Global Gayborhoods: Istanbul

Exotic and familiar to Westerners, Turkey's cultural epicenter contrasts its historically cosmopolitan character with growing Islamic conservatism. Gay life abounds, but is it going underground?

BY

August 12 2008 12:00 AM ET

Tips: Sleeping Around
Hidden in Sultanahmet, Ibrahim Pasha (Terzihane Sokak
No: 5, Adliye Yani, Sultanahmet; +90-212-518 0394; 85+ Euro)
is a tastefully chic, gay-friendly hotel in a
century-old building with a rooftop terrace
overlooking the Blue Mosque.

The Ciragan Palace Kempinski
(Ciragan Caddesi 32 Beşiktaş; + 90 212 326
46 46; 200+ Euro), on the other hand, is a lavish
19th-century Ottoman palace on the banks of the
Bosphorus. Massive restorations were completed in
2007, bringing the amenities and service up to modern luxury
standards. The in-house historic hammam (Turkish bathhouse)
is worth a peek.

Tips: Getting Around
Public transportation in Istanbul is diffused across
trams, buses, light rail, metros, trains, funiculars,
metrobuses, and ferries. Get a good
map
or simply board something going your way and
disembark when it veers off course. Trams are the most
convenient, operating between major sights and using
an intuitive token system for fares.

Taxis can be a
reasonable option if you know how much a trip should cost,
as drivers occasionally take advantage of foreigners. At
night, they run along set routes with the fare split
between carpoolers. The system is efficient and cheap,
albeit intimidating at first for non-Turkish speakers.

Ferries operate
on a handful of lines between the Asian and European
sides of Istanbul. Overwhelmingly used by commuters, they
can be hellishly packed at rush hours but afford the
most stunning and intimate views of sunrise and sunset
from the middle of the Bosphorus. Make use of the
no-frills on-board cafés if crossing for pleasure.

Tips: Must-sees
Beautifully imposing, the former Byzantine church and
Ottoman mosque Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Square;
+90-212-522-17-50; 10 YTL) is an architecturally
eclectic testament to Turkey’s multicultural past.
Lose yourself in the Grand Bazaar
(Sorguçlu Han no. 22, off of
Kalpakçılar Caddesi; +90-212-522-31-73), flirting
with vendors as they serve you tea and hawk carpets,
gold jewelry, hookahs, and anything your heart
desires. Finally, make time for the Topkapı
Palace
(Topkapı, Sultanhamet;
+90-212-512-04-80, 10 YTL), if only to view the priceless
jewels in the Imperial treasury, and the sumptuous (some
would say bloated) robes the well-fed sultans
wore.

Tags: Travel

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