If you’re contemplating a trip to Turkey, then you may be wondering if there are times you should avoid visiting Turkey’s largest city.
Is Ramadan a good time to visit Istanbul?
Although there are better times than others to visit Istanbul, tourists generally find that very little changes during Ramadan, also known as Ramazan in Turkey.
But there are some things to keep in mind if you choose to experience Istanbul during this month-long celebration.
- Different operational hours for attractions, restaurants, and museums
- Early morning wake-up during the fast
- Less crowds during the day and more crowds at night
- How to be thoughtful of people who are fasting
Different operational hours
One difference with visiting Istanbul during Ramadan will be that attractions, restaurants and heritage sites may have alternative opening hours to accommodate Muslims who are fasting.
Are restaurants open in Istanbul during Ramadan?
You may find that some restaurants (and even museums) are closed on the first day of Ramadan. But for the rest of the month, everything is generally open.
For Turks today, Ramadan is a time of fasting and prayer. Those who are fasting avoid food (and sometimes even water) from dawn till dusk.
In fact, one of the five pillars of Islam is fasting and those who are fasting from food are supposed to also refrain from impure thoughts and deeds. On a side note, not everyone is required to fast during Ramadan; the elderly, sick people, children, travellers, and pregnant women are exempt, for example.
After sunset, Turks break the fast with a feast called ftar. It is generally a meal shared with family but it can also include friends and extended family.
During Ramadan in Istanbul, cafes and restaurants are crowded after sunset as locals often like to break the fast by eating out. If you want to avoid the evening rush, you could try an early dinner. You could also make a reservation to guarantee yourself a table.
During the day restaurants can be quiet. Some will even close in the day and open after sunset, so it’s worth checking their operating hours. Attractions and museums are generally open during Ramadan, but they may have different operational hours, too.
Early morning wake-up during Ramadan
An iconic Istanbul experience is the sound of drums early in the morning during the month of Ramadan. The drummer’s job is to wake worshippers for the pre-dawn meal known as “sahur”.
We have experienced two consecutive Ramadan celebrations in Istanbul and found we got used to the early morning drums. By the end of the month, we didn’t notice them as much.
Less crowds during the day and more crowds at night
Although restaurants are less crowded during the day in Istanbul, the one place that gets busier in the day is the mosque. Mosques are generally crowded during Ramadan with more locals coming to pray.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated in Turkey with an official public holiday called “Seker Bayrami” and it means the Festival of Sweets. It is also known around the world as “Eid”. On this three-day holiday, it’s common for Turks to wear new clothes, give pastries and sweets to neighbours and friends, visit the mosque and gather with family.
Istanbul can get crowded during Seker Bayrami. We visited the famous Hagia Sophia around this time (once a museum and now a mosque) and it was busier than usual, with lots of people breaking the feast with picnics.
Because Seker Bayrami is an official public holiday, many businesses are closed, as well as schools and government offices.
How to be thoughtful around people who are fasting in Ramadan
In most neighbourhoods in Istanbul, you will see some locals eating during the day, as not everyone is fasting. There are a few neighbourhoods that are more conservative, however, where it is considered impolite to eat in front of people who are fasting.
If you’re in a conservative area, locals have told us that it’s fine to eat inside restaurants and cafes but to avoid eating on the street. It’s also recommended not to smoke on the street in conservative areas as worshippers are refraining from this too.
You’ll also see charitable events like feeding the poor with an evening meal.
You may hear locals saying “İyi Bayramlar” which means Happy Ramadan. The response to this is “Size de” which means “to you to”.
Why do Turks celebrate Ramadan?
Ramadan is a Muslim celebration that is celebrated every year in Turkey. According to government sources, 99.8% of Turks are Muslim. Ramadan lasts either 29 or 30 days and occurs at a different time each year, because it’s based on the Muslim calendar which is 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. This means it’s observed 12 days earlier each year.
It is on one of the major religious celebrations in Turkey, as it is said that during Ramadan God gave the Prophet Muhammed the Quran, Islam’s holy book.
Is it safe to visit Istanbul during Ramadan?
Ramadan is a safe time to visit Turkey. Although nothing much changes for tourists during Ramadan, there are a few considerations that are worth noting, like knowing when it’s likely to be crowded and understanding the reason for the early morning drums and how to be thoughtful of locals who are fasting.
I’m a teacher and writer living abroad. I love languages, drinking lots of çay (tea) with friends, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.