Spring in Istanbul and Istanbul Tulip Festival 2020: don’t miss!

Istanbul travel

Istanbul during Spring is the perfect place to take walks through. This warm, vibrant metropolis amazes with its beauty and the unique, exotic Turkish culture.

If you are visiting Istanbul in Spring, take your time to walk along the streets and enjoy the fresh breeze in one of the local parks and gardens. The quiet atmosphere of Gülhane and colourful Emirgan park will let you relax, wind down and enjoy your stay.

Another advantage of Istanbul is its proximity to the seashore. A light breeze from the Sea of Marmara makes walking around that much better.

So let’s see what you can do and what places you can explore during your visit to Istanbul in spring!

Weather and climate in Istanbul in Spring

Istanbul travel

Süleymaniye mosque

Istanbul in Spring probably has the ideal weather conditions for a vacation. The air temperature here during this season is very comfortable, mainly so due to the sub-tropical climate. Of course the weather can often be less than perfect, with its blazing sun during the day that may turn into heavy rain at any minute, and soon enough it’s blazing hot once again. However, the Spring days will probably treat you with warm and cozy weather, and even if there is a rainfall any signs of it will disappear in an hour or two once the sun appears.

If you cannot decide on a good season to visit Istanbul, going in Spring is a no-brainer. City squares and gardens are blooming after the winter sleep, parks become green, fresh and beautiful. Also it’s best to think about the prices early and to buy cheaper tickets, as plane tickets get more and more expensive starting with mid-april.

Weather in March

In March, the temperature in Istanbul can strike a freezing -2⁰C. The start of March can often have cloudy weather, wind and rain, but despite that the temperatures are still very comfortable.

At the end of March the city begins preparing for the big traditional convention — the tulip festival. It always starts on the 1st of April, and by that time Istanbul already looks like an large eden. In order to truly enjoy the convention, you should definitely visit the Gulhane Park or Emirgan Park. Emirgan has also been the main place during this convention for many years.

What to wear to Istanbul in March?

It is always very important to prepare for the weather with warm clothing when going to Istanbul. Also, you can expect it to be rather chilly in March, despite the sun. So take an insulated jacket with you (preferably with a hood) as well as a warm hoodie in case of damp weather or freezing temperatures.

Weather in April

Istanbul’s tree buds are just starting to blossom, however the city already looks more like a grand conservatory of flowers. During the second half of April the tulips will slowly start to wilt, however they are soon replaced with Istanbul’s roses that will bloom up until the weather is far to hot.

15th of April is when the industrial fishing season closes, and there is far less fresh seafood around so be prepared to carefully choose good restaurants.

What to wear to Istanbul in April?

It will usually be sunny during the day, but the evenings are still rather cold. If you find the weather good for walking at noon, this will change by the evening as you find yourself freezing because of the cold wind. A jacket, warm clothing and sunglasses are what you need to pay attention to when packing.

Istanbul weather in May

By the end of Spring, the weather in Istanbul more closely resembles Summer. The air is much warmer, up to 30 ⁰С, however you should still avoid swimming in the sea as the water is cold despite the hot air temperature, even though the swimming season usually opens at the end of May. The average water temperature is 16 ⁰С or less.

Despite that, Istanbul is full to the brim with visitors in May. They go on tours and cruises along Bosphorus or enjoy the Prince Islands.

The sun is not as intense right now, so it’s a good time to visit Burgazada or Büyükada islands.

What to wear to Istanbul in May?

It’s already hot out in the sun and the wind is rather warm. You should probably wear a T-Shirt, a light shirt or maybe a windbreaker during the day. In the evening, the temperature can be as low as
15-17 degrees, so wear long sleeves in order to stay warm in occasional cloudy and windy weather.

The cozy evenings in Istanbul are great for walking around the city streets, trying out different local foods and having a nice dinner, drinking the exotic tasty teas as well as enjoying the sights along the coastline.

Tulip festival in Istanbul

Tulip Festival in Istanbul

Istanbul Tulip Festival

Pretty much everybody knows about the Tulip festival in Istanbul. Thousands upon thousands of tourists come along to see this huge event, right in the middle of Spring.

