Istanbul is an ancient city with official roots as a city, Byzantium, dating back to 660 BC. It is located on the Bosphorus, an important transcontinental waterway that divides the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It is located to the east of the Mediterranean, and its’ climate is considered a mixture of a Mediterranean climate and a humid subtropical climate. The city is generally humid all year long, resulting in large amounts of fog during the autumn and winter months, and to a lesser degree during the summer. Rainfall mainly occurs during the autumn, winter, and spring, although occasional thunderstorms rock Istanbul during the unpredictable summers. Similar to other cities that are located near bodies of water, Istanbul has a number of microclimates, stark changes in temperature over very short spaces. The northern sections of the city experience a much more oceanic climate (Mediterranean) while the southern sections are much warmer and do not see as much of an effect from humidity.
Chance of a Thunderstorm23°/17°
Chance of Rain22°/18°
Summer in Istanbul is a wildly popular time to visit this ancient wonder of the Ottoman Empire, and hordes of tourists will find their way into the city from all directions during the summer season. Visitors should expect the temperature to be quite hot in the summer, but the evenings are comfortable and warm, and rainfall is rare; there are only about 5 days of precipitation per month during the summer season.
The average mean temperature during Istanbul’s summer season is an overnight low of 19.5C (67F), while the daytime high climbs to a peak of 28.5C (83F).
If you choose to visit during summer in Istanbul, be ready for hot, dry days, with some damp humidity that is burned off by the afternoon. The city is filled with outdoor activities, and there is not an overwhelming presence of air conditioning in many popular spots, so bring your water and your sunscreen. A must-see spot during any time of the year in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia. It was the world’s largest cathedral for more than a thousand years, was then converted to a mosque, and has since been turned into an iconic museum of Istanbul. Another important site to explore during your wanders through Istanbul is Sultanahmet Square, where you can still see ruins of the columns from the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Close to the ruins of the Hippodrome is the Column of Constantine, which was constructed almost 1,700 years ago. To cool off from the hot summer sun, get close to the water. Jump in a ferry and cross the legendary waterway of the Bosphorus to the opposite side of the city, and along the way, take in the sights of parks, ancient palaces, and more modern waterside mansions. When you need to sate some hunger or quench some thirst, try having a meal at one of the traditional meyhane, Istanbul’s answer to a tapas bar. They are scattered all across the city, but the most famous area for them is the Flower Passage, particularly the meyhane called Boncuk, which has fantastic food and live, traditional, Turkish music. For a nightcap, the new trend in Istanbul is rooftop dining and drinking. The skyline of the city is something to behold, so choose from any number of rooftop locales for a spectacular view of the city and a trendy, hip energy in these more modern bars.
The rainy season officially begins in autumn, although it is relatively mild in September, so expect your autumnal trip to include a decent amount of rainfall (autumn has an average of 9 days of precipitation per month) and slightly cooler temperatures, particularly in November.
The average mean temperature during autumn in Istanbul is an overnight low of 13.5C (56F) and a daytime high of 20C (68F).
Autumn is a transitional time in Istanbul, when the majority of tourists begin to disperse and the weather begins to change. If you visit during the autumn, expect to balance your time between indoor and outdoor activities due to the unpredictable weather. One great activity during autumn in Istanbul is the Istanbul Book Fair. If you are in the city in November, more than 200 of the city’s book publishers as well as dozens of international publishing houses and writers converge on the city for lectures, round table discussions, signings, and workshops. It is one of the largest book fairs in the world. For those less literary minded travelers, spend a day wandering through the Istanbul Modern in the Karakoy area of the city. It is a massive 8,000 square meter art museum dedicated to the most cutting-edge modern art from Turkey and abroad. If the day is particularly dry and the skies are clear, perhaps you should climb the Galata Tower, where you can see an unbelievable 360-degree view of the entire metropolis of Istanbul. If the weather is less than ideal, hide away in a traditional Turkish hamam. These crosses between massage parlors and spas are where you can have all the stresses of the day beaten out of you while you lie on a prone slab. It may sound a bit intense, but this traditional Turkish activity is surprisingly relaxing, and a sort of rite of passage for visitors to Istanbul. After your body is good and relaxed after the workout at the hamam, find a cozy corner in a narghile café. Narghile is more commonly known as hubbly-bubbly or hookah, and is an ancient social activity of this region of the world, and the heady smoke, when combined with strong Turkish espresso, can create quite a euphoric experience. The American Pazari is probably the best location in the city for tourist-friendly narghile cafes, although brave visitors can try one anywhere in the city.
