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What is Istanbul known for

I visited Istanbul for 4 days on my Turkish exploration journey, and it’s the 3rd most beautiful city I’ve visited in Europe so far. The uniqueness of culture, great Turkish hospitality, stunning landmarks, and rich history make this city an incredible gateway.

If you’re hesitant about visiting Istanbul, I’ll give you 21 reasons why you should do so. You’ll also learn about what Istanbul is known for and its famous places you can’t miss on your itinerary. So keep reading.

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What Is Istanbul Known For? Revealed!

Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in Turkey, and it used to be the richest city in the world during the Ottoman Empire when it was named Constantinople. The city has a rich history, and beautiful landmarks make it famous, including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.

Istanbul used to be the main residence for the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire. It also hosts the largest shopping mall in the world – Grand Bazaar.

What Is Unique About Istanbul?

The unique thing about Istanbul is that it’s the only city in the world standing on two continents: Europe and Asia. Besides, Istanbul has a unique vibe like no other city, stunning landmarks, and amazing things to see. It’s special for the mixture of cultures you can experience in the city.

Is Istanbul safe for Americans - solo woman travellers
Me traveling as a solo woman – Istanbul

👉 READ ALSO: Is Turkey Worth Visiting?

List Of The 21 Things Istanbul Is Known For

Now that you know Istanbul is well-worth visiting, let’s jump into the 21 reasons why you should visit and the best things to do in the city.

This list will help you see/do all the most important sights and bucket list items that Istanbul is famous for. So check them out below.

  1. Hagia Sophia
  2. Blue Mosque
  3. Grand Bazaar
  4. Topkapi Palace
  5. Gülhane Park
  6. Constantinople Walls
  7. Süleymaniye Mosque
  8. Karaköy Funicular
  9. City Standing On 2 Continents
  10. Bosphorus Bridge & Strait
  11. Maiden’s Tower
  12. Turkish Bazaar Shopping
  13. Turkish Hospitality
  14. Turkish Breakfast
  15. Balık Ekmek At Eminönü
  16. Incredible Food
  17. Tea & Coffee Culture
  18. Galata Bridge & Tower
  19. Istanbul’s Nightlife
  20. Turkish Hammam
  21. Rooftop Terrace Views

1. Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, meaning the Holy Wisdom (from the Greek language), started as a church in 325. When Constantinople (Istanbul today) fell under the Ottoman Empire in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. It served as a mosque for 500 years until it became a museum in 1934.

President Erdogan made a mosque out of it, but it still contains elements from when it was a church (like a statue of Jesus Christ). The fact that it used to be a church and remains its elements until today as a mosque makes Hagia Sophia so unique. They just cover these elements during a prayer.

Nowadays, it’s one of the main mosques in Istanbul that you can visit and experience prayers. I love the atmosphere of this place.

Book this guided tour if you want to visit the 3 most important mosques in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque & Süleymaniye mosque), and learn about their history and culture with a local.

Turkey Landmarks Hagia Sophia mosque Istanbul
Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul

2. Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is the main mosque in Istanbul. It has 6 minarets, which indicates the importance of it. When it was built, Mecca was the only mosque with 6 minarets, which insulted many Muslims. So Sultan Ahmed I financed the construction of the 7th minaret for Mecca.

It’s called Blue Mosque, thanks to the beautiful blue tiles that decorate this structure. Today, it’s one of the top things Istanbul is known for. You can admire the stunning decorations and see Sultan Ahmed’s tomb, as he was the one who constructed it.

Book this guided tour if you want to visit the 3 most important mosques in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque & Süleymaniye mosque), and learn about their history and culture with a local.

What is Istanbul known for Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

3. Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar, dating back to the 15th century, is the world’s first shopping mall and the largest covered market worldwide. It was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed II, who conquered Constantinople and named the city Istanbul when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. As he wanted Istanbul to be the trading center of the empire, he started the construction of the Grand Bazaar.

