The Holy Month of Ramadan – Ramazan in Turkish – is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. If you happen to be visiting the country during this special time of the year, here’s a look at what you can expect during Ramadan in Turkey.
What Is Ramadan?
First of all, what is Ramadan; such an important part of the Turkish festivals calendar?
Most of us know the basics. A time when Muslims fast during daylight hours from sunrise to sunset.
But this holy month is about so much more than that.
Ramadan marks the the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad and, as such, is considered to be the holiest month of the calendar.
It’s a time to feel closer to Allah through prayer, fasting, abstention (including from sexual activity), charity, remembering those less fortunate.
And it’s also a joyful time for feasting, giving, good deeds and celebration where cultural events take place after sunset.
As the 4th pillar of Islam, the month of fasting during Ramadan is something that Muslims must do during their lifetime.
But there are exceptions: Children yet to reach puberty, older people, the sick, menstruating women, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and travellers don’t need to fast.
Does Ramadan Affect Tourists In Turkey?
Turkey is a secular state, and also a predominantly Muslim country, so what will it be like to visit the country during Ramadan?
First of all, when you’re here, you will see the word Ramazan rather than Ramadan. You will also see the outside of some mosques decorated with lights. Minarets will be lit up.
And the answer to the ‘what will it be like’ question is – there is no one, clear answer. It depends where you are.
Tourist Areas In Ramadan
Islam follows the lunar calendar and, with regard to the Gregorian calendar, falls around 11 days earlier, each year.
From 2023 onwards, that means Ramadan will be celebrated during the off-season for many of the Turkish coastal tourist resorts.
Places like Fethiye and Kaş, however, continue life as normal during the off season. And, for us, this is a great time to visit these places.
And being in these places during Ramazan won’t affect your visit much, at all.
It’s a similar story with the tourist areas of the big cities, too, like Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya.
As a tourist in Istanbul, for example, you might well find a lot of the main tourist attractions have shorter queues and fewer crowds as many Muslim tourists won’t be travelling during this time.
Some of the restaurants and cafes might be quieter during the daytime but they’re open, you will be welcomed and staff will be happy to serve you.
If you’re in Istanbul for the first time and want to visit places like Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque) and Suleymaniye Mosque, these places will likely be much busier, however, with people praying.
It’s normal for mosques to be closed to visitors at prayer times but be respectful of those praying during other times of day, too.
You will, however, get to witness all the Ramadan decorations and public Iftar feasts and gatherings.
So it’s a special time to be in the country.
Conservative Areas During Ramadan
If you are planning on visiting small towns and cities – particularly away from coastal areas, your Turkish Ramadan experience will look much different.
It’s a good idea to research before you travel so that you know what to expect.
Konya, for example, is famously pious. Restaurants and many shops will be closed during daylight hours.
What Our Ramazan In Fethiye Looks Like
Turkish people will celebrate Ramadan in various ways, especially in more secular areas like the coastal touristic towns and cities.
Amongst our Turkish friends in Fethiye, for example, some don’t observe Ramadan at all. Some will quit drinking alcohol for the month. Some might not smoke during the day.
That’s not to say there aren’t people in these areas who will be carrying out a strict observance of Ramadan.
And we are mindful of that when we’re out and about, even if we don’t personally know any of these people.
Bars & Restaurants Over Ramadan
First of all, if you’re in this area during Ramadan, the good news is the vast majority of Fethiye bars and restaurants will be open as normal and will be frequented by some local people as well as foreign visitors.
Some of the restaurants might have a special menu for the iftar meal (the breaking of the fast) at sunset, so they could be very busy during this time.
Be mindful that waiters and hotel staff could well be observing Ramadan and fasting.
If they seem a bit lethargic or distracted, cut them some slack. It’s a long day, working without food and drink – even on the shorter winter days.
As you might expect, those who are fasting in Fethiye are rather keen for sunset to make its presence felt so that they can eat.
Even many of those who aren’t fasting will still head home, to a restaurant or to an Iftar Çadırı to break the fast with a special Iftar meal.
(Neighbourhoods and local authorities in towns and cities set up an Iftar Çadırı – Iftar Tent – and welcome people into them to break the fast with others. A place for both strangers and friends to meet.)
This means busy roads in the run up to sunset. And drivers can sometimes be impatient.
Don’t be surprised to hear lots of extra beeping of horns at traffic lights. If you’re on the roads at this time, take care.
