Don’t Underestimate Turkey in Winter

Turkey winter destination

One of the most frequent questions I get asked nowadays is what’s my favorite country.

Um, is it just me or is that the hardest question in the world?! Don’t ask me that – it’s like picking a favorite child…out of around 30….

I guess I’ve been busy!

Turkey winter destination
You don’t get this shot of Ephesus in the summer

Turkey winter destination

Places stand out for me for many different reasons, and there’s rarely been I place that I seriously didn’t enjoy. But it’s like comparing apples to oranges, and I hate to exclude anyone so I usually answer, well, “I loved Iceland, but Spain has my heart, and OMG Italy you just can’t beat, but Jordan is absolutely incredible…” the list goes on and on as I evade the question.

I love everything, ok?! What can I say?

But there is one country that’s always in the back of my mind, a place I don’t think always gets the attention it deserves, and depending on how hungry I am when asked the dreaded “favorite country” questions, it usually is the first one out of my mouth.

Turkey.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

I can hardly believe that 10 months have gone by since I traveled to Turkey on what would become the beginning of my journey to becoming a professional travel blogger – whatever THAT means.

Turkey has gotten a lot of shit this past year in the media, but you know what? It is STILL one of my all-time favorite countries. Now I know I just completely undermined my own authority in offering advice about favorite countries, but let me just say, I love Turkey.

And a solid 70% of my love of this east-meets-west country is rooted in food. Turkish food is phe-NOM-e-nal – see what I did there?

Noms.

Turkey winter destination

I might get a lot of hate for this, but I feel confident shouting out loud that Turkey is generally considered to be a summer destination, or at least “warm weather” destination. From the sexy coastline to hiking activities, at least for me, I usually thought of going to Turkey when it was warm enough to swim somewhere pretty and get a tan.

Boy was I wrong.

Not only is Turkey fucking stunning in winter, I would even argue that it’s BETTER visited in the colder months.

I know, I know, I know. Hear me out.

While the same can be said for places around the world, here are my thoughts on why Turkey shouldn’t be overlooked in winter. 

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

1. It’s significantly cheaper

Prepare to have your mind blown. Are you ready?

The reason I decided to head to Turkey in February was because I was searching for cheap getaways on Skyscanner, and it popped up.

Washington D.C. – Istanbul, round-trip on Lufthansa, Friday afternoon to the following Sunday afternoon

$391

ROUND-TRIP!!

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

Holy crap! Those are 2008 prices! When you see a deal that good, there is only one thing you do, click buy and don’t look back!

And it only gets better from there.

Traveling in Turkey in February is incredibly cheap because it’s the major off-season. This means that hotels are discounted significantly – in fact, most hotels offer a winter-summer price list. The same goes for tours, restaurants and activities. There is usually a discount for booking in the winter.

I’m not talking about a measly $20-$30 off, I mean like a 75% reduction.

And I don’t know about you guys, but I love a discount!

Turkey winter destination

2. It’s empty

If there is one thing I hate when traveling, it’s crowds. Not a fan.

Large groups of people make me anxious. Large groups of idiot cruise ship tourists (which is pretty much all of western Turkey in the summer) make me want to go hide somewhere and never come out again.

But in winter? No cruises! No idiots! Turkey is empty except for Turkish people and some brave foreigners.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination
Empty bazaar in Istanbul

The perks of visiting a popular destination in off-season are endless. Less crowds means no waiting in line. For example, to visit the famous Hagia Sofia even in winter has a line, but I went early and waited about 5 minutes. I can ONLY imagine how lovely that gets in the summertime.

I loved getting lost in the back streets of Istanbul with only a few mangy cats for company. I loved hiking all over Cappadocia and not seeing a single soul. I loved exploring the ancient city of Ephesus with about 10 other people.

For me, you can’t beat traveling halfway across the world to a gorgeous historic and fabulous country AND feel like you have the place to yourself. It was as if I rented Turkey for a week and it was all for me.

Turkey winter destination

3. It’s easier to meet locals

Because you aren’t fighting tooth and nail to get around large crowds of tourists, this means you are much more likely to have a more local and authentic experience, if that’s your jam – I know it is for me!

The natives are friendlier because they aren’t jaded from listening to hundreds of tourists ask where they can buy good carpets and thus are much more likely to talk to you.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination
Learning to cook Turkish food with Turkish Flavours in Istanbul

Maybe because I was traveling alone, but I found Turks to be some of the most inviting and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered on the road. I made friends everywhere I went, and I really enjoyed learning about the culture and history from complete strangers and people I just happened to meet on the road.

I make a point of trying to do this wherever I travel, and I can tell you firsthand, it is much more difficult to do in places crowded with tourists and visitors.

