100+ Interesting Facts About Istanbul

Interesting and fun facts about Istanbul

In this article, you’ll learn over a hundred fun and interesting facts about Istanbul, the “City of the World’s Desire.”

Istanbul, Turkey is without a doubt one of the great cities of the past and present. It is a melting pot of cultures lying in one of the strategically most important places on Earth. Have you ever wondered what Istanbul is famous for? Let’s find out.

General Istanbul Facts

1. Although it is not the capital city, Istanbul is by far the largest city in Turkey. It is three times larger than the capital city, Ankara.  

2. With a metropolitan population of 15.5 million, Turkey is the largest city in Europe and the 13th largest in the world.  

View of central Istanbul, with a mosque and a bridge over the river
Impressive Istanbul

3. One-fifth of the Turkish population lives in Istanbul.  

4. Only 28% of Istanbul’s residents are originally from Istanbul. Most come from other parts of Turkey, and their numbers in Istanbul are greater than several of their respective provinces.

5. Over 90% of Istanbul residents are Muslim and there are 2691 active mosques in the city.

6. Istanbul is considered one of the 81 provinces of Turkey, and it is the most populous one. 

A map of Istanbul
Istanbul’s location on both sides of the Bosporous

7. Istanbul encompasses 39 districts, including Fatih, the city’s historical heart.

8. Istanbul’s most significant historical sites are concentrated in Fatih’s Sultanahmet neighborhood.

9. Istanbul sits at a strategically vital location, with the Bosporus (Bosphorous) being the only passage from the Mediterranean and Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea

Bosphorus Bridge across the Bosporous in Istanbul
Bosphorus Bridge connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul

10. Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents. The Bosporus (or Strait of Istanbul) runs through the city, separating Anatolia (Asian Turkey) from Thrace (European Turkey).  

11. The two sides of the Bosporus are often referred to as the “Asian side” and “European side” of Istanbul.  

12. The Golden Horn is a large estuary connected to the Bosporous at the point where it meets the Sea of Marmara. It separates Old Istanbul (Constantinople) from Beyoğlu district, the northern section of European Istanbul.

Galata Bridge, with restaurants below, and Galata Tower in the background
Restaurants on Galata Bridge

13. Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn, is a cultural focal point of the city, attracting fishermen, strollers, buskers, and so on. There are restaurants built into its lower level. The current bridge, built in 1994, replaces 4 earlier ones.

14. There are over 450 kilometers (280 miles) of coastline in Istanbul. 

15. Istanbul has formerly been called Lygos, Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, and Constantinople.  

Staircase at Otag Hill with a view of the river and bridge in Istanbul
Istanbul is a city of many hills.

16. Like Rome, Istanbul has been nicknamed the “City of Seven Hills,” even though there are more than 50 hills in the city. 

17. Istanbul has served as an imperial capital for over 1500 years. It was the capital of the Eastern Roman (330–1204), Latin (1204–1261), Byzantine (1261–1453), and Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. 

18. Istanbul is famous for being home to the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), one of the world’s most well-known pieces of architecture, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). 

19. The Ottomans widely cultivated the tulip. It was later sent from there to the Netherlands, other parts of Europe, and Canada. It remains a symbol of Istanbul and Turkey.

View of a large fountain and Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is Istanbul’s most famous building.

20. Istanbul has more than 40 sister cities around the world. The first was Rio de Janeiro (1965). Others include Barcelona, Berlin, Cairo, Venice, and Shanghai.

Interesting Facts About Istanbul 

21. Istanbul is antipodal to the island of Tubuai in French Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean

22. Located near a fault line, Istanbul is subject to regular earthquakes. This includes major ones in 1766 (4000 fatalities) and 1894 (1000+ fatalities).  

Red roofs of dozens of apartments in Istanbul crowded together
Apartments in Istanbul

23. Over 500,000 old buildings vulnerable to earthquakes have been demolished in Istanbul in the last 10 years.  

24. Istanbul has a relatively mild climate influenced by the seas to its north and south, with low diurnal (day to night) temperature variation. The hottest temperature on record is 37.2°C (99°F). Those visiting Turkey in winter may even encounter snow in Istanbul!

