Explore Gay Istanbul.

Gay Istanbul.

What's it really like?

Spanning two continents and sitting at the intersection of East and West, Istanbul is unlike any other city in the world. Where else can you spend your morning visiting the world’s most stunning mosques and most iconic bazaars, before hopping on a tram and finding yourself in the middle of a modern European city, with chic boutiques, cool bars, and a thriving gay nightlife?

Indeed, the gay nightlife here is among the best and most diverse in the Middle East, with a number of bars, clubs, and other venues that cater specifically to the LGBTQ+ community. Many of these venues are located in the trendy Beyoğlu neighborhood surrounding Taksim Square, which is known for its vibrant European-style nightlife. Here, you’ll find a mix of laid-back gay cafés and chic clubs, usually catering to a mix of locals and tourists.

One of the most popular gay venues in this area is Tek Yön Club, which gets busy every night of the week with gay locals and tourists. For something more upscale, head to trendy Superfabric, offering table service and hot buff dancers. It is worth noting that the staff at gay venues in Istanbul are notorious for ripping off tourists and being rude – keep your wits about you, ask for prices before ordering drinks, and try to not get too offended by the attitude. For a more friendly and tourist-friendly vibe, stick to the more relaxed gay cafés.

Of course, while the gay nightlife is a draw for many, it’s the cultural attractions that bring most people to the city, gay or straight. Sights like the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque (conveniently located across from each other) are unmissable, and you can spend hours getting lost in the Grand Bazaar and the smaller yet equally enticing Egyptian Bazaar. You can also check out royal treasures at Topkapi Palace, taste the best baklava, kebab and mezze you’ll ever eat, and even cross between continents on a Bosphorus cruise.

Another popular activity is relaxing in a traditional hammam, but gay visitors beware – while some of these are covert meeting places for local gay men, these are not gay saunas in the usual sense and the attitude to cruising is pretty discreet.

The duality of East and West, ancient and modern, is the most striking and unique feature of Istanbul, and it is one of its biggest appeals – it can, however, make it a slightly confusing place for LGBTQ+ travellers wanting to know how safe it is for them. Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since 1858 and, broadly speaking, Istanbul is safe, friendly, and welcoming for gay travellers.

That said, Turkey has been getting increasingly conservative since the failed 2016 coup against President Erdoğan, which has seen gay venues close and a heavier focus on traditional Muslim values across all areas of public life. Due to this, gay travellers should avoid public displays of affection, especially in the more traditional parts of the city.

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Istanbul's Gay-Friendly Hotels

Istanbul offers a wide range of accommodation options and, with prices usually cheaper than in Europe or Asia, it is a fantastic opportunity to splurge on a 4 or 5-star hotel. These trendy, upscale hotels will also tend to be more gay-friendly, especially the large international chains. While there are a few cool hostels for those on a budget and who enjoy a more social and relaxed stay, many budget accommodations in the city have less-than-ideal cleanliness and upkeep standards, so always pay attention to guest reviews. The area around Taksim square is the most popular for gay travellers, as you’ll be close to all the gay nightlife action.

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Gays and the Law

Turkey has a mixed record on LGBTQ+ rights. While homosexuality has been legal since 1858, discrimination and prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community still exist in many parts of the country. There is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and LGBTQ+ individuals are not protected by anti-discrimination laws. In recent years, LGBTQ+ organisations have faced increasing hostility from the government, with some groups being banned or forced to shut down.

In addition, violent attacks against gay individuals have been reported, and the police response to these attacks has been criticized as inadequate. Istanbul Pride has been banned since 2014, and almost 400 Pride marchers were detained by the police in 2022 before being released the next day.

A significant factor in this is Turkey’s extremely conservative Muslim government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So far, they have been reluctant to take a strong stance against gay rights, but there are fears by LGBTQ+ organisations that this may change in the future.

Turkish group Positive Living Association offers free, confidential antibody HIV tests in two locations in Istanbul. The most convenient for tourists staying near Taksim Square is Beşiktaş Municipality Wellness Center – drop in between 9:30 and 16:00 to get a test and receive your results the next day by text

Istanbul is defined by contrasts, which makes hopping between neighbourhoods especially fun. Public transport is clean, efficient, and affordable, with the Metro covering most of the European side and the trams being a fantastic way to take in the more traditional neighbourhoods.

Sultanahmet is the historic heart of Istanbul, home to famous landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. It’s the first port of call for most tourists, and the attractions here are a must-see. It’s also a great place to wander around and explore the city’s winding streets and alleys. Despite being the most famously traditional part of the city, it is still technically on the “European” side.

Also located on the European side of the city, Beyoglu is known for its lively nightlife, trendy cafés, and art galleries. Istiklal Avenue is the main street here and is a must-visit for shopping and people-watching. This is also where the gay nightlife is located. Nearby, the picturesque neighborhood of Kalakoy contains the iconic Galata Tower and Serdar-ı Ekrem, arguably the coolest shopping street in the city, lined with unique independent boutiques and design stores.

While most tourists limit their time in the Asian side of Istanbul, it’s worth a hop across the Bosphorus to explore Kadikoy, known for its laid-back atmosphere, seafood restaurants, and street markets. It’s a great place to spend a lazy afternoon wandering around and soaking up the local culture.

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