Old empires, Ruins, Coffee, Tea, and Mediterranean beaches are a few things we instantly associate with Turkey, but besides these, what is Turkey famous for?
Located between Europe and Asia, Turkey is a crossroads of empires and history. It shares borders with Greece and Bulgaria in Europe, with Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan as other transcontinental countries, and Iran, Iraq, and Syria in Asia. With so many landmarks and points of interest, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular and well-known destination. If you are planning to visit Turkey, we suggest you also have a look at our famous landmarks post.
But for now, let’s analyze what is Turkey famous for!
15 Things Turkey is famous for
We don’t usually talk about cities in this series, but Istanbul is special as it’s central to a few other things Turkey is famous for. Istambul lies between Europe and Asia making it a historically important trade center, particularly in the Silk Road. It’s the country’s economic, cultural and historic center, though the capital is Ankara, and of the most famous cities in history.
Istambul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Initially, it was called Byzantium and later Constantinople, after the Byzantine emperor Constantine. Though, whatever the name and the empire that ruled it, Istambul was always one of the centers of civilization. Istanbul was instrumental to the advance of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times. When it was conquered by the Ottomans it became an Islamic stronghold.
During a few centers, it was the biggest city in the world, and few cities, if any, can rival Istambul’s historic relevance. Those who control Istambul were bound to be instrumental in world politics and economics. Today, it holds an incredible amount of ruins, landmarks, and monuments. Naturally, it’s home to numerous UNESCO heritage sites.
What is Turkey famous for? World-shaping empires! The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, was a Greek-speaking and Christian Empire that grew as a continuation of the old Roman empire. In fact, the Byzantine Empire, or Byzantium, is a modern name (16th century), the people called themselves Romans and saw themselves as part of the ancient Roman empire.
The Byzantine Empire existed from 330 to 1453, meaning, from the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine I to the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. During this period the empire varied hugely in size, possessing territories in Italy, Greece, the Balkans, northern Africa, Levant, and Asia Minor. Though, Constantinople was always the capital and heart of the empire.
The Byzantine empire is ofter considered the longest-lasting medieval power and its influences still reach today. More than 500 years after its end, it is still easy to see its influence in the religion, art, architecture, and law of many European states. In fact, many scholars consider the end of the Byzantine empire “the event that marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.”
In the 15th and 16th, the Ottoman Empire grew to be one of the most powerful states in the world. It was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for 6 centuries, making it pivotal in Europe, Middle East, and Asia. At its peak, in the 17th century, it controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa.
The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed the Conqueror is the most important date of the Ottoman empire and considered one of the most turning points in history as it marked the end of the Byzantine empire and of the Roman Empire, a state which dated back to 27 BC and lasted nearly 1 500 years.
Despite being seen mostly as a threat by the European powers (not without a reason) the ottoman empire was also an important source of advances and achievements in art (painting, poetry, textiles and carpet weaving, ceramics), architecture, science (mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, physics, geography, and chemistry) and medicine.
Famous landmarks and historic places
If there’s one thing Turkey is famous for, that’s the landmarks, monuments, ruins, and other historic places. The location and the past empires made Turkey one of the most attractive destinations in the world. There are ruins of ancient cities, 2 ancient world wonders, sacred mountains, mosques, and so much more.
The variety and diversity of Turkish are so big that we are bound to miss some of them. In our famous landmarks in Turkey article, we tried to put together a thorough list with all the information you’ll need to check the mandatory destinations which include:
- All of Istanbul main sights: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Galata tower, Basilica Cystern, etc.
- Mount Ararat
- Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
- and many others;
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It has almost endless ways to be prepared and drank. Turkish coffee is one of the most prominent styles of coffee. It is prepared in a cezve using very finely ground coffee beans without filtering. The cezve is the copper pot used to brew the coffee.
The process of preparing and serving the coffee is what makes Turkish coffee unique, as any coffee bean may be used. Though arabica varieties are considered better. One peculiarity of Turkish coffee is that the amount of sugar is indicated when ordering because it’s the cook who adds the sugar to the water and coffee when brewing.
Though, the most famous trait is the lack of filtering, which means that the coffee grounds are left in the coffee when served. The coffee is supposed to be ground so finely that it seems like flour and becomes part of the drink. They are transferred from the “cezve” to the cup, where some settle on the bottom but some are consumed with the coffee.
A Turkish coffee has an intense flavor and smell, resembling a think espresso. It’s usually served with a glass of water and something sweet, typically a Turkish delight (more on that below), or chocolate as a more western alternative.
Coffee is a very popular drink in Turkey, and Turkish coffee is naturally one of the most famous things in Turkey. However, it’s not even the most popular drink in the country! That’s tea. In fact, turkey is the highest consumer of tea in the world (per capita). Studies have shown that on average a person drinks almost 4 glasses a day or 3.5kg of tea per year per capita. The UK is the second, with only about 2kg per person…
Turkey is also a huge producer, with 767 million m² of land is used to grow tea, mostly in Rize Province on the eastern Black Sea coast. In total it produces more than 205 000 tonnes of tea, meaning 6.4% of the world’s total production. Though less than half is exported. The oldest and most famous Turkish tea brand is Çaykur, though the younger Doğuş is fairly good too.
If tea is a famous Turkish product and export, what can we say about hazelnuts? With a market share of 70 to 80%, Turkey is the absolute champion when it comes to producing and exporting hazelnuts to more than 100 countries.
There is historical evidence that Turkey has been the home of Hazelnuts for more than 3000 years, particularly in the Black Sea region. Today’s plantations continue to be mainly located in this area, and particularly between Trabzon and Kocaeli, where the weather and soil are perfect for Hazelnuts.
So, you may not be aware but it’s almost certain that you have eaten some( a lot) of Turkish Hazelnuts. From the ones in your Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, and chocolate bars to the more healthy versions in mueslis…
We have talked about them before, and they are clearly one of the most famous things in Turkey. Popular in, and outside turkey, these are a group of sweets based on a gel of starch and sugar. The Turkish delights have a huge variety of flavors and additional ingredients. Rosewater, mastic gum, bergamot orange, and lemon are some of the most popular and traditional flavors. Premium versions may also include chopped dates, pistachios, walnuts, and obviously hazelnuts.
Turkish delights are usually served as small cubes and dusted with icing sugar, copra, cinnamon, or mint. Besides producing even more flavor these powdery ingredients prevent them from clinging.
Also known in Turkey as Lokum, their precise origin isn’t known, but they have been produced in Turkey (and Iran) as early as the 18th century. Either way, the Turkish delights are the perfect souvenir or gift as they don’t spoil easily and are easy to transport.
Evil eye amulets
One other popular tradition and souvenir in Turkey are the evil eye amulets. You’ll see them everywhere in Turkey, from the tourist souvenir shop to homes and on bracelets, necklaces, and other forms of jewelry. Though we should note that the amulets are still popular, but are losing traction among the younger generation and becoming more a touristy thing and less of a cultural trait.
The evil eye curse is the belief that a cast by a spiteful glare is given to a person when they are unaware causing misfortune or injury. The amulets, called