Gay Istanbul · City Guide

Gay Istanbul · City Guide

First time in Istanbul? Then our gay Istanbul city guide page is a good place to start.

Istanbul

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.

Istanbul is the worlds fifth-most popular tourist destinations, welcoming upwards of 12 million foreign visitors each year. The city’s historic centre is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its cultural significance, ancient architecture and religious monuments.

Istanbul has a more liberal attitude towards LGBT+ individuals compared to many of its nearby neighbours, and as such is a mecca for gay culture and tourism in the region, and whilst not on the scale of Sydney, Vienna or Bangkok, there is a noticeable and lively gay scene in the city.

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Gay Rights in Turkey

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.

Gay Scene

While small and concentrated in comparison to the megacity 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. One of the nicest gay bars in Istanbul is Chianti Bar, a friendly and laid-back venue that is popular amongst the local gay community. Chianti Bar is a cafe by day and bar by night, tending to get busiest in the early evening.

Drawing large crowds on weekends, Tek Yön is Istanbul’s most popular gay dance club. The venue attracts a mixed group of locals and tourists, expect a packed dancefloor. Open every night, the club often features drag shows and has a private outside area.

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. Go and explore by all means, just be aware of the sensitivities, and act accordingly.

Istanbul

Gay hotels in Istanbul

The most popular area for gay travelers to stay in Istanbul is the Beyoglu district. This is the beating heart of modern Istanbul and offers those staying easy access to many of the city’s famous sights and attractions. The area is also known for its vibrant gay nightlife, with a good choice of gay bars and clubs.

Located close to the gay scene and the beautiful Taksim Square, the Grand Hyatt Istanbul is the ideal location for travelers wanting a luxurious and elegant base from which to explore the city.

Istanbul boasts an impressive variety of hotels across a range of budgets. Whilst the city is home to many 5-star, luxury destinations there are also plenty of options for gay travelers on a smaller budget. Check our list of recommended hotels in Istanbul for gay travelers on Gay Istanbul Hotels page.

Gay saunas in Istanbul

Whilst Turkish public exhibitionism laws prevent saunas and hamams from targeting a specifically gay clientele, many of the venues around the city are discreet meeting places for the gay community.

Traditional hamams are part of Istanbul’s unique culture, and these men only venues can offer travelers an authentic and unique experience that is truly special.

There are also a number of more modern and western-typical saunas throughout the city, and these are the venues that are generally more popular with gay travelers.

Istanbul

History and culture in Istanbul

Istanbul is considered “the cultural capital of Europe” and with its ancient and diverse history its no surprise. There are examples of the city’s rich heritage sprinkled throughout its charming alleyways and streets, much of which is easily accessible to wandering visitors.

Some of the most authentic and preserved Turkish culture can be observed in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, where merchants sell their own grown or crafted goods in a traditional manner. Bartering is standard at these markets and shoppers can normally haggle the price of an item down, with such exchanges being expected by the stall owners.

Istanbul is also a hub of religious significance, particularly  Islam. There are multiple mosques and other sites of religious importance throughout Istanbul and travelers should be cautious of the expectations and rules when visiting such locations. It’s always a good idea to check dress codes, entrance practices and other respectful customs before exploring these beautiful locations.

Getting to Istanbul

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 to 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.

Go To Istanbul

Getting around Istanbul

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.

Metrobus

The rapid transit metro bus has its own lanes throughout Istanbul. This means it is one of the most efficient ways to travel around the city as it is able to completely bypass traffic and congestion. However, the Metrobus can get very busy and at times extremely cramped.

Metro

Istanbul’s metro lines have developed massively in recent years and its now a favorite alternative for locals and tourists alike. The European half of the city specifically has a fantastic and efficient metro network.

Taxi

Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul so you should never have an issue hailing one. They are the perfect travel option for tired travelers who don’t want to deal with the close-quartered metro bus. However, make sure you only get in vehicles with logos on the doors to ensure it’s affiliated with a reputable taxi company.

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.

Gay Istanbul · City Guide

Things to do in Istanbul

The city is packed with visitor attractions and experiences – here is just a brief taster of some of the top sites:

  • Explore Hagia Sophia Mosque
  • Visit the home of the sultans at Topkapi Palace
  • View the stunning Blue Mosque
  • Learn about Ottoman history at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums
  • Tour the recently restored Suleymaniye Mosque
  • Appreciate the Turkish carpet collection at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
  • Experience breathtaking views from the Galata Tower
  • Wander the tunnels of the Basilica Cistern

FAQs

Visa

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.

Money

The Turkish currency is the Lira (TL). The Euro and US dollar are also accepted at major tourist sites and stores. Although cards are accepted at many of the most popular tourist destinations and pricier establishments throughout Istanbul, cash is still king in the city and ATM machines can be easily found. The use of ATM machines is safe and efficient in Istanbul but it is not recommended to carry large amounts of cash.

When to visit

The best times to visit Istanbul are spring and autumn, when the days are drier, longer and sunnier, without the heat of peak summer. These months tend to also be good for travelers wishing to avoid big crowds of tourists and congested streets. Sightseeing is also more difficult in summer as the city’s top attractions tend to get very busy. For travelers seeking the most affordable trip to Istanbul, hotel and flight prices tend to fall in the winter when tourism is slower.

Safety

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.

Traveling in Istanbul is generally safe, 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)

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