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Istanbul, the mega sprawling city which connects Europe and Asia, is one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting urban destinations. It is a true melting pot of cultures, traditions and history.
Brimming with tourist attractions, religious and historical treasures, great shopping, food and hamams, as well as a vibrant nightlife and gay scene, the city makes for a great destination.
The basic legality of same sex relations has been long established in Turkey (since 1858), and there is an equal age of consent (18), however it would seem that equality in practice doesn’t go much further than this.
There are no anti-discrimination laws currently in place in the country and no provision for same sex marriages, no official recognition of same sex couples or legal rights for gay couples to adopt children. There is a legal right to change gender, and you will find an openly gay culture in Istanbul if not in the rest of the country.
There are active and vocal LGBT rights organisations lobbying for equal rights in Turkey. 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.
Equal rights for the LGBT community continue to be debated in the Turkish parliament though not as yet successfully adopted.
While small and concentrated in comparison to the mega city which Istanbul is, there is a well established and visible gay scene in the city.
The scene is very much concentrated in the main tourist district of Beyoglu, the historical Pera district, with most of the city’s gay bars and clubs located in close proximity to Taksim, which is the central neighbourhood of Beyoglu.
It is worth noting that while many hammams (traditional Turkish Baths) have been discreet meeting places for Turkish guys for many years, there are major sensitivities surrounding any promotion of these as gay venues.
We have listed the main gay bars and clubs here and not hammams for that reason. Go and explore by all means, just be aware of the sensitivities, and act accordingly.
The major entry point is Atatürk Airport located some 20 km west of the city centre. The city’s metro system links the airport directly to the city centre and is relatively cheap at only 4TL (which applies to bus travel), there is also a reliable express bus service as well as taking a taxi. Taxis cost in the region of 50TL.
Istanbul also has a second airport, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, which is located on the Asian side of the city. There is no direct rail connection to the European city centre side from here so the best option is take a bus to Kadiköy (E10 line) and then one of the many ferries from Kadiköy to various central points. Taxis cost in the region of 80TL.
There is also a reliable Havatas bus which will take you directly to Taksim Square.
Istanbul is huge and congested with traffic so it’s worth getting to grips with the public transport network to get around as efficiently and cheaply as possible.
As well as the metro there is a good integrated network of trams, buses and ferries which will get you from a to b, though it may take some planning and asking to be pointed in the right direction, as clear maps are hard to come by.
Whatever method of transport you choose, you will need to pay for your journey in advance. The old Akbil plastic and metal touch-tokens are being phased out, though are still in common use, so it’s best to obtain a new Istanbulkart which can be used on any form of public transport. You will be charged a small deposit (10TL) and then load the card based on the number of journeys you expect to use it for.
Millions of tourists visit Istanbul every year. Most visits are completely trouble-free. However, Turkey suffered a number of major terrorist attacks in recent years, some targeting tourists.
As of 2018, spending your vacation in Istanbul should be okay, but trips within 10 km of the border with Syria and to the city of Diyarbakir should be avoided.
Keep up-to-date with travel advice from official sources (for example, the UK FCO website)
Most gay travellers stay near the Taksim area in Beyoglu. The area is surrounded by gay nightlife and offers a great base to explore the city.
Check our list of recommended hotels in Istanbul for gay travellers on Gay Istanbul Hotels page.
The city is packed with visitor attractions and experiences – here is just a brief taster of some of the top sites:
Aya Sofya Sultanahmet Square – this enormous and impressive structure which has become an iconic symbol of the city started life in the sixth century as a church, then became a mosque and is now a museum.
Topkapi Palace Sultanahmet. Home to generation of Sultans and their wives. Exquisite architecture and breathtaking views over the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Expect to share the experience with huge crowds.
Blue Mosque Sultanahmet Square. This early 17th century mosque with six minarets is simply stunning and another iconic symbol of the city.
Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam Sultanahmet Square – visit this grandest of all the city’s hamam’s for its spectacular opulent design. Most definitely not the place for any gay cruising, though!
Istanbul Archaeology Museums Gulhane Park – for a taste of Ottoman history.
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum The Hippodrome, Sultanahmet – the main attraction here is the incredible collection of enormous Turkish carpets.
Süleymaniye Mosque Professor Siddik Sami Onar Caddesi. Well worth a visit as it has been recently restored.
Galata Tower Beyoğlu – dating back to 1348, and another enduring symbol of the city. The Tower is well worth a visit and offers incredible views over the city skyline and the Bosphorus.
Basilica Cistern Sultanahmet, This sixth century network of underground channels which brought water into the city is now a major tourist attraction. Beautifully lit and well worth a visit.
Bosphorus Cruise from the Eminönü terminal, east of the Galata Bridge. Of the many companies offering boat trips, the best is the official Bosphorous cruise from the state-run company Sehir Hatlari. There are three hour stopping or two hour non stopping options.
As of April 2014, Turkey has introduced an e-Visa scheme allowing nationals of several countries to apply for their visa in advance. More information can be found here.
Nationals of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden can enter Turkey without a visa for 90 days within a 180-day period.
The Turkish currency is the Lira (TL). The Euro and US dollar are also accepted at major tourist sites and stores.
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