December (Aralık) is the beginning of the winter season in Turkey, and it is the low season for tourism. In rare years, the warmth and pleasantness of a good November will stretch into early December. Yet it is a good time to visit Turkey, especially if you fancy a winter holiday.
During this time, the weather is chilly, with snow throughout the country, especially in central Turkey and regions such as Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, and Southeast Anatolia. However, the weather on the Mediterranean coast and the Aegean coast will have milder temperatures (11°C or 51.8°F) throughout the month. And the Marmara and Black Sea regions will be mostly cloudy and rainy.
Where to Travel in December?
The winter tourism season has a lot to offer visitors. Many people will take advantage of this and travel to major cities in Turkey, and many visit Istanbul to avoid crowds during the summer season. In Istanbul, many days will be cloudy with rain. You will enjoy some brisk, sunny days as well. It is unusual to have frost in the city, and any dusting of snow—very pretty!—soon melts. If you're not a fan of cold weather, you may prefer to stay inside with a cup of Turkish coffee.
Turkey in December is very snowy. So, if you want to enjoy the ski season with snowboarding and beautiful snowy sights in Central Anatolia and Eastern Turkey, there will most probably be some snow, particularly at the higher elevations. In the mountains of eastern Turkey, there will certainly be snow, sometimes closing roads.
Also, if you don't fancy a holiday in cold weather, you may want to enjoy the warm weather along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts since snow is very unlikely. However, you must expect some rain, perhaps heavy, anywhere in Turkey. The Black Sea Coast of Turkey in December will be rainy throughout the month. Southeastern Turkey tends to have much milder winter months.
Popular Activities in December
December is the beginning of the winter months in Turkey and marks the off-season for beach resorts in the country. However, you can enjoy ski resorts, beautiful scenic views, and even some warm days during this time. Popular activities during December include:
- Snowboarding in the Turkish ski resorts of Bursa (Uludağ Ski Center), Kayseri (Erciyes Ski Center), and Antalya (Saklıkent Ski Center), and taking a day trip to popular ancient sites.
- Enjoying the wintry scenery of Turkey in December. Turkish cities such as Bursa, Afyonkarahisar, Erzurum, and Ankara are famed for their spectacular scenery.
- When visiting Turkey during this time, many people enjoy the country's mineral-rich hot springs in Pamukkale and the breathtaking snow scenery together. Moreover, Pamukkale is known for its hot air balloons, and if you are lucky and the weather is calm, you can try hot air ballooning!
- Taking the Touristic Eastern Express train trip.
- Traveling to Cappadocia (Unesco World Heritage Site) and witnessing the amazing cliffs covered in snow, riding hot air balloons, staying at cave hotels, and visiting underground cities, full of ancient ruins. Also, did you know thousands of people have led their lives in these underground cities in the Cappadocia region?
Common Events, Festivals, and Holidays in December
There are lots of winter festivals, generally related to the beginning of the new year, in Turkey. As a result, lots of concerts and celebrations take place in December. Keep in mind that most Turkish people do not celebrate Christmas. However, did you know Santa Claus came from Turkey?
Santa Claus in Turkey
While today, Turkey's religious demographics are mostly made up of Muslims, that was not the case before the Ottoman Empire. The rich and vast lands of Anatolia were the birthplace of many ancient kingdoms and Christian empires, such as the Romans and Greeks (that's the reason why you can spot so many ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Turkey). According to legend, Santa Claus, who is also known as Saint Nicholas, was born (270) and lived in the town of Mayra, which is a part of the ancient city of Patara in the Lycian kingdom.
Saint Nicholas was the protector of children and sailors, and over the years, he shaped the legend of Santa Claus. He's commemorated at the St. Nicholas Festival in early December in the 4th-century church of St. Nicholas in Demre/Myra, near Antalya. So, take advantage of your time in Turkey to visit and witness the birthplace of one of the most known saints in history.
New Year’s Eve in Turkey
While Turkish people don't celebrate Christmas, the New Year is a spectacular time and is celebrated. Months before December, Turkish cities are decorated to welcome the new year, and people, as well as establishments, start preparing for the New Year celebrations. Moreover, major cities such as Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, and others will have special festivals during this time.
You can mostly spot "special sales" in the stores and New Year decorations piling up while strolling around in the big cities. During December, lots of parties and activities are held to celebrate the new year. So, you can always find a new concert, party, or event to enjoy during this time. It’s also nice to have a stroll along Istiklal Caddesi to see the lights strung above the busy pedestrian streets.
For the first half of December, the Rumi Commemoration Ceremonies (Şeb-i Aruz) in Konya honor Jelaleddin Rumi (Mevlana), the great Sufi poet and mystic who inspired the foundation of the Mevlevi order of Whirling Dervishes during the time of the Seljuk Turkish Empire.
These ceremonies include a special dance known as Sama. The dancers wear long white robes with full skirts and rotate in rhythmic patterns. They use their left foot to spin their bodies around their right foot while keeping their eyes open. The purpose of this dance is to go beyond one's personal desires and ego by devoting themselves to God and spinning in repetitive circles.
Percentage of Tourists in Turkey in December
Turkey in December is not at its peak season, and there are no crowds except at winter destinations such as ski resorts in the country. So, expect prices to be lower and fewer crowds. Despite the cool weather, Turkey is alive with activity. You can expect to see vacant streets except for New Year celebrations on December 31st.
What to Know Before Traveling to Turkey in December
Visiting Turkey in December can be a great choice to spend quality time without the crowds of the summer period. In particular, beach towns on the Mediterranean coast will be empty, leaving the scenery to the lucky few. However, it would be best if you kept in mind that December 31st is the time for New Year celebrations in Turkey, and streets can be crowded during this day.
Visit Turkey in December
December can be a great time to visit Turkey if you plan your visit well beforehand. This month has lots to offer, from snowy hills to winter festivals. Moreover, popular beaches and coasts of the country, such as the Mediterranean coast and the Aegean coast, will be empty during this time.
Remember to pack warm clothes and plan according to the region you will visit, and enjoy your winter trip to Turkey in December.