From getting my fortune read in the famous coffee dregs in Turkish to learning to cook traditional dishes in the home of the owner Turkish Flavours to making pottery with local artisans in Cappadocia to learning to weave near Ephesus, I felt like I really got to experience some truly local moments, and that makes all the difference for me.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

4. It’s absolutely gorgeous

Again, when I envisioned Turkey over the past few years, my mind was plastered with images of rocky beaches, crystalline waters, and endless sunshine.

It’s so much more than that.

My first day in Cappadocia, I was touring around with Middle Earth Travel, and I was completely knackered because I got up at the crack of dawn to go hot air ballooning but it was cancelled because of the winds. It was a blustery cloudy day outside, nothing special, and I fell asleep with my face smooshed against the glass window of the van as we drove to the next site.

When I woke up, the world had gone white. Apparently I had died and gone to Narnia.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

The landscape was covered in crisp, fresh snow, and boy, if I didn’t think Cappadocia was magical before, I did now.

Being me, I immediately blurted out, “STOP THE VAN,” so we could get out and take photos.

Seeing this ancient land, completely bereft of people and covered in a soft layer of snow was not something I’d likely soon forget.

Absolutely silent and peaceful, standing there in that vast white countryside, I realized  how happy I was with choosing Turkey to travel to in winter.

And it only got better over the next two days where I spent outside exploring Cappadocia in the snow, especially seeing it from the skies hot air ballooning at dawn. Somehow getting to see it covered in snow made it all the more special and memorable, knowing it was an occurrence that few got to witness.

Turkey winter destination

Turkey winter destination

Visiting Turkey in February was eye-opening in many respects, but perhaps the biggest take-away I left with was having my eyes opened to visiting a place outside of the standard tourist calendar. Have you ever been surprised by a place like that?

Have you ever been to Turkey? Would you consider going in winter? Have you ever to a popular tourist destination way outside of the off season? What did you think? Spill!

Turkey winter destination

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100 Comments on “Don’t Underestimate Turkey in Winter

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  1. Hi Liz,

    Have you been to northeast of Turkey? If you haven’t you should see the magnificent nature and the plateaus of Kackar Mountains. I have been to Rize and Artvin province last year and there were totally different local culture, an amazing nature and the plateaus. Every season is amazing in Rize and Artvin, here are some keywords on Google,

    https://www.google.com/search?q=rize+camlihemsin&safe=off&espv=210&es_sm=93&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=RKCkUp7tEMqz4ASdt4Fw&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1920&bih=978

    https://www.google.com/search?q=rize+plateaus&safe=off&espv=210&es_sm=93&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=nKCkUr_yI8im4gSIzIDgAg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1920&bih=978

    https://www.google.com/search?q=rize+pokut&safe=off&espv=210&es_sm=93&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=EaGkUor7C8uN4gSyuYGQAg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1920&bih=978

    Huseyin

    1. Thanks for the tips! I really wanted to head to that part of Turkey but I didn’t have time on this trip – I will DEFINITELY be coming back!

  2. Off-season travel pretty much comes with the territory of being a language assistant here in Spain, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I initially experienced Córdoba and Granada in the winter (brrrrrrrrr) but even though the skies were gray and it was a bit rainy, it was refreshing to explore those cities for the first time without the massive hordes of tourists they’re known for.

    Turkey looks beautiful, and it keeps moving up my to-visit list! ^_^

  3. I visited Andalusian Spain over the week of Thanksgiving and it was perfect. My apartment and rental car were cheaper and the tourist sites were much less crowded than they would have been in high season. The weather was even perfect! I totally agree with you on traveling at “off-peak” times in order to be able to better enjoy yourself.

      1. Hi there

        I am planning a trip to turkey in feb next year. I’m just a little nervous about the weather. I am from south africa and never really experienced snow or really low temperatures before. I have no clue how to prepare my self and pack for a winter holiday . Do you have any advice or tips for me…

        Thank you
        Annu

  4. Hi Liz!

    I LOVE this post! I’m currently living and working in Dubai, U.A.E. and Turkey and Jordan are seriously the next two destinations I am dyyying to visit! I also really love winter (I’m from the Canadian prairies), so travelling to Turkey in the winter looks like it would be a lot of fun!

    On another note, I found your blog when I was researching Luxor, Egypt and I’m now addicted to your blog! Your Luxor posts were very helpful, so thank you 🙂

    I went to Luxor for 4 days last weekend, and it was fantastic. Egypt has also received tons of negative press lately, and Luxor is seriously hurting from the lack of tourism. For example, my group and I (4 ladies plus our guide) were the ONLY people in attendance at the Karnak Sound and Light Show, whereas there used to be 300-400 tourists in attendance. We were totally safe the entire trip and I wish more people would go!

    You should come visit the U.A.E. or Oman next on your quest to conquer the Middle East!

    – Emma 🙂

    1. I WILL def come visit! I really love the middle east, though I had mixed feelings about Luxor – how did you deal with the touts? In spite of all that you are 100% right, tourism is dead in Egypt right now and it’s so sad!

      I have a lot of posts about Jordan and Turkey on here, be sure to check them out!

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