What's On in Istanbul

There are some great annual events in Istanbul that have put the city on the map.

International Istanbul Music Festival (June)

The Istanbul Music Festival showcases opera, ballet, traditional music and classical music. The festival has seen some world-renowned performers and artists over the years and promises to be a fabulous extravaganza each year.

The Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim (July)

Expats living in Istanbul should head down to the Bosphorus Strait to cheer on the participants in the annual Bosphorus Swim, which sees brave swimmers navigating their way across the 4.3 miles (7km) strait between Kanlica on the Asian side and Kurucesme Cemil Topuzlu Park 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, and the fun run finishing in Dolmabahce.

Important Muslim festivals

Most of Turkey’s public holidays are secular in nature, for example Ataturk’s birthday or Republic Day. Turkey also celebrates the two major Muslim festivals – the first is called Seker Byram (literally translated as Festival of Sugar) and the second called Kurban Byram (Festival of Sacrifice). Seker Byram is celebrated after the month of Ramadan, where 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 so that they can have breakfast before sunrise. However, 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 Seker Byram falls in winter, schools are let off early so that the rush-hour traffic can be avoided. On the first day of Seker Byram, Turks go to each other's houses to distribute sweets and gifts. Kurban Byram is when most Turks pay to have a goat sacrificed and sometimes distribute the meat to charity. Both of these holidays are floating holidays and change from year to year. Government departments, banks, schools and offices are normally closed for several days during these periods, although most retail business will only close on the first day of the holiday.

Tipping household help: It is customary to give one's maid, driver, gardener, doorman and any other regular staff a gift at Seker Byram. This can either be in the form of money or food. All supermarkets have “Ramzan Packets” for sale, which are essentially food hampers. Ramadan is an expensive time for them and staff will appreciate the gesture.

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