Best Winter Places in Turkey
The range of winter places in Turkey is vastly less than summer destinations. Traditionally, Turkey's tourism season runs from May to October. During this time, millions of people flock to Aegean and Mediterranean coastal beach resorts, where temperatures reach as much as 40 degrees during September.
However, do not underestimate the beauty of winter destinations ranging from east to west. Advantages to visiting during this time include lesser crowds, lower prices on flights and accommodations, and in some cases, a beautiful blanket of snow presenting a scene worthy of Xmas greeting cards. So, let us look at where to go in Turkey during winter and what to expect.
Best Winter Places in Turkey
1: Beautiful Cappadocia
One of our favourite year-round destinations is Cappadocia in Turkey's central Anatolian region, with fantastic views of Mount Erciyes. Visit during the height of winter and expect snowfall to cover the lunar-like landscape featuring unique fairy chimneys formed by thousands of years of wind erosion. Originally belonging to the Persian empire, Alexander the great and the Ottomans have also ruled. However, Cappadocia is notably famous for Christian traces left behind by the Byzantine empire. Over 2 million Turks and foreigners visit Cappadocia every year, putting it in the top three places to go in Turkey.
Places to stay in Cappadocia during winter include Goreme, Uchisar, Ortahisar and Urgup. One unique aspect of booking hotel accommodation in Cappadocia is traditional cave hotels. For thousands of years, locals carved their homes out of tufa rock. You can also see this in Goreme open-air museum that features 14thcentury cave churches with biblical frescoes. Another top recommended thing to do is an early morning hot air balloon trip, revealing the landscape's beautiful intensity. A three-night trip to Cappadocia is enough to see all highlights, including small villages and underground cities.
2: Go Skiing in Bursa - Turkey
Turkey is one of the world's most famous beach holiday destinations, but certain spots attract Turkish holidaymakers eager to hit the slopes and skiing during winter once the snow falls. These include Mount Uludag in the Bursa region. Sitting just 30 minutes from Bursa city centre, slopes cover the Kusaklikaya and Fatintepe hills. Skiers either head up via cable car for the day or stay overnight in a mountain lodge. Standing at an altitude between 1800 and 2453 meters, Mount Uludag doesn't match the French Alps popularity yet does an excellent job of being one of Turkey's best skiing and winter sports places.
To ski and snowboard hit the mountains on a snowmobile, ice skate or heli-ski, nine prominent spots feature lakes. Mythology says the gods watched the Trojan wars from Mount Uludag, but these days, it is more about indulging in the great outdoors rather than indulging in battles. The best skiing conditions, roughly three meters of snowfall, start in late December and end in late April. Skiers enjoy 26 pistes ranging from blue to red and black during winter. Alternatively, choose from 20 kilometres of cross-country trails.
3: Mediterranean Antalya
From Bursa's cold mountains to Turkey's warmest place in winter, the Mediterranean Antalya region often hosts foreign tourists and Turks during Christmas and the New Year. The Lara beach district featuring themed hotels is famous in the city centre because they join in festive spirits, especially at the New Year with firework shows. Many foreign expats in Turkey head there at Christmas since they decorate their hotels. The start and finish of winter are the best times to swim in the sea because of adequate temperatures. Otherwise, avoid the rainy season of February.
There is a vast range of places to visit within Turkey's Antalya region. Explore the ancient ruins in Side old town, head to Alanya's red tower and castle, or enjoy a round of golf in Belek, Turkey's golfing capital, where top-class courses designed by professionals often host championship tournaments. Otherwise, for family-friendly fun, visit Antalya Aquarium. Finally, don't forget Kaleici, the old town part of Antalya city centre where it all began. Here sit ottoman houses, fine dining restaurants, boutique hotels and the old mosque and harbour district.