The flower convention is held every year in Istanbul, during the warm April days. The streets, gardens, and parks are filled with millions of aromatic, beautiful tulips. The tulip has become one of the national symbols a while ago, not just as a symbol of Istanbul but Turkey itself. This was an integral part of the Ottoman culture and Istanbul has since been the capital of all the flowers in Spring.

As we all know, the origins of the tulip are actually the Asian mountain ranges, where the Ottoman padishah would treat these plants as important parts of the flora and see them as the symbol of Empire’s strength. The tulip motifs are clearly present in the Turkish culture, such as in folk, literature as well as arts. The traditional Ottoman tulip was a red bulb with sharp tips and a thin stem. This drawing in particular can be seen on turkish clothing, carpets and weaponry. These flowers were drawn on the famous Iznik Tiles that have been used in palaces and churches all around Turkey.

The traditional Istanbul festival dates back to very long ago. It has been forgotten for a short period, but in 2006 the government decided to re-initiate it. Since then, Turkey has been on of the leading countries in tulip numbers, and today it is already comparable to the Netherland’s tulip industry. Currently Istanbul is fiercely fighting for the official title of the Tulip Capital.

Before the festival starts with the catchphrase “The most beautiful tulips in Istanbul”, over a million tulips are planted all around the city. The tulip buds are made in the town Konya, they are grown specifically for the occasion. A sort-of record was set in 2016, when the number of planted tulips reached 30 million!

The tulips are planted in a defined order, rows are placed one after another — starting with the early kinds and then the others. This results in istanbul literally blooming the whole month! All colours of the rainbow are present in the parks Gülhane and Emirgan.

What to do in Istanbul in Spring?

Istanbul: Where to walk and what to see

Istanbul historical places

Spring in Istanbul

  • If you want to explore Istanbul’s attractions, you absolutely don’t need to join a group. You can simply put together a route of your own, armed with a guide
  • Plan your route depending on how many days you have left in Istanbul. It’s best to begin in Sultanahmet, leave one day for a Bosphorus trip and a walk along Istiklal street, as well as visiting one of the markets — Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Market) or Grand Bazaar.
  • Add a visit to a Turkish restaurant into your program, ideally with a view on Bosphorus and Istanbul. The closest restaurants to Sultanahmet are Hamdi near the Egyptian Market and the Divan Brasserie Cafe along Istiklal. You can also visit one of the city’s observation decks.
  • When walking around Istanbul, do not forget about the city’s street food — here you can find durum, balik ekmek, kumpir, waffles, roasted walnuts, stuffed mussels as well as fresh juices.
  • Keep in mind that after a loaded day and tons of exciting emotions, it is important to take a break, for example in one of Istanbul’s historical hamams (baths)
  • Remember to purchase the Museum Pass card and Istanbulkart — this saves time and money.

Meanwhile we want to present you a few individual routes we have provided, where you can visit attractions, enjoy the warm weather and beautiful views.

By foot around Sultanahmet

Spring in Istanbul

Sultanahmet walk

Begin your educational journey with the Sultanahmet square — this is the most popular starting point for basically all tours. The historical attractions and places around here are countless, however we think you should try and put together an individual route around Sultanahmet that’s going to be as interesting and comfortable for you as possible.

As the flow of tourists is already beginning to grow in Spring, we recommend visiting Sultanahmet in the first half of the day.

