Istanbul is home to some great annual events that have put the city on the map. With the great climate and varying landscape, it makes sense that many of the city's major events take place outside. Religion also plays a significant role in Istanbul. As most of the city's inhabitants are Muslim, the religion's festivals are widely celebrated annually.
Here's a selection of popular annual events that take place in the city.
Annual events in Istanbul
Istanbul Tulip Festival (April)
To celebrate the tulip, Istanbul's enduring symbol, about 30 million bulbs are planted annually. This turns the city's parks into rich tapestries of colour. These flowers generally bloom in the month of April and can best be seen in the Yıldız, Göztepe, Emirgan and Gülhane parks, as well as in Sultanahmet Square.
International Istanbul Music Festival (June/July)
The Istanbul Music Festival showcases opera, ballet, jazz, traditional and classical music. The festival has seen some world-renowned performers and artists over the years and promises a fabulous extravaganza each year.
The Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim (July/August)
Expats living in Istanbul should head down to the Bosphorus Strait to cheer on the participants in the annual Bosphorus Swim. This event sees brave swimmers navigating their way across the 4.3-mile (7km) strait between Kanlıca on the Asian side and Kuruçeşme on the European side.
Istanbul Marathon (November)
The Istanbul Marathon is a major running event in Istanbul, which includes a marathon, a competitive 9.3-mile (15km) race and a 4.9-mile (8km) fun run. The events start on the Asian side of the city, close to the Bosphorus Bridge, with the marathon and 15km race ending in the Sultanahmet district on the European side, while the fun run finishes in Dolmabahçe.
Important Muslim festivals in Istanbul
Most of Turkey's public holidays are secular in nature, but Turkey also celebrates the two major Islamic festivals – the first is called Şeker Bayram (literally translated as Festival of Sugar), and the second is called Kurban Bayram (Festival of Sacrifice). Şeker Bayram is celebrated after the month of Ramazan (Ramadan) when Muslims fast during the day and only eat after sunset.
Traditionally, during the month of Ramadan, drummers walk the street before sunrise to wake up the observant Muslims so that they can have breakfast before sunrise. That said, if living in an apartment complex, expats are unlikely to be disturbed by the noisy beat below. Iftar is the meal that is taken to break the fast after sunset. The roads are packed in the hour before Iftar, with people making their way home for the evening meal.
When Şeker Bayram falls in winter, schools are let off early so that the rush-hour traffic can be avoided. On the first day of Şeker Bayram, locals go to each other's houses to distribute sweets and gifts.
Kurban Bayram consists of locals paying to have a goat sacrificed and distributing the meat to charity. Both of these holidays are floating holidays and change from year to year. Although most retail businesses will only close on the first day of the holiday, government departments, banks, schools and offices are generally closed for several days during these periods.
It is customary to give one's maid, driver, gardener, doorman and any other regular staff a gift at Şeker Bayram. This can either be in the form of money or food. All supermarkets have "Ramazan Packets" for sale, which are essentially food hampers.
►Learn more about what there is to enjoy in Lifestyle in Istanbul.
►Read See and Do in Istanbul for the city's museums and historical sites.
What do expats say about the lifestyle in Istanbul?
"I love the dynamism and vibrancy. There’s always something to do in Istanbul. You can eat at a range of restaurants featuring regional specialities, see international art exhibitions, enjoy intimate or arena-size music concerts, and walk in a forest or by the sea… the list is endless." See our interview with Australian expat Lisa to learn more about life in Istanbul.
Are you an expat living in Istanbul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Istanbul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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