Istanbul's gay scene is thriving.
ATTITUDES to homosexuality are gradually evolving in Turkey. Istanbul’s heady mix of east and west has contributed greatly to its cosmopolitan feel. Consequently, the gay scene here is large and colourful. Istanbul’s gay scene kicks off around midnight and carries on through the small hours. Here’s our guide to the top gay spots in the city:
Clubs and bars
For many of Istanbul’s gays, this is the starting point to a night out. It’s a chilled out place where you can hear live music four nights a week and chat to other patrons, who tend to be more sophisticated gays and lesbians, with a large number of foreigners. It’s right in the middle of Istiklal Street, the heart of Istanbul’s gay scene. The cafe is open from 4pm till 2am but the busiest time is between 9pm and 1am. Drinks are reasonably priced and the service is good. For more information, see their website.
This popular weekend nightclub offers an atmosphere similar to Europe’s biggest gay clubs. It’s spacious and open – a good thing, too, because it gets very busy, with a wide mix of people. It’s open from 11pm till 5am on Friday and Saturday. You have to pay to get in but it’s worth the money for a club that offers high quality shows and music. Unfortunately drinks are on the expensive side. They have a website but unfortunately it’s in Turkish. You’ll find X Large on Mesrutiyet Street.
This club in Siraselviler Street is one of Istanbul’s most popular gay clubs. Its once-relaxed atmosphere is no more, since they moved to a bigger venue and the crowds discovered it. The prices are also a little high. You’ll find gay men of all shapes and sizes here. It’s well known for its camp waiters and on Tuesday and Saturday nights you can see drag shows. It’s open from 11pm till 4am. Check the website for more information.
This is one of Istanbul’s larger gay joints. It’s located on the top floor of a building and you can smoke on the terrace and watch the views of the city. Saturday night is the club’s busiest night, but you can catch some action on other nights, too. There’s often live music. Expect to see lesbians and curious straights. Other Side is open from 10pm till 5am and you’ll find it on Istiklal Street.
This small Tarlabasi Boulevard club is just off Taksim Square. It gets busy around 1am and is one of the best places in the city to spot famous faces – both gay and straight. This is one of Istanbul’s oldest gay bars. It’s open from 11pm till 5am.
Queens, bears and hustlers - you'll see them all on a night out in Istanbul.
This bar has a more relaxed vibe than the others listed. It’s a good place to meet gay men from all across the spectrum: bears, bear lovers, gay tourists and a handful of queens and transvestites. It’s on Tarlabasi Boulevard and is open from 10pm till 4am.
This club is near Yusufpasa tram station on Muratpasa Sokak. Here you’ll find middle class Turkish bears, older, gay moustachioed men. It has a local atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else around Taksim. It’s also unique in that it gets busy before midnight – long before most of the other gay bars begin to stir. You can also hear live traditional music. It gets very busy on Saturday. Prices are very reasonable.
Restaurants and cafes
This small, tasteful gay cafe and restaurant is on Istiklal Avenue. Look for the rainbow flag at the end of the lane. This cafe does good food and there are no hustlers. There’s free wifi and during the summer tables are spread out outside. It’s open from 10am till midnight. See their website for more information.
On Zambak Soklak in the heart of Beyoglu, this cafe is visited by an eclectic range of patrons. If you’re after dinner it’s best to make a reservation. It’s a friendly, relaxed place where it’s quiet enough to have a conversation. Frappe is open from 8am till 1am.
There are plenty of gay-friendly spots in the city.
The owner of this restaurant was once a famous drag queen who appeared in Istanbul’s biggest gay clubs in his heyday. His restaurant offers homemade food from all around Turkey. It’s small, cosy and frequented by both foreigners and locals. It’s open from 10am till 10.30pm. You’ll find it on Akyol Street in Beyoglu.
Also in Beyoglu, on Siraselviler Street, this fifth-floor, gay-friendly restaurant is in the same building as Barbahce, a gay club. It’s on the expensive side, but the food is great and the views over the Bosphorous Strait and Istanbul’s Asian side are superb. Sit on the terrace on the long, summer evenings and enjoy the food and conversation. It’s open from 9am till 3am.
Saunas and baths
There are no exclusively gay hamams in Istanbul. However, there are a number of hamams visited by gay men. The owners of these establishments tend to shy away from any gay publicity, so we cannot list any here. It’s best to discreetly ask around when you get to Istanbul.
We must preface this by saying be very careful if you’re going to do such a thing in a foreign country. Remember you are in a place where you cannot speak English, probably have few friends and you are out of your element. Be especially careful at night time and do not carry valuables or quantities of cash. Avoid Taksim Park – it’s not safe for foreigners and some gay tourists have been attacked and robbed there.
This is Turkey’s most famous gay street, and it’s safe to wander around. You’ll see all kinds of gay men.
This small district is near the Besiktas district. It’s around a 15-minute taxi ride from Taksim. Head down to the waterfront where there’s a vivid night life.
The breakwater and parks near the ferry stations and the town square are good places to go. Be careful after midnight.
You will have to head out of Istanbul to find a really nice beach.
It’s hard to find a good gay beach in Istanbul. Actually – it’s hard to find any good beach – crowding has made them dirty and unsuitable. You’ll need to head a little further afield to find a good spot.
This is one of Istanbul’s Princes Islands, it’s easy to reach them by ferry and it’s said to be an active gay spot. Take the ferry from Eminonu or Sirkeci on the European side and Bostanci on the Asian side. It takes around 45 minutes to get to the island. When you get off the boat, walk around 300 metres to the right. After you’ve passed the houses, walk down the path to the seafront.
This is on the Black Sea at the European side. It takes around an hour to get there by bus.
This resort town is around an hour away from the Asian city centre. You can get public buses to Sile (‘she-le’) from Harem or Uskudar.
These private tours aim to introduce gay men to Istanbul. The English-speaking gay guides give gay tourists the low down on how to be gay in the city, with tips on the best spots, any dangers to watch for and the best experiences to be had. Find out more and make a booking on their website.