  • Topkapi Palace (2-2,5 hour)
  • Hagia Irene (30 minutes). You can find this church on the territory of Topkapi palace
  • Aya Sofya museum (1 hour)
  • Sultanahmet Mosque (45 minutes)
  • Basilica cistern or Theodosius cistern. You should buy a ticket to enter the first one and another one (Theodosius cistern) has free entrance and no queue (1 hour)
  • Archeological museum (2 hours)
  • Mosaic Museum (45 minutes) and Arasta bazaar walk (1 hour). Arasta market is located beyond the Sultanahmet Mosque — you should walk there for about 3 minutes.
  • Grand Bazaar, or the Turkish and Islamic arts museum (1 hour). If you are tired of all the museums, you should definitely go to the Grand Bazaar. To get there take the T1 tram and disembark at the Beyazit stop, or you may go there by foot.
  • Taksim Square and the Istiklal Street
  • Galata Mevlevi Museum. It closes at 18:00, so you will have plenty of time in the afternoon to visit it. Walk across the Taksim Square down to the Şişhane metro station and turn left.
  • Galata Tower. The observation deck on the Galata Tower is open till 20:30. Walk all the way down Istiklal Street, you should see a plaza with the tower in the centre.
  • Karakoy walk. Karakoy district is located lower then Beyoglu, near the seashore, you can walk there by foot from Galata Tower. Here you can visit well-known sweetshop Gülloğlu and try it’s famous kinds of baklava.

Gülhane and Emirgan parks

Sightseeing in Istanbul

Emirgan park

One of the main events during Spring in Istanbul is the tulip festival, this is exactly why you should go and visit the Gülhane and Emirgan parks to see the beauty yourself.

You can walk in Gülhane park and then immediately visit the Topkapı palace, as they are positioned right next to each other.

Emirgan park is just as orderly and marvelous as Gülhane, it is perfect if you’re going for walks and picnics, there is a pond and a fountain, as well as three historical mansions: Sarı Köşk (Yellow Pavilion), Beyaz Köşk (White Pavilion) and Pembe Köşk (Pink Pavilion). You can enjoy looking at the green flora and the mansions in one of the nearby cafes, with a fresh cup of coffee.

There are two main ways to reach Emigran park:

  • From Sultanahmet — get on the T1 tram line and take it to the Kabatash (Kabataş) station. Then, walk for three minutes to the bus station and get onto the 25E bus, jump off at the Emigran station.
  • Buses 40T and 42T also go to Emigran straight from Taksim square

Walking along the Bebek coastline (Bebek sahili)

Istanbul Rumelı Hısarı Bebek

Rumelı Hısarı

Bebek is the elite area of the European part of Istanbul. Part of Bebek is on a hill, the other half covers a large coastline along Bosphorus. The main attraction here is the wide coastline stretching along the channel, with plenty of cafes, sweet shops, coffeehouses and restaurants  right across the road. Whilst walking along the coast, you’ll also be able to see the Rumeli Hisarı fortress.

You can go for a walk both in the morning and in the afternoon. The local residents usually prefer to breakfast in one cafe, then go for a long hike along the coast to the Bebek park. You should probably try out the famous stuffed waffles with all kinds of flavours, as well as the traditional kumpir along the way.

The well-known places to visit here include Divan Brasserie, Kitchenette, Midpoint, Sade Kahve – a popular place for having turkish breakfast, Bebek Waffle & Kumpir, Bebek Balıkçı fish restaurant and Chilai. Choose any of the locations with a view on Bosphorus and enjoy yourself.

Visiting the Prince Islands (Adalar)

Princess Islands

Buyukada Istanbul

During Spring, when the sun begins to feel warmer, you should find a day in your schedule to visit the Prince Islands. The cruise decks are not as cold as in Winter, so you can enjoy the view on Istanbul with a cup of hot turkish tea from one of the sellers for two lire.

The most popular island for tourists is Büyükada. There are lots of historical places here, as well as a small square with a small cafe. There are also fish restaurants all along the coastline. It doesn’t matter which island you go to as you will feel the unique atmosphere different from Istanbul on all of them. During your visit, you can also take the bicycle, enjoy the view on the old villas and dive into the fauna in the local streets, parks and gardens.

A walk around Ortaköy district: Ortaköy mosque and the flea market

Spring in Istanbul

Ortakoy mosque

The symbol of Ortaköy district is the magnificent Ortakoy Mosque (Ortaköy Camii) also known as Büyük Mecidiye Сamii. It truly shines during the day, when the rays shine through its windows, as well as at sunset. After you visit the Mosque, move onto the Ortaköy Charshisi (Ortaköy Çarşısı) — a small market where you can find interesting souvenirs, lots of small, vintage items or antiques.