Winter in Istanbul is definitely not the peak season for tourism in the city, but there are still dozens of wonderful autumnal activities to participate in, despite the heavy rains and cool temperatures. Just be sure to pack an umbrella and dress in layers, as it rains approximately 15 days per month during the winter season.
The average mean temperature of winter in Istanbul is an overnight low of 5C (41F) and a daytime high of 10C (50F).
Winter in Istanbul can be discouraging for some travelers looking for warmth and sunshine, but for those who know what to expect and what to spend their time doing, the winter season can be a lot of fun in a city slightly emptied of tourists. One great indoor activity in the winter is to explore the opulent grandeur of the Dolmabahce’s Palace, one of the most ornate examples of Turkish wealth and architecture in the entire city. To get out of the rain, and still be in the fresh air, check out the underside of the Galata Bridge, which links the two sides of the European Istanbul. Under the bridge, visitors can find a wealth of restaurants, shops, and bars to escape the weather and still stay in thick of Istanbul culture. It seems like it rains every other day in the winter (because it actually does), but if you find a day without rain, go out into the city and brave the wilds of the Grand Bazaar. There are over 5,500 vendors in this world-famous bartering and haggling center of Istanbul. Prepare your silver tongue and start bargaining for handbags, rugs, shoes, watches, jewelry, books, and anything else you can imagine, but remember, these guys are professionals! In terms of cultural events, winter in Istanbul has a few options, including the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, a 24-year old festival showcasing three new talents every night during a period in November and December. If you fancy a dance without the stifling crowd of summertime, try to time your visit to the Galata Mevlevihanesi to catch a performance of whirling dervishes this winter. They only perform twice a month at that location, since their sect is technically forbidden from the city, but you can also catch these wild, traditional dancers at the Sirkeci train station three times a week.
Spring in Istanbul means a rise in tourist numbers and temperature, and a much-needed drop off in precipitation. The days become warm and comfortable in April and May, while the average precipitation in spring is only 7 days per month.
The average mean temperature of spring in Istanbul is an overnight low of 9.5C (49F), reaching a comfortable daytime high of 17C (63F).
Once spring has sprung in Istanbul, the streets fill back up with people and business resumes as usual. A hidden treat that many tourists avoid is the Egyptian Bazaar, which is the home of one of the best delis in the world, Erzincalilar, and then grab some lokum (Turkish Delights) for dessert. Next, dedicate at least half a day to the Topkapi Palace, the resplendent seat of power for the Ottoman Empire for more than three centuries. Make sure you pop your head into the Harem area, as well as the innermost courtyard for amazing views of the palace’s architecture, and the surrounding city. Spring is a time when some visitors choose to leave the city for short day trips, and Princes’ Island is a very good destination. This used to be a religiously divided getaway for the rich and famous non-Muslims, but is now a melting pot of cultural influence and old-school traditions on a beautiful island setting very close to the city. For those who want to stick within the city walls, try taking a walk along those walls. Built 1600 years ago, they are the largest remaining structures of the Byzantine Empire, and the 4 miles of impregnable walls makes for an impressive springtime stroll. For an injection of culture, spring in Istanbul offers three major International Festivals; Film, Theatre, and Puppets. The film festival in April is arguably the most popular, and for foreign visitors, it is a chance to catch a few movies in language you understand, while rubbing shoulders with international film stars who you may not even know. Although often overshadowed by the Hagia Sophia, the Church of St. Savior in Chora is a magnificent example of Byzantine architecture from more than 1,600 years ago, and houses Byzantine, Christian, and Islamic styles, due to the series of conversion it has had over the centuries. This church is a must-see for any visitor to Istanbul before they leave the city.
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