City Guides: Winter in Istanbul

The weather outside may be frightful but Istanbul in the winter months can be quite delightful. It's all about romanticizing, you see, which turns the cold winds and rainy weather into magic — not that Istanbul needs much romanticizing to remind you of how beautiful it is…

As the festivities surrounding Christmas and new years dwindle down, leaving December to yield the throne to its cooler sibling, January, many of us feel reborn with the motivation of new beginnings. It is a fresh start, an opportunity to embark on new adventures and perhaps a time to rediscover.

And Istanbul, with its never-ending sights, deliciously spiced dishes and winding roads is one of the best cities to embark on a journey of rediscovering yourself and your surroundings. It is a city that makes you feel extremely small with its crowded streets and chaos, but also quite grounded with its long history and cultural significance.

So we wanted to share with you seven spots in Istanbul to enjoy the cold and rainy days. TOM might be a globe-trotter but is an Istanbulite first and foremost. 

Sabancı Museum and The Restaurant of MSA, Emirgan

Nothing beats a cold and gloomy day like a trip to the museum. Sabancı Museum is one of my favorites with its rich collection, versatile temporary exhibitions, proximity to the Bosphorus and beautiful architecture. There is also The Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul’s (MSA) restaurant in the building. High floor-to-ceiling windows, helpful and knowledgeable staff, and delicious dishes can summarize this restaurant. So then, how can you spend the perfect winter day here? You walk around the museum and see the exhibits, then you have a lovely lunch. Share a starter, share a main. Maybe have a cheeky glass of lunch-time wine. Or two. Split a dessert. Then go downstairs to the gift shop, peruse, get a coffee from the cafe and then have a walk along the Bosphorus as you take in the breath-taking view.

The current exhibition at the Sabancı Museum features the work of Melek Celâl, who was the first female artist to show nude works at the Galatasaray Exhibition in 1924, and later, in 1935, the first woman to open a solo exhibition.

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Minoa, Pera

One of the best activities for winter is reading in a cozy coffee shop. At the new Minoa bookstore location in Pera, you can both peruse their two-story bookstore with a wide selection of books and sit at their cafe sipping on your favorite coffee and flipping through your new read.

Comfortable outfits, a good playlist and shoes suitable for walking are a must. You are in Pera! You might as well discover it afterwards. 

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Splendid Palas Hotel, Büyükada

In the winter, Büyükada frees itself from the ferries full of tourists. Instead, it lends its beautiful sights, fresh air and empty roads to those creative enough to pay the beautiful island a visit via a sometimes-bumpy, but always beautiful, ferry-ride. 

Once you get to the island, as Büyükada-locals like to call it, — I guess it's almost like calling New York City, ‘the city’ — you feel like you stepped into a whole different world. Away from the city sounds, away from the traffic, the polluted city-air… It feels completely different. And all it took was a 30-minute ferry ride from Bostancı.

But we are not only going for a spatial change, we want to travel in time. And that’s why we make our way up to Splendid Palas Hotel. With its iconic four domes and red shutters, this almost 120-year old hotel captures an era of Istanbul that none of us were old enough to experience. As you sit on the balcony sipping one of their specialty cocktails, you get to imagine what it would be like to live in the early 20th century. It is the perfect winter activity. 

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Baylan, Bebek

Winter, for me, means sugar. All that cold makes me feel like I need desserts to warm myself back up. And there is no better dessert to satisfy that sweet craving than the Baylan-special, Peşmelba. Vanilla ice cream (yes, you can have ice-cream in the winter, you are an adult), honey, almond croquant and a poached peach is topped with raspberry sauce. And it is the best thing ever.

Enjoy it while sitting at one of the tables next to the window so you can devour your dessert as you enjoy the beautiful view of the Bosphorus. 

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Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Eminönü

If you are looking for a day-long activity, you can visit The Istanbul Archaeology museum in Eminönü. The museum has a large collection of Turkish, Hellenistic and Roman artifacts such as parts of Zeus’ temple. It is a beautiful building and close to other cultural-sights that İstanbul has to offer. You can either delve deeper into the history of the city or cross the Galata Bridge to Karaköy and get yourself a drink at one of the many bars the neighborhood has to offer. Or honestly, a personal favorite would be to end the day at Karaköy Lokantası with rakı and a variety of meze.

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Kadıköy Sineması, Kadıköy

I don’t know about you but for me, winter is for watching movies. Summers? Not so much. Kadıköy Sineması is a great option for movie-goers. If you don’t want to go for the good selection of Turkish and foreign movies, go for the theater itself. It is gorgeous. 

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Cağaloğlu Hamamı, Eminönü

For the ultimate relaxation session, make your way to Cağaloğlu, a 300-year old hamam with modernized Ottoman touches. The perfect winter self-care ritual, you can book one of their many traditional services such as ‘The Istanbul Dream,’ which includes hot rooms, kese-rubbing, bubble bath and a sherbet treat or ‘ The Ottoman Luxury Experience,’ which also includes an aromatherapy massage and many Turkish treats. You will feel rejuvenated and rested as you leave this gorgeous and historic building. But don’t exit just yet! Head over to their Michelin guide-recommended restaurant 1741 for a light lunch or long dinner. It will be worth every bite. 

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İstinye İskele Çay Bahçesi, İstinye

This might be a bit niche, but the tea garden at Istinye has one of the best views (I think) in Istanbul. When it's cold but sunny, the air so crisp it kind of burns your lungs, İstinye İskele Çay Bahçesi is the place to go. A clear view of the sea and the bridge, you get to spot ferries, feed seagulls and bask in the winter sun. Order tea or Turkish coffee — nothing too crazy — and perhaps lokma to share. Freshly fried, served hot with sweet syrup drizzled all over, lokma is the best winter snack. Don’t forget to sprinkle some cinnamon on top. 

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And remember, stay warm and curious.

Love, TOM.