Istanbul is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a storied past, at the heart of several empires throughout time.
Once the heart of the Byzantine empire during its days as Constantinople, then the center of the Ottoman empire, now Istanbul is the beating heart of modern-day Turkey. Istanbul is a thriving and secular city with a penchant for creativity and self-expression.
Istanbulite women generally dress rather stylishly, adhering to Western fashion trends and expressing their own unique street style. You don’t need to be especially conservative with how you dress in Istanbul; the only thing to keep in mind is that there are dress codes for mosques, Orthodox churches, and other religious sites.
Usually, coverings will be provided at these religious sites (unless you are truly off the beaten path at a mosque that doesn’t anticipate visitors!); however, you may be more comfortable bringing your own shawls and coverings.
We have a complete Turkey packing list, which includes everything you’d ever possibly want to bring to Istanbul (and then some!). However, this post focuses more on style, outfit ideas, and what to wear in specific seasons rather than an all-encompassing list of what to bring to Istanbul.
With that said, I’ll go into our suggestions for what to wear in Istanbul in each season of the year, starting with summer!
What to Wear in Istanbul in Summer (June, July, August)
Since Istanbul is a pretty secular city, you don’t have to worry much about modesty in the summer — trust me, locals won’t either!
We do suggest staying away from shorts. While comfortable, they scream tourist — and that can be a safety hazard when it comes to pickpockets!
We also suggest having a lightweight shawl in your bag just in case you want to stop by a mosque, so you don’t have to borrow their not-so-cute coverups.
If you want to fit in with how you dress in Istanbul in summer, skip the touristy shorts and tees and think casual yet refined clothing.
Flowy dresses are always a great pick for Istanbul summers, which can be hot, humid, and sticky. I tend to prefer dresses with a flowy skirt rather than a tight-fitting one (after all, you’ll want that breathing room after a few Turkish breakfasts!).
Dresses that cover the shoulders will transition better for mosque visits, but don’t feel like you can’t bring anything that bears your shoulders.
Midi & maxi dresses
I love midi and maxi dresses for summer. It’s a “one and done” situation – just throw on a dress, pick some shoes, and toss in a scarf or chambray shirt for coverage later on as needed.
The Instagram gold standard, you’ll definitely want to pack some cute midi and maxi skirts to wear in summer in Istanbul.
A denim jacket or chambray shirt
While Istanbul in June through August is hot, hot, hot, that doesn’t mean nights can’t be cool — nor that museums, restaurants, shops, and other indoor places won’t be freezing cold with A/C blasting!
I generally carry a chambray shirt like this one in my daybag with me at all times – it’s lightweight and easy to throw on when entering a place that’s cooler than you expect, or if the sun sets while you’re out sightseeing and you start to feel a slight chill.
If you want a more warm option, a chic denim jacket like this one is always great and pairs excellently with sundresses and maxi dresses which always make up the bulk of my summer wardrobe!
Istanbul is a hilly, huge city and you’ll definitely want to pack comfortable shoes for your time in this amazing city!
A summer hat
Keep those harmful UV rays out of your face with a sunhat in the summer!
As a bonus, it looks super cute in Instagram photos!
A day bag
We both carry the CitySafe backpack by PacSafe not only on our travels but in our day-to-day lives. It’s cute, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, and it’s secure as hell.
We’re talking about interlocking zippers (which you can then put through a second clasp for two layers of security which basically no thief will ever both with), slash-proof wire mesh construction, and RFID blockers to keep your personal data safe.
While I’ve included this in the summer section, it’s great year-round!
What to Wear in Istanbul in Fall (September, October, November)
While you can wear a lot of the above in the early fall as well, we’ve included some things you should consider packing to wear in Istanbul in fall.
Note that there is quite a bit of variation with the fall season! What to wear in Istanbul in September is going to be very different than what to wear in Istanbul in November, so look a little more towards the above summer section if visiting in September. Our biggest tip is to look a little more towards the below winter section if visiting in November to better tailor your Istanbul wardrobe for the time of year.
A coat or jacket
If visiting Istanbul in September or October, you’ll be fine with just a denim jacket or maybe even a cute vegan leather jacket. Istanbul in fall can get a bit chilly, especially at night, and if you’re visiting Istanbul in November you’ll definitely want a proper coat!
While it may be a bit overkill if you’re only visiting Istanbul in September, near the end of fall, a wool peacoat or other similar warm jacket becomes indispensable! We recommend a neutral color like black or camel that blends easily with all your other clothing and looks sophisticated.
Long sleeve dresses
Swap out the summeriest dresses for some longer-sleeved dresses that pair well with leggings for fall.
We tend to wear our summer dresses with leggings and boots in fall, but some long-sleeve dresses will also balance out your wardrobe in the fall.
Long sleeve sweaters
Given that daytime temperatures can be quite chilly in Istanbul in October and November, you’ll be quite happy to have brought a long sleeve sweater or two with you. Even in September, it’s great to have to throw on at night!
Pair it with jeans, a short skirt with tights or leggings, a maxi skirt — the possibilities are endless!
It rains occasionally in the fall in Istanbul, so comfortable waterproof boots like these Blondo leather boots are a must. We also suggest these for winter and spring!
What to Wear in Istanbul in Winter (December, January, February)
Visiting Istanbul in December through February is well worth it, but it brings a few challenges when it comes to planning what to wear in Istanbul in winter!
Istanbul is colder than you might expect in winter. My first trip to Istanbul was in February 2012, and I was shocked when I looked at the temperatures a day before my trip… and realized it was colder than NYC which I was leaving!