It’s something you have to experience even if you don’t want to buy anything. But I recommend you get a guide. It’s so easy to get lost in its streets.

You can find everything under one roof. People come here to shop for gold, Turkish carpets, silk, jewelry, handicrafts, and much more. Experience the atmosphere and Turkish Tea culture, too.

Book this guided tour of Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar to have the best experience + enjoy Turkish coffee tasting.

What is Istanbul known for Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar – Istanbul

4. Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is the largest and oldest palace worldwide that stands today. It used to be the main residents of sultans during the Ottoman Empire times of Istanbul. So just imagine, it meant everything from being administrative to the educational center of the entire Ottoman Empire.

Nowadays, it’s a museum that you can visit and learn about the history of the Ottoman Empire; how cool is that?

Book this guided tour of Topkapi Palace with a skip-the-line ticket and learn about the history of the most important center of the Ottoman Empire with a local.

What is Istanbul known for Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace

5. Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park is the oldest urban and the most beautiful park in Istanbul. Take some time to relax on the busy streets of Istanbul and walk around or enjoy the famous Turkish Simit (delicious sesame bread).

The name Tandir Gülhane means Rose house. So it got its name because it was the famous rose garden of the Topkapi Palace.

Talking about gardens – tulips come from Istanbul. If you thought these flowers were Dutch, I was mistaken too when I visited Istanbul. The Turkish people exported tulips from Istanbul to other parts of the world, mainly to the Netherlands.

Gulhane Park
Gülhane Park

👉 READ ALSO: 9 Best Cappadocia Tours From Istanbul

6. Constantinople Walls

Instabul is also very well known for being Constantinople in the past. It was the capital city of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern part of the Roman Empire).

One of the most important factors of a city in history was to protect the territory and its citizens from sieges. Therefore, they built walls to do so.

Constantinople Walls were one of the strongest and most important in the world’s history. They protected the city well only until 1453, when Sultan Mehmed II. conquered it and it became part of the Ottoman Empire.

Today, you can still see the remains of the Constantinople Walls in the city.

7. Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque is my favorite mosque in Istanbul, probably because it’s less visited and has a unique atmosphere. It used to be the largest mosque in Istanbul for over 462 years. Unfortunately, it was built in 1557 and was heavily damaged in the Great Fire of Istanbul in the 1600s.

Luckily, they’ve reconstructed it to what you can see today. I highly recommend you go inside this mosque and stay silent.

Besides, you can visit a Muslim/cultural center next to the mosque, chat with locals, learn about Islam, or ask any other questions. They’re super nice, will offer you tea or coffee, and chat with you about anything. I loved that experience.

Book this guided tour if you want to visit the 3 most important mosques in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque & Süleymaniye mosque), and learn about their history and culture with a local.

Istanbul itinerary 3 days Suleymaniye Mosque
Me visiting Suleymaniye Mosque

8. Karaköy Funicular

You probably know that London’s tube (subway) is the oldest in the world. Well, Istanbul has the second oldest underground tunnel. You can take the funicular that connects Karaköy with Beyoğlu underground. It’s a pretty cool experience.

You can use your Istanbul Card for this ride.

Is Istanbul safe for Americans - public transportation
Public transportation – Second oldest underground transportaion connecting Karaköy and Beyoğlu

👉 READ ALSO: Does Istanbul Have A Beach? 15 Best Beaches In Istanbul

9. City Standing On 2 Continents

Istanbul is also the only city in the world on two continents: Europe and Asia. This fact makes it the most unique city, too. It’s insane that you can experience two different cultures in one city.

So take your time to explore the European side of Istanbul. And then enjoy the Asian culture of the city. You can take a boat connecting these two parts and use the Istanbul Card. The boat leaves many times per day from Eminönü (European side) to Üsküdar Sahili (Asian side).

