Enjoying art openings, concerts, film screenings, and theatre in Istanbul
Istanbul is at its best, entertainment-wise, during its many music, art, theatre, dance, and other cultural festivals, which bring renowned Turkish and international artists to the city. (See my When to go to Istanbul guide for more details.)
The organisation that puts on many of the top events, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (www.iksv.org), opened its own year-round venue last year, Salon İKSV (www.saloniksv.com, Sadi Konuralp Caddesi No. 5). This intimate space hosts an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, folk, rock and world music, as well as theatre and dance performances.
The Borusan Centre for Culture and Arts (www.borusansanat.com, İstiklal Caddesi No. 213) operates in a similar vein, showcasing classical music, jazz, and dance, as well as performances by its own orchestras.
The Akbank Art Center (www.akbanksanat.com, İstiklal Caddesi No. 8) is another multi-genre institution, organising exhibits, concerts, dance shows, and film screenings.
With the Atatürk Cultural Centre in Taksim Square undergoing a seemingly endless renovation process, the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet (www.idobale.com) can be found gracing the attractive stage of the Art Deco-inspired Sürreya Opera House (www.sureyyaoperasi.org, Bahariye Caddesi No. 29) in Kadıköy. The Istanbul State Symphony (www.idso.gov.tr), meanwhile, performs at various venues around town, including the Caddebostan Cultural Centre (www.ckm.gen.tr, Haldun Taner Sokak No. 11) on the city’s Asian side.
Rock and jazz concerts
The long-running Beyoğlu venue Babylon (www.babylon.com.tr, Şehbender Sokak No. 3) has been a fixture on the city’s music scene since 1999, hosting a hot selection of local and touring indie rock, reggae, jazz, DJ, and world music acts. The expensive drinks are a downside, though. Note that the club goes on hiatus during the summer months, typically between late May and late September.
Other popular spots for live indie and underground music include the multi-level Dogzstar (www.dogzstar.com, Kartal Sokak No. 3) and the friendly, inexpensive Peyote (www.peyote.com.tr, Kameriye Sokak No. 4), both in Beyoğlu. Balans Jolly Joker (www.jollyjokerbalans.com, Balo Sokak No. 22) in the same neighbourhood tends to book Turkish rock acts. The nearby venue GarajIstanbul (www.garajistanbul.org, Kaymakam Reşat Bey Sokak No. 11A) hosts an adventurous mix of live bands, theatre performances, and other events.
Big-name travelling concerts often come to the open-air Kuruçeşme Arena (www.turkcellkurucesmearena.com, Muallim Naci Caddesi No. 60) along the Bosphorus or, more rarely, to İnönü Stadium, home to the football club Beşiktaş and found in the neighbourhood of the same name.
Best bets specifically for jazz music include the Nardis Jazz Club (www.nardisjazz.com, Kuledibi Sokak No. 14) in Galata and the Istanbul Jazz Center (www.istanbuljazz.com, Salhane Sokak No. 10) in Ortaköy.
Film and the visual arts
Though it’s losing its old movie houses at a rapid rate, İstiklal Caddesi and its sides streets are still home to numerous small cinemas, typically showing a mix of mainstream Turkish and foreign fare. (Most foreign films are shown in their original language with Turkish subtitles, although the occasional blockbuster is dubbed into Turkish.) The AFM Fitaş multiplex (İstiklal Caddesi No. 24-26) is larger and more modern, if perhaps less character-filled, than most of the others. Many of Istanbul’s major malls also have large movie theatres indistinguishable from their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The Cinebonus at Kanyon (Büyükdere Caddesi No. 185) is a favourite for its plush seats, easy transit access (take the Metro from Taksim to Levent), and multitude of eating options in the mall itself.
For less mainstream programming, your best bests are the film series at the Istanbul Modern and Pera Museum. The city’s various international institutes also host occasional movie nights and other cultural activities, typically related to their country of origin. Check out the Cervantes Institute (estambul.cervantes.es, Zambak Sokak No. 25) for Spanish fare, the French Cultural Centre (www.infist.org, İstiklal Caddesi No. 4), and the German Goethe Institute (www.goethe.de/Istanbul, Yeniçarşı Caddesi No. 32), all in Beyoğlu.
Evening openings of new exhibits are a regular occurrence at an increasing number of art galleries, including Beyoğlu’s Elipsis Gallery (www.elipsisgallery.com, Boğazkesen Caddesi No. 45), Daire Sanat (www.dairesanat.com, Boğazkesen Caddesi No. 65D), DEPO (www.depoistanbul.net, Lüleci Hendek Caddesi No. 12), Sanatorium (www.sanatorium.com.tr, Postacılar Çıkmazı No. 5) and Galeri Apel (www.galleryapel.com, Hayriye Caddesi No. 5A). A good place for art-lovers to start is the beautiful old Mısır Apartment at İstiklal Caddesi No. 143; the historical apartment building is now home to many galleries, including Galerist (www.galerist.com.tr) and Fototrek (www.fototrek.com) where you’ll likely be able to pick up flyers and maps advertising other shows.
More expert advice on Istanbul
For suggestions on where to stay in Istanbul, see my Istanbul Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Istanbul page.
Read my nightlife overview on my Istanbul nightlife page.