Winter In Istanbul

It Sure Beats My Hometown

This year marks the 28th winter that I’ll be spending in Istanbul, and after growing up in a small town in Northern Ontario, I couldn’t be happier. Today is December 10 and it’s a balmy 18 degrees with gray skies and a high probability of rain. Compare that to my hometown of Sault Ste Marie, where tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow with a high of 1 degree and a low of -8, and perhaps you’ll understand why I’m so happy.

Things To Do In Istanbul When You’re Cold

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy snow and cooler weather and Istanbul has both. The average temperature for the winter months hovers around 10 degrees but colder weather usually brings snow just in time for my semester break at the end of January.  My family and I used to take advantage of this wintry holiday by heading to a village called Gökcedere, near the city of Yalova on the south-eastern shore of the Marmara Sea. An area of heavily forested hills, Gökcedere boasts a national park containing an arboretum, thermal springs, and several Turkish hamams. If you’ve never heard the word “hamam” before, think sauna plus a  waist-deep, piping hot, thermal wading pool, a dipping tank of icy water, alcoves for semi-private bathing, and a cooling area where you can rest in clean warm towels, drinking fragrant Turkish tea in small tulip-shaped glasses. A massage is optional if you want to get your limbs torn off by a burly over-enthusiastic Turkish masseuse.

The Magic Of Snow

As for the city during a snowstorm, it really does transform into a winter wonderland. There’s something about the rarity and brevity (usually no more than 4 days to a week) of such weather that makes it so much more valuable when it arrives. The city dons a fluffy cloak, the light from shop windows glows more invitingly and Christmas decorations in malls and town centers shine all the more cheerily. Yes, there are Christmas decorations, though Turks save their celebration for New Year’s Eve, exchanging gifts and enjoying family dinners on a holiday devoid of religious significance.

I love sitting in one of the many coffee shops that line the small roads of our nearest town center in Kadiköy, watching passers by negotiate the slippery streets while the lapa lapa snow (huge fluffy flakes) falls gently from the sky. There’s always a charming Christmas-themed display at the Cafer Erol Confectionary in the corner of one particular square, where people stop to take photos  and selfies. And even though the first snowfalls come well after Christmas and New Years, I feel they help extend the holiday season into February – when my wife finally lets me take down our Christmas tree.


Given A Choice…?

Apologies to my hometown – I’m sure I’ll hear from several people reminding me of all the winter sports I miss out on. The hockey, the skating, the skiing, etc. Well, I was never one for skating, though I did enjoy cross-country skiing from time to time. At any rate, there are indoor skating rinks in Istanbul, and if I ever do feel like going skiing, Uludağ mountain is just a few hours away by ferry. Mostly what I remember about winters in Canada is endlessly shoveling snow as a youth, and trudging through the slush in Toronto one day, while having my ears torn off by freezing cold winds that dive like ninja assassins off skyscrapers the next.  I’ll take an Istanbul winter any day.


(Cafer Erol Confectionary)


Michael Wray

Hi, My name's Michael. I'm a writer/illustrator working as a primary ESL teacher in Istanbul. I love art, music, literature, and traveling.


  1. Lois K on December 10, 2022 at 1:27 pm

    Great to hear about Christmas over there. I had no idea that Istanbul got snow!

  2. Stephanie on December 11, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    Lovely! İstanbul is truly magical in the snow.

  3. Sharon Dunseath on December 11, 2022 at 9:40 pm

    Awesome read, Mike!! Happy holidays to you and yours! Love you man!!

  4. Sharon Dunseath on December 11, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    Great read Mike!! Happy Holidays to you and yours!! Love you man!!!

    • Michael Wray on December 12, 2022 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks, Sharon. Love to you and the rest of the gang.

  5. Judy Wray on February 6, 2023 at 6:27 pm

    I would love to spend a winter in Istanbul. It sounds magical !

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