autumn and winter and, with fewer tour parties around, you can enjoy
the sights in peace. As well as arts and sporting events, several public holidays and religious festivals punctuate the year. It is wise to be aware of these when planning an itinerary as some sights may be closed or else crammed with locals enjoying a day out. Some of these celebrations are also fascinating spectacles in their own right.
As the winter smog fades and sunshine increases, cafés and restaurants prepare for the first wave of alfresco dining. After a winter’s diet of apples and oranges, a welcome crop of spring fruits, including fresh figs, strawberries and tart green plums, arrives in the shops. Toasted sweetcorn is sold from carts, and a spring catch of sea bream, sea bass and turbot is on the menu. Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and pansies fill parks and gardens, and the distinctive pink buds of the Judas tree are seen along the Bosphorus.
Monuments and museums are generally uncrowded in spring, and discounts are available at many hotels. In May the popular son et lumière shows outside the Blue Mosque begin and continue until September.
Easter (March or April).
Pilgrimage to the Monastery of St George on Büyükada in the Princes’ Islands. International Istanbul Film
Festival (late March–mid-April), selected cinemas. Screening of Turkish and foreign films and related events.
Tulip Festival (April), Emirgan Park. Displays of springtime blooms.
National Sovereignty Day (23April). Public holiday marking the inauguration of theTurkishRepublic in 1923. Children take to the streets in folk costume.
Commemoration of the Anzac Landings(25 April),
Gallipoli. Britons, Australians and New Zealanders gather at the location of theAnzac landings at Gallipoli during World War I.
Spring Day and Workers’ Day(1 May).
Unofficial public holiday when workers usually attend union-organized rallies.
Kakava Festival (early May), Edirne. Acelebration of gypsy A music and dance.
Youth and Sports Day(19 May). Public holiday in commemoration of the start of the War of Independence in 1919, with sporting events and other activities held throughout the city in stadiums and on the streets.
International Istanbul Theatre Festival (May–June), various venues. European and Turkish productions.
Conquest of Istanbul (29 May), between Tophane and Karaköy and on the shores of the upper Bosphorus. Mehmet theConqueror’s taking of the city in 1453 is reenacted in street parades and mock battles.
In contrast to an all-too-brief spring, the warm weather and clear skies of summer can linger on in Istanbul until November. In July and August temperatures soar and although luxury hotels have air conditioning, cheaper ones do not.
Popular sights are packed with tourists throughout the high season. Picturesque locations outside Istanbul may, on the other hand, be overrun by locals. At weekends city dwellers trek out to the Belgrade Forest and Black Sea beaches or to health clubs along the Bosphorus. Those who can afford it flee to their coastal summer homes until autumn.
For those who stay behind there is a strong summer culture. This includes a wild nightlife in hundreds of bars and night spots, and enthusiastic support for many arts festivals, which attract world-famous performers.
Look out, too, for events taking place in historical buildings. You may be able to listen to classical music in Haghia Eireneor enjoy a pop concert in the Fortress of Europe on the Bosphorus. This is also the best
time of year for outdoor sports such as hiking, horse-riding, water sports, golf and parachuting.
In summer, the menu focuses more on meat than fish, but vegetables and fresh fruit – such as honeydew melons, cherries, mulberries, peaches and apricots – are widely available. In July and August many shops
have summer sales.
Silk Market(June–July), Bursa. Special market for the sale of silk cocoons.
International Istanbul Music and Dance Festival (mid-June–July). Classical music, opera and dance
performed in historic locations. Mozart’sAbduction from the Seraglioisstaged annually in Topkapı Palace.
Bursa Festival (June–July), Bursa Park. Music, folk dancing, plays, opera and shadow puppetry.
Navy Day(1 July). Parades of old and new boats along theBosphorus.
International Istanbul Jazz Festival (July), various venues. International event with a devoted following.
International Sailing Races (July). Regatta held at the Marmara Islands.
Grease Wrestling(July), Kırkpınar, Edirne. Wrestlers smeared in olive oil grapple with each other.
Hunting Festival (3 days, late July), Edirne. Music, art and fishing displays.
Folklore and Music Festival (late July), Bursa. Ethnic dances and crafts displays.
