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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.

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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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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 megacity which Istanbul is, there is a well established and visible gay scene in the city.

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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 …………., a friendly and laid-back venue that is popular amongst the local gay community. ……… Bar is a cafe by day and bar by night, tending to get busiest in the early evening.

Drawing large crowds on weekends, ……….. 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 accordingl

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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 …………………….  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.

Rooftop Bars Istanbul

Check our list of recommended hotels in Istanbul for gay travelers on Gay Istanbul Hotels page.

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.

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 iSTANBUL Airport located some 25 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 …….TL (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 …….TL.

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 …….TL.

There is also a reliable Havatas bus which will take you directly to Taksim Square.

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.

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 2023, 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 ten

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    SEDAT KARAGOZ

    JANBOLAT KHANAT SEDAT KARAGOZ FOUNDER / GENERAL DIRECTOR/ REGIONAL MANAGER JANBOLAT KHANAT + 7 702 230 42 17 (whatsapp) NEWYORK 797 / 7th Ave, New York City, New York 10019, USA / TONY BAR / JENNIFER BAR Thank you very much for everything.Very nice to know you.If there is anything I can do please write for me... jk@wmwnewsturkey.com GSM+ 90 541 732 90 64 ( TURKEY ) ISTANBUL +7 702 230 42 17 KAZAKİSTAN jk@wmwnewsturkey.com
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    With its lively streets layered with history, just walking around Istanbul is an attraction in itself. You can feast on street food for pocket change or visit the city’s marvelous mosques, markets and parks for no cost at all.

    Here are the best free things to see and do in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis.

    Explore the world in comfort with the latest travel insight from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.

    Aya Sofya at morning twilight in Istanbul, Turkey

    Reconsecrated as a mosque in 2023, Aya Sofya is now free to visit © DANNY HU / Getty Images

    1. Step inside the Byzantine basilica of Aya Sofya

    One of the grandest buildings of the ancient world, the Byzantine basilica of Aya Sofya has been free for visitors to enter since its reconsecration as a mosque in summer of 2023.

    Its towering dome was the second-largest in the world when it was built in the 6th century and still inspires awe, with light filtering through its 40 windows to cast an ethereal glow on the building’s rich frescos, mosaics and multicolored marble. 

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    A wide view of people walking past the Suleymaniye Mosque on the Third Hill of Istanbul

    Istanbul’s many Ottoman-era mosques, including Süleymaniye Mosque, are all free to visit © Darkdiamond67 / Getty Images

    2. Head up to the elegant Süleymaniye Mosque

    Splendid Ottoman-era mosques, all free to visit, top the historic seven hills of Istanbul’s Old City and adorn many streets. The elegant Süleymaniye Mosque is the finest of them all, with a grand complex of buildings around it and an impressive perch overlooking the Golden Horn. 

    3. Visit the intimate Rüstem Paşa Mosque

    Tucked away in the bustling market streets of Eminönü, the intimate Rüstem Paşa Mosque boasts wonderfully rich tile work. As with all mosques, non-worshippers should avoid going inside at prayer times, which are displayed near the entrance. All visitors must dress modestly, and women must cover their heads.

    4. Take a picnic to Gülhane Park

    Two favorite local pastimes are picnicking and promenading, and there are some lovely parks and gardens in Istanbul open to the public. With its stately old trees and winding paths, Gülhane Park – once part of the Topkapı Palace gardens – is particularly beautiful.

    5. See the 4th-century Aqueduct of Valens

    The 4th-century Aqueduct of Valens once carried water into Istanbul and is still an impressive sight, towering over a multi-lane roadway.

    The Women’s Bazaar that sits in its shadow is a colorful neighborhood square lined with popular kebab restaurants.

    6. Meander around the Grand Bazaar

    Often referred to as the world’s oldest mall, the Grand Bazaar sprawls over 61 covered and maze-like streets. The best exploring is in the crumbling hans (caravanserais) along its fringes, where a few artisans still ply their long-practiced trades.

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    People shopping in the Spice Bazaar in the Eminonu quarter of the Fatih district in Istanbul.

