I planned my train trip to Istanbul somewhere in January and wasn’t going to travel to Istanbul until June. It never crossed my mind to check when the Ramadan would be and I was surprised to see it marked on a calendar for May and June 2017. I would travel to Istanbul during Ramadan. I travelled many times to Turkey but never during Ramadan. What would that be like? Of course I went and had an amazing time in Istanbul and I’d like to share my experiences as a non-Muslim traveller to Istanbul during Ramadan.
Want to be prepared? Check these Ramadan predictions for the next 200 years.
Travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, the only city in the world on two continents. There is the European part and the Asian part. Divided by the Bosporus it connects the sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. Once the capital of the Roman and Ottoman Empire, now the biggest city in Turkey (but not the capital). Istanbul is for many people a great introduction to the richness of Turkish culture as it can be visited on a lay-over or short weekend break.
I had travelled briefly to Istanbul many years ago. It was early spring and as I planned to move to Turkey, I only visited the Blue Mosque once and didn’t do any sightseeing. I stayed with a local family on the Asian side of Istanbul. All I remember were the crowded ferry transfers across the Bosporus and eating kebabs.
Read more: Roadtrip to the ruins of Knidos, Turkey
This time, things were different. Arriving by train from Romania, I was a solo female traveller set out to explore as much of Istanbul as possible in a short time. I wanted to see the Hagia Sofia church/mosque, see the blue mosque again, explore more of the streets of Istanbul and eat out as much as possible. As soon as I settled in my hotel in Istanbul I fell in love with the city. The blue waters of the Bosporus, the glistening rooftops in the distance, the call to prayer echoing across the Golden Horn and the call of the ferries. The sounds, the smells, the people. This was Istanbul! Would it be any different now that it was Ramadan?
Ramadan – a short introduction
I am not religious but I like to learn about different cultures and customs of people. Learning about Islam and Ramadan is valuable to me as a person as it helps me to connect with people. During my solo female travel to Iran earlier this year, this provided to be very important. So what is Ramadan?
In Muslim religion, adults have to fast each year for a period of 30 days. You are not allowed to eat or drink anything from sun rise to sun set. The fast of the day is broken by Iftar, a shared meal with friends or family. The whole period of fasting ends with Eid. The 3-day feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan. To learn more about Ramadan and fasting, check this link.
Does everyone participate in Ramadan? No. Only if you’re a Muslim of a certain age, you have to fast. Children and elderly people are excluded. If there is a reason why fasting would be bad for your health, you do not have to participate. (for example pregnant woman, top athletes or travellers).
Travel to Istanbul during Ramadan
Although I had no doubt in my mind that it would not be a problem for me to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan as a non-Muslim, I did wonder what it would be like. Could I find afternoon snacks? Would it be weird if I would drink anything during the day? Would people be extra cranky or moody? And could Istanbul be a target for terrorist attacks during Ramadan? These were all questions that crossed my mind. Obviously, I decided to go check it out myself and experience it with an open mind.
Impressions as a non-Muslim traveller to Istanbul during Ramadan
When I arrived in Istanbul on my first day, I checked into my hotel and set out later that day. I visited some monuments and saw food stalls everywhere on the street. The iconic corn seller and simit carts are everywhere.
I visited the spice bazaar around closing time (7pm) and many stalls were already closed. This might have had something to do with people wanted to be home in time for Iftar or just random luck.
By the time I shopped till I dropped, I found myself rather hungry. I walked around town and found a street with food stalls, small food shops and restaurants in Sultanahmet. I noticed long lines of people waiting outside, to take away dinner. Some shops had prepared boxes of food and it was crowded as if they were giving them away.
Breaking the fast: Iftar
After walking around for a bit, I let myself be talked into entering a restaurant. Quickly the restaurant filled up with couples and groups of friends and family. Soon the place was packed. They didn’t order off the menu but all had the Iftar menu.
We all waited until it was time to break the fast which was announced by the call to prayer. Everyone got their food at the same time and the rest of the evening continued as usual in restaurants.
For me, this was the first time that I waited to eat my food. Luckily they didn’t bring it out before the fast of the day would be over, but I waited with the rest. It was a small thing to do but earned me a lot of respect in the restaurant.
During the days in Istanbul, I had lunch and afternoon snacks in restaurants and I was definitely not the only person eating or surrounded by tourists. I think there are many Turkish people who do not fast and this is not frowned upon at all.
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Should you travel to Istanbul during Ramadan as a non-Muslim?
Of course! Istanbul is such a big city you will hardly notice anything of Ramadan if you don’t pay attention. Many Turkish people and tourists will not fast and you can sit at cafés, bars and restaurants all day long. You can order snacks from food stalls on the streets or just drink a bottle of water on the streets.
You might have some trouble finding a table at a restaurant around Iftar as many Turkish people will eat out during this time. If you see a place is packed to the brim, you know it has delicious food!
What about the terrorist worries? As always, I can never predict what will happen when and where. This isn’t any different during Ramadan. I felt the Turkish authorities controlled the whole area of Istanbul and were very present on the streets. Does this make it any safer? I don’t know. I did feel safe during my travel to Istanbul during Ramadan and hope you will too!
But I think Istanbul is one of the most accessible cities to travel to in the Middle East and you’ll have no problem to find food and drinks during Ramadan as a non-Muslim. Ramadan is not a time to avoid Istanbul and you can have amazing experiences if you’re open to it.
Have you travelled to Istanbul or Turkey before? Have you ever experienced Ramadan during your travels as a non-Muslim? I love to read your thoughts, leave them in the comment section below!