A Gay Guide to Istanbul

Istanbul has a large but discreet gay scene

One of the world’s most vibrant and exciting destinations, Istanbul sits on the border of Europe and Asia and this continent crossing urban sprawl is rich with culture, tradition, and history. The streets of Istanbul are overflowing with religious treasures, fantastic tourist attractions, historical sites, great shopping, food, and hamams, and, with a lively and passionate gay scene, the city is a great location for gay travelers.

Welcoming upwards of 12 million visitors per year, Istanbul is the world’s fifth-most populous tourist destination. The city’s historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a hub of historical significance, ancient architecture, and religious monuments.

Compared to the rest of Turkey, Istanbul has a more liberal attitude when it comes to LGBT+ issues and the rights of people who exist outside of the heterosexual and cisgender norms. As such, the city has become a mecca of gay culture and tourism in the region, and whilst not on the scale of San Fransisco, Berlin or Bangkok, there is a noticeable and lively gay scene in the city.

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Gay bars and clubs in Istanbul

The gay scene in Istanbul is concentrated and compact, existing mainly in the main tourist district of Beyoglu, and the historical Pera district. Chianti Bar is one of the nicest gay bars in Istanbul, offering a friendly and laid-back atmosphere. The venue is popular amongst the local gay community as well as visiting travelers, and Chianti Bar functions as a cafe by day and bar by night, getting busiest in the early evening.

Located in central and bustling Taskshim Square, Chaplin Cafe is discreetly tucked away on the second floor of a beautiful period building. Renowned as a cheap and cheerful watering hole, the bar is popular amongst the local gay community who are drawn in by the cheap drinks, welcoming atmosphere, and great music. Chaplin Cafe is a popular spot for warming up before heading on to one of Istanbul’s larger gay clubs. If you’re looking to meet friendly gay guys, Chaplin Cafe is the place to visit.

Pinokyo gay bar has been open since 2011 and has established itself as one of Istanbul’s most popular gay venues. The highlight of Pinokyo are the hilarious and impressive drag shows that feature some of the city’s best drag talent. The club is loud and lively and frequently draws in large crowds of local gay guys and visiting gay travelers. The club is located close to many of the city’s other gay venues making it a convenient spot to check out on your trip.

Popular with Istanbul’s younger gay crowd, Cafe Morkedi is a centrally located and small gay bar. Open from 10 am till midnight, the bar is a popular spot to meet and connect with local gay guys and to grab a cheap drink. Morkedi is a no-frills venue and visitors will find a cheap but cheerful atmosphere.


Gay Hotels in Istanbul

The Beyoglu district is by far the most popular area for gay travelers to stay in Istanbul. The beating heart of the city offers quick and convenient access to many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and sights. Beyoglu is known for its great entertainment and nightlife venues and the majority of the gay bars and clubs are located within this district.

For the ultimate luxury stay in bustling Istanbul, consider the Grand Hyatt. Situated just off Taksim Square, the hotel is located close to the city center and promises easy access to Istanbul’s nightlife and entertainment districts. The contemporary and sleek Grand Hyatt Istanbul is gay-friendly and guests will be able to make full use of the facilities, including the bar, restaurant, swimming pool, and sauna. Many of the rooms here offer stunning views across Istanbul’s ancient and dynamic skyline.

The Ottopera Hotel is one of Istanbul’s finest small designer hotels The 14 modern guestrooms here are each bespoke furnished with consciously chosen pieces that reflect the diversity of the culture in Istanbul. The small scale of the Ottopera Hotel means you’ll always be well looked after and guests can enjoy a great location close to some of the Istanbul’s premier nightlife venues. The hotel’s sun terrace is the perfect place to sip a drink and watch the sunset over the city.

Gay Pride in Istanbul

The first pride celebrations in Istanbul took place in 2003 and occur annually on the last weekend of June. Istanbul pride was the first LGBT+ event to take place in a majority Muslim country and has illustrated the demand for equal rights in even the most socially conservative states. However, despite drawing attendance of over 100,000 people, since 2016 every pride event has been shut down and banned by the Turkish government. Concerns for the safety of the participants are frequently cited as reasons for the banning of Istanbul’s pride, however, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are rampant amongst the country’s ruling party.


Gay rights in Istanbul

The basic legality of same-sex sexual relations in Turkey has been in place since 1858 and the age of consent has always been equal at 18. However, beyond this, LGBT+ rights in the country are pretty limited.

Same-sex couples in Istanbul are not permitted to marry or jointly adopt children and no legal protections exist for those in same-sex relationships. In addition, Turkey is yet to adopt any form of anti-discrimination policy, meaning LGBT+ individuals can be openly denied services or refused equally treatment. Transgender people in the country have a legal right to change their legal gender.

Gay men are exempt from conscription and are not allowed to serve openly in the military. There are however numerous active and vocal LGBT+ rights organizations lobbying for equal rights in Turkey and Istanbul is a hotbed of activism and progressive thinkers. This was the first Muslim majority country to tolerate gay pride celebrations (in Istanbul and Ankara), however in 2015 and 2016 Pride events were broken up by police.

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