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Guide to Istanbul in December: Best Things to do, Weather, Christmas and New Year

If you're looking for a magical and vibrant place to spend your December, look no further than Istanbul! 

The City on Two Continents is a great city to visit in the winter. It's vibrant and lively, full of life and joy. The decorations are up and there are plenty of great activities to enjoy during this festive time of year.

As we get plenty of questions on what to do in Istanbul in December, we have prepared this article. Read here to find out the best things to do in Istanbul in December, as well as information on the weather and Christmas and New Year festivities.

Let’s dive in!

Best Things to Do in December in Istanbul

Here are some of the best things to do in Istanbul in December:

1. Join in the New Year's Eve Festivities

Istanbul is famous for its bustling nightlife, even in the winter. The city is full of people celebrating, and there are plenty of parties and events leading throughout the city up to New Year's Eve, including concerts, dance performances, and more. So check out what's happening around town and join in on the fun! The highlight, of course, are the New Year's Eve parties and the spectacular fireworks over the Bosphorus Strait.

2. Enjoy the Festive Lights of the City

The city is even more beautiful at night during winter, when the streets are lined with sparkling lights and shop windows are filled with glimmering Christmas ornaments. Make sure to walk around and take in the special atmosphere! Top spots to enjoy the festive lights and decorations are Istanbul's Nisantasi and Kadiköy neighborhoods, as well as Istiklal Caddesi and Abdi İpekçi streets.

3. Visit the Indoor Museums of Istanbul

For a great indoor activity, visit some of the city’s renowned museums. There are many great museums to explore in Istanbul to keep you busy during the day. With fewer crowds, they are a great way to escape the cold weather outside. Here are the 5 most popular museum:

Pro Tip: We strongly recommend buying skip-the-line tickets wherever possible. Otherwise, you may find yourself standing outside in the cold and waiting in line for hours.

Read More: See our dedicated page with the 10 most visited museums in Istanbul for more ideas.

Tip: Get the advantageous city pass Istanbul Welcome Card to save money on your visits to museums and have a better experience with guided tours included. Click here to benefit from 5% discount

4. Unwind at a traditional Turkish Bath

Istanbul Turkish Bath & Hammam: Guide & Tips

Turkish baths, or hammams, are an essential part of Turkish culture. And what better way to warm up from the cold temperatures and relax after a busy day sightseeing than by spending some time in one of these historic baths? Most offer a range of treatments, so you can really pamper yourself. 

5. Attend a Whirling Dervish Show

Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show

If you want to experience something spiritual and truly unique while you're in Istanbul in December, make sure to attend a Whirling Dervish show. Dervishes are members of a Sufi order who perform a special type of devotional dance known as sema. This dance is said to help the dervishes reach a state of spiritual ecstasy, and it's definitely something you'll never forget.

6. Do Some Holiday Shopping 

Istinye Park Shopping Mall in Istanbul

Those looking for unique gifts for their loved ones this holiday season will find Istanbul the perfect place to do their shopping. Not only will you find great deals on gifts, but the city is also full of charming markets and shops selling everything from handmade jewelry to Turkish delicacies. Those who want to do more modern shopping can do so in one of the numerous shopping malls.

7. December in Istanbul with Kids

KidZania Istanbul

If you're looking for things to do in Istanbul in December with your kids, you won’t be disappointed. From visiting the fun-filled Isfanbul Theme Park to admiring the lifelike wax figures of celebrities at Madame Tussauds, there are plenty of great activities to keep little ones entertained. So if you're planning a family holiday to Istanbul this December, be sure to check out our guide to the best things to do with kids

8. Take a Dinner Cruise on the Bosphorus

Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show

One of the best ways to see Istanbul is from the water. Choose a dinner cruise with an enclosed deck for a fun-filled yet warm evening. You'll be able to take in all the sights and sounds of this magical city while enjoying a delicious meal and traditional dance performances.

9. Catch a Live Performance 

Concert in Istanbul

Head over to one of the city's many theaters or concert halls to catch a live performance. If you are lucky, you find some great Christmas-themed shows or plays, like the ballet classic, The Nutcracker. Christmas concerts are also not uncommon in this cosmopolitan city and are organized by some of the city's Christian communities in various Istanbul churches.