    You’ll find more souvenirs than spices today in the Mısır Çarşısı © Izzet Keribar / Getty Images

    7. Shop for souvenirs and snacks around the Spice Bazaar

    You’ll find more souvenirs than spices today in the Mısır Çarşısı, better known in English as the Spice Bazaar, but the streets around this Ottoman-era marketplace in Eminönü are a great place to get a taste of the vibrant local shopping life.

    Along the bazaar, outdoor stalls are piled high with dried fruits, nuts and other edible goodies in case you need fuel before plunging into the maze of streets and hans behind it, full of shoppers buying everything from clothes to kitchenware.

    8. Check out traditional and organic street markets

    Traditional weekly street markets retain a loyal following, despite the proliferation of modern malls and grocery stores. The Wednesday Market in Fatih, which tumbles through the streets surrounding the Fatih Mosque, is among the biggest and best. On Saturdays, head to Feriköy for Turkey’s first organic bazaar.

    9. Snap a few photos at the Kadıköy Produce Market

    A stroll through the Kadıköy Produce Market, a lively strip of mostly open-air shops near the ferry port, makes for great photographic opportunities, with its colorful, carefully arranged displays of olives, produce, dried fruit and nuts, fish, cheese, pickles and more.

    Very Special With İstanbul / The 25 Best Things To Do İn İstanbul That Don’t Cost A Thing / Turkey / By Jennifer Hattam / lonelyplanet.com/Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Jennifer Bar / Tony Bar / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

      Exterior view of the white Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars. There is a golden dome with smaller golden domes dotted along the roof
      Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars is one of the most architecturally unique sites in Istanbul © Caner CIFTCI / Getty Images

      After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

      10. See the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

      Istanbul has a number of still-functioning Christian churches, many with great historical significance.

      Perhaps the most distinctive is the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars, assembled from 500 tons of cast-iron pieces shipped in from Vienna along the Danube on dozens of barges.

      A restoration completed in 2018 has this cross-shaped basilica and its ornate interior gleaming.

      11. Marvel at the Hünkâr Kasrı, a pavilion fit for a sultan

      This private pavilion used by the sultan during his visits to the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) is resplendent with tiles, carpets, inlaid wood and stained glass.

      Access to the Hünkâr Kasrı is through a long enclosed ramp behind the mosque.

      12. Take in an exhibit at the Pera Museum

      Well-curated temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and a fine collection of Orientalist paintings by European and Ottoman artists are the draws at the Pera Museum, which offers free admission every Friday between 6pm and 10pm.

      A large ornate chandelier hangs in the middle of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. There's a large red and blue carpet spreading from one end of the mosque to the other.


      Eyüp Sultan Mosque is one of the most sacred sites in Istanbul © Sanatkar / Getty Images

      After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

      13. Make a pilgrimage to Eyüp Sultan Mosque

      One of the most sacred sites in the city, Eyüp Sultan Mosque is surrounded by grand tomb complexes and a leafy cemetery stretching up the hillside, affording fine views of the Golden Horn from the top.

      The mosque complex is said to be the burial place of Ebu Eyüp El Ensari, a close companion of the Prophet, making it an important pilgrimage spot for Muslims.

      14. Attend an event at a SALT cultural center

      Housed in the beautifully restored former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, SALT Galata is a cultural center and library that hosts exhibitions and special events, including free talks and film screenings that are sometimes held in English.

      Its sister institution up the hill, SALT Beyoğlu, has similar programming and is worth a visit too.

      15. Soak up the scene at Beyoğlu’s art galleries

      Istanbul’s vibrant contemporary art scene is on display throughout the Beyoğlu district, particularly around İstiklal Caddesi and in the Karaköy, Tophane and Tomtom neighborhoods.

      You could easily spend half a day perusing a range of intriguing galleries and other exhibition spaces – including MeşherYapı Kredi Kültür SanatAkbank ArtDepoGalerist and Mixer – whose rotating shows can be visited for free.

      A large lake surrounded by trees and grass


      Enjoy a picnic or a leisurely stroll through Yıldız Park © Runoman / Getty Images

      After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

      16. Stroll along the well-kept paths of Yıldız Park

      Well-kept paths, plenty of trees and some charming Ottoman-era mansions make hilly Yıldız Park in Beşiktaş a lovely place for a picnic or a stroll. There’s a stellar view of the city by the path leading down from the historic Çadır Köşkü, now serving as a restaurant. 

