With mountains, deserts, seashores and cities among its diverse offerings, there’s almost always a good place to travel to in Turkey no matter the time of year.
The country’s range of landscapes also means great regional variation in its traditional cuisine. Small towns and villages often host colorful festivals around the harvest period of their local crop, whether it be olives, grapes, artichokes or apricots.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the two most important Muslim holidays, Ramazan Bayramı (Eid al-Fitr) and Kurban Bayramı (Eid al-Adha), follow the lunar calendar so their dates shift slightly every year. These holidays are extremely popular times for Turks to travel, so expect more crowds and higher prices. Some small businesses may also be closed during those periods. (Think traveling around Thanksgiving or Christmas in the US to get an idea of the effect.)
Here’s how to get the best out of Turkey in every season.
High Season: June to August
Best for beaches, Black Sea highlands and outdoor events
Sun seekers both foreign and domestic flock to Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts in summer, meaning crowds and costs go up with the temperatures. Booking ahead is a must in popular destinations, many of which also host lively outdoor festivals featuring performances by the seaside or in historic amphitheaters. If you’re not on the water, many parts of the country, including Istanbul and Cappadocia, can be unpleasantly hot in summer, but it’s a great time to explore the cooler green highlands of the Black Sea mountains.
Shoulder Season: April to May, September to October
Best for sightseeing, hiking and cultural events
Spring and fall are pleasant times of year to be almost anywhere in the country, with temperatures often warm enough for outdoor dining and drinking but not oppressively hot. Istanbul and other big cities usually have a lively calendar of arts and cultural events. In the fall months, it’s still warm enough to swim, especially along the Mediterranean coast, and blissfully relaxed after school holidays end and most tourists return home.
Low Season: November to March
Best for skiing and for bargains elsewhere
Winter is high season in ski-resort areas, but elsewhere you’ll find good deals and few other visitors. The weather can be dreary, but Turkey’s many museums provide lots to do indoors, and its hamams (Turkish bathhouses) are great for warming up. Dinner in a meyhane (tavern) or ocakbaşı (grill house) is a cozy way to pass a lively evening. In coastal areas, you may find some accommodations and restaurants closed for the season, and local transportation more limited, but the weather can still be relatively mild.
Istanbul is generally cold, gray and wet, and coastal resorts are deserted, but ski season is in full swing on Mt. Erciyes in Cappadocia, as well as farther east in Erzurum and Kars, and at Kartepe and Uludağ within driving distance of Istanbul. Black Sea anchovies (hamsi) are at their fattest and most delicious.
Key events: Greek Orthodox Epiphany, Selçuk Camel Wrestling Championship
Can’t warm up? A steamy hamam might do the trick. Early signs of spring are starting to crack through the winter chill along Turkey’s southern coast in places like Datça, which hosts an annual almond blossom festival.
Key event: Datça Almond Blossom Festival
Kurdish communities in Turkey celebrate Newroz, a festival marking the beginning of spring. Wintry Istanbul starts to defrost, and days on the Mediterranean coast can be sunny and warm (though sea temperatures will take some time to catch up).
Key events: Newroz, İzmir European Jazz Festival
Tulips bloom in parks across Istanbul, as do wildflowers in many parts of the country, making April a wonderful (if occasionally rainy) time of year for hiking on southern routes like the Lycian Way and Carian Trail. Çanakkale draws visitors en masse for Anzac Day, the annual commemoration of Allied soldiers (mostly from Australia and New Zealand) killed on the WWI battlefields of Gallipoli.
Key events: Istanbul Tulip Festival, Anzac Day, Istanbul Film Festival, Alaçatı Herb Festival, Urla Artichoke Festival
Istanbul’s sidewalk cafes and rooftop bars are hopping, and the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are warm but not yet sweltering. Even Turkey’s far east is thawing out. It’s a good time to be pretty much anywhere in the country.
Key event: Hıdrellez
The summer festival season kicks off with outdoor classical concerts in Istanbul, some at historic sites. Beaches are starting to get busy, and the heat in the country’s southeast is becoming formidable.
Key events: Istanbul Music Festival, International Bursa Festival, Tekirdağ Cherry Festival
The green high pastures (yayla) in the mountains of the Black Sea region offer relief from the heat elsewhere. Lush lavender fields are blooming in Isparta’s Kuyucak village and İzmir’s Seferihisar.
Key events: Istanbul Jazz Festival, Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race, Istanbul Opera Festival, Bozcaada Jazz Festival, Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Championships
With beaches heaving with people during the high summer holidays, a blue cruise on a gulet (traditional wooden yacht) around the Aegean or Mediterranean coast is an ideal escape. In Istanbul, catch a breeze on a ferry ride or Bosphorus tour. It’s also prime time to hike the Kaçkar Mountains, which are snowed in for much of the rest of the year.
Key events: Gümüşlük Classical Music Festival, Bodrum Ballet Festival, Ephesus Opera and Ballet Festival
Beach towns start to get a bit quieter (though remain wonderfully warm) as the school holidays end. Istanbul bustles again, with a packed cultural calendar, especially when it comes to visual art exhibitions and events.
Key events: Istanbul Biennial (alternating years), Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival, Bosphorus Cup Istanbul Regatta
Cappadocia and the coasts are generally still warm, Istanbul usually has more nice days than gray ones, the southeast is starting to cool off, and crowds and prices are diminished most everywhere.
Key events: Istanbul Design Biennial (every other year), Republic Day, Cappadocia Ultra-Trail, Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival
Rainy season starts to set in around much of the country, making this a great time to invest in a museum pass. Brighten up a dreary day with a fresh-pressed juice – it’s pomegranate season!
Key events: Istanbul Marathon, Istanbul Theater Festival, Istanbul Puppet Festival, Bursa Karagöz Shadow Puppetry Festival
The fairy chimneys of Cappadocia are even more otherworldly than usual when it snows (though inclement weather often keeps the famous hot-air balloons grounded). The central Anatolia city of Konya puts on a week of events commemorating the death of Mevlana, the Sufi mystic and poet better known in the West as Rumi.
Key event: Konya Mevlana Festival