What is Istanbul Famous for?

Istanbul attracts millions of visitors around the world every year. There are lots of reasons why so many people visit Istanbul.

Istanbul is famous for being the only metropole that is constructed on two continents, its culture that is a mixture of the eastern and the western world, its natural beauties like Bosphorus and its historical sites.

In this article, I will mostly talk about the properties of Istanbul that make it so attractive.

What makes Istanbul so unique?

Istanbul is a bridge between the eastern and western worlds, as mentioned above. It was the capital of two big empires.

Civilizations and empires were established and destroyed. Cultural accumulation has been grown year and years.

As a result of this, it is possible to see various cultures in Istanbul. When you visit a historical site, the effect of that cultural diversity might be seen, especially in places like the Hagia Sophia.

Cultural diversity also affects the cuisine of Istanbul. There are foods from all around the world in Istanbul. If you would like to taste the more mature and ethnic flavors, you should visit the local restaurants mostly located in old parts of the city.

The most famous places to visit in Istanbul

The most famous places to visit in Istanbul are generally located in the historic peninsula of the city. The historic peninsula was the center of the old city for years. It begins from the Topkapı Palace and continues along the old city walls. The city has many historical sites. Let’s see some of the most popular of these:

Hagia Sophia

Interior of Hagia Sophia
Interior of Hagia Sophia

In 532, the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I decided to build a patriarchal cathedral in the capital of his empire, Constantinople which is the former name of Istanbul. Construction of the cathedral was started in 532 and it ended in 537. During the Eastern Roman Empire era, it was the largest Christian church.

From the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to 1935, it is served as a mosque. From 1935 to 2020, it is served as a museum, and it was reopened as a mosque in the summer of 2020.

A mixture of Islamic and Christianity figures is magnificent in Hagia Sophia. Angel figures can be seen on the inner roof of the building, and Islamic figures such as the names of God can be seen beside the angel figures. Furthermore, it is possible to see the different signs of different cultures’ such as Vikings.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)

Interior of Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, was constructed between 1609 and 1616 by Ahmed I. Architect of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was Sedefkar Mehmed Ağa who was a student of the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.

The mosque was positioned on the opposite side of the Hagia Sophia. There are more than 20 thousand handmade Iznik ceramic tiles in blue. That’s why the mosque is called the Blue Mosque.

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1856 with the order of Sultan Abdülmecid I. Topkapı Palace was medieval-style. However, Sultan Abdülmecid believed that the dynasty should have a European style palace.

The architects of the palace are Garabet Balyan and his son Nigoğayos Balyan. The construction cost 35 tons of gold, which is worth approximately $1.5 billion today. A part of the palace is being used as a presidential office today. 

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror ordered a palace. After six years from the conquest, construction began in 1459.

The palace is more modest compared to the Dolmabahçe Palace or a European palace. However, it is charming in terms of its view and the rooms like Harem, which is wondered by too many people. Furthermore, the best examples of Iznik tiles can be seen in the palace.

After the demolition of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapı palace transformed into a museum. UNESCO recognized the palace as a World Heritage Site in 1985. The palace is positioned on the end of the historical peninsula, a promontory overlooking the Haliç, where the Bosphorus runs into the Marmara Sea. The palace is located at one of the highest points close to the sea. 

İstiklal Avenue

İstiklal Avenue

İstiklal avenue is 1.4-kilometer-long, located in the historic Beyoğlu, also known as the Pera district. The avenue is full of a variety of stores. Grand Avenue or Grande Rue de Pera was the name of the İstiklal Avenue in the Ottoman era. Ottoman intellectuals had been discussing intensely while they had drunk their coffee.

The name of the avenue was changed to İstiklal, which means independence for commemorating the victory at the Turkish War of Independence after 29 October 1923, which is the date of the declaration of the Turkish Republic. Today, more than 3 million people visit the İstiklal Avenue in a single day.

The most famous things to do in Istanbul

There are many things to do in Istanbul, but the things I listed below are kind of a must :

  • Bosphorus Tour
  • Breakfast at Rumeli Hisarı
  • Visiting Prince Island
  • Eating Fish and Bread at Karaköy

Bosphorus Tour

Cruise tours are the best choices to explore the natural beauty of the Bosphorus and waterside houses. Both private and public tours can be chosen depending on the budget. State-owned ferries are departed from Eminönü, and after 2 hours of travel, they arrive at the Anadolu Kavağı.