4: Places in Istanbul – Hub of Turkey
The number one most popular place to visit in Turkey all year round is Istanbul. Many foreigners assume it to be Turkey's capital city. However, the new government stripped the city of that title in 1923. Yet, it still maintains its reputation as Turkey's hub. Many experts and economists often say that if Istanbul were to collapse, the country of Turkey would follow suit. Most tourists start in the Sultanahmet district. Significant landmarks like Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and the Blue Mosque draw in crowds thanks to their Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.
The nearby Grand Bazaar, a 15-minute walk away, is a must-visit. Dating from when the Ottoman Empire invaded Constantinople, the bazaar is the best place in Istanbul to pick up souvenirs. Ferries in Istanbul run all year round, and passengers cruise the Bosphorus and Golden Horn to spot castles, mosques, and Yali mansions, Turkey's most expensive housing market, with mansions often fetching prices of 100 million USD or more. Finally, head across to the Princes Islands to spot old Ottoman mansions there. A four-day city break in Istanbul during winter is an excellent insight into Turkey's most famous city.
5: Frozen Lake Cildir
Sitting between the Kars and Ardahan districts in North East Turkey, Lake Cildir often attracts Turkish tourists who have completed the popular Instagram trend of the Eastern Express train running from Ankara to Kars. Sitting roughly a 60-minute drive from Kars city, Lake Cildir freezes over in the winter months, making it a popular walking attraction. Sitting at an altitude of 1959 meters, and covering 123 square kilometres, a popular fish restaurant by the lake is the prominent place to dine since the area turns to ice fishing. As Turkey's second-largest lake after Lake Van in the east, another popular attraction is skating or the Russian Troika ride drawn by two horses.
6: Forgotten City of Ani
While in Kars, also visit the forgotten Armenian city of Ani, known as the city of 1001 churches. In its prime, more than 100,000 people occupied this ancient city sitting on the border with Armenian. Additionally, it stood on the old silk trading route, making this one of Turkey's most underrated ancient cities. Unfortunately, few foreign tourists venture in this direction; hence during winter, visitor numbers dwindle. Over many years, various empires took control of Ani, but by the 18th century, locals abandoned the city and left it in ruins. Some even took stones from the ancient structures to build local houses.
Under Russian rule in 1893, excavations started, but following World War one and the Turkish War of Independence stopped. It was not until 2011, after the WMF made Ani an endangered site that the Turkish government resumed excavations. Ani stands just half an hours' drive from Kars city and is a beautiful place to combine with a trip to Lake Cildir.
7: Abant and Golcuk Lakes in Winter
In recent years, these two lakes have become Turkey's most visited place in winter. Frozen lakes and snow-covered pine trees became a photographer's jewel in the crown. Abant stretches for 7 kilometres and is 18 meters deep, and visitors explore in two ways, either on foot or via horse-driven carriage, making Abant a perfect spot for romantic couples. Surrounding restaurants offer the regional delicacy of pepperoni, and the nearby bazaar is another excellent place to shop for regional ingredients. After exploring, head to nearby Golcuk lake for another winter wonderland experience. Attracting families who light up the BBQ or walk the 1-kilometre trail, the lake is just an hour’s drive away from Abant and offers a decent selection of restaurants. Many tour agencies in Istanbul and Ankara sell overnight or one day trips to the lake region.
8: Mount Palandoken in Erzurum
The Eastern city of Erzurum has risen in profile in recent years, thanks to a delightful blend of history and skiing. The city walls dating from 4,000 BC reflects tales from days gone by, including Persian, Ottoman, Byzantine, and Seljuk reign. The city centre has many other attractions, but most people use the centre as a base to reach Palandoken ski centre, a five-minute drive away. With just over 40 pistes, this is Turkey's most popular skiing centre, and since the airport is just 15 minutes’ drive away, getting there is easy.
More About Winter in Turkey
Winter Warmer Drinks: Ranging from time-honoured year-round hot drinks of coffee and tea, when you visit winter places in Turkey, keep an eye out for more seasonal drinks. You will be surprised at the ingredients used, the tastes, and how they warm the body and provide health benefits at the same time. Otherwise, see our blog about Turkey that talks more about traditions, trends, history, culture, food, and other places to visit.