After a decade of some ups and mostly downs, Turkey's tourism industry is galloping at a nice clip, thank you very much. Almost 10 international five-star hotel chains opened properties in Istanbul in 2007 alone, and the Hilton group is planning 25 additional hotels in Turkey in the coming years. So basically, if you're looking for a quiet bargain, the window of opportunity has long since passed. For the inconvenience of traveling on full flights, staying in hotels booked to capacity, and paying top dollar for almost everything (except where the dollar sign has changed to the euro or British pound sterling), visitors will be greeted by a city of intriguing contradictions positively overflowing with optimism for a more prosperous future.
Nevertheless, the seasonal ebbs and flows of tourism in Turkey follow some general patterns. The early spring months of April (tulip season!) and May and sometimes late March usher in the anticipated start of spring, when flowers are in bloom and the weather is mild. All of the stars align in June and July, when sunny days are followed by pleasant evenings of wining and dining on rooftops. The city also treats its guests to a full complement of cultural festivals in June and July, so it's no wonder that it is during these months that room rates are highest. High season is flanked by May and September, although it's often SRO in September due to the many events that take place during that month. By August, the Mediterranean sun has chased most visitors to the coasts, leaving those with no other choice than the peak of the summer to come to Turkey. Istanbul is still fairly lovely in October, but by November the city takes on a dreary, overcast, and rainy pall well into February more often than not.
Istanbul has seen temperatures ranging from 18° to 40°C (0°-104°F), but it's unlikely that you'll encounter such extremes. Summer lasts roughly from mid-June to mid-September. The city sees a sloshy .7m (27 in.) of rain annually, mostly between October and March. In spite of the cold temperatures that sweep in from the Black Sea in winter, large accumulations of snowfall are a rarity, although light dustings do occur.
Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan
One of the five obligations required by Islam is the observation of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish, but the former is more popularly used, even in Turkey), the Muslim holy month of fasting. For 1 full lunar month, Muslims are prohibited during daylight hours from eating, drinking, smoking, or succumbing to sexual thoughts or activity. Instead, they adapt to an altered schedule, rising before daylight for breakfast or sahur, the last meal they will have before sundown. The fast is broken at sundown with an early evening meal, or iftar. Because of the extended daylight hours in summertime, this 30-day marathon is particularly arduous, but even in the wintertime, the sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, and nicotine withdrawal are an admirable display of determination.
Ramadan evenings include festivities and fun. In Istanbul the Hippodrome is transformed into a street fair lined with colorful booths selling dried fruit, kebaps, and sweets, and the lawn is carpeted with picnickers. Forget about moving freely around Sultanahmet while this highly atmospheric circus is going on.
There are some small considerations for potential visitors in exchange for all of this cultural overload. Expect a slight alteration in the way people and places operate: Museums and holy sights will be crowded; restaurants that are normally open might be closed; shops that are normally closed might be open; menu items that are normally available might be unavailable due to the general lack in demand, and the traffic preceding the evening meal will slow you down considerably. Also potentially bothersome are the drummers who systematically wander the streets waking Muslims (and everybody else) for sahur, or the predawn meal. And no one will offer you tea.
The dates of Ramadan for 2016 are June 6 to July 5; in 2017 the dates are May 27 to June 24.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.