Breakfast at Rumeli Hisarı

Turkish Breakfast

There are many magnificent spots in the city to have a great breakfast, and Rumeli Hisarı is definitely one of those. You can taste a rich Turkish breakfast with a great view of the Bosphorus. Turkish breakfast is famous for its variation and quality.

Visiting Prince Islands

A street in Büyükada

Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kınalıada are the four-star of the prince islands. The Büyükada is the most famous one of them. There are numerous Ottoman-era mansions on the islands. There is also a church called Aya Yorgi that has a great view of the Marmara Sea.

If you can find the right time to go to the islands, you can enjoy the silence. All motorized vehicles are banned, so it is inevitable to find peace in the curled streets of the island while walking or riding a bicycle.

Eating Fish and Bread At Karaköy

Eating fish and bread, in Turkish Balık Ekmek, in Istanbul is basically a must. Fishes are caught from the Bosphorus freshly and ate inside the bread with onions and herbs. 

The most famous foods in Istanbul

The most famous foods in Istanbul are generally kebabs and desserts. However, it is possible to taste various cuisine in Istanbul. Thanks to its location, many different cuisines add something to the city’s cuisine. In modern Istanbul, there are foods from the middle east, the far east, Europe, or even Africa. You can eat an Italian pizza, Lebanese hummus, or Japanese sushi. Nonetheless, if you want to try something that belongs specifically to Istanbul or Turkey, here are our suggestions:

Lahmacun

Lahmacun

Lahmacun is a round, thin piece of dough topped with meat, and herbs, including onions, tomatoes and parsley, and spices. Sometimes it is described as Turkish pizza. However, unlike pizza, lahmacun is not prepared with cheese, and the dough of lahmacun is way thinner than a pizza. 

İskender Kebap

İskender is one of the well-known dishes in Turkey. Originally, it was invented in Bursa which was the oldest capital of the Ottoman Empire by İskender Efendi in the late 19th century. The İskender kebap is formed of doner kebap prepared from grilled meat cut thinly in slices and topped with hot tomato sauce over pieces of chopped bread and slathered with melted butter and yogurt.

Baklava

Baklava is a quite sweet Turkish dessert made of dozens of layers of extremely thin crusts, filled with and pistachio or walnut. The origin of baklava is Gaziantep, which is a southern Turkish city. However, some of the best baklava shops are in Istanbul. They might be found around Eminönü and Karaköy, yet still, they might be found from everywhere.

Lokum

Lokum, also known as Turkish delight is a dessert based on a gel and sugar. The real origin of the “lokum” is not known yet it has been sold since the 18th century. There are various tastes of lokum including rose, hazelnut, orange, mint, lemon, etc.

The most famous drinks in Istanbul

The most famous beverages in Istanbul have been served for years in the streets and special places. Sometimes they are the best compliment of a dinner, and sometimes they are the main subject of an argument. These Beverages identified with Turkish culture and Istanbul are given below:

Boza

Boza is a millet drink made from fermented wheat. The history of the millet drinks goes back to ancient Anatolian civilizations, and a generally considerable amount of alcohol consists of these beverages. Boza is based on these millet drinks. First, middle Asian Turks used the term “boza” in the 10th century. The Ottoman Empire period was a glorious time for boza. In the 17th century, Evliya Çelebi, who is a Turkish traveler, referred that there were more than 300 boza shops in just Istanbul. However, boza was forbidden by some Ottoman sultans time-to-time because of its potential to be an alcoholic beverage. The most famous boza shop today is Vefa, which is located in the Unkapanı area. The shop has been serving since 1876.

Ayran

Ayran, also known as Turkish buttermilk is a mix of Turkish yogurt, water, and salt. It is a fresh drink and often drank with kebabs. Ayran is a quite common beverage in Turkey and it can be found simply everywhere including local markets.

Turkish Tea

Turkish Tea

The first tea plantation was built after the fall of the Ottoman Empire yet tea has rapidly become an important part of Turkish culture. Turkey is in the first place in tea consumption at 2.5 kg per person, followed by the United Kingdom at 2.1 kg per person. Tea is boiled with water until its color turn light red and served to mix with extra water. 

