Istanbul might be snowy during the winter, but visiting in low season means more discounts, fewer crowds, and time for (warm) pleasures like historic museums and contemporary art galleries. While it’s not too cold to shop your way through Istanbul’s famous street markets during the day, it’s easy to relax in cafes like the renown Mado Cafe when the sun sets, snuggling up to traditional drinks like Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, and sahlep — a sweet, milky, and cinnamon-y beverage. Here’s a guide:
With a cool vibe and modern, sleek design, the boutique hotel Mama Shelter Istanbul has rates starting as low as [euro]69 (about $86) in the winter, and the earlier you book, the better the rate. Mama Shelter is located in Beyoglu, where the main street, Istiklal Caddesi, remains throbbing with shoppers in winter and street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and toasted simits (similar to a sesame bagel). Don’t miss the Cukurcuma neighborhood near the hotel, where quaint cafes and antique shops dot the streets and novelist Orhan Pamuk’s award-winning Museum of Innocence is located.
With the growing contemporary art scene in Istanbul, winter is the perfect time to duck into a warm museum and linger over an exhibit. Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari, who was in the 2013 Venice Biennale, is taking over three floors at SALT Beyoglu with his cutting-edge photography and video work. International and Turkish artists wrestle with questions of religion and art in the Rainbow in the Dark exhibit at sister gallery SALT Galata. (Entry at both SALT spaces is free.) The SALT Galata building itself, by the way, is a worthy attraction. Once the former Imperial Ottoman Bank, the 19th century landmark now houses a beautiful library, museum dedicated to the bank, and a casual cafe with free WiFi in addition to the galleries — making it a great place to pop into as you gallery hop throughout the neighborhood.
This post originally appeared on the Purple Roofs Gay Travel Blog.