Istanbul itinerary 3 days boat cruise Bosphorus straight
Boat cruise – Bosphorus straight

10. Bosphorus Bridge & Strait

Thanks to being positioned on 2 continents, Istanbul is also famous for the Bosphorus Strait. It’s a 31-kilometer-long strait dividing these 2 continents and the city itself.

It’s also a strategic point for merchandise and cruise ships to cross from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea (in other words, you could get from Ukraine to Greece thanks to this strait). The famous Bosphorus Bridge connects the Asian and European parts of Istanbul.

Nowadays, you can take a Bosphorus cruise from Eminönü. It’s an amazing experience, so don’t miss out on it when you’re in Istanbul.

Book this incredible Bosphorus Cruise with a private dinner table and enjoy unique experience in Istanbul.

What is Istanbul known for Bosphorus Strait & Cruise
Bosphorus Strait & Cruise

11. Maiden’s Tower

Maiden’s Tower is a famous landmark you can explore on the Asian side of Istanbul. It used to serve as a lighthouse during the Ottoman Empire. Today, it’s a museum that you can visit. It has 6 floors, and you can use its telescope to look at other historical landmarks in Istanbul.

Maidens Tower
Maiden’s Tower
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12. Turkish Bazaar Shopping

Besides the Grand Bazaar, there are other popular bazaars in Istanbul that you should visit. I highly recommend going to the Spice Bazaar (my favorite), and the main bazaar you can enter from Eminönü.

Just stroll through its streets and experience the incredible atmosphere. If you decide to buy something – don’t forget to negotiate, it’s part of the shopping experience, and Turkish people expect you to do so. Then sit down for a coffee/tea and some baklava.

What Is Famous In Istanbul To Buy?

You can buy everything that comes to your mind in Istanbul. It’s one of the best places in the world to go shopping. But if you want to buy something typical, here is a list of famous items you can buy in Istanbul, especially in the Grand Bazaar:

  • Turkish carpets
  • Textiles
  • Jewellery
  • Ceramics
  • Lamps & Lanterns
  • Gold
  • Silk
  • Handicrafts
  • Turkish Coffee & Tea
  • Spicies

Book this guided tour of Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar to have the best shopping experience + enjoy Turkish coffee tasting.

Is Istanbul safe for Americans bargaining and shopping in bazaar
Bargaining and shopping in Istanbul’s bazaar

13. Turkish Hospitality

Where else can you experience the famous Turkish hospitality than the country’s capital? Locals are super welcoming and want you to have a great experience in Istanbul. When you sit in a restaurant, they’ll bring you everything far beyond what you order.

Turkish hospitable people want you to have a great time, so enjoy every moment.

Turkish tea culture in Grand Bazaar
Turkish tea culture in Grand Bazaar

14. Turkish Breakfast

I absolutely love Turkish breakfast. From the freshness of its ingredients to the variety of dishes you can try – this breakfast is more of a brunch style and can make you full even for the entire day to explore Istanbul.

If you want to have the best breakfast in Istanbul, you can go to the street called ‘Besiktas Kahvaltıcılar Sokagi.’ It has around 30 great and budget-friendly restaurants serving amazing Turkish breakfasts (not so touristy).

For more Turkish breakfast experience, head to the following restaurants:

🍕 Van Kahvaltı Evi
Cesme Bazlama Breakfast in Nisantasi
Emirgan Sütiş
Namli Gurme

Book this food tour in Istanbul to taste the best dishes, learn about the local culture, and visit the best food spots in Instabul.

Turkish breakfast what is istanbul known for
Turkish breakfast

15. Balık Ekmek At Eminönü

Istanbul and its Eminönü area is very famous for its fish sandwich. Locals fishing from the Galata bridge bring the fish to the boats at Eminönü and prepare a fresh fish sandwich for you on demand.

The entire experience of getting this sandwich is a lot of fun. Try it with a typical drink called ‘Tursu Suyu,’ Turkish pickle juice.

PRO TIP: Another amazing place to try Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich) in Istanbul is ‘Sokak Lezzeti.’ It’s in the Karaköy district, just across the Galata Bridge. Go there for the best fish sandwich. And get the one at Eminönü for the experience.

Is Istanbul safe for Americans safest areas and neighborhoods
Eminönü – Safest areas and neighborhoods

16. Incredible Food

What else would Istanbul be known for if it was not for the food? Turkish food is heavily meat-based. So even if you don’t like eating meat too much, you should try some dishes.

Enjoying Istanbul street food is one of the best experiences you can get in the city. The most popular dishes you have to try during your visit to Istanbul are:

  • Pide
  • Lahmacun
  • Kumpir (Stuffed Potato)
  • Balik Ekmek
  • Doner Kebab
  • Shish Kebab
  • Ali Nazik Kebab
  • Testi Kebab (Pottery Kebab)
  • Manti (Turkish Ravioli)
  • Meze
  • Midye Dolma (Stuffed Mussles)
  • Turkish Delight
  • Baklava

Book this food tour in Istanbul to taste the best dishes, learn about the local culture, and visit the best food spots in Instabul.

👉 READ ALSO: Istanbul Street Food: 21 Famous Turkish Foods To Try

17. Tea & Coffee Culture

Not only is the Turkish hospitability felt when you come here as a tourist. Even locals among themselves are very hospitable and make their days better by always drinking tea and coffee.

Turkish coffee is mostly enjoyed in the morning and is prepared traditionally. Turkish tea is served all day long.

You can best experience the tea culture in the Grand Bazaar. There are people specifically dedicated to preparing and bringing tea to the shops for vendors to enjoy. It’s incredible how much Tursk love their tea.

Turkish tea and coffee
Me enjoying Turkish tea, coffee and baklava

18. Galata Bridge & Tower

The famous Galata Bridge expands across the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It connects the Eminönü district to the Karaköy district.

Underneath the bridge, there are several seafood restaurants that tourists enjoy. However, I don’t recommend eating there, they’re too touristy, and Istanbul has better places to try local cuisine.

When you cross the bridge after eating the famous fish sandwich, you can take the second oldest underground funicular in the world and come to the Galata Tower. It offers some of the best views of the city. It’s mainly used to watch and prevent the city from fire accidents.

Get this skip-the-line ticket with an audio guide for Galata Tower. It’ll save you so much time as you can go straight in without waiting in the crowd.

Galata Tower Turkey landmarks
Galata Tower

19. Istanbul’s Nightlife

Istanbul has some of the best nightlife scenes for all the night owls out here. You can never get bored in the city, and not at night.

If you want to enjoy some nightlife, you should go to:

  • X-Large
  • Suada Club
  • Ulus 29
  • Duble Meze Bar
  • Reina

20. Turkish Hammam

Istanbul is also famous for the Turkish Hammam. In fact, it’s home to some of the most beautiful and traditional hammams in the world. For all of you who want to relax and treat yourself, you can experience this Turkish bath in the city.

Here is a list of the best Turkish Hammam places in Istanbul for you:

  • Ağa Hamam – oldest one in the city
  • Cağaloğlu Hamam
  • Süleymaniye Hamam
  • Sultan Suleyman Hamam – for couples

Book this Turkish Hammam experience in Istanbul by clicking this link. You’ll experience traditional Turkish bath in the center of Istanbul.

what is istanbul known for Turkish Hammam
Turkish Hammam

21. Rooftop Terrace Views

Istanbul is known for being built on seven hills. And it has so many stunning rooftop terraces to enjoy its views. My favorite rooftop terrace in Istanbul (for the pictures) is the Seven Hills Restaurant, from which you can admire Hagia Sophia.

The best rooftop terrace for Instagram shots is: Nova Santiye Cafe (you have to pay a fee).

Other beautiful rooftop terraces, where you can enjoy the city views, and have great food and cocktails, are:

  • Seven Hills Restaurant
  • Queb Lounge Rooftop Restaurant
  • MyTerrace Café & Restaurant
Istanbul Rooftop Terrace
Istanbul Rooftop Terrace

👉 READ ALSO: 33 Famous Turkey Landmarks To Visit

5 Interesting Facts About Istanbul

To give you an even better understanding of Istanbul and an idea of how important the city is, here are the top five facts about the city:

💡 Istanbul is the only city located on 2 continents (Europe & Asia)

💡 Tulips come originally from Istanbul; only later they were transported to the Netherlands

💡 Its Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world

💡 The city has the third oldest underground system (after London and New York)

💡 During the Eastern Roman Empire, its name was Constantinople

👉 READ ALSO: Turkey Itinerary For 10 Days

Where Is Istanbul Located?

Istanbul is located in Turkey, on two different continents: Europe and Asia. You can easily take a daily boat to cross from one part of the city to the other.

It’s one of the main economic and commercial cities in the western part of Turkey, close to Greece.

Istanbul has 2 international airports; you can easily reach it from other Asian and European major cities.

where is istanbul map of istanbul in turkey
Map of Istanbul & Turkey

BONUS: Istanbul Itinerary For 3 Days

I’ve also designed a full 3-day itinerary for Istanbul based on my experience in the city. It includes the main sights, hotels I recommend booking, and even tips for bargaining at the local markets.

I’ve included all the insider tips for visiting Istanbul. So click on the image below and plan your stay in Istanbul for free with this itinerary:


Now that you have a great overview of what you should see in Istanbul, I want you to be well-prepared for your visit. That’s why I’ve also answered some of the most frequently asked questions about the city. Check them out below.

Is Istanbul Safe?

Yes, Istanbul is safe to visit. While it has dangerous neighborhoods if you stay in the safe areas and the city center, you’ll always be safe.

The safest areas of Istanbul are: Sultanahmet, Karaköy, Eminönü, Fatih, Beyoğlu & Taksim. Avoid visiting Tarlabasi, Gaziosmanpasa and Dolapdere neighborhoods, as these are dangerous.

👉 READ ALSO: Is Istanbul Safe For Americans? Check out my safety tips for visiting Istanbul

What Was Istanbul Famous For?

Istanbul has always been famous for being the capital of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Part of the Roman Empire). At that time, it was called Constantinople.

After Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city in 1453, it was named Istanbul. It used to be the center of the Ottoman Empire and the commercial hub connecting Europe and Asia.

Is Istanbul Famous For Cats?

Yes, Istanbul is also famous for cats. They’re an essential part of Turkish culture. It dates back to the Ottoman times, as locals worshiped cats thanks to their cleanliness and hunting abilities. It has remained so until nowadays, and cats are still significant in Istanbul and Turkey.

Is Istanbul Worth Visiting?

Yes, Istanbul is worth visiting. It’s on the list of my top 3 best European cities to travel to. Istanbul has beautiful landmarks, endless things to do, great hospitality, perfect nightlife, and a charming vibe. So visit Istanbul, you’ll for sure have a great time.

WRAP-UP: What Is Istanbul Known For

These are the best things and reasons why I recommend you visit Istanbul. It’s one of Europe and Asia’s most diverse and exciting cities. And it’s definitely in my top 3 favorite cities on my list. Every traveler will find sights and things that interest him the most.

If you have any questions, contact me at info(at)voicesoftravel.com. I’ll gladly help you or design a customized travel itinerary for you.

Happy Travels!

voices of travel about me photo

About the author: Nicoletta is a travel enthusiast and passionate language learner. While traveling, she loves to connect with locals using her language skills to learn about new cultures. Look for her skiing, hiking in the mountains, or exploring new destinations as she designs travel itineraries for her clients.

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