Festival of Troy(August), çanakkale. Re-enactment of the tale of Troy
Victory Day(30 August). Public holiday commemorating victory over Greece in 1922.
Residents of Istanbul often consider their city to be at its best in autumn. As the summer heat loses its grip, chestnut sellers appear on the streets, pumpkins are sold in the markets, and fresh figs are eaten in abundance. In the surrounding countryside, cotton, wheat and sunflowers are harvested. Migratory grouper and bonito are among the tastiest types of fish which are caught at this time of year.
A popular beauty spot for its array of autumn colours is Lake Abant, 200 km (125 miles) east of Istanbul. Meanwhile, bird-watchers converge on the hills overlooking the Bosphorus to view great flocks of migratory birds head- ing for their warm wintering grounds in Africa.
On the cultural agenda is a world-class arts biennial and an antiques fair which blends Several public holidays reaffirm Turkey’s commitment to secularism, including Republic Day in late October, during
which flags are hung from balconies. The bridges over the Bosphorus are hung with particularly huge
Tüyap Arts Fair(September), opposite the Pera Palas Hotel. A showcase of Istanbul’s artistic talent.
Yapı Kredi Festival (September), various venues. A celebration of music and dance promoting young performers.
Republic Day (29 October) Public holiday commemorat ing Atatürk’s proclamation of the Republic in 1923. The Turkish flag adorns buildings in the city.
Akbank JazzFestival (October), various venues. Jazz music.
InternationalIstanbul FineArts Biennial 2007 (October–November every two years). International and
local avant-garde artists exhibit work in historic locations such as Haghia Eirene and the Imperial Mint , and the Basilica Cistern.
Anniversary of Death(10 November). A minute’s silence is observed at 9:05am, the precise time of Atatürk’s death in Dolmabahçe Palace in 1938.
Tüyap Book Fair(October), Belikduzu Fair and Congress Centre. Istanbul’s premier publishing event showcases prominent writers.
Efes Pilsen BluesFestival (early November), selected venues. Foreign and local blues bands play in popular
music venues throughout the city.
Interior DesignFair (first weekof November), çırağan Palace Hotel Kempinski. Interior designers and
antique dealers display upmarket wares in this popular annual show.
Elit’s Küsav Antiques Fair (mid-November), Military Museum. Sale of local and foreign paintings, furniture, carpets, maps, books, porcelain, textiles, silver, clocks and bronze statuary.
There are distinct bonuses to visiting Istanbul in the winter, when even major sights are uncrowded, although the rain, fog and pollution may be off- putting. Shops in the Akmerkez, Galleria, Capitol and Carousel malls hold sales, making the city a shopper’s paradise for leather, woollens and fashion.
Outside Istanbul, when enough snow has fallen on the mountains, the ski season begins in Uludağ,
one of Turkey’s most important winter sports resorts. Meanwhile, tea with baklava and cream cakes is consumed in the cosy cafés along the Bosphorus and in the old quarter of Beyoğlu.
MevlânaFestival (17–24 December), Mevlevi Monastery. Enthusiastic Istanbul devotees perform
special dances in honour of the founder of the famous Whirling Dervishes.
Christmas (late December). Though Christmas Day is not a public holiday, major hotels organize seasonal festivities.
NewYear’s Day (1 January). Public holiday incorporating European Christmas traditions including eating turkey, decorating trees and partying. Strings of lights adorn the main roads.
Karadam SkiFestival (secondhalf of February), Uludağ Mountain. Competitions organized by local radio
stations and the UludağSki Instructors’ Association.
The dates of Muslim holidays vary according to the phases of the moon and therefore change from year to year. In the holy month of Ramazan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between dawn and dusk. Some restaurants are closed during the day, and tourists should be discreet when eating in public. Straight after this is the three-day Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Festival), when sweetmeats are prepared. Two months later the four-dayKurban Bayramı (Feast of the Sacrifice) commemorates the Koranic version of Abraham’s sacrifice. This is the main annual public holiday in Turkey, and hotels, trains and roads are
packed. Strict Muslims also observe the festivals of Regaip Kandili, Miraç Kandili,Berat Kandili andMevlid-i-Nebi.