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Night life in Istanbul

At first sight nightlife in Turkey might look like its equivalent in any other country in the world. However, beyond the bars, night clubs, restaurants and discos there’s a lot more variety awaiting the visitor as this short review shows.


Let’s start with Istanbul, the capital of night life in Turkey.

Start the evening with a meal in a restaurant – go to Kumkapi, where you have a good selection of fish restaurants spread along two streets at affordable prices. You can even haggle over the price for fish, if you’re good at bargaining.

Don’t forget the obligatory Raki drunk mixed with water like its Greek equivalent, Ouzo. 
Be warned though, as drinking too much Raki too fast leaves you with memory gaps later in the night. Afterwards on to for Istiklal for a few beers in one of the numerous bars, some of which feature live music consisting of covers of famous rock classics.

The generally student clientele seems to have a passion for listening to music sometimes up to 40 years old. If you’re still going, try Ortakoy for a club or disco. These are frequented by the dance crowd and served by well-known DJ’s spinning the latest international techno, house or local pop and hip hop. Apparently the music of these discos there can be heard by residents across the Bosphorus.

On the Asian side, good restaurants can be found along the seaside between Kadikoy (especially Moda) and Bostanci. The latter also has a few good beer bars, but for clubs and discos Kadikoy is your choice. Two streets contain all the entertainment you may wish for, with different kinds of music played in each spot. This being the Asian side makes if a bit more affordable. There is a formal name for the street (Kadife Sokak) however you should ask as "Where is the bars street ?" this is more convenient way to ask.

There are of course many more areas of Istanbul offering good night life for different tastes and wallets, for example Nisantasi with chic cafes and beer bars. Since Nisantasi, like Etiler, is considered upmarket, prices are automatically higher and match those of European cities.

Throughout the city you can find a good selection of sports bars, showing either football or basketball – both sports at which Turks excel. Some bars also might show special matches, generally announcing the fact on a board outside the venue. If you want any action yourself go to one of the numerous bowling alleys opened over the last few years in many parts of town.


If you want a local flavour to your night out try a “Fasil” bar – Turkish folklore in an atmosphere drenched in beer and Raki, with most locals bound to sing along with any song – Turkish people have an amazing memory for song lyrics and can come up with a rendition of at least 100 songs. While these places don’t serve full meals, they have a good selection of snacks and starters to go nicely with your chosen beverage. Get a local to recommend one near to you.

Further down the scale and more Arab-style there are beer bars with belly dancers. Some of these are probably best reserved for the locals, but if you’re invited to one, definitely go along for the experience. These are places better frequented by “the boys” only.

By the way, the legal drinking age in Turkey is 18 and many of the bars will check your age if in doubt. Not only for that reason is it advisable to always carry some form of ID with you when out and about.

An alternative is one of the boats travelling up the Bosphorus with dance music and stopping at either Anadolu or Rumeli Kavagi, where you have 1 ½ hours to visit a good fish restaurant before the journey goes back to the starting point, Moda pier. These boats run during summer every Saturday evening and coming early is advised, as they can get quite packed.

Similar night life might be found in Izmir and Ankara, where nightlife centers on Tunali featuring a similar selection to Istanbul, albeit not quite as large. Then there are the tourist centers such as Kusadasi, Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya. Naturally they feature a large selection of bars and clubs to cater for the thousands of holiday makers during the summer season. The most famous disco is no doubt Halikarnas, an open air event and probably one the best discos in the entire world. If you’re on a package holiday, no doubt your hotel will provide entertainment in the evenings.

Beyond these destinations there is little nightlife (and due to culture and religion no or little alcohol) in other Turkish cities such as Konya and smaller Anatolian cities unless you stumble into a local festival. Amasya for example has an apple festival at the beginning of June, Konya has the yearly Mevlana festival and other places have wrestling and riding festivals etc. In the south-east, especially Urfa, so called “sira gecesi” meetings take place, where men gather at someone’s house to spend a night playing instruments, chatting and generally having a good time. If you’re really lucky, you might get invited to a traditional Turkish country wedding and that’s entertainment lasting for sometimes up to three nights or more, depending on the status and financial situation of the families involved.

Getting around in Istanbul after hours is easy with the yellow Dolmus (shared taxis) going to all main parts of either side of town. Taxis charge double fare after midnight.


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