1001 Nights: An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show

Posted by on January 3, 2016

1001 Nights:
Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show


An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show, I hear you asking? I was just as surprised as you are. Of all the cities I’ve worked as a photographer on these tour gigs, nowhere do I seem to end up exploring the ‘nightlife’ options as often as Istanbul. Istanbul by boat cruise, Istanbul dinner shows, and of course Istanbul dinner shows on a boat on the Bosphorus – there are agencies to organize it all and I’ve been sent out to take photos of most of them in their various mutations.

Of any of these various dance shows and Bosphorus cruises, easily the most memorable is the 1001 Nights Istanbul belly dancing show and dinner. I’d been to a belly dancing cruise in Istanbul before and a number of similar shows since, of course, but this time was somehow different. The crowd on this round was somehow WAY more into it, and to be fair the dancers were a lot more talented (ahem… and attractive) as well.

Belly Dancing Dinner Show Istanbul

The 1001 Nights Istanbul belly dancing dinner show’s building looks, to all outside appearances, abandoned and unused. Tucked just off of Cumhuriyet street a bit of a walk from Taksim Square,  the average traveler would probably wander right past on the search for some kind of cool bar or nargile joint to hang out at for the evening. (Or, perhaps more realistically, the average traveler wouldn’t be doing much exploring in this area in the first place.) If you were to stop in for a look, though, you might be pleasantly surprised what you find inside.

1001 Nights in Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show

There is belly dancing, of course, but “belly dancing” too. A cultural show that, though quite removed from anything traditionally Turkish, still manages to put on an evening of entertainment that by all accounts delights the crowds. If I’m being entirely honest, they put on a pretty solid show. I was moving around more than most, trying to take enough photos over the course of the several hour dinner show to capture each part from some kind of unique angle. Most of the crowd, though? They were glued to their seats. We’re talking rapt attention, and not even just during the belly dancing bits. There were Turkish ‘cultural’ dances and a ‘traditional wedding ceremony’ that pulled up two of the guests to act as principals and somewhere in there a decent rotation of appetizers and main courses and a bit of beer/wine too. Was it cheesy, at times? Well…

Spoof Belly Dancer in Istanbul, Turkey.

Fake Turkish wedding ceremony at a Belly Dance Dinner Show in Istanbul.

Even the food, while far from the best I’ve ever eaten in Istanbul, was tasty enough. A selection of meze small bites, the traditional starts of seemingly the entire Levantine world. Choice of a main dish that, while still not spiced to what I’d consider Turkish levels, definitely had more taste than what they serve at most of these shows. To wrap it up, of course, baklava and other sweets (but who has eyes for anything but baklava?) served alongside a token piece of fruit. Through it all, Efes beer and Yeni Raki that I, true to art and photography, didn’t indulge much in because low-light handheld photography is already hard enough on its own!

After it all, the belly dancing and the dinner and desserts all gone, an old-school crooner in the style (if not the quality) of Frank Sinatra took the stage to belt out overdone classics for each country represented in the audience. As the sole representative of the US, I was the target of a rendition of “New York, New York” that grew progressively angrier as it went on – I think perhaps he didn’t appreciate that I wasn’t into it? As he progressed from Moroccan ballads to French favorites, however, it became apparent that I was very much in the minority on this account.

Couples on stage dancing after a belly dance dinner show in Istanbul, Turkey.

It was about this time that the tour groups (Chinese and Japanese, Indian and Arab, an astoundingly international mix that has me very impressed with the 1001 Nights marketing team) all bailed en masse and the evening devolved into a bunch of couples slow dancing on stage – which I took as my cue to leave as well. A weak finish, perhaps, but after a start so strong what else could they really do?

Click here to book the 1001 Nights Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner show.

I was in Istanbul primarily to work as a photographer with GetYourGuide. My visit to the Istanbul 1001 Nights belly dancing dinner show was part of that work, but this post is my honest opinion on the experience. The food was decent and drinks were included, plus the show was various levels of entertaining. I realize this is not going to appeal to every type of traveler, and to be honest it isn’t something I would have sought out on my own if it were not for my work with GetYourGuide. If you are looking for a touristy evening of belly dancing and booze in Istanbul, though, this is definitely not a bad place to do it.

Are you traveling through Istanbul soon? For hostels I recommend the Agora Guesthouse in the Sultanahmet area, as even though it may be a few more dollars per night than competitors the difference in quality of the facilities and the breakfast buffet is huge.

If you’re looking slightly more upmarket there are plenty of hotels in Istanbul to choose from, with my personal recommendation being the Sultanahmet Park Hotel. Prices are reasonable and wifi is free, but most importantly the views out towards the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus are amazing. 