If the weather is warm and sunny, it’s definitely worth having a Bosphorus tour, as there is a bay right behind the Ortakoy Mosque, lots of tourist ships and cruises depart from there, taking the people for a trip along the channel. You can see the approximate timetable here

In case you still didn’t try out kumpir, gözleme, kokoreç or waffles, this is the time to do so whilst in Ortaköy. By the way, Ortaköy has by far the biggest selection of kumpir, for all the potato enthusiasts out there 😉

The hill and the Pierre Loti Cafe (Pierre Loti Tepesi)

Pierre Loti cafe

Pierre Loti cafe

The hill and the cafe are very popular tourist attractions here in Istanbul. It’s story is linked to the french author Pierre Loti (his actual name was Louis Marie-Julien Viaud). The hill was called after him, as this was where he wrote the famous novel “Aziyade”, telling us about a French officer’s love story with a Turkish woman, enjoying a magnificent view on Istanbul from the hill.

Both tourists and locals come here to drink turkish tea or coffee and loot at Istanbul from this elevation.

There are a few ways to get on the hill:

  1. You can take the 55T bus from Taksim square to the Tahta Minare station, then walk uphill for 10 minutes or take the Teleferik cable car and go uphill that way. Alternatively, take the 55T bus to Unkapanı Kadir Has Ünv. station, then look for buses 36СЕ, 41Y, 44В, 99 or 399В, and take them to Teleferik Pierreloti station, from which you can also take the cable car.
  2. To get there from Sultanahmet, take the T1 tram to Eminönü station, when walk for three minutes to the bus station and get on the bus 36СЕ, 44В or 99 that all go to Teleferik Pierreloti station, from there you can go uphill.
  3. If you are on the asian side of Istanbul, take a Kadıköy-Eminönü ferry across Bosphorus, and then take the bus 36СЕ, 44В or 99 to Teleferik Pierreloti and go uphill.

You can pay for the cable car using Istanbulkart, apart from the Pierre Loti hill you can also pick an observation deck in Istanbul and find a route with a view on the channel.

Walking along the sea shore, Yoros castle (Yoros kalesi) and Anadolu Kavagi village

Istanbul Bosphorus tour and Anadolu village

Anadolu kavağı village

The Yoros castle (Yoros kalesi, also known as Ceneviz Kalesi or Anadolu Kavağı Kalesi) is located in the Anadolu Kavagi village, both Byzantines, Genoese and Ottomans have fought over it, as this is where the Bosphorus starts from the Black Sea. From the hill near the fortress you will see a very pleasant and beautiful view, an opportunity for an astonishing photograph.

You can get to the Anadolu Kavagi village as well as the Yoros castle by joining a lengthy Bosphorus tour. The weather in Spring is good for walking around the shore, so you can go on a trip starting at Eminönü pier in the morning, the trip will take up the whole day.

Walking uphill from the castle is no easy task, so wear comfortable shoes and clothes.

In the village itself, which is where the ferries dock, you will find lots of nice souvenir shops with original souvenirs sold cheaper than in Istanbul. There are also fish cafes near the coast with fresh seafood available.

Whilst walking through Anadolu Kavagi as well as visiting the Yoros castle, you can also go and see the tomb of St. Joshua (Hazreti Yuşa), located on Yusha hill (Yuşa tepesi).

With the warm season arriving most tea shops, sweet shops, cafes and restaurants will be opening up their open-air terraces. You can drink coffee, eat breakfast or dinner out in the fresh air.

In spring, lots of fruit, vegetables and berries start to ripe. This is the time to enjoy juicy cherries, peach and strawberries. Fruit stalls in the middle/end of May are literally bursting with the wide variety of fresh goods.

Bosphorus tour and Judas-tree blooming in Istanbul

Bosphorus tour Istanbul

Bosphorus view in spring

Judas-tree (Erguvan in Turkish, Cercis siliquastrum in Latin) fills each and every corner of Istanbul with its beauty, turning the megapolis into a scarlet and violet-pink eden.

