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A Local’s Guide to Turkey in December

As a Turkish local, I believe December is the most underrated month to travel in Turkey. I know it is not everyone’s dream to visit Turkey in winter, especially in December. There will be no beaches, and there will be snow and rain all over.

Is December a good time to visit Turkey? December is definitely a good time to visit Turkey. In December, Turkey will be hotter than most freezing cold European countries. Turkish cuisine and Turkish Coffee will also taste much better in cold weather. The New Year spirit makes December a month of twinkling lights and festive events.

While most of the winter in Turkey is the low season in terms of tourism, on the other hand, December is one of the cheapest times of the year with new year discounts everywhere.

Also, everyone is concentrated on New Year celebrations at the end of the month, which means even hotels and restaurants are cheaper at the beginning of the month.

Turkish cities are full of life. cities are full of life. There will be many exhibitions, concerts, events, and cultural festivals. Be sure to check Biletix for performances and festive events near you.

Additionally, if you are a traveler who actually prefers traveling in the off-season, then Turkey may surprise you in a good way.

Turkey offers a different experience in the winter months, and it is not off-season as you may think.

Here’s what you need to know about traveling to Turkey in December.

Winter in Taksim, Istanbul. Photo by Unsplash

After reading this guide, you can also check my November and January guides.

What are the best activities you can do in Turkey in December?

Some Turkish sites are way better to visit in the winter months. First, let me reveal two of my personal favorite activities in December.

Pamukkale thermal waters are hot all year around.

1. Discover Turkish Thermal Spas

Pamukkale will be an excellent choice where you can experience open-air geothermal wonder, swim in indoor or outdoor warm thermal water pools, enjoy Turkish baths, and visit the ancient city.

The area will be mostly free from the tourist flocks and you will witness Pamukkale in its true form.

The area has a unique cuisine that blends Anatolian meat recipes with Mediterranean herbs.

Pamukkale will heal your body and soul.

Photos are courtesy of  Unsplash
My dad loves the Cleopatra Pool in the ruins of the ancient city.
Uludag is the ski capital of Turkey. Photo by  Pixabay

2. Discover Turkish Ski Resorts

The locals that flocked to the beaches in August are mostly working, but the lucky ones are now headed to the mountains to enjoy skiing or snowboarding.

Uludag will be another excellent choice in December.

Uludag is a volcanic mountain surrounded by Bursa, the 4th biggest city in Turkey.

Uludag is the ski capital of Turkey. Yet, the city has much more to offer. Bursa has ski resorts, geothermal baths, unique culture, museums, cultural sites, a lively metropolitan city with green all around.

Bursa has many surprises. One of the best things you can do is try the doner kebap in its birthplace.

Weather in Turkey in December

December is definitely a cold month. There may be days when December is going to fool you with beautiful sunshine. Yet, never trust beautiful weather. You should always have your coat ready. Enjoy the good weather as long as you can but remember everything can change in an hour.

There will be lots of rain or snow.

In Istanbul, people are used to snowy weather. As you may have heard, Istanbul is a city of hills, be careful when walking the many slopes of Istanbul and its slippery streets.

It doesn’t snow in Southern Turkish cities. Yet, if it snows life will stop. For example, if it snows half a centimeter in the Izmir city center, schools are closed, and everybody is out to play with the snow.

Snow is a big event in Southern cities that happens in some years. I still remember how I feel lucky and excited about playing with snow in my childhood.

What is the weather like in Turkey in December? Here is the map. If you have a hard time reading the map, I summarized the weather in Turkey in December in the table down below.

As you can see from the graph, Turkey’s southern coastline regions are almost always warmer than their northern counterparts, yet December still brings cold temperatures to the south.

RegionTemperature in °CTemperature in °F
North Coastline (Thrace and the Black Sea Coast including Istanbul)4°C – 9°C39.2°F – 48.2°F
West Turkey (Aegean Coast on including Izmir)6°C – 11°C42.8°F – 51.8°F
Mediterranean Coast (Mediterranean coast including Bodrum and Antalya)9°C – 13°C48.2°F – 55.4°F
Central Turkey (Anatolia including Ankara, Konya, Eskisehir)0°C – 4 °C32°F – 39.2°F
East Turkey (including Kars, Erzincan, Van)-8°C – 0°C17.6°F – 32°F
Southeast Turkey (including Gaziantep, Urfa)4°C – 9°C39.2°F – 48.2°F
Average December temperatures for regions of Turkey (1970-2019) Source: Turkish State Meteorological Service

And, as always, check the current extended forecast for where you’re actually going just before you leave – when you’re packing is a perfect time – so you can find out in advance if it’s unseasonably cold or warm.

What should I wear in Turkey in December?

This is a simple but essential question.

You should wear winter clothes to protect yourself from the rain and the winds. It would help if you used some clothing to cover your hands and head. Lastly, waterproof shoes are highly advised.

Do not be fooled by the hot temperatures on the coast. The coast is usually windy, and the air humidity is high. With high humidity levels, the wind feels colder, and you can get sick more easily.

Unlike the common belief, Turkey does not have deserts, and it frequently rains in the winter months.

Check out my Turkish Fashion Brands Guide or Online Clothes Shopping in Turkey Guide if you are in the mood for shopping.

Special Events in Turkey in December

Turkish “Christmassy” New Year

Christmas is not celebrated as a national holiday in Turkey. New Year is celebrated as a national holiday in Turkey. Local Christian communities celebrate Christmas.