Turkish Coffee

Turkish Coffee

Without any doubt, Turkish coffee one of the most common beverages that can be observed in Istanbul. According to researchers, coffee came to the Ottoman land from Ethiopia in the 15th century, and Turks recreate it with a special cooking style as Turkish coffee. 

Rakı

Raki is a popular alcoholic drink in Turkey, Greece, and Albania. In Greece, it is called ouzo, and the taste of ouzo is slightly different than Rakı. However, the main ingredients are the same. The main ingredient of rakı is anise, which is a flowering plant grown in the eastern Mediterranean. It is consumed by adding water to the glass, with a selection of appetizers is eaten with it.

The Most Demanded Things To Buy In Istanbul

The most demanded things to buy in Istanbul are being sold in touristic locations like the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, Nisantası. One of these spots, called the Grand Bazaar is the oldest covered market in the world. There are 61 covered streets inside the market and approximately 91 million tourists visit the market in a year. It is construction was started in 1455 as a single covered street, and year by year the market has been grown. Many things can be found in the Grand Bazaar or the other spots mentioned, but the most famous things are:

  • Rugs
  • Spices
  • Antiques
  • Textiles
  • Pottery
  • Jewelry
  • Towels
  • Calligraphy prints

Rugs

Rugs have a considerable role in the Turkish way of life. Even Marco Polo referred to the quality of the Turkish rugs in the 14th century. Unique patterns of rugs describe something special, and these patterns have special language as a result of this cultural accumulation.

Spices

Before the geographical discoveries, spices of the eastern world included India and China, were transporting with the spice road. Anatolia was the endpoint of that trade road. Therefore, various spices have been used in Turkish cuisine and spices have always been a big role in Turkish culture.

Antiques

Istanbul has always been a connection point between different cultures and different lives. Nowadays, life becomes uniform, and colors of life are disappearing day-by-day. However, antiques can make us remember the colors in the old times. When you enter an antique shop, you can feel the cultural diversity that was in Istanbul once. You can find many antique shops in the Grand Bazaar.  

Textiles

One of the most special thing that can be found in the Grand Bazaar is textiles. The Grand Bazaar which is the oldest bazaar in Istanbul, is full of authentic stuff and textiles are definitely one of these. Turkey has been the endpoint of the silk road for hundreds of years and the main trading product of that route was silk and cotton. Therefore, the best quality of textiles has been found in Istanbul all the time.

Pottery

Pottery has always been special for the Ottomans. Mosques, fountains, and palaces are adorned with İznik tiles which is a type of painted pottery. Moreover, potteries can be seen in the kitchen part of the Topkapı Palace. The best quality of potteries which are adorned with ethnic patterns can be found in the Grand Bazaar.

Jewelry

Jewelry was an important way to show the strength of the dynasty in the Ottoman era. As a result of this, jewelry has developed during the era, and become one of the special things in Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is the place that the best examples of jewelry art can be seen.

Towels

In Turkey, a special towel called ‘peshtemal’ is kind of different from a standard towel. It is thinner, yet still fluffy and also big. The pattern of these special towels is ethnic. Things that made these special that towels are a high absorbing rate, quick dry time. They are perfect for warmer months thanks to their thinner textile. Turkish people use these towels in Hammams because of their compact style.

Calligraphy Prints

Calligraphy is printing the letters with an artistic orientation. It is the art of writing letters to create an aesthetic shape. In the Islamic Culture, calligraphy is also known as its Arabic name called “khatt”. The name can be described as ‘line’ or ‘design’. There are different types of scripts of “khatt” such as Kufic, Naskh, Thuluth, Nasta’liq, and Diwani. In the era of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Istanbul until its downfall, the Diwani script was found and used by the Sultans. The main difference between the Diwani script is that the letters are being drawn intertwine, so reading the Diwani scripts is more difficult than others. However, that makes the Diwani scripts more visually aesthetic. In Istanbul, you might encounter an Islamic Calligraphy example literally everywhere, such as in a mosque, on a historical fountain, or in an ancient store. Calligraphy prints are one of the most demanded things from the ancient store owners.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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