3 Choices Where See The Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul – 2024 Show Guide

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Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

I had the incredible opportunity to attend a Whirling Dervishes show in Istanbul last year, and it’s an experience I highly recommend. If you’re planning to visit Istanbul or any part of Türkiye, this guide is for you.

I’ll share the three best options for experiencing this mesmerizing performance firsthand. It’s more than just a show; it’s a dive into a spiritual and cultural phenomenon that dates back centuries.

In this article, we’ll uncover the history and significance of the Whirling Dervishes and give you a glimpse into what it’s like to witness their spiritual ritual. Whether you’re in Istanbul for a short stay or traveling across Türkiye, catching a Whirling Dervish performance should definitely be on your itinerary.

Let’s get to where you can experience this unique and mystical show.

Authentic Whirling Dervishes Istanbul 

Nightlife In Istanbul - Whirling Dervish_Turkey

The Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul are a mystical Sufi order who practices a form of devotional dancing known as Sema.

The semazen, or Dervish, whirls continuously for several minutes, often becoming lost in a trance-like state. The Sema is thought to be a form of dhikr, or remembrance of Allah, and is believed to help the Dervish achieve fana fi’l-Allah or annihilation of the self in God.

The Order of the Mevlevi was founded in 1273 by a Persian Sufi poet and scholar, Rumi.

The Mevlevi Dervishes were based in Konya, Türkiye, but spread to other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Today, several Mevlevi lodges (tekkes) in Istanbul where semazen can be seen performing the Sema ritual.

Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. Sufi Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Galata Mawlawi House Museum.

The Sema ritual begins with the recitation of Islamic prayer. The dervishes then remove their black cloaks, and underneath are their white skirts.

They begin to whirl slowly at first, gradually increasing their spinning speed. As they spin, they raise their right arms and turn their left palms upward toward heaven, symbolizing their submission to God.

The music becomes more intense as the spinning dervishes reach a state of ecstasy. At the end of the ritual, the dervishes return to their original positions and replace their cloaks.

Best Places To See The Whirling Dervishes Ceremony In Istanbul

If you are in Istanbul and looking for a uniquely Turkish experience, be sure to book ahead! This mystical, religious Turkish dance show can be seen at various venues around the city.

1. HodjaPasha – Where I Saw The Istanbul Whirling Dervishes Ceremony

Whirling Dervish Istanbul-6

Like the kids and I did last year, you can also catch the whirling dervishes ceremony at Hodjapasha Cultural Center. This performance space is located inside an Ottoman-era Turkish bathhouse.

It can accommodate up to 200 people, making it a great option if you want to get up close and personal with these incredible dancers. Some say this is “touristy,” but we very much enjoyed the experience. The seats were comfortable, we were very close to the spinning, and the acoustics of the musicians on stage were top-notch. 

Please note: I suggest you reserve a ticket as soon as you confirm your visit to Istanbul, as tickets sell out to this authentic performance each time.

Note: photos and videos are not allowed to be taken. You also must stay in your seat for the complete duration. 

The ceremony takes place every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday night at 7 pm

Buy Tickets & Price Information

During high season, you must book whirling dance seats well in advance, especially at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater, which is the most well-known. If you make a purchase online using the website below, you can obtain a refund (48 hours’ notice) if your plans change.


2. Galata Mevlevi Sema Museum

Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul.

One such place to see the whirling dervishes is undoubtedly at the Galata Mevlevihanesi, also known as the Mevlevi Museum.

This museum is dedicated to the memory of Rumi, a 13th-century poet and Sufi saint who is considered the founder of the Mevlevi Order. Tickets sell out weeks in advance, so plan ahead.

3. EMAV Sema 

If you’re looking for a more intimate setting, try to get one of several reserved seats for guests to the private Sema ceremony. Complete with Zikr chanting, the EMAV Sema option is very traditional and highly recommended by my local friend. Sadly, the timings did not work for my last two trips to Istanbul – maybe I can try this one next time. 

Note: photos and videos are allowed to be taken. You can move around the room at your pleasure. 

No matter where you choose to see whirling dervishes, watching the religious ceremony is an experience you won’t soon forget.



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What To Expect From A Whirling Dervish Show

The ceremony begins with the semazen (whirling Dervish) entering and taking his place on a small platform in the center of the room. He is followed by the sheykh (leader), who sits on a slightly raised area at one side of the platform. The sheykh leads the group in prayers and readings from religious texts.

When they are ready, they begin to whirl slowly at first, gradually building up speed as they lose themselves in prayer. They continue until they reach a state. The experience for us at the HodjaPasha lasted less than an hour, but I have heard the one at the EMAV goes for almost twice as long.

Sufi Music And Dance In The Ceremony

The whirling dervishes of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Every year, thousands of people come from around the world to witness this mystical trance-like state that the dervishes enter.

But what exactly is this state? And how does one achieve it?

The answer lies in the music and dance.

The music of the whirling dervishes is based on the Sufi tradition of sema, which involves chanting and devotional singing. This type of music is designed to induce a meditative state, which is essential for the dervishes to enter into their trance.

The combination of music, chanting, and dancing helps the dervishes achieve a deep meditative state in which they feel a sense of oneness with the universe. In this state, they can reach a higher level of consciousness and connect with God.