25. Because of its many hills, Istanbul has many microclimates, with rainfall varying considerably between them. The city is also frequently subject to fog.  

26. Istanbul receives more snow than any other city in the Mediterranean Basin.  

A mosque lit up in a snowy landscape in Istanbul
Istanbul when it snows

27. Business in Istanbul accounts for 1/3rd of the country’s economy. 

28. Istanbul received 14 million visitors in 2019, making it the 8th most visited city in the world.  

29. The Historic Areas of Istanbul is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site includes four districts spanning an area of 765.5 ha and containing numerous ancient structures.  

Egyptian obelisk in Istanbul's Hippodrome
Egyptian obelisk in the Hippodrome

30. The Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Square), a former chariot racing stadium and now large park next to the Blue Mosque and near the Hagia Sophia, contains an Egyptian obelisk and the Serpentine Column from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece.

31. Sirkeci Station in Istanbul was once the terminus of the Orient Express, the famous historical luxury railway line.

32. Çamlıca Mosque is the largest mosque in Turkey. It was opened in 2019 and can hold up to 63,000 people. It is located in Üsküdar on the Asian side of Istanbul. 

Çamlıca Mosque (Camlica Mosque), the largest mosque in Turkey
The brand new Çamlıca Mosque is the largest in Turkey.

33. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, at 307,000 m2 (3,305,000 ft2). With over 90 million annual visitors, it is considered one of the most popular attractions in the world, and some consider it one of the world’s first shopping malls.

34. After the Grand Bazaar, Mısır Çarşısı (the Spice Market) is the city’s most famous market. Beside the Spice Market, there is also a large animal market.

35. Leeches are still used as a traditional form of healing in Istanbul. That can be seen for sale near the Spice Bazaar.

Interior of the Spice Market in Istanbul
The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

36. Istanbul has more than 60 hammams (Turkish baths).

37. There are hundreds of water cisterns below the city of Istanbul. The largest and most famous is Basilica Cistern, which dates to the 6th century.

38. The Topkapı Palace, former residence of the Ottoman sultans, contains some of the holiest Islamic relics, including hairs from his beard and two of his teeth.

39. The most famous street in Istanbul is İstiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu. On weekends, it is visited by 3 million people per day.

İstiklal Caddesi, or Istiklal Avenue
İstiklal Caddesi is the most famous street in Istanbul.

40. Istanbul is served by two major airports: the brand new Istanbul Airport on the European side and Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport on the Asian side. Most international flights are from Istanbul airport, and it is one of the largest airports in the world.

41. There are around 50 piers and more than 20 ferry lines traversing the Bosporous and Golden Horn in Istanbul.

42. There are hundreds of thousands of street cats in Istanbul. In many parks and streets, people built houses for the cats.

43. A famous cat who lived inside the Hagia Sophia died in 2020, making headlines around the country and the world.

A cat lying on a bench inside the Hagia Sophia
The famous Hagia Sophia cat

44. Famous people from Istanbul include Hollywood/Broadway director Elia Kazan, model/actor Can Yaman, footballer Arda Turan, and actresses Tuba Büyüküstün and Hazal Kaya.

45. Istanbul is home to an Archaeological Museum, Legoland, Dolphinarium, Miniaturk (a miniature theme park), Akvaryum (Aquarium), Toy Museum, and Rahmi M. Koc Museum (a museum of transportation from the personal collection of a Turkish billionaire).

46. Istanbul hosts the world’s only transcontinental marathon.

Istanbul Historical Facts

47. Humans have lived in the area of Istanbul since the Stone Age, with evidence of settlements going back as early as the 6th millennium BCE.

48. The Roman history writer Pliny the Elder indicates that the first name of Istanbul was Lygos.

Ancient roman ruins in Istanbul
Roman ruins in Istanbul

49. Greeks founded the city of Byzantium in 657 BCE. According to legend, it was founded by Byzas, a ruler from Megara, a city state near Athens. An acropolis was built where the Topkapı Palace stands today (not to be confused with the Acropolis in Athens.

50. Byzantium was taken over by the Romans in 196 CE and briefly renamed Augusta Antonina.

51. The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved the Roman Capital from Rome to Byzantium in 324 CE and renamed the city Constantinople. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.

52. Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire for over 1000 years (395–1453).

Basilica Cistern under Istanbul
Justinian built Basilica Cistern, one of hundreds of cisterns under Istanbul

53. For most of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was the most powerful city in Europe.

54. At its greatest extent, under Justinian the Great (ruled 527–565), the Byzantine Empire stretched from modern-day Spain and Morocco to Egypt.

55. In 537 CE, Justinian built the Hagia Sophia as the principle cathedral of Constantinople. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly 1000 years.

56. In 1348, the Italian (Genoese) community in Constantinople built Galata Tower, originally the Christea Turris (“Tower of Christ”). It remains one of the city’s most iconic structures.

Galata Tower in Istanbul
Galata Tower was built by the Genoese in Constantinople.

57. In the 13th century CE, the power of Constantinople declined and it was sacked by Crusaders. By 1453, it had 1/10th of its former population.

58. In 1453, the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II from northwestern Turkey conquered Istanbul and initiated the Ottoman Empire, which would last until 1922.

59. Mehmed converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Christian mosaics in it were destroyed or covered up. Islamic features, including a minbar (pulpit where the imam stands), mihrab (a niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca), and four minarets, were added.

60. Mehmed also built Topkapı Palace, which would serve as the residence of the Ottoman sultans until 1853. The lavish complex was continually expanded over the centuries.

Interior of Topkapi Palace
Interior of Topkapi Palace

61. As many as 300 concubines lived in Topkapi Palace’s harem at any given time.

62. Yet another significant structure built under Mehmed was the Grand Bazaar, which remains one of the world’s largest markets to this day.

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar viewed from above
The enormous Grand Bazaar

63. The arts flourished under Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest-ruling Ottoman sultan (1520-1566). He constructed many of the huge mosques that give Istanbul its unique skyline, including the Suleymaniye Mosque. He also developed a legal code and doubled the size of the empire.

64. Sultan Ahmed commissioned the Sultan Ahmed Mosque when he was only 19. Construction was completed in 1616. It is the most famous mosque in Istanbul and is commonly known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles inside.

Interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Blue tiles of the Blue Mosque

65. The Ottomans also construct many exquisite hammams (Turkish baths) in Constantinople, building upon the bathing culture of the city’s earlier Roman inhabitants.

66. The Ottomans were one of the main competitors of the Russian Empire and Holy Roman/Habsburg Empire based out of Vienna.

67. Istanbul was modernized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the building of many trams, bridges, water systems, and the introduction of telephones.

68. In 1875, a metro line called the Tünel was constructed. It is the second-oldest urban rail line in the world after the London Underground. It goes uphill from near sea level to a height of 573 meters, and still runs today.

Tünel train car in Istanbul
Istanbul’s Tünel is the second oldest city train in the world.

69. From 1918 to 1923, Allied forces occupied Constantinople.

70. In 1923, the capital was moved from Istanbul to Ankara in the newly formed Republic of Turkey. The population of Istanbul subsequently dwindled but recovered in the 20th century.  

71. Constantinople’s name was officially changed to Istanbul in 1930. The name Istanbul had been used by Greek speakers since the 11th century. 

72. In 1934, the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque was converted to a museum. As of January 15th, 2024, foreign visitors are allowed to enter Hagia Sophia from a different gate, and the visiting schedule is as mentioned on the designated official page.

Aerial view of Taksim Square in Istanbul
Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul

73. In the 1940s and 50s, Istanbul was revitalized with the building of many new major roads and squares, including Taksim Square, which is today considered the heart of Istanbul.

74. In 1955, many riots associated with the Istanbul Pogrom targeted the city’s Greek inhabitants, causing thousands of them to leave.

75. In the 1970s, the population of Istanbul exploded and the city expanded in size, with people migrating to the city from across Anatolia looking for work.

76. The M1 line, the first line of the modern Istanbul Metro, was opened in 1989.

77. Electric trams began running in Istanbul in 1992, replacing the old tram network, which had closed in 1966.

A metro moving quickly in an underground station in Istanbul
The modern Istanbul metro

78. In 2013, major riots took place at Taksim Square over concerns that the city was going to redevelop Taksim Gezi Park. The riots turned into a nation-wide protest over various issues.