Warm sweaters paired with jeans (and leggings for extra warmth if needed) plus a jacket and all the winter accessories below will be the perfect Istanbul winter outfit!
We suggest this cute winter sweater and ones like it!
Jeans and leggings
To go with those winter sweaters, be sure to pack some jeans and leggings to mix and match. When it’s really cold in Istanbul in January and February, I add fleece-lined leggings or merino wool leggings underneath my jeans for added warmth… or sometimes I wear two layers of leggings.
If you’ll be bringing some leggings, you might want to add some skirts as well. Pick ones that pair well with your winter sweaters and make sure the length goes with the length of your winter jacket.
I tend to bring a black mini skirt like this one because the length fits beneath my jacket so the silhouette is right, and it looks good with leggings. Longer skirts plus leggings tend to look a bit strange so I avoid it when possible.
Great to wear instead of a winter sweater and jeans if you want to look a little more sleek and streamlined. I pair mine with fleece leggings and winter boots plus accessories. I love ones with a chunky knit like this one!
Don’t go to Istanbul in winter without a proper coat! With lows around freezing, you’ll definitely regret it.
If you’ll travel in winter frequently, I recommend a winter jacket like this North Face parka. I had mine with me in my February visit to Turkey and was so grateful for it! It’s a little pricy, but it literally comes with a lifetime guarantee and they will repair or replace it for free if you ever have any issues with your coat. I’ve owned mine for nearly a decade, no joke.
If that’s a little pricy for you, I suggest buying this affordable ultra light down, which you can use as a layer under your other jackets to add warmth. It’s not the most stylish look — it can make you look a tad puffy — but I wear mine under my leather jacket to extend leather jacket season quite often!
Winter hat, scarf, and gloves
Winter in Istanbul can be cold, cold, cold — expect temperatures around 40° F / 5° C most of December through February. And while friendly cat snuggles will certainly warm the heart, you’ll need stuff for the rest of your body, too.
In addition to some of the clothes suggested in the fall section above, supplement it with a warmer coat and some winter accessories. In addition to my North Face parka I described above, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.
While it occasionally snows in Istanbul, you really don’t need full-on snow boots. Comfortable waterproof boots like these adorable Blondo leather boots will suit you perfectly — great for the rain, occasional snow, and for looking sleek during the winter while keeping your feet toasty warm! Just make sure you pair with wool socks to keep in warmth.
What to Wear in Istanbul in Spring (March, April, May)
Like I noted in the fall section above, Istanbul in spring is very different depending on what month of spring you are visiting. What to wear in Istanbul in March is going to be a lot more similar to winter wear than, say, what to wear in Istanbul in May, which will skew a lot more towards summer weather.
Take a look at the fall section above for the basics, then take a few cues from winter if visiting in early spring and summer if visiting in late spring.
However, be sure to make these additions, as spring in Istanbul is quite rainy!
Raincoat or trench coat
April showers bring May flowers… and this is certainly true for Istanbul! Expect cloudy and rainy days with intermittent sunshine in Istanbul in spring.
Be prepared for the rainy weather by bringing a waterproof coat — whether that’s a cute rainproof trench coat in a neutral beige or black, a bright yellow raincoat that’ll pop on Instagram, or a waxed canvas jacket that has a bit of edge to it.
Personally, I love this Marmot PreCip rain jacket which comes in a variety of colors, great for brightening up photos and keeping you dry.
And don’t forget a travel umbrella!
I’ve suggested my waterproof boots before, but here they are again: these adorable Blondo leather boots.
They’re great for the rain and can withstand even puddles without letting any water in – plus they’re sleek and stylish.
These Teva ankle boots may be a good fit as well.
Do I Need to Wear a Headscarf in Istanbul?
This question is commonly asked, so I want to dispell a few myths about how women should dress in Istanbul to start. In short: no, women do not need to wear a headscarf in Istanbul or in Turkey in general, outside of visiting mosques and other religious sites.
That said, if you’re a Muslim woman who typically veils, you will be in plenty of good company in Istanbul and you won’t feel ostracized or alienated for your choice to wear a headscarf.
The population of Turkey is 95% Muslim, yet the country itself ostensibly operates on principles of secularism outlined by the Turkish Republic’s founder, Atatürk.
Istanbul is mostly Muslim; however, the attitude in Istanbul is decidedly secular and modern. As a result, most women dress relatively modern and in keeping with Western fashion, not much different than you’d find in any other European city.
While traveling Turkey, you will certainly see women adhering to all different levels of hijab (Islamic veiling), from simple and stylish headscarves to full-on abayas and niqabs. The latter is on the rare side, and it is generally worn not by Turkish women but rather immigrants and refugees from other Muslim countries in the vicinity.
The truth is that the relationship between Turkey and the headscarf is long and complicated, far too difficult to get into in the context of a simple blog post on what to wear in Istanbul. Just know that for nearly a century the use of headscarves was outright discouraged or even banned (as it was from 1980 to 2013). Still to this day, women who wear headscarves often experience discrimination in the workplace, so the issue is far from solved. For more information, you can read a great article here.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
We have a ton of resources to help you decide where to stay in Istanbul!
If you just want our quick recommendations, here are our top picks for each budget category.
Budget: For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the Dreamers B&B. Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend Peradays. It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love Hammamhane, a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
More Turkey Travel Resources
Headed to Turkey? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip.
If this will be your first time traveling to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.
We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, the best Turkish food to eat, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.
If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!
Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Turkey (or really, any part of the world)! Steph and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Turkey is safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.