A travel guide to Istanbul for the LGBT traveler (October 2013)
Istanbul : Why go?
Istanbul is a sensory mix up of Asian and European culture. Calls to prayer compete with lounge music in hip roof top cafes. Islamic minarets and domes galore punctuate the skyline while foodies will love the diverse culinary offerings from aromatic Asian street food to classic Italian.
This is literally where two continents meet and look at each other from opposite sides of the Bosphorus. Istanbul was also the final stop on the legendary Silk Route where merchants from across the world held out for the highest price. The Greeks, Persians, Romans, Venetians and Ottomans have all taken their turn here to stamp their architectural and culinary legacies on this amazing city.
The LGBT traveler
Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Turkey and it isn’t legal either but the general vibe in Beyoğlu where most of the gay bars and clubs reside is very gay friendly and inclusive. Beyond and around the city it is fair to say that there is a general ambivalence amongst most about gay and lesbian people, and it is probably wise to remember that there are some conservative attitudes even about straight people making strong displays of affection.
LGBT travel resources
TIME OUT list the main gay venues.
LONELY PLANET GUIDE integrates the gay and lesbian offerings very well into their Istanbul guide
Best gay venues:
LOVE DANCE POINT : Istiklal area : Europhile focus with a mixed bag of techo, gay anthems and Turkish pop. A mixed of crowd of well travelled and straight hipsters.
Tek yon: Cukurcuma & Cihangir area: The largest dance floor in Istanbul and popular with cuddly bears.
BIGUDI CAFÉ : Istiklal area: The first lesbian exclusive venue in Turkey. Open to gay men and the transgendered on Friday but strictly an all female affair on Fridays. To find it, look out for the Altin Plak Café on the ground floor.
Fresh fish: Alongside the fish market near the Gallata Bridge in Beyoglu you will find some very reasonable shack based cafes serving fantastic fresh seafood. On a sunny day you can dine alfresco by the river while taking in the amazing skyline on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.
LOKANTA MAYA, Karakoy. This is on most foodies wish lists and with recommendations from Yotam Ottolenghi you will need to book ahead. Chef Didem Senol serves up light and flavoursome food at reasonable prices.
KANDILLI SUNA’NIN: A romantic casual fish restaurant on the Asian side with great views of the Bosphorous.
ISTANBUL MODERN CAFÉ/RESTAURANT: Fabulous views over the Bosphoros. Home made Italian Pizzas and Pasta. Slick, stylish and arty. Book ahead if you want a table on the terrace.
Grand Bazaar: One of the world’s oldest markets – colourful and chaotic. Allow at least three hours and try to get off the main drag to discover artisans at work away from the tourist highlights. We particularly liked the carpets at DHOKU – Beautiful – like works of contemporary art.
Spice Bazaar: Don’t forget to look out for the leeches still used in traditional medicine in Turkey.
Kadikoy Pazari : The Produce market is in the streets surrounding the ferry dock (Kadikoy Iskelesi). You will also find the best street food in the side streets.
The Kastamonu produce market is held early Sunday mornings in Piyalespasa Bulvari in Kasimpasa.
Carsamba Pazan: Bustling local street market held every Wednesday in the streets surrounding the Faith Mosque.
CULINARY BACKSTREETS TOUR : A great blog plus hosted tours for street food foodie lovers by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer
Cooking classes and foodie tours by TURKISH FLAVOURS
Top tips when in Istanbul:
Taxis: There are lost of reasonably priced meter taxis (make sure they have a meter) to whisk you around but remember two things. Traffic congestion within the city can mean that walking is faster, and we found that most taxi drivers didn’t seem to know the city, so be ready to have your hotel telephone number and address with you so they can ring and get directions.
Personal space and affection: The Turkish have a different attitude to personal space. It may seem that they are barging into you as you promenade down the Istiklal Caddesi. They aren’t – they just don’t mind getting close. The young men also have a lovely habit of holding hands and putting their arms around each other – they aren’t necessarily gay … just being friendly with their mates.
Visa entry: When you enter Turkey you have to pay for a visa in cash (£10 per person) if you are arriving from another country. Nice earner!
If you like the idea of seeing more of Turkey and want to find a quieter coastal town with great food, then we recommend the Courtyard Hotel in Kalkan which is a short flight from Istanbul.
Nestled in the foothills of the dramatic Taurus Mountains on the Turquoise Coast Kalkan is a gorgeous town with its white-washedhouses offset by the vibrancy of the bougainvillea adorning most gardens. Winding cobbled streets populated with cafés, bars and restaurants and an array of shops to pass the time in all add to the relaxing atmosphere. Not forgetting the sea is a stone’s throw away where you can immerse yourself in the warm Mediterranean crystal waters.
The Courtyard is conveniently located in a quiet spot at the back of the old town so cafés, bars, shops and restaurants are only a matter of minutes away while it is also just three minutes walk to the beach. It is a small boutique B&B/ hotel, the first and only restoration of its kind in the beating heart of the historic town of Kalkan and within three minutes walk of the beach.
This beautiful building has been sympathetically restored using traditional methods and materials reflecting the Mediterranean architectural style and together with lots of mod cons and great service it offers luxury in a traditional Turkish setting.