For something upmarket, the Doubletree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town is a few tram stops away from Sultanahmet and just nearby a handful of good restaurants and nargile spots. Plus, who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies?

Planning to catch an Istanbul belly dancing show on your trip to Turkey?
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1001 Night: An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show from the MonkBoughtLunch Blog. See more at http://www.monkboughtlunch.com/istanbul-belly-dancing-dinner-show/

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37 Responses to 1001 Nights: An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show

  1. Stephen

    The guy that took me to the Harvest festival in Sarawak was a male belly dance instructor. I guess male belly dancing is a thing in the west, but I hadn’t heard of it till now. But he is unique in Malaysia I think.

    • Stephen

      Ha, I didn’t realize that either. I doubt somehow that would be quite as popular with the tourist crowds in Istanbul, though!

  2. Svet Dimitrov

    I love bellydancing. I even practise it from time to time (only as an amateur). He-he. Great read, Stephen, and gorgeous shots!


  3. Tania

    Great post. I had the most amazing time in Istanbul x


  4. Marta

    Sound like a fun night alright! No Italians in the crowd? I bet the singer would have loved to show off his voice with an old Italian classic 😉 Great shots of the belly dancers!

  5. Carol Colborn

    Good read! I bet it was because the belly dancers were less full-bodied than others, more akin to the Western definition of sexy. And I agree that a good baklava is the best dessert in the Middle East!

    • Stephen

      You might be on to something, actually, though with such a mixed crowd it’s obviously going to be hard for them to appeal to the beauty standards of the entire crowd at once. Re: desserts I did have a fantastic kunefe in Amman recently that came close, but for now baklava is still the favorite!

  6. Samantha

    Never been to Istanbul, but I experienced belly dancing in London at a Middle Eastern Restaurant once or twice. You eat dinner while the women dance around you. It is truly an art! I certainly wouldn’t know how to do it!

  7. Marge Gavan

    I’d love to watch a bellly dancing show. It really amazes me how some women can do this hard. I tried it after watching a Youtube video but boy it’s not as easy as it looks!

    • Stephen

      I’ve see them advertised all over the middle east – I’d say just keep an eye out next time you’re in the area and you’ll definitely get the chance.

  8. Nina

    Looks like a lot of fun! I have heard great things about Istanbul and can imagine that the sights and sounds and food make it an incredible city to experience. The dancing would be so much fun to try!

    • Stephen

      It’s one of my favorite cities in the world – belly dancing not the least of it. It’s so easy to explore, so much good food, and such a beautiful and somehow relaxing environment that the city is built upon. I’d absolutely recommend planning a trip over – it’s pretty cheap from Germany as well from what I recall.

  9. Alexis

    This looks super fun! The only belly dancing show I’ve ever been to was in Miami…I’d love to see the real thing someday!!

    • Stephen

      It’s certainly something to see at least once – get that family of yours over to Turkey and check it out!

  10. Alli

    Super fun! I participated in belly dancing in Aswan, Egypt! I had no idea what I was doing but I definitely had a blast 🙂

  11. Grietje | TravelGretl

    haha, fun night out I suppose! I am not sure if this would be really my thing, but it looks cool 🙂

    • Stephen

      It worked out well for me, anyways, and was an unusual photography challenge to have a go at. Not sure I’d want to do it too many more times though 😉

  12. Katharina

    Interesting post! I would like to travel to Istanbul some day. I feel a bit sorry for the two guests who had to act in the traditional wedding ceremony though. 😉

    • Stephen

      Ehhh, well she seemed to enjoy the experience but I’m not certain that he did. At the very least there should have been a fresh drink waiting for them when they got back to their table!

  13. Jessica

    Those belly dancers are such an inspiration on my fitness goal this year. Hehe. To see those dancers live is indeed a must when in Istanbul.

  14. Madi | Restless Worker

    What an interesting experience! Would definitely love to see belly dancing, looks so cool.

  15. Nic

    Great post, I’ve been to Turkey several times and watched belly dancing. Never been to Istanbul though which I’m looking forward to seeing in the future.

    • Stephen

      It’s the best! I’ve spent only very little time in other parts of the country, but Istanbul keeps drawing me back in anytime I’m nearby. Easily one of my Top 3 world cities.

  16. Anita Hendrieka

    Great post, I have never been to a belly dancing show! Looks like great fun.

  17. Leticia

    I’ve seen belly dancing a couple of times before and even attended a class or two and it isn’t an easy dance. I’m not realy fond on tourist shows, but this one seems nice to try. Which other places with belly dancing would you recommend?

  18. Kate

    I’ve seen a few belly dancing shows. Always entertaining and apparently a very good work out! Food in Istanbul is delicious. I bet you had a great time that night

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