Yet, churches in Turkey belonging to different sects of Christianity, celebrate Christmas and organize events. You can check local churches for specific Christmas events.

Turkish New Year also has a very Christmassy feel. Turks combine Christmas and Thanksgiving traditions in their New Year celebrations. Christmas tree and cooked turkey dinner are the standard norms in Turkish New Year Celebrations.

If you are invited to a Turkish family house, you will experience a turkey (real bird) dinner, exchanging gifts, family games, countless New Year Tv Shows, and the announcement of annual New Year Lottery numbers.

Suggested Reading: Eating and Finding Pork Products in Turkey.

Santa Claus Festival in Demre Antalya

Santa Claus was born in Demre, Antalya, and lived in Turkey. Turkish people call him Noel Baba, the Father of Christmas. Santa is a very known and respected figure in Turkey.

Every year around the 6th of December, Santa Claus Festival is celebrated in the 4th-century church of Saint Nicholas Church in Demre Antalya.

Hot Air Ballooning over Goreme Cappadocia. Photo by Unsplash

Turkish Cities in December

Cappadocia in December

Cappadocia is one of the best places to visit in December. It is also one of the most authentic natural wonders combined with underground cities.

The underground cities of Cappadocia were used for centuries, and they were true cities providing sanctuary and home to its thousands of inhabitants.

There will most probably be some snow all around, but visiting underground cities will not be a problem.

On the other hand, Hot-air ballooning in Göreme and watching the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Göreme National Park high above will be a priceless experience. 

Cappadocia is a very romantic and magical place. A friend of mine proposed to his girlfriend on Lovers Hill when they were watching the hot air balloons taking off in the distance.

The last tip, do not leave Cappadocia without tasting local wine.

Winter in Taksim, Istanbul Photo by Unsplash

Istanbul in December

The New Year Parties all-around public spaces. Restaurants and nightclubs will organize events on the New Year Date. In December, everywhere will be decorated with Santa Claus.

European-style Christmas markets will be smaller, but who needs one? Istanbul’s regular markets are enough to make this city a fantastic city to do your holiday shopping in!

Istanbul has always been the capital of many Empires, and it has always been at the heart of trade routes. You may have lived your life in Istanbul, but Istanbul can still surprise you with its diversity.

When you need something warm, try Sahlep instead of Turkish coffee or Turkish tea in December. Sahlep is a traditional drink made of powdered orchid roots and hot milk. It is served with cinnamon powder on top.

Sahlep was once a popular drink in Germany as well as the United Kingdom. In summer, Sahlep is also cooled to make Turkish ice cream.

Izmir Clock Tower – a famous meeting point used in my father’s teenage years when there was no cell phone.
Photo by Unsplash

Suggested Reading: Do Turkish People Drink Alcohol?

Izmir in December

Izmir is my hometown, and I believe Izmir is the best place to live in Turkey. Izmir people are the most liberal people and less conservative people in Turkey. For these reasons, Izmir is always labeled as an outlier of Turkey.

Izmir is determined not to change its liberal culture. Izmir is not a conservative place in the traditional sense; Izmir is conservative about protecting its own liberal cultural values and unique way of life. Being one of the important port cities in the Mediterranean, Izmir is the most open to embracing new cultural rhythms, and the most secular place in Turkey.

Izmir offers everything a European metropolitan city offers but more.

Alacati is one of the places, you can taste Izmir-style life.

Izmir was mostly populated by Turkish refugees coming from the Balkans and Greece, this is the reason for Izmir being different from the rest of Turkey.

People (like my ancestors) fled to Izmir after Ottoman Empire lost its hold in the Balkans in the 1900s. These refugees brought their cultures with them. My father’s father came from the Crete island of Greece, my mother’s father came from Bulgaria. This mass migration made Izmir a cultural melting pot of Balkan, Greek, and Turkish cultures.

Izmir also has a very vibrant Christian and Jewish community that settled in Izmir in Medieval times. These communities also added additional richness to the Izmir culture.

Be careful Izmir is not the city of kebabs. Enjoy fresh fish and local wines.

You should try Turkish Raki. This Turkish national drink is also nicknamed lion milk by Turkish locals. If it is too strong for you, I would strongly suggest Izmir’s local wines. Tapas/Mezes are mostly vegetarian or seafood and made of locally grown vegetables.

Take walks near the beach or go to Izmir to discover its unique culture and history. Urla is a perfect spot for an off-season day trip. You could also check out my Urla travel guide for additional ideas.

Mediterranean Coast, Antalya, Bodrum in December

Just keep in mind that beach-centric destinations like Fethiye, Alanya, or Kemer may not be the best places to go in the winter, even if you like solitude.

Plenty of locals shut down their restaurants, shops, and hotels when the weather gets cold, too.

Bodrum, Kusadasi, and Antalya are exceptions with their sizable local populations. These cities are not only summer destinations and you can find many events to enjoy throughout the year.

One of my best events of all time was attending a sailing race in December in Bodrum.

On the advantageous side, if you are not shy of cold weather, many of the attractions you’ve likely got on your must-see list in Turkey are still there– ancient sites, churches, museums, and cultural heritage sites.

This is the best time for trekking and nature activities or simply collecting oranges from orange trees.

If you are in Kusadasi in December, you wish to check my guide on things to do in Kusadasi and Sirince. Especially Sirince is a lovely and romantic place to enjoy in December.