20 Incredible Things Istanbul Is Famous And Known For

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Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, divided into Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus Strait. Consequently, there are many things Istanbul is famous for as it develops throughout time with influence from both continents. Known as the City of Seven Hills, the Byzantine Empire built this coastal settlement to be prosperous just like Rome.

What Is Istanbul Known For? 

Istanbul is famous for its scenic cruises and beaches, historic attractions, and delectable Turkish cuisine, which is a fusion of old recipes and modern twists. 

In the expansive markets, you will find appetizing street foods, as well as high-quality fashion items and souvenirs. Istanbul is also known for its welcoming residents, making the city feel lively and youthful, yet with the perfect hint of history.

History, Culture, And Traditions Istanbul Is Famous For

Most Mosques In Turkey

One of the easiest things to do in Istanbul is visit a mosque because the city houses the most number of mosques in the country. There are over 3,000 mosques in the city alone. 

This comes as no surprise, as more than 90% of the population of Turkey identifies as Muslim. As a result, the sacred places of worship are extremely popular and well looked after, thus worth visiting. 

The Hagia Sophia is amongst the most famous; you will easily and literally see why when you visit. It is a prime and stunning example of Byzantine Empire architecture. This is definitely one not to miss.

Bustling Bazaars (In Particular The Grand Bazaar)

Constructed in the 15th century, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar is the oldest functioning market in the world. 

The enormous market is home to over 4,000 stalls, therefore attracting almost 40 million visitors each year. In addition to the huge variety of products, you can really observe the local hustle and bustle here. 

Nestled among the huge maze of stalls, you can find fashion, jewelry, and food products. Some of the most raved-about products are leather items, cultural handicrafts, and even fake designer labels.

Close by is the spice bazaar, one of the largest in the city. Here you can find affordable herbs, but be sure to check out the traditional sweets in Turkey such as Turkish delights!

The Bosphorus Strait

fun fact about Istanbul is that it is the only transcontinental city in the world. This means that it is found on two continents: Europe and Asia. If you find yourself on the west side of the Bosphorus Strait, you would be located in Europe, whilst the east side belongs to Asia. 

The Bosphorus Strait also connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, where many sunny beach resorts are found. 

For a romantic and relaxing evening activity, don’t miss the magical Dinner Cruise, which sails the enchanting waters via yacht. You even get to enjoy live music and a multi-course dinner!

Coffee Cup Fortunes

Fortune telling, or Kahve Falı, is a popular service that Istanbul is famous for offering. It requires a steaming cup of earthy Turkish coffee, brewed in a small copper pot called a cezve. Coffee culture is prominent in the city and friends often gather for a catch-up whilst drinking. 

After the coffee is drank, your fortune can be read from the remaining grounds. Alternatively, this can be done with tea leaves. Depending on the location of the remnants in the cup, you can tell a lot about prosperity, relationships, and luck.

Evil Eye

Evil eye is ubiquitous in fashion, and can often be found on bracelets, necklaces, and even clothes. However, the symbol has been around since the 6th century BC, said to have originated from an Ancient Greek Curse.

Legend states that when you are around jealousy, envious people have the power to curse you and wish you bad luck. Counteracting this is the evil eye amulet, which can be worn to contain the energy. 

Istanbul is famous for Nazar Boncuk production, a glass bead worn as a talisman, and can be commonly found in souvenir shops.

Districts And Areas Istanbul Is Known For

Sultanahmet 

Sultanahmet is a historic neighborhood which Istanbul is famous for because of its religious landmarks. If you were to visit any district in the city this would be this one, thanks to its divine attractions. 

Both the Hagia Sophia Mosque and Blue Mosque are located here. Whilst the Hagia Sophia is older, built in the Byzantine Era, the Blue Mosque is larger. Built to be more affluent and attractive than all the other holy places of worship, the Blue Mosque is truly exquisite. 

Beyoğlu 

On the west bank of the Bosphorus Strait, Beyoğlu is an energetic district renowned for its nightlife. Its scenic location on the hill and leading to the water makes it a popular destination for both students and families.

Taksim Square is an open plain in Beyoğlu lined with luxurious cafes and busy restaurants. During the summer months, you can sit outside and admire the lively atmosphere, enjoying authentic Turkish cuisine

Also found in Beyoğlu is Galata Tower, a unique museum leading to the entertaining Istiklal Street.

Balat

Balat is found on the Golden Horn, a romantic waterway of the Bosphorus Strait named after the yellow tinge it reflects from the sun. The Bosphorus Sunset cruise is popular for obvious reasons; soak in the sights and enjoy a magical moment on a cruise with other like-minded travelers. 

The area resembles a traditional district that Istanbul is famous for. Cobblestone streets, older buildings, and local stores line the streets. 

Many religious places of worship can be found here, especially synagogues, as this was the old Jewish Quarter. In addition to this history, Balat is also trendy and has great nightlife. 

> Take a Fener Balat Walking Tour

Kadıköy 

One of the calmer neighborhoods that Istanbul is known for is Kadıköy.

Located on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus Strait, Kadıköy is recognized for its delicious foods. They are often on the meaty side, such as doner kebabs and grilled lamb. The Turkish pizza is especially filling, consisting of flatbread topped with meats, and vegetables, then sprinkled with chili pepper. 

As Kadıköy is more popular with locals, the landmarks are less crowded. This includes the Istanbul Toy Museum and The Maiden’s Tower.

Landmarks And Architecture Istanbul Is Famous For

Hagia Sophia 

Undoubtedly one of the most prominent Turkish landmarks is the Hagia Sophia. 