Weather in Istanbul in December & January

The weather in Istanbul in the winter is usually cold but manageable. However, it's important to be prepared for cold snaps and occasional showers. Moreover, it’s not unusual for snow to fall during these months – so if you’re hoping for a white Christmas, Istanbul could be the place to be! See below average temperatures for December and January:

  • December: Average temperatures in December hover around 11 degrees Celsius (52 °F), but it can feel much colder in the evenings and early mornings, with lows of 5 degrees Celsius (41 °F )
  • January: January is usually a bit cooler, with average temperatures around 9 degrees Celsius (48 °F ). The average low is around 3 degrees Celsius (37 °F).

Tip: In general, it is recommended to pack a warm coat, gloves, cap and scarf when traveling to Istanbul in December / January. However, the weather forecast should be checked shortly before the trip, because it may well be that you are lucky and milder weather and sun is imminent. However, snow can be predicted just as well. Accordingly, you should pack sturdy and warm shoes, because Istanbul is very hilly. With the wrong shoes, you will slip or not even be able to go sightseeing out in the snow.

What to do in Istanbul at Christmas?

Christmas is a great time to visit Istanbul, as the metropolis comes alive with festive sheer. With its fairly-lit streets, the city is sure to get you into the holiday spirit. So go for a stroll and soak up the festive atmosphere. Top spots that are adorned with festive lights and beautiful decorations are Bağdat caddesi, Nisantasi, Ortaköy, Istiklal street, and the historic Galata neigborhood. 

Another great option for celebrating the Christmas holidays in Istanbul is to have a festive dinner at one of the city’s many incredible restaurants. It's a great way to celebrate the holiday with friends or family. There are plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from, so check out our Istanbul Restaurant Guide to find one that suits your taste. In addition, some of the renowned international hotels like Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, Four Seasons or Swissotel offer special Christmas meals. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance, as Christmas is a very popular time to dine out in Istanbul.

If you are looking for something more low-key, there are many bars and pubs, especially in Cihangir, Kadiköy and Galata neighborhoods, where you can enjoy yourself in a cozy and cheerful atmosphere. If you are lucky, you can even experience a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, organized by expats.

Attending Religious Christmas Service in Istanbul:

What better way to celebrate Christmas in Istanbul than by attending Christmas mass? The atmosphere is electric, and it can be really moving to be surrounded by so many people celebrating Christmas together. Istanbul is home to a significant Christian population, and there are several churches that will be holding services throughout the holiday season.

The most popular church to visit in Istanbul on Christmas is the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, called "Sent Antuan" in Turkish. It is located on Istiklal Caddesi and is the largest Catholic Church in the city. Visitors can attend Christmas masses on Christmas Eve as well throughout Christmas Day in Polish, English, Italian and Turkish. In addition, Christmas services are held at the Church of St. Mary Draperis, Hagia Triada Church and All Saints Church, among others.

What to do in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve ? 

New Year's Eve is a big deal in Istanbul, with massive parties taking place all over the city. If you want to party the night away, then go clubbing at one of Istanbul’s many nightclubs. The city has a wide range of clubs, ranging from chic and trendy places to more down-to-earth establishments.

If you have local friends, you should ask them if they host or go to a house party, as these types of New Year's Eve parties are extremely popular among locals. Another great way to celebrate is by heading to one of Istanbul's famous rooftops to watch the fireworks. The views are amazing, and you'll be able to see the whole city light up.

If you're looking for something truly unique, why not enjoy a performance by a local singer or band? There are always special events in Istanbul on New Year's Eve, so you can enjoy some of the best entertainment in the city. Dinner is often included, but prices are usually on par with European prices. Remember to make reservations at least 3 weeks in advance.

Fancy something a little out of the ordinary? Then you can attend a New Year's Eve gala at some of the city's luxurious hotels. These black-tie events typically include a four to five-course dinner, live music, and dancing.

New Year’s Celebrations at the Bosphorus: 

One of the best ways to ring in the new year is to watch the spectacular fireworks display over the Bosphorus. For several years now, fireworks have taken place over the Bosphorus every New Year's Eve. As the clock strikes midnight, you'll be treated to a spectacular show as fireworks light up the sky and reflect off the water - a truly magical experience that you won't want to miss!

If you want to join in on the festivities, make sure to head to the Bosphorus shore early to snag a spot with a good view. Alternatively, watch the fireworks at a restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus, or even join a special New Year's Eve dinner cruise where you sail down the Bosphorus and enjoy Turkish delicacies, Turkish shows and DJ performances.

  • You can book your New Year's Eve dinner cruise here

As you see, Istanbul is a truly magical place during December, so make sure to add it to your list of places to visit this holiday season! For more inspiration, check out our list with the 50 best-rated Places for Sightseeing in Istanbul, as well as our List with recommended Hotels in Istanbul.

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