christmas in istanbul

How Festive is Christmas in Istanbul ? (Updated 2023)

I’ll get right to it: Christmas in Istanbul is not so festive. But, the good news is that you can still find the Christmas spirit in an international mega city like Istanbul. That is if you look for it and know where to find it. So in that case the question is:

How is Christmas in Istanbul?

christmas in istanbul

Christmas in Istanbul is just another normal day in the lives of Istanbulians. Christmas isn’t a public holiday in Turkey. Since the majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated. The Muslim population makes up more than 90% of the population, and Christians, less than 2%. Turkey is an almost entirely Muslim country. Unlike most Western countries, Christmas time isn’t the festive season here. Christmas Eve is just another evening and Christmas Day is just another day of the week. It’s a normal day. However, you can be surprised to see a Christmas tree here and there, and some Christmas decorations. This is because New Year is celebrated in Turkey and Istanbul, in a similar way to Christmas. So when you see a Christmas tree, don’t be surprised if the locals call it a “New Year Tree”.

Similarly, Christmas lights are New Year’s lights, Christmas decorations are New Year’s decorations, etc. So not much happens on December 24th or December 25th. You won’t hear much Christmas music, but you’ll see the Christmas decorations. All of these Christmas decorations, disguised as “New Year’s decorations” are actually for New Year’s Eve. So in short, you will see and feel a little of the Christmas spirit, but it’ll be a little off since it won’t be for Christmas.

Where are the best places to see Christmas decorations?

1. Shopping Malls

Interestingly, Christmas in Istanbul is quite tangible in shopping malls. The best place to find Christmas decorations in Istanbul might just be shopping malls. Shopping malls in Istanbul attract a lot of foreign tourists, and they do Christmas decorations. You’re likely to find a beautiful Christmas tree at the entrance of a central mall. Most shopping malls in Istanbul are colossal, and the central ones are very international. You can find a glimpse of the Christmas atmosphere here. Don’t expect to hear Christmas music like in shopping malls in the West though, that is quite unlikely. It is called “New Year Tree” after all. Plus, you can do your Christmas shopping while you’re at it! Here’s our comprehensive article about the best shopping malls in Istanbul: The Best Mall in Istanbul? (Top 11 Malls in Istanbul). If you’ll find some Christmas decorations, it’s likely to be in one of these shopping malls on our list.

christmas in istanbul

2. Pedestrian Streets and City Squares

Typically, the best places to see Christmas decorations are major pedestrian streets, shopping malls, and city squares. For example, Istiklal Street and Taksim Square are great places to start. Istiklal Street is the biggest pedestrian shopping avenue in Istanbul. Taksim Square, on the other hand, is the largest city square in Istanbul where Istiklal begins. On Taksim Square and Istiklal Street, you can see Christmas decorations and Christmas lights. These will be for the New Year celebrations, of course. Bagdat Street on the Asian side of Istanbul could also be a great place to explore.

christmas in istanbul

Where can I feel the Christmas spirit?

If you want to experience a proper Christmas in Istanbul, why not go to a church? There are dozens of functional churches in Istanbul, and most likely, all of them will have Christmas masses. If you want to listen to Christmas carols, immerse yourself in the Christmas atmosphere, go to a church! Christmas services are held in central churches like St. Antoine church, Crimean memorial church, Anglican Churches of Istanbul, and in many more places. Christmas in Istanbul may not have the Christmas atmosphere of other countries, but Christmas services and Christmas celebrations still take place in churches. For example, the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, also known as St. Antoine Church or Saint Antoine Church, is the city’s largest catholic church and will hold all kinds of church services including Christmas services. Saint Antoine Church will also have a Christmas market. Check it out!

christmas in istanbul

Some of the churches you might want to check on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day are: Mary Catholic Church, Church Of St. Benoit, French Catholic Church, Saint Augustin Catholic Church, Latin Catholic Church

Another place you can check or even contact is the community of expat women in Istanbul. The community of International Women of Istanbul often arranges organizations, and even has its own Christmas market called the “winter bazaar”. You can check their website, learn about their events, and contact them from this link.

Weather on the day of Christmas in Istanbul

How’s the weather on the day of Christmas in Istanbul? How’s the weather on the December 24th, and December 25th? Typically, in December, the weather gets cold in Istanbul, but its not the coldest time of the year. The coldest time of the year starts after January and lasts until April. Around the Christmas season, the temperature is normally around 5-10 °C (40-50 °F). So this time of the year isn’t typically the time when it snows but rather rains. So expect a cold, rainy, cloudy weather. This is the time of the year when you dress well, but it doesn’t snow just yet. Some years, it doesn’t snow at all. But typically, if it does, it does after the New Year.

Is it crowded during Christmas in Istanbul?

Istanbul is a mega city of 16 million residents, so yes. This city never rests. It is always crowded. However, Christmas time is even more crowded. Since there are Christmas holidays in many Western countries, the number of tourist arrivals increases this time of the year. So Christmas in Istanbul is indeed a crowded time of the year. Not because we celebrate it, but because foreign tourists have Christmas holidays back in their countries. This also shows that a big portion of tourist arrivals to Istanbul are from Western countries (mainly Europe).

Story of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)

 Santa Claus church

Did you know that Saint Nicholas of Myra, globally known as Santa Claus was born in a city located in modern-day Turkey? Called “Noel Baba” in Turkish, St. Nicholas was born in modern-day Demre, which is located in southern Turkey. Demre is a district in the city of Antalya. Saint Nicholas was an early Christian bishop of Greek origin, who served during the time of the Roman Empire. He lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. His generosity and kind acts of secretly giving gifts to those who needed them earned him the reputation of Father Christmas. Originally, St. Nicholas was commemorated and gifts were given on December 6th. However, when Martin Luther suggested this day to be moved and combined with Christmas to help bring more focus to Jesus Christ, the date that St. Nicholas was commemorated and Christmas got united in a singular day. Today, St. Nicholas is known by many different names worldwide, from Father Christmas to Santa Claus, to Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Papa Noel, and Noel Baba in Turkish.


christmas in istanbul

Christmas in Istanbul may not have a very strong Christmas spirit to it. However, the Christmas hype is apparent with New Year’s decorations. Christmas services are held in churches every year, and Christmas decorations can still be seen in many places. Make sure you dress well if you’re traveling to Istanbul during Christmas, as it gets cold. Christmas in Istanbul may not be the coldest time of the year, but it certainly is not warm, yet it still is a busy time of the year! We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!