Costumes Of The Dervishes In Istanbul

Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. Sufi Whirling Dervishes Ceremony at Galata Mawlawi House Museum.

The Whirling Dervishes are known for their distinctive costumes and whirling dances. The dervishes wear white robes, representing the purity of their hearts, and they also wear conical tall hats, representing the tombstones of Sufi saints. Some carry wooden staffs, which they use to keep balance while they whirl.

The Whirling Dervishes are an important part of Turkish culture, and their ceremonies make a truly memorable experience!

Interesting Facts About A Whirling Dervish Performance

In the Sema ceremony, the left hand and the palm of the right hand have symbolic significance:

  • The Left Hand: the left hand of a Whirling Dervish is typically extended outward and upward, with the left palm facing upward. This gesture symbolizes the individual’s readiness to receive spiritual blessings from the divine and to share those blessings with the world. It represents the openness of the heart to God’s grace and the giving of that grace to others
  • The Palm of the Right Hand: the hand is held with the right palm facing downward, pointing toward the earth. This hand gesture symbolizes the Dervish’s connection to and responsibility for the earthly world. It signifies their duty to serve humanity, to bring the divine blessings they receive during their whirling practice down to the physical realm, and to help others on their spiritual journey
  • In the Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes, the position and movement of the feet also carry symbolic meaning:
  • Right Foot: the right foot of a Whirling Dervish is positioned firmly on the ground. This represents the material world, earthly existence, and the individual’s connection to the physical realm. It symbolizes the Dervish’s recognition of their responsibilities and duties in their daily life, including their interactions with society and the world
  • Left Foot: the left foot is raised off the ground and remains slightly elevated during the whirling. It signifies the Dervish’s detachment from the material world and their aspiration to reach a higher spiritual realm. The elevated left foot represents the soul’s journey toward God and its striving for spiritual transcendence

History Of The Whirling Dervishes

Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey. Mevlana Dervish Dancing.

The Whirling Dervishes are a religious order of Sufi Muslims.

The order is known for its distinctive form of Islamic mysticism. The Whirling Dervishes are just one example of the many different Sufi orders that exist within Islam. Sufism is often described as the mystical or interior dimension of Islam. Its adherents believe that it offers a direct path to God that bypasses the need for religious rituals or laws.

Sufi orders like the Whirling Dervishes have been persecuted at various times throughout history, both by orthodox Muslims who view them as heretical and by secular governments who see them as a threat to social stability.

In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Sufism within Islam and among people of other faiths who are attracted to its message of love and tolerance.

Rituals And Traditions Of The Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The Whirling Dervish ceremony is a Sufi ritual that has been performed for centuries in Turkey. It is a meditative and spiritual practice that involves spinning around in circles while chanting and praying. The goal of the ritual is to achieve a state of religious ecstasy and oneness with God.

During the ceremony, participants wear white robes and spin around clockwise. The spinning is said to represent the earth’s rotation around the sun, and the circular movements are meant to symbolize the infinite nature of God. As they spin, they recite prayers and hymns.

The Whirling Dervish ceremony is an integral part of Sufi culture and tradition. It is a way for believers to connect with God and achieve a state of enlightenment.

Wrap Up On The Mystical Dance Of The Whirling Dervishes In Istanbul

Through their graceful whirling movements and beautiful live music, the Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul offer a truly mesmerizing experience. Not only do they transport us to another realm through their spirituality, but they also provide an opportunity for self-reflection and contemplation. Whether you admire Turkish culture or are just looking for something different to experience while in Istanbul, witnessing the dhikr ritual of the Whirling Dervishes can be an enriching and memorable experience.

You can decide for yourself what the best Whirling Dervish show is to see, and when you do, let us know.


What are the Whirling Dervishes?

The Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul are a mystical Sufi order who practices a form of devotional dancing known as Sema.

Sufis practice Sufism – an 800 centuries-old mystical movement formed within Islam.

What is the purpose of whirling in Sufism?

Those practicing Sufism use the whirling movement as a form of meditation in order to commune with the Divine. Those who perform the whirling do so to reach a trance-like state.

Why should I see a Whirling Dervishes show?

The cultural show is mesmerizing, and UNESCO declared the ceremony an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It’s a beautiful cultural experience in Istanbul.

Where can I see a Whirling Turkish dance in Istanbul?

  1. Galata Mevlevihanesi, also known as the Mevlevi Museum
  2. Hodjapasha Culture Center
  3. EMAV Sema
  4. ** Sirkeci Train Station (near Topkapi Palace)  **currently taking place at the location of the Hodjapasha Culture Center while the station is under renovation

Can I take photographs during a Whirling Dervish show?

No – in fact, guests are asked not to applaud, talk, take pictures or use smartphones. Remember, this is a religious display, after all.

Are the Whirling Dervish shows real?

No – they are performances giving visitors a look into what the real practice entails.

How long does a Whirling Dervish show last?

Most shows last approximately 1 hour.

How much does a Whirling Dervish show cost?

You can plan on spending about 30-35 euros per ticket.

How fast does a Whirling Dervish spin?

30-40 rotations per minute

Can women become Whirling Dervishes?

Only men were allowed to dance for many years, but in the 2000s, some Sufi communities started allowing female dervishes.




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