      17. See another side of the city’s history at the İstanbul Arastırmaları Enstitüsü

      From urban planning to street animals, the Istanbul Research Institute presents different, often lesser-known aspects of the city’s history through exhibitions that draw on its rich archival collection of photographs and documents.

      18. Learn something new at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations

      One of the country’s top higher-education institutes, Koç University supports research into the history, art, architecture and archaeology of the centuries of civilizations that have called today’s Turkey home.

      Some of the fruits of this research are regularly displayed in exhibitions at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations on İstiklal Caddesi.

      19. Get a peek at early 20th-century upper-class life at the Aşiyan Museum

      The sweeping panorama of the Bosporus may be its most eye-popping feature, but the Aşiyan Museum also offers a glimpse into early 20th-century upper-class life in Istanbul.

      Full of vintage furniture and photographs, this sweet little house-museum was once home to noted poet Tevfik Fikret.

      20. See the tulips in bloom at Emirgan Park

      Above the shores of the Bosphorus, pretty Emirgan Park (Emirgan Korusu) is especially lovely during the Istanbul Tulip Festival each April, when millions of bulbs planted around the city bloom in a riot of colors.

      The park has play and picnic areas, a jogging track and three Ottoman mansions-turned-cafes. It’s a popular spot for wedding photos.

      21. Head downstairs to see the Nakilbent Sarnıcı 

      Underground cisterns for water storage that date back to Byzantine times are dotted around Sultanahmet. The Nakilbent Sarnıcı (Nakilbent Cistern) was rediscovered during the building process for the Nakkaş carpet store and preserved underneath the shop for any visitors to see.

      The Binbirdirek Sarnıcı (Cistern of Philoxenos) on the opposite side of the Hippodrome is occasionally open for exhibitions and other events.

      People walking near famous landmarks Obelisk of Theodosius and Serpent Column at the Hippodrome in Istanbul, Turkey


      Historic landmarks dot the Byzantines’ ancient Hippodrome in Istanbul © IgorZh / Shutterstock

      After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

      22. Wander through Sultanahmet’s historic Hippodrome

      Not much remains of the Byzantines’ old chariot-racing venue, but the historic Hippodrome in Sultanahmet is still an evocative place to take a stroll. From the southeastern corner of the Hippodrome, follow Nakilbent Sokak as it winds down to see the towering remains of the Sphendone.

      This semicircular end of the ancient stadium gives a real sense of how massive this structure once was.

      23. Go for a run or just chill out in Maçka Park

      Though less historic than some of the central city’s other green spaces, Maçka Park in Şişli is a favorite place for locals to while away a sunny weekend afternoon, with children’s play areas, a dog park and a small jogging track. 

      24. Gain insight into the Turkish bath tradition at the Turkish Hamam Culture Museum

      You won’t get a scrub, but you will get an insight into the hammam (Turkish bath) tradition at the Turkish Hamam Culture Museum, where bathing accessories and depictions of the ritual are displayed in the restored chambers of an early-16th-century bath.

      25. Spend some quiet time at the Beyazıt State Library

      The oldest and largest library in Istanbul, the architecturally impressive Beyazıt State Library is worth a peek for its multi-domed reading room and artful restoration blending old and new.

      After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

      Very Special With İstanbul Guide / The 25 Best Things To Do İn İstanbul That Don’t Cost A Thing / Turkey / By Jennifer Hattam / lonelyplanet.com/Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Jennifer Bar / Tony Bar / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

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        About Post Author

        SEDAT KARAGOZ

        JANBOLAT KHANAT SEDAT KARAGOZ FOUNDER / GENERAL DIRECTOR/ REGIONAL MANAGER JANBOLAT KHANAT + 7 702 230 42 17 (whatsapp) NEWYORK 797 / 7th Ave, New York City, New York 10019, USA / TONY BAR / JENNIFER BAR Thank you very much for everything.Very nice to know you.If there is anything I can do please write for me... jk@wmwnewsturkey.com GSM+ 90 541 732 90 64 ( TURKEY ) ISTANBUL +7 702 230 42 17 KAZAKİSTAN jk@wmwnewsturkey.com
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