Travelling to an Islamic country during Ramadan as a non Muslim can provoke a bit of fear of the unknown. Will restaurants and cafes be shut? Will attractions be closed?
How it will affect your trip varies from country to country. There are things to consider during Ramadan, but for us in Turkey it was an almost entirely positive experience. We’ve travelled to both Turkey and Jordan during Ramadan and they were incredible experiences.
The truth is that going to Turkey during Ramadan is arguably the best time to visit. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
What happens during Ramadan
Ramadan is a festival where the dates change each year due to the Islamic calendar observing lunar months rather than Gregorian months. Simply put, Ramadan occurs about a month earlier each year.
The festival lasts 30 days and involves no consumption of any kind during daylight hours. This includes no eating, no drinking and no smoking between sunrise and sunset for 30 days straight. Every evening there is an iftar celebration, which is the breaking of the day’s fast with a shared meal.
At the end of Ramadan is Eid which is a huge festival. People usually take time off work and visit their families to celebrate the end of the holy month.
Visiting Turkey during Ramadan
Turkey is one of the most liberal Islamic countries in the world. They don’t have laws regarding the strict observance of Ramadan like Dubai and many people choose not to observe the festival at all.
In truth, you could visit and not even realise that Ramadan was going on in some places (especially the tourist areas). However, we’ll give you a bit more detail about what to expect and we’ll start with what the major concerns are about Ramadan and what it’s actually like.
“All restaurants will be closed during the day” - False
Some restaurants will be closed but very few, even in the conservative city of Konya some places were still open.
“Attractions will close early” - Almost entirely false
Again, we didn’t see that any museum or attraction acted any differently. Although you will probably see some disruption around the mosques, so in cities such as Istanbul try and visit these as the first thing you do so you can find out about the opening hours for visitors ahead of time and avoid disappointment.
Eid may have an impact as this is a national holiday, but many places will still be open.
“You can’t eat, drink or smoke in public” - False, but…..
Whilst it isn’t illegal, you should avoid eating in public where possible to be respectful of those who are fasting. As you can imagine, fasting for 8 - 12 hours is a tough thing to do, so try to be considerate.
However, you will be ok eating in restaurants or discreetly.
“Alcohol won’t be available” - False
Yep, this is most definitely false. I drank beer with most meals during Ramadan, as did most others we saw in Turkey including many locals.
“Everyone has to get up early to eat” - Inadvertently true
Whilst you won’t be forced to observe Ramadan or be made to eat early, there’s a ritual that you’ll struggle to ignore - especially in rural towns. It’s our one negative thing to say about Ramadan in Turkey. To ensure that Muslims get up before sunrise to have a meal before the fast begins, locals walk through the streets banging drums incredibly loudly. It’s hard not to be jolted awake every day which during our month long visit was at around 2.45am! We didn’t experience this in Jordan so it was a bit of a shock.
It’s not a big problem as after a minute they have moved on, but it’s not the best of wake up calls especially if you struggle to get back to sleep!
Why we love Turkey during Ramadan
After reading above, you’d think that Ramadan is business as usual. Well, that’s not exactly true. There’s a lot of great things that happen in Turkey during Ramadan that make it a special time to visit. Here’s a few:
The festival feel
Like Jordan, Turkey has a real buzz during Ramadan. Like Christmas in Christian countries, Islamic countries really come a live during the holy month. There’s a sense of community which is beautiful to see.
In Istanbul you’ll see music, performances and all kinds of things going on in the public areas of Sultanahmet.
The daily iftar meal is a really special occasion. About 30 minutes to an hour before sunset, you’ll see the streets become incredibly busy: tables will appear, picnic blankets will be rolled out and suddenly there’s a real buzz going on.
This is in preparation for breaking the fast and whole communities come together for 30 days straight to celebrate. In this modern age where everyone seems to be constantly busy and obsessed with work, it is heartwarming to see that people prioritise their communities in places like Turkey. Especially in Istanbul, you’ll see locals everywhere stop what they are doing and meet up with friends and family to break another day’s fast.
We were lucky to be invited to one that happens at the Suleymaniye Mosque and it was one of the most memorable moments from our travels. A mosque volunteer invited us to join their Iftar celebration, share food, stories and experiences with locals and others from around the world. We met people from Iran, Egypt, the USA and every corner of the world on the mosque lawn and it turned out to be our favourite night in Turkey. We were given a meal of meat, lentils, and rice all of which were delicious, along with strawberries and dates.
Read next: Amazing things to do in Istanbul
Lack of crowds
One of the inadvertent benefits is that a lot fewer Muslim people from Turkey and neighbouring countries travel during Ramadan. The mosque volunteers we were chatting to said it was so much quieter during Ramadan than it had been the previous month in April so we felt really lucky as we hadn’t really considered this beforehand.
We’d heard horror stories about two hour queues for Aya Sofia. What we found was a 10 minute wait during Ramadan! This was the case in a lot of places and we often found that there were virtually no other people in the hotels we stayed at.
However, there were still quite a few tour buses in places like Pamukkale and Cappadoccia as many non Muslim tourists weren’t put off!
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Are you planning a trip to Turkey during Ramadan? Would you be put off? Let us know in the comments below!