Often seen as a gateway between Western and Eastern culture, Istanbul is an inexhaustibly inspiring metropolis harboring rich tradition, a deep-seated global presence, and diverse ethnic roots. It is the historical and cultural center of Turkey, and currently one of Europe’s cultural “hot spots.” But in addition to its long-standing reputation, Istanbul has become a post-modern playground filled with creatives.

So, if you’re a creatively inclined traveler making your way toward this artistic hub, be sure to check out the following locales. You’ll be in good company.

A group sits at a coworking space
Photo by ATÖLYE

COWORKING SPACES

Startups and entrepreneurship have grown increasingly popular in Istanbul, and many coworking spaces have opened across the city to encourage like-minded people to come together and create. Here are a few of our favorites.

ATÖLYE: The former Bomonti Beer Factory was recently converted into a complex that houses a concert hall, a host of restaurants and shops, and a workspace called ATÖLYE. An academic spin-off project with ties to the Stanford d.school and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, ATÖLYE aims to foster critical content creation in the realms of design, technology, and entrepreneurship. Along with various desk spaces, a Prototyping Lab, and an event venue, ATÖLYE offers 101 workshops, feedback sessions, yoga classes, and even weekly happy hours. If you’re interested in joining the community and becoming a part-time, resident, or closed-office member, click here.

Workhaus: Known for its minimal office spaces and no-nonsense membership packages, Workhaus doesn’t fuss with events and added perks. Complete with open desk spaces, glass-walled meeting rooms, industrial lamps, modern furniture, and an outdoor terrace, it’s the ideal place for getting some serious work done. But don’t worry — there are still snacks and coffee available in the communal kitchen. Additionally, if you’re looking for guidance on web design, graphic design, or trademark registration, this is the place for you. Click here to learn about nomad, co-worker, and resident memberships.

Kolektif House: With three different branches in Istanbul, Kolektif House has become one of the most popular coworking spaces in the city. But, seeing that memberships include office massages, coffee and tea, free snacks, access to lounge areas, creative events, yoga classes, Monday breakfast, and group breathing exercises, it’s easy to see why. Home to freelancers, creative agencies, investors, entrepreneurs, and small companies alike, Kolektif House is an inspiring (and aesthetically pleasing) space that provides creatives with just about everything they could possibly need. If you’re looking to attend an event or become a member, click here.

Impact Hub: Impact Hub is a coworking space and event venue, and part of a worldwide community of more than 13,000 entrepreneurs, freelancers, techies, consultants, investors, creatives, and artists. The Istanbul branch is located in the heart of the city’s business district and offers four unique spaces designed for both intimate creative workshops and high-profile launches. In addition to access to its global network — from Johannesburg to Singapore to San Francisco — memberships include access to a climbing wall, cozy reading corners, and private booths. To view pricing packages, click here.

A crowd sits at an event
Photo by ATÖLYE
People working in a classroom / creative workshop
Photo by ATÖLYE

EVENTS

Istanbul is home to its share of fairs, lectures, and festivals. Here are just a few of the most noteworthy.

CreativeMornings Istanbul: CreativeMornings is a (free) breakfast lecture series that was founded by Tina Roth-Eisenberg for creatives across the globe. The Istanbul branch hosts events at ATÖLYE one Friday a month. Each lecture focuses on a different topic, but regardless of which one you attend, you’ll be sure to find coffee, snacks, and good conversation. For up-to-date information on CreativeMornings Istanbul, follow them on Instagram.

Istanbul Biennial: Started in 1987, the Istanbul Biennial is renowned as being one of the most prestigious biennial festivals in the world that unites artists from different cultures and backgrounds. Operating on an exhibition model, the event aims to foster a meeting point between artists and audience members and serves as an important forum for contemporary art. Known as the most comprehensive international art exhibition organized both in Turkey and throughout the globe, the Istanbul Biennial plays an important role in the promotion of contemporary artists in the international arena.

The Istanbul International Film Festival: The Istanbul International Film Festival is the oldest festival of its kind in Turkey. The event is organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and is set apart by its thematically specialized international competition, showcase of recent Turkish and world cinema, and roster of famous filmmakers, actors, and actresses from all around the world. The festival kicks off every year in April in theaters across the city and typically lasts about a week and a half.

Istanbul Design Biennial: Founded in 2012, the Istanbul Design Biennial aims to unite a diverse cross-section of design ideas in the city while it explores a wide range of fields concerning design. Sparking dialogue within the creative and academic communities, the biennial highlights both national and international collaborations with cultural agents, institutions, universities, and individuals. Using the city as a dynamic space for projects, actions, and interventions, the event tackles global design problems, brings the notion of design into scrutiny, stimulates critical debate, and prompts further investigation into creativity as a whole.

Istanbul Theatre Festival: Typically held during November, the Istanbul Theatre Festival brings a whole new artistic dimension to the city and hosts various Turkish groups as well as world-renowned theatre companies. The annual festival enriches Istanbul’s theatre life with its wide program of events, international and local plays, and dance performances that take place in diverse venues across the city. If you’re interested in observing the top performances in the country and chatting with various artists, check out the event calendar and be sure to attend the festival’s panels and workshops.

People moving through a gallery space
Photo by Babouris Sotiris
Photos on a wall at ATÖLYE
Photo by ATÖLYE

GALLERIES

Whether you’re looking to peruse murals, photographs, illustrations, sculptures, or installations, Istanbul’s art galleries have a little something for everyone.

