What’s it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-Muslims?

What’s it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-Muslims?

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 Ramadan would be and I was surprised to see it marked on a calendar for May and June. I would travel to Istanbul during Ramadan. I traveled many times to Turkey but never during Ramadan. What would that be like? Of course, I went and had an amazing time during Ramadan in Istanbul and I’d like to share my experiences as a non-Muslim traveler to Istanbul during Ramadan.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.

Want to be prepared?

Check when is Ramadan (in Istanbul and the rest of the world) for the next years. In 2024, Ramadan will likely start mid-March (most likely 11th March) and will last until the 9th of April (probably).

Travel to Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is 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 Empires, 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 layover or short weekend break.

Find the best Istanbul hotels here.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
View on Istanbul

In the past, I visited Istanbul briefly 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.

This time, things were different. Arriving by train from Romania, I was a solo female traveler who set out to explore as much of Istanbul as possible in a short time.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Hagia Sofia at sunset

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 in Istanbul?

What is 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 proved to be very important.

So what is Ramadan?

In the Muslim religion, adults have to fast each year for a period of 30 days. You are not allowed to eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. 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.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Everywhere in the city, you’ll find posters and banners about Ramadan in Istanbul.

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 women, top athletes, or travelers).

Travel to Istanbul during Ramadan

Although I did not doubt 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?
  • Could Istanbul be a target for terrorist attacks during Ramadan in Istanbul?

These were all questions that crossed my mind. Obviously, I decided to go check it out myself and experience it with an open mind. Continue reading to find the answers.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Blue Mosque and the park around it at night with everyone having a late-night picnic in the park.

Impressions as a non-Muslim traveler about Ramadan in Istanbul

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 and they were in business.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Corn and chestnut: typical Istanbul food on the go.

I visited the spice bazaar around closing time (7 pm) and many stalls were already closed. This might have had something to do with people wanting to be home in time for Iftar or just random luck.

By the time I stocked up on spices and seeds, 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.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
People waiting outside the köfte place for their take-a-way food.

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.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Advertisement for Iftar Menu

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 my 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.

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Preparing lunch during Ramadan.

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 to it.

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 packed to the brim, you know it has delicious food!

What about terrorist worries?

As always, I can never predict what will happen when and where. This isn’t any different during Ramadan in Turkey. I felt the Turkish authorities inspected 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!

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey as I visited the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

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 in Istanbul as a non-Muslim. Ramadan is not a time to avoid Istanbul and you can have amazing experiences if you’re open to it.

Frequently asked questions & answers about Ramadan in Turkey

Below are some frequently asked questions, and their answers, that I hear a lot and that I didn’t cover in my story above. If you do still have a question, feel free to drop it in the comment section below.

  • Can I visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul? As of January 15th, 2024, foreign visitors need to buy tickets and can only visit the upper-floor galleries. It is unclear if this is possible during Ramadan, as opening hours might be limited. Check the times and plan your visit accordingly.
  • Do I need to adjust my wardrobe to travel to Turkey during Ramadan? No, you do not have to wear a headscarf or wear anything different than normal. Having said that, keep in mind it is always good to dress modestly, so cover up your cleavage, no crop tops, etc. Make sure to cover your knees and arms (and cleavage) when visiting monuments like the Haga Sophia.
  • Can I go to a nightclub in Istanbul during Ramadan? Yes, you can. Life continues as normal. I haven’t visited any nightclub but I can imagine the party going on non-stop. Ramadan or not.
  • Should I bring anything when I am invited to have Iftar with someone? Of course! It is always nice to bring something when you’re invited to someone’s home. Especially during the important iftar meal. Some baklava is always a winner.
  • Can I travel to the Asian side of Istanbul during Ramadan or should I stay in Sultanahmet? There is no restriction on traveling during Ramadan and the Asian side of Istanbul is just as fun to explore as the rest of Istanbul. Mid-day food will not be as widely available in certain areas of the city, but you can always walk a bit and find a place to eat something.
  • Should I avoid Turkey during Ramadan? Absolutely not! I think Turkey is one of the most interesting countries in this region and it has a lot to offer to travelers. It will be an enriching experience and one you shouldn’t miss if you have the chance.
  • Is there anything else I should take into consideration? The only thing I could suggest is to be patient with people who are fasting. The ticket seller, people in the service industry. They can be hungry, tired and might be a bit more silent than normal. Be patient with them and try to understand their situation.

Helpful tips and tools for your Turkey trip

  • Read all my content on Turkey here
  • Get a guidebook for more travel tips on Turkey. Buy your copy here
  • Book your hotels in Turkey via Booking.com or Hotels.com
  • Find your direct flights to Istanbul here
  • Book your tours and activities direct with GetYourGuide or Viator
  • Travel in style with these cool Turkey travel-themed designs (I made them myself!)
  • Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong when you travel to Turkey. World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.

Have you traveled 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!

What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Share on Pinterest
What is it like to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan for non-muslims? Read about my experiences during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
Pin to your travel board

Probe around the Globe uses affiliate links. If you purchase something via one of my links, I’ll earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you.

12 Comments

  1. Echa

    Hi Naomi! It was so interesting as i will travel solo too to Istanbul in this 3 weeks to come. Its still Ramadhan & tq for sharing this amazing experiences as i am a non muslim too. Actually i was worried too how & where to eat during Ramadhan before. But now i feel . I come wait now!

  2. Sara

    Thanks for this great piece! I firstly applaud you as a solo female traveler. I was also planning to visit Istanbul during Ramadan but we do not fast. And we only have 5 days there so we want to visit as many sites as possible (Blue Mosque, Haque Sofia, spice market and grand bazaar). I’ve read a lot and asked people about this. There are many conflicting stories so as someone who was actually there and likely visited all of these places, how limited (if any) were the hours to access these sites? Thanks!

    1. I only experienced limited opening hours for the Blue Mosque. But if you go on your first day, see what the times are and plan accordingly, you’ll be fine. It didn’t experience any closure for the other sights. It might be the bazaar is less busy or closes a little bit earlier but overall, it is a great experience. Have fun Sara! I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.

Comments are closed.