Celebrating Christmas in Istanbul — Pros and Cons

The roots of Santa Claus lay in Turkey, to be precise in Patara near Myra. Already in the 4th century A.D.E. St Nicholas dropped bags of money down the chimneys to help people. But today, in a country with a 98% Muslim population, Christmas is a day like any other day. Yet, spending Christmas in Istanbul is not that odd an idea — here’s why.

Picture of Christmas decorations in Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey.
Christmas decorations in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. © Photo by Reddit

5 Reasons Why Istanbul Is a Nice Christmas Destination

  • Christmas Decoration — Starting mid-December, streets and stores are decorated in a similar fashion Western countries do for Christmas. You’ll find plenty of Christmas trees, (street) lights and even an occasional Santa Claus. Not that Turks celebrate the birth of Christ; they’re just gearing up for New Year celebrations. But the atmosphere leading up to that day is similar to what we’re used to for Christmas in the West.
  • No Christmas Hype — You can enjoy the Christmas atmosphere without all the commercial elements. I personally don’t miss 30 repetitions a day of Jingle Bells or White Christmas, just to name a few. There simply aren’t any special celebrations, except for masses held at some churches (see below).
  • Lesser Sightseeing Queues — In Istanbul, December 25th is business as usual. In other words, Istanbul spends the festive season in much the same way as it always does: bustling and at your service. Not only are all the historic sights open, on top of it they are fairly quiet with pretty short queues — a blessing.
Picture of Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul, Turkey.
Anthony of Padua Church. © Marco Zanderrari
  • Christmas Masses — If you wish to attend a special Christmas mass, that’s no problem. Just go to Anthony of Padua, the largest Catholic church in Istanbul. It’s located on Istiklal Caddesi, on your left as you walk from Taksim towards Tünel. On foot it will take about 20-25 minutes. To be on the safe side, please check out mass hours at least a day beforehand.
  • It’s Only a Week from New Year — Istanbul’s New Year celebrations are famous. On New Year’s Eve Istanbul is at full swing with restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs fully booked. And if you prefer to celebrate outdoors, head for Nişantası‘s giant street party. So why not combine both year-end festivities while you’re here?

Why an Istanbul Christmas May Not Be Your Cup of Tea

  • Not Really Low Season — Istanbul’s winter is not the most attractive travel weather for the average tourist. Yet, the last week of the year hotel prices tend to rise a bit. Be on the lookout for early booking discounts.
  • It’s Winter Time — If you don’t like the summer heat, the festive season is a great alternative. But Istanbul winters can be wet and cold. To make sure you’ll have a fantastic time, pack something waterproof and wear lots of layers.

Further Recommended Reading

  1. Where (Not) to Celebrate New Year in Istanbul?
  2. Istanbul Money Strategy: Cash Or Credit Card?
  3. Turkish Customs and Etiquette
  4. Do you have a question? Ask it here!

Last updated on 03/07/2015