The Bosphorus cost and the nearby islands become truly spectacular with Judas-trees all over.

The Judas-trees bloom particularly well along the Bosphorus coast by the end of april/beginning of may. The magnificent flowers slowly blossom and bring joy to the locals and visitors for approximately three weeks. In order to experience the actual beauty of Istanbul’s scarlet and pink look, you should definitely go for a voyage on a ferry along the Bosphorus coast. The sea cliffs are always treated with plenty of sunlight, which is exactly why the Judas-tree prefers them so much and it continues conquering the high areas year by year.

You can not only go on a Bosphorus tour in one of Istanbul’s ferries, but also in a small motorboat that departs from the pier in the Anadolu Hisarı district.

You can also combine a visit to the Anatolian Castle (Anadolu Hisarı) with a short walk, after which you can do a one-hour boat tour along Bosphorus. You can end the evening with a visit to one of the fish restaurants along the Göksu river coast (Göksu Nehri), joining the Bosphorus channel.

An interesting legend exists about the Judas-tree. As the people say, the Judas-tree used to bloom in while colours. However, after the betrayal of Christ Jesus by his student Judas, the student could not withstand the torment and committed suicide by hanging himself on a tree branch. According to the legend, after this happened the Judas-tree first started blooming in light-pink, and then turned into more scarlet colours, absorbing Judas’s blood. Since then the plant got its unusual name that it goes by to this day.

At some point the violet tints represented power, independance and wealth. Back then, these colours could only be worn by emperors.

Spring events in Istanbul

Otağtepe view point Istanbul

Otağtepe view point

Events in March

Istanbul’s locals associate the arrival of Spring with a traditional celebration called Novruz, which is held on 21st of March. This event is seen as the symbol of the Turkish friendship and brotherhood. The muslims believe that this day sets the tone for the rest of the year, so your next 365 days will depend on how you celebrate it. This is exactly why lots of people in Istanbul places food and money around their beds on that day.

Events in April

The symbol of the mid-Spring season is of course the Tulip Festival (Lale Festivali). During this period, you will see the gardeners and landscape designers start to compete slightly, competing in the art of growing entire ‘flower carpets’ from living flowers. The city parks during the festival turn into actual tulip artworks.

Another important event in Istanbul is the Children’s Day, held on the 23rd of April. On this important date, every teaching facility in the city is decorated with bright, flashy flower compositions.

As well as that, the megapolis holds the International Istanbul Film Festival, where the greatest film creations are demonstrated to the public. In the year 2020, the event probably will happen between 5th and 20th of April on the Istiklal street.

Events in May

The last month of Spring in Istanbul is very rich with events and celebrations. On the 1st of May, workers all around the world celebrate the International Workers’ Day. That day is an official holiday in the whole of Turkey. Of course, this event is not without the traditional ‘strikes’ held in the city, with plenty of chaos. Thus, we do not recommend visitors to go on the central Taksim Square, and also to avoid the Istiklal street.

On the 5th of May, Turkish people celebrate Hıdırellez, it is a bright festival that is the asian symbol of the beginning of Spring. People are pouring into the Istanbul district Ahırkapı on that day in order to visit the traditional events held there.

The local residents associate Hıdırellez with plentiful and wealth, this is why on that day you can see lots of rituals and ceremonies being held. They symbolize the revival of life and hope for a brighter future.

From the middle of May you might catch the Istanbul Puppet Festival, as these puppets were loved during the period of the Ottoman dynasty rule.

The residents celebrate the Youth and Sports Day on the 19th of May. Traditionally, people present flower bouquets to the Ataturk Monument (Taksim Square). During the evening, fun open-air concerts are held every year.

29th of May is a very important day in Istanbul. This date in particular was when Constantinople has been captured back in the mid-15th century, that has been successfully done by padishah Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror). The tourists that come on that day can enjoy the view of the military events being reconstructed right on the city streets. This loud, bright celebration always ends with magnificent fireworks.

Istanbul in Spring is an excellent place for those who like a historical holiday. So pack your bags and off you go into the blossoming Istanbul!

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