Istanbul Modern: Istanbul Modern was founded in 2004 as Turkey’s first museum of modern and contemporary art. Committed to sharing the country’s artistic creativity and cultural identity with the local and international art worlds, the museum hosts a broad array of interdisciplinary activities. Through its collections, exhibitions, and other programs, the Modern aims to instill a love of the arts in visitors from all walks of life. Additionally, Istanbul Modern offers a variety of cultural activities in its permanent and temporary exhibition halls, photography gallery, spaces for educational and social programs, library, cinema, café, and store.

Elipsis: Located in the same building as the late fine art printing company Atelier Elipsis, the Elipsis gallery focuses solely on photography. It’s dedicated to emphasizing the importance of the medium in today’s art world and prides itself on acquainting visitors with various styles, periods, and processes. Elipsis represents internationally established artists as well as emerging Turkish photographers and aims to establish a program that will reach young artists and provide an intimate exhibition space for the global art community.

DIRIMART: Opened in 2002, DIRIMART displays the work of emerging and established Turkish artists, as well as renowned international names. Through its participation in many art fairs and collaboration with artists and collectors, it has recently become one of the leading galleries in Istanbul. DIRIMART also publishes the contemporary art magazine RES Art World/World Art, which features material written by leading critics, curators, and artists throughout Turkey and aims to stimulate discussion about the local and international art scenes.

X-ist: X-ist is a space dedicated to young and innovative artists. Its philosophy does not simply revolve around attracting art lovers to purchase works, but instead seeks to guide and inform visitors through the creation of such works. The curators pride themselves on taking risks within the space, and their fresh and innovative approach has made X-ist stand out among Istanbul’s many galleries and become a reference point for the future of contemporary Turkish art.

Wooden chairs at a coffee shop in Istanbul
Photo by Caner Cankisi
A man pouring coffee
Photo by Nathan Dumlao

CAFÉS

Karabatak: Located in a previously abandoned metal shop, Karabatak is a coffeehouse with a rather romantic quality. Complete with a gallery, a shop, a miniature hot air balloon, weathered walls, painted tile floors, vintage bicycles, outdoor seating, and, of course, the smell of fresh coffee, this café is perfect for sketching, writing, reading, or daydreaming. So whether you’re looking to get a bit of work done or simply relax and take in your surroundings, Karabatak should be at the top of your list.

Café Lumière: Founded by Özcan Taş and Cengiz Doğan, who are known locally for their love of cinema, Café Lumiere has a certain film-like charm to it. In fact, it gets its name from the 1895 black-and-white documentary short by French director Louis Lumière — there’s even a poster of stills from the movie located at the entrance of the eatery. A favorite among coffee-drinkers, the café serves up 27 different types of brew that can all be enjoyed in the garden. If you sit outside among the fresh flowers, Cihangir cats, and hanging lanterns, you’re sure to find a bit of inspiration. And who knows — you might even stumble upon one of their occasional movie screenings.

Urban Café: Urban Café is a bar-cum-café tucked away on a quiet side street off of Kartal Sokak. In the summertime, tables spill out onto the street and are covered by a çarşaf (a shade made of trellised vines and ivy), while in the winter, the cafés cozy, old-fashioned, Parisian-inspired interior serves as the perfect place to curl up with a book and while away the hours. A rare patch of calm in the beating heart of Istanbul, this café is a haven for artists, thinkers, and globetrotters just passing through. Note: “urban” doesn’t rhyme with “bourbon” — it’s pronounced uhr-bahn.

Petra Roasting Co.: Founded in 2013, Petra started out as a roasting company but has since established its shop as a fixture in Istanbul’s specialty coffee scene. Its interior is filled with various antiques — including a vintage Mercedes — and is connected to a local art gallery. The impressively sized industrial space may seem a bit sterile at first, but cozy pockets of mid-century modern sofas and worktables help create an inviting atmosphere among the concrete. All in all, its the perfect spot to spend the afternoon working on a laptop and listening to vinyls.

A recycled bag made from an advertising banner
Photo by 100% Istanbul

SHOPS

No trip is complete without a little shopping. From books to vintage finds and handmade goods, these artsy locales are stocked with everything to command both your wallet and your attention.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar: Known as one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar constantly showcases the city’s creativity. With 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops that attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily, it’s a great place to buy, well, just about anything. Plus, if you enjoy bargaining, you can take home authentic leather goods, carpets, jewelry, artworks, clothing, and souvenirs at extremely reasonable prices.

Robinson Crusoe 389: The Robinson Crusoe 389 project was initiated in 1994 with the motto “books along the walls.” Since then, the bookshop has functioned as a private foundation and cultural asset within the city. Although the shop has since moved from the building it received its numerical moniker from, it has become somewhat of an institution. So, if you’re looking for a place to peruse publications or pick up a new read, Robinson Crusoe 389 is your best bet, as it stocks a large number of works in a variety of languages.

100% Istanbul: Located in the heart of Istanbul’s art district, 100% Istanbul sells local products made from upcycled materials. Each piece gives new life to previously discarded items while also supporting the city’s creative community. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind design or a new way to support sustainable efforts while traveling, this shop is well worth a visit.

Feriköy Flea Market: Feriköy is one of Istanbul’s most popular flea markets, which takes place every Sunday in the city’s Bomonti neighborhood. Visitors spend hours each weekend rummaging through all manner of weird and wonderful finds at the market, and with around 200 stalls selling everything from old cameras to gramophones, books, photographs, vintage clothing, vinyl, snakeskin handbags, housewares, and everything in between, this place is a veritable treasure trove.

Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments below!

Header image by ATÖLYE

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Hailing from the foothills of Northern California, Kacie is a writer and an editor who's worked on everything from quarterly surf magazines to art books, novels, lookbooks, city guides, and shoddily printed zines. She's a bit of a story junkie, but we forgive her for that. To view more of her work, creep her website and Instagram.