A Tourist’s Guide to Ramadan
Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish) is a unique time to visit Turkey with its own set of challenges and amazingly unique opportunities. It’s a season of sunrise drummers, sunset feasts in the streets, strings of light on the mosques, specials foods; it’s a time where the uniqueness of Turkish culture stands out even more than usual. Locals will wait for an hour at a bakery just to get traditional Ramazan bread, dates become a staple food, and the streets are full of people way into the night. But all these great things come with changes to the normal rhythm of life and if you plan on visiting during Ramazan then it’s important that you know what to expect and what you’ll need to do to get the most out of your trip.
But first, what is Ramazan?
While there’s a ton of history and depth of meaning given to Ramazan, the simple answer is that it’s a month of daytime fasting (and nighttime feasting) and is one of the five pillars of Islam required of all Muslims. During this time Muslims all around the world will fast from food, water, and even smoking from sunrise to sunset.
During the month of Ramazan there is also a night called ‘The night of Power’ (Kadir Gecesi) where Muslims celebrate the first verses of the Qur’an being revealed to Muhammed and their prayers are believed to be especially effectual.
At the end of the month of fasting, there is a holiday called Sugar Holiday (Şeker Bayramı) where families get together, and kids go door to door collecting candy.
Tips for Visiting during Ramazan
-Take in the festivities! Many places will be much more lively than usual and if the weather is good the streets of the city centres will become picnic grounds with music and lights.
-As Ramazan is all about fasting, avoid eating, drinking, chewing gum, and smoking in public (this doesn’t include children). There are a few places where this doesn’t apply but they’re few and far between. When in doubt, look around and do as the locals do. Definitely don’t eat or drink on public transit though. That’s a definite cultural mistake.
-Small kids are not expected to fast so feeding your kids openly isn’t an issue. Turkish culture is extremely permissive when it comes to children so giving your kids food and water during the day isn’t an issue.
-Many places will have public iftar meals served at night for the public. If you’re not a Muslim these aren’t intended for you so don’t crash the party just for the free food. However, if you’re invited to join in feel free to do so!
-The extent to which Ramazan will affect your time in Turkey will depend on where in the country you’re planning to go. The Mediterranean, Aegean, Istanbul, and, to a lesser extent, Cappadocia, are so accustomed to tourists and financially dependent on them that you’ll easily be able to navigate the season. Other areas, such as Central Anatolia, Eastern Turkey, and the Black Sea will require a bit more effort.
– If you don’t have to travel far around sunset, avoid it. At this time EVERYONE will be rushing around to get ready for iftar. Just after sunset, while everyone is eating, the streets will be empty.
-In regards to transit, this can be a busy time all around. People will often take the holidays as a chance to visit family around the country making inter-city travel busy. Make sure you get your bus or tickets in advance
-While many locals don’t pray at the mosque regularly, attendance goes up during Ramazan so try not to visit during prayers. Click here for more on visiting mosques in general.
-Business hours will also change a bit, often shops will either close early or just close for a couple hours so everyone can eat. This is especially true of Şeker Bayramı where almost everything shuts down for the afternoon.
-While tourist sites may close earlier, many places will offer discounted fees.
-Many restaurants will have special Ramazan menus (dates included of course) that are definitely worth trying.
-If you’re in Turkey after Ramazan during Şeker Bayramı then keep candy on you to give to kids whenever you see them!
When is Ramazan?
Ramazan, like all Muslim holidays, is set by the lunar calendar, and so will change from year to year. Here’s the next few years laid out for you. The dates given are for the days of fasting. These will be followed by the three days of Şeker Bayramı, aka Sugar Holiday, where the normal schedule will be quite disrupted, so keep that in mind!
2019 – 5 May – 4 June+
2020 – 23 April – 23 May+
2021 – 12 April – 10 May+
2022 – 2 April – 30 April+
2023 – 22 March – 19 April+
2024 – 10 March – 7 April+
2025 – 1 March – 21 March+
Words to Know
Ramazan – The Turkish way of saying Ramadan, the month of fasting.
İftar – The evening meal to close the days fasting
Sahur – The morning meal just before the fasting begins
Oruç (tutmak) -The turkish word for fast, used with tutmak it is the verb ‘to fast’
Ezan – The call to prayer. In the evening it’s the call to prayer that lets everyone know they can start eating
Kadir Gecesi– The ‘Night of Power’ where many Muslims spend extra time praying and commemorate the coming of the Qur’an
Şeker Bayramı– Sugar Holiday, a three-day holiday right at the end of Ramazan