Skip to content »
Skip to second navigation »







A Rough Guide to the Best Music in Istanbul

Published by Mara Munro, Writer

Country: Turkey

The Experience

Istanbul is a global hotbed for music. Known as the meeting point (and melting pot) of the Eastern and Western worlds, this title holds true for its auditory landscape as well. With an approximate 14 million people calling it home, Istanbul is an ancient city, home to countless different cultural and musical manifestations. You can get lost in Istanbul's music secene by simply following your ears. Immersed in sounds as old as the obelisks and as contemporary as the art galleries that line the Bosphorous Istanbul's music scene is a true melting pot.

I flew to Istanbul specifically for the soundscapes, and so ended up in the Beyoglu district, known to be the most artistically dynamic area of the city. Also one of the oldest areas of Istanbul, Beyoglu lives up to its reputation, and is a musical paradise. On most evenings, just before dusk, fill your pockets with Lira coins and hit the grand boulevard called Istiklal Caddesi, which ends at the famous Taksim Square. On one main street, you can spend the whole night huddled with a warm crowd, completely enchanted by a Baltic melody on the clarinet, a woman playing violin, and an old man on Baglama (Turkish lute/guitar); all while a little boy taps away alongside on the Tef (tambourine). The sheer experience of intimacy that these street encounters offer is worth forgoing the bars for at least one night (and generously tossing the cover charge into a hat).

There are, however, tons of great live music shows in Beyoglu, and the best venues are the Ghetto and Babylon night clubs. Drinks are pricey, so grab a pint of Efes (Turkey's national brew) for 5 Lira at one of the dozens of bars lining the narrow alleyways to the club. Admission is pretty standard, about 20 Lira, or $16 CAD. Here you can find the best contemporary music Istanbul has to offer, with genres ranging from rockabilly to rhythm and blues. You can also find internationally touring bands, or, my personal favourite, innovative Turkish musicians playing traditional tunes with modern melodic twists. One night I happened upon the impressive “Kolektif Istanbul” at Babylon nightclub, and danced off the soles of my shoes to jazz-infused classic Kurdish tunes.

If you want to stick with Turkish classics, there are also tons of meyhane (Turkish Taverns). Meyhane are usually small and cozy, and on weekends, you will find musicians playing fasil (a local form of gypsy music). I happened upon one along Istiklal, and I saw a terrific singer with a Tef, accompanied by two guitarists, one of whom was keeping an accompanying beat on the body of his guitar. Drinks can be expensive, but worth the experience as long as you don't let them serve you “free nuts”. They aren't! Also, if you eat there, make sure to tip the musicians if they come over to play at your table.




When to Go to Istanbul Music

The best time of year to catch the best music that Istanbul has to offer is in June. The International Istanbul Music Festival, organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, runs for the entire month, and the weather can't be beat! Also, be sure not to miss the International Istanbul Jazz Festival, which runs for most of July.

Odds n' Ends

Check out any of the numerous music shops that line the little street just off of Istiklal, called Galipdede Caddesi. More often than not you can find live jam sessions happening throughout the day by musicians testing out their new purchases. These impromptu improvisations yielded some of the most inspiring and amazing auditory experiences of my trip.


Video Wall

You are now being transfered to our Video Wall

Language Guides

Turkish is one of the languages spoken in Turkey. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


Experienced this and have something to share? Experienced something like this somewhere else? Looking for advise or travel companions? Use this space to leave your mark. Our writers and editors are more than happy to help answer your questions.

Recent Tweets

Listed below are the most recent comments made on Twitter for "istanbul music":