Residents are under a weekend lockdown order from 9 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. on Monday.

By Alison Fox
December 09, 2020
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Tourists visit the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque
Tourists visit the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque during a national weekend coronavirus lockdown on December 06, 2020, in Istanbul, Turkey.
| Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Tourists in Istanbul over the weekend were allowed to roam the city as its residents were forced to stay home under a strict weekend curfew. 

Turkey on Friday implemented a weekend lockdown, forcing all citizens and residents to stay home from 9 p.m. on Friday through 5 a.m. on Monday, according to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Turkey. But foreigners who were in the country for tourism were exempt from curfews.

Tourists visit the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque
Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

As an added bonus, most museums stayed open for tourists, The New York Times reported, like the Topkapi and Dolmabahce palaces. Near-empty ferries shuttled visitors across the Bosporus. Even restaurants in the old city of Sultanahmet, while supposed to close to in-person dining, secretly opened for tourists.

Restaurants in hotels were allowed to remain open, the U.S. Embassy noted, but only hotel guests were permitted to dine there. At the Shangri-La hotel, the NYT reported, tourists gathered on the terrace, eating fresh seafood and sipping white wine.

“You almost expect to get punished for traveling these days with all the shaming and ever-changing restrictions, but here we are with exclusive access to one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities of the world,” a British musician told the paper.

U.S. citizens are allowed to enter Turkey — one of several countries Americans can travel to —and are not required to show any health documents, be tested prior to traveling, or quarantine upon arrival, according to the Embassy. PCR testing for foreigners is limited to those who show symptoms of the virus.

Most international tourists in Istanbul over the weekend hailed from Russia and the Middle East, according to the NYT, with some Europeans and Americans shuffling around the uncrowded city usually known for its energy and constant bustle.

Turkey’s lockdown comes as the country reported COVID-19-related deaths had more than doubled in less than three weeks, according to Reuters. On Saturday, Turkey recorded a daily high death toll of 196, far higher than the end of October when coronavirus deaths hovered in the 70s.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.