Some travelers worry about being in Istanbul during the Islam holy month of Ramadan, because they are unsure how the holiday will affect their travel plans. Since Istanbul is 90% Muslim, Ramadan is a huge event in the city, but as you’ll learn when you read on, the month of Ramadan is actually an ideal time to visit.
With most restaurants uncrowded during the day and the opportunity to immerse yourself in an important cultural aspect of the city, you may even want to purposely schedule your visit to Isanbul to coincide with Ramadan.
What Is the Meaning of Ramadan?
In the religion of Islam, Ramadan (also called Ramazan) is a holy month that celebrates the prophet Muhammad’s receiving of the Qur’an (Islam’s holy book) from God (Allah). In the Qur’an, it is stated that those who are able should fast for 30 days to learn patience, self-discipline and compassion for those less fortunate, while cleansing their souls of impurity.
What Does Ramadan Fasting Entail?
During Ramadan most Muslims observe a daily fast from the first call to prayer at sunrise to sunset. During this time, no food or drink, even water, is to pass the lips. Fasters may also not smoke or chew tobacco, chew gum or brush their teeth, nor are they permitted to swim.
Iftar is the breaking of the Ramadan fast every evening, as signaled by the imams in the mosques. Green lights are illuminated on the minarets, and a ceremonial meal is enjoyed with family and friends, featuring foods like pidesi (flatbread), olives, dates, figs and pickled vegetables. A larger meal is often enjoyed later in the night.
At the end of the month of Ramadan, The Sugar Feast is a three-day festival marking the end of fasting. In Turkey, this is known as Ramazan Bayramı or Şeker Bayramı.
Are Some People Exempt from Fasting?
Not everyone is required to fast during Ramadan, the following people are exempt from fasting:
- Children under the age of puberty
- Women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing newborns
- The elderly
- The mentally or physically ill
When Is Ramadan This Year?
In 2015 Ramadan begins on the evening of Wednesday, June 17 and ends on Friday, July 17. Each year the dates for Ramadan move backwards by 11 days, as the holiday is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, versus the solar Gregorian calendar.
How Does Ramadan Affect Visitors to Istanbul?
Ramadan is a very important holiday in the Muslim faith, and it’s impossible to miss its influence throughout Istanbul if you visit during the holy month. The biggest effect most visitors to the city notice is the changes to dining due to fasting during the day. Many restaurants where locals normally eat will be uncrowded, making it easy to be seated right away for a meal. A few restaurants choose Ramadan as a good time to close for maintenance, and others refrain from serving alcohol during Ramadan.
At night once the fast is broken, however, Istanbul becomes a giant party. Lines for many restaurants will stretch down the block, and some establishments offer special Ramadan menus. Street vendors with delicious snacks line the roads. The area around the Hippodrome transforms into a street festival, and the courtyard of the Blue Mosque becomes a market selling prayer books, scarves and many other items.
Out of respect to those who are fasting during Ramadan, visitors to Istanbul who are not fasting are encouraged to only consume food and drink inside restaurants or bars, not in public. Also, many Muslims will lay their prayer carpets on the sidewalk during the five daily calls to prayer. You may have your pedestrian travels slowed somewhat during these times. While this a wonderful and often inspirational sight, it is considered impolite to take photographs of people praying.
If you are a light sleeper and not observing the Ramadan fast, you may want to travel with earplugs to Istanbul during this time. Drummers walk the streets in the pre-dawn hours to remind people to arise and eat before sunrise and the start of fasting.
Why Is Ramadan the Perfect Time to Visit Istanbul?
While having many restaurants to yourself during the daytime in Ramadan can make travel easier, the real benefit to being in Istanbul during the holy month is the chance to observe and even participate in this special holiday. The festivals in the Old City make walking at night an exhilarating journey of sights, sounds and smells. Fasting for Ramadan, even for one day, can give you a greater appreciation of Muslim culture and empathy for people who have no food. You’ll find the first bite of fruit you eat when breaking your fast in the evening explodes on your tongue, and the simplest dried fig becomes a miracle to your taste buds.
Staying at Hotel Büyük Keban in the heart of Istanbul’s Old City provides you with the perfect place to experience Ramadan like a local. Our Concierge Department can assist you in finding the best nearby restaurant to celebrate at night. Of course, if you are not fasting, we are happy to help you find establishments to serve you during the day throughout the city on your travels. If you have questions about Ramadan or how it may affect your visit here, we can answer them for you. Contact us directly today to book your stay in Istanbul during Ramadan, and not only will you get our hotel’s best rates, you’ll gain new insight and experience into a world you may not have known before.