First built in the year 537, the monumental structure was originally one of the three churches in Constantinople named Hagia Sophia, Eirene, and Dynamis. These are translated to wisdom, peace, and power respectively. However, in 1453, the holy church was converted into a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. 

The building’s turbulent history then saw it transform into a museum, and now finally, a mosque again. Nevertheless, its iconic mosaics and pendentive dome have survived and are well worth seeing.

Blue Mosque

Along with the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is one of the most important religious sites that Istanbul is famous for. Here, you can explore the towering structures and marvel at the sheer beauty. If you are interested in Islamic architecture and diving deeper into the history of the place, hop on The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque Tour.

The Blue Mosque is called The Sultan Ahmed Mosque and was built in the early 17th century during Ottoman rule. Its nickname comes from the blue decorative İznik tiles and stained glass windows on its exterior.

Topkapi Palace 

The Topkapi Palace is a huge building constructed in 1460, built for the regal figures of Turkey. Beginning with Sultan Mehmed II, the palace has housed around 30 sultans and thousands of royals.

The palace is one of the most famous places in Istanbul not only because of its historical significance but symbolic architecture. As it was built during the Ottoman Empire, it displays important features to mimic its affluence. From the harem to the courtyards and gardens there is plenty to explore; the Topkapi Palace Tour ensures you see it all.

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a nine-story building soaring into the Istanbul skyline. It is located in the district of Beyoğlu and stands at over 60 meters,

Luckily, the first seven floors can be reached by elevator! To reach the last floor you must climb the staircase, however, the panoramic view of the city is worth it. 

Originally, the structure was built as a lighthouse by Emperor Justinianos in the 6th century. Unfortunately, the tower was destroyed and later rebuilt during the 14th century by Ottoman Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent to operate a prison. Nowadays, the Galata Tower is a museum.

Basilica Cistern

Throughout its history, one of the principal things that Istanbul is known for is the Byzantine Era. During this time, the people built complex cisterns to hold water and there were not enough freshwater resources. Out of the 200 found, the biggest of these is the Basilica Cistern, almost 140 meters long. 

Empire Justinian built this structure after the destruction of Constantinople using destroyed columns. During the insightful Basilica Cistern Tour, you can discover the sophisticated engineering of this system. It is a remarkable attraction to visit, as the vast underground lair is simply jaw-dropping at first sight.

Food Istanbul Is Known For

Kebab 

The most adored dish in traditional Turkish cuisine is kebabs. Originating from soldiers who grilled their kills on a sword, the recipe has been adapted many times. But whether you live in Turkey or not, this skewered meat is a fan favorite in every country. 

Doner kebab is the most commonly found variety in Istanbul, made of thinly sliced meats stacked on a spit. By slicing in you can also make iskender kebab. On the other hand, shish kebab is thicker and threaded, depending on your preference.

Kebabs are perhaps the most common street food, served in warm pita and drizzled with yogurt.

> Explore The Culinary Scene On Istanbul Food Tour 

Köfte

Köfte is a meatball that is also common in Balkan countries and the Middle East. Traditionally from Turkey, the authentic recipe calls for ground beef pounded into a ball shape and spiced. Optional herbs included are chili powder, which gives the juicy dish a slight kick. 

Often eaten at dinnertime, Köfte is served with fluffy pilav rice made from orzo and charred veggies. This nutritional yet delicious dish can be found at any traditional restaurant.

Baklava

Baklava has been around since the 8th century but only began to gain momentum during the 16th. Since then, this sweet treat has dominated Turkey and is the best-selling dessert.

The flaky dessert is made from filo pastry stuffed with chopped nuts and generously glazed with decadent syrup. A cool Turkish fact is that over three-quarters of the hazelnut distribution worldwide comes from Turkey. The nuts are used in many desserts such as cezerye and Turkish delights.

Turkish Delight

Turkish delights, called lokum by locals, are a sweet confectionary made with gel and starch. They are soft and chewy, coated with a variety of toppings. 

Traditional Turkish delights are made with rose water, giving them a floral yet sweet flavor. Many different types exist, ranging from citrus fruits like lemon to nutty pistachios. Finally, they are coated with powdered sugar and ready to serve.

Usually, these treats are offered to guests along with Turkish coffee after a huge feast. They are incredibly famous in Turkey, and people often bring them home as souvenirs.

Famous People From Istanbul

Burak Özçivit 

One of the biggest actors and famous people from Turkey is Burak Özçivit. His career began as a model, going on to become the Top Model of Turkey. From there, his acting career blossomed, with a couple of small Turkish dramas. 

Eventually, Özçivit caught his big break with the movie “Musallat”, or “Haunted” as it is known internationally. His most significant role is Chuck Bass in the Turkish adaptation of the American series Gossip Girl. 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a politician who began his career as mayor of Istanbul. He served as Prime Minister from 2003 for over a decade, before becoming President.

Erdoğan is the first president to win by popular vote, making him extremely likable to the public. This is important as historically, politicians have not fought for liberation and instead dictatorship. 

During his presidency, Erdoğan promised modernization, freedom, and justice. Additionally, he co-founded the Justice and Development Party which has one the majority of elections.

Discovering More Things Istanbul Is Known For

Istanbul is the perfect city to get lost in, easily immersing yourself in the ancient buildings and long history of empires. There are opportunities for all kinds of holiday fun, whether this be a romantic cruise or an educational museum tour. Overall, Istanbul is famous for its wide variety of entertainment options and attractions, especially the distinct Islamic architecture it portrays.


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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.

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