Traditional Ramadan Food In Turkey
Not just in Fethiye but around the country, there is traditional Turkish food that is associated with Ramadan.
Look out for these so that you can experience a bit of Turkish Ramazan.
You might be offered dates or other dried fruits. These are traditionally eaten before the Iftar meal to prepare the body for food after the fast.
Güllaç is one of the traditional desserts eaten during the Holy Month. We haven’t got a sweet tooth at the best of times so we have never tried güllaç.
It’s available in supermarkets and patisseries so do give it a go if sweet treats are your thing.
However, we do love bread. And Ramadan in Turkey would just not be the same without the famous Ramazan pidesi.
Not to be mistaken with the long thin pide with toppings, this is a delicious, flat circular loaf of bread.
Queueing up at the local bakery just before sunset to get our hands on fresh-from-the-fırın (stone oven), still hot, Ramazan pidesi – that’s part of our Ramadan.
It’s a conveyor belt of bread being expertly extracted from the oven by the baker.
Whilst he crisscrosses the next batch of loaves with his knife and sprinkles with sesame seeds before sliding them into the burning abyss, the bakery staff wrap a piece of paper round each freshly baked loaf before serving it to the waiting public.
Never has a hot Ramadan pide made it back home to our house completely intact. A few chunks torn off to savour as we walk!
In Turkish culture, bread should never be wasted. So any leftover, stale Ramazan bread is used the following day at Iftar in meals like et sote (Turkish beef saute).
Other traditional dishes served at Iftar include Turkish soups, rice, bulgur pilaf. High protein meals and ‘olive oil dishes’ like taze fasulye and barbunya pilaki.
Of course, various meze dishes will be present, too.
Street Markets & Events During Ramadan
As the weather gets cooler with each future Ramazan, evening activities will no doubt move indoors.
But in the past, during warmer months, Fethiye has held different public events over the festival.
We’ve had evening street markets, performances and also a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony – more commonly known as the Whirling Dervishes.
Public events like this are a really lovely way to be part of the Turkish Ramazan atmosphere.
Nostalgic For The Ramadan Drummers
How do people wake up in the early early morning hours to eat sahur (the final meal before sunlight) each day?
Of course, there are such things as alarm clocks and phone alarms, these days.
But there is also a great Ramazan tradition of drummers walking the streets in the dark hours, beating out a rhythm to wake people up.
In recent years, Fethiye hasn’t had the drummers. They’re both missed and not missed by locals, depending on who you speak to.
Guess if you’re not fasting for whatever reason and you need a good night’s sleep before work the following day, a group of drummers trooping past your bedroom window in the middle of the night isn’t ideal.
For nostalgia reasons, we miss them.
Ramadan In Turkey – FAQs
Ramadan can last 29 or 30 days. This holy month begins with the sighting of the crescent moon.
The starting date can vary slightly between different countries around the world as they wait for the sighting of the moon.
Kadir Gecesi is the Turkish phrase for Laylatul Qadr and means Night of Power.
It is one of the most sacred nights of the Islamic calendar and takes place in the last ten days of Ramadan.
Kadir Gecesi is the night the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
In areas traditionally frequented by tourists, most shops, restaurants and bars will be open during Ramadan.
Use your common sense with this one. If you are in a touristic area or city area where there are bars and people are drinking, then enjoy and join in as you would normally do.
If a quick glance around your surroundings reveals a distinct lack of the presence of alcohol, if you do want to drink, take it back to your accommodation or drink in your hotel bar.
As we say in our article, most Fethiye bars and restaurants are open as normal during Ramadan.
As a foreign visitor, you will be welcomed into restaurants during Ramadan.
As with alcohol, during daylight hours, a glance around your surroundings will tell you the situation. If people are eating and drinking in restaurants, then join in as you would, normally.
If people aren’t eating in public in the neighbourhood you are in, restaurants that are open will still welcome you.
Just be a bit more discreet by maybe sitting indoors or at least not in the full sight of passersby.
In Fethiye centre and along the seafront, for example, you won’t feel out of place eating a meal during the daylight hours.
If you are intending to travel to other areas of the country using public transportation, make sure you plan in advance.
At the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr – the festival of the breaking of the fast – begins. This is called Ramazan Bayramı or – less frequently, these days – Şeker Bayramı in Turkey. It is a three-day holiday.
This means buses and flights get booked up as people go to visit family members to enjoy the festival.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, this is the time to indulge in lots of traditional Turkish desserts and sweets.