79. In 2019, all international flights to/from Istanbul were transferred from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to the new Istanbul Airport on the European side of the city.

80. At the onset of the COVID pandemic, people were banned from entering or exiting from Istanbul.

81. By late 2022, tourist arrival numbers in Istanbul were surpassing pre-COVID levels.

Food and Drinks in Istanbul

82. Like the people of Istanbul, the city’s cuisine is a mishmash of influences, including Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Eastern European, Armenian, and Georgian.

83. Istanbul’s cuisine has also been influenced by Ottoman Court cuisine, with many dishes developed to meet to the refined taste of Ottoman royalty.

Simits, a popular street food in Istanbul
Simits for sale in Istanbul

84. Istanbul cuisine tends to use spices in moderation.

85. Simits, rings of bread encrusted with sesame seeds, are sold by vendors all over the city. They have been made in Istanbul for at least 500 years.

86. People in Istanbul tend to eat more rice than bulgur, the latter of which is the primary staple in other parts of Turkey.

87. A typical breakfast in Istanbul may include bread, butter/honey/jam, cheese, olives, eggs, tomato, and cucumber.  

Typical meze in Istanbul

88. Most traditional meals in Istanbul begin with meze, or starters. These could include yalancı dolma (stuffed vine leaves), eggplant with yogurt, börek, humus, or numerous other possibilities.

89. Common dishes in Istanbul include koftes (meatballs), türlü (vegetable stews), dolmas (grape leaves or other vegetables stuffed with rice or meat), İmam bayıldı (an eggplant dish), menemen (eggs with tomato and onion), lahmacun (Turkish pizza), and stewed beans.

Various Turkish dishes on a table in Istanbul
A typical meal in Istanbul

90. Kebab, meat slices from those rotating racks which has become famous worldwide, is ubiquitous in Istanbul.

91. Unsurprisingly, given its location, fish is a big deal in Istanbul. Enjoying a meal of fish with rakı (see below) in an eatery near the Bosporus is a quintessential part of the Istanbul lifestyle, whole Kadikoy Fish Market is the city’s most famous.

92. Olive oil is the preferred oil for cooking in Istanbul.

Rolls of Turkish delight for sale in Istanbul
Turkish Delight for sale in the Istanbul Spice Market

93. Baklava, one of the most famous desserts across the Middle East, originated in the imperial courts of Constantinople (Istanbul).

94. Another popular treat sold all over the city is Turkish delight. These highly varied confections are made of starch and sugar flavored with various nuts, fruits, and other ingredients.

95. Haci Bekir supposedly invented Turkish delight in 1777. His shop, which takes his name, is still open in Istanbul today.

96. Dondurma, a traditional mastic or “stretchy” ice cream, is sold across Istanbul. Vendors sometimes play a game of repeatedly stealing back the ice cream while passing it to customers on long sticks.

A hand holding a cup of traditional Turkish tea near the waterfront in Istanbul
Cay (tea) in Istanbul

97. Çay (tea) is the most popular drink in Istanbul. Turkey has the highest per capital tea consumption in the world, at 2.5 kg of tea per person per year.

98. Tea in Istanbul is usually served black with sugar. It is poured from teapots called çaydanlık into small tulip-shaped cups called ince belli.

A cup of Turkish coffee, glass of water, and piece of Turkish delight in Istanbul
Turkish coffee in Istanbul

99. Coffee is also very popular in Istanbul, including traditional (Turkish) and modern styles.

100. Turkish coffeehouse culture goes back to the 16th century. Traditional Turkish coffee is made by boiling fine coffee powder in a small handled pot called a cezve. It is served in a small porcelain cup called a kahve fincanı, in which the powder settles at the bottom. It is often accompanied with a small piece of Turkish delight.

A hand holding up a glass of raki in an Istanbul restaurant
A glass of raki at a seafood restaurant in Istanbul

101. The local firewater of choice in Istanbul is Rakı, an anise-flavored spirit (similar to Ouzo in Greece, Sambuca in Italy, and Pastis in France), which turns cloudy white when water is added to it. It is often served with seafood or meze.

102. Efes is the most popular beer in Istanbul, but the city has a burgeoning craft beer scene.

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