Gay Vacations in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is truly one of the world's most exotic—and erotic—cities. Perched between Europe and Asia (a bridge over the Bospherous connects them), it is also a virtual bridge between the old and new, between the art and traditions of the grand Ottoman empire, and the modern bustling city that is growing (some say too fast).

Istanbul is full of ancient monuments from so many eras that you sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed sorting through all of the history. Ottoman, Roman, and Byzantine cultures have all laid their mark on the architecture of the city. Above a Roman ruin, you'll see an Ottoman mosque. A Byzantine cistern lies underneath a modern city block. Hagia Sophia, now a mosque, was at one time one of the most important cathedrals of early Christianity. Nowhere is the fusion of cultures so brilliant, colorful, and alive than in Istanbul. It truly is a feast for the senses-visual, sensual, and spiritual.

Gay travelers will feel the vibrant buzz immediately. There's a live-and-let-live acceptance of gay life in this city that you won't find anywhere else in the Islamic world. Gay life in Istanbul has an in/out of the closet aspect familiar to travelers in Islamic cultures, but it's unique because secular law does not forbid homosexuality in Turkey (a secular democratic republic was declared by Ataturk in 1923).

As in places where macho attitudes go hand-in-hand with outwardly observant Muslim culture, gay life (for men at least) is very much an affair of don't ask, don't tell. Many gay men are married with children and call themselves "bisexual." As in all Muslim cultures, travelers should be very sensitive to the way local gay people want and need to be perceived.

That said, Istanbul has a growing gay life that is becoming more out as Turkey becomes more integrated into the European Union. The Taksim area in the section of the city known as Beyoglu is the nightlife district in general. Almost all of the major gay venues are located in this neighborhood mostly along the pedestrian Istiklal Street. There are more than 15 gay bars and clubs in the city that run the gamut from sleek and trendy to relaxed and down-to-earth. Several modern gay saunas and Turkish baths percolate in historic domed buildings, and little cafes where you can smoke a hookah hide beyond the street in private gardens around Taksim and Istiklal Street (Istiklal Caddesi). The nightlife continues until 4 a.m., and it even overflows to the streets on hot summer and Saturday nights until morning light when you can hear the muezzin call from the tops of the minaret of the Blue Mosque. Heavenly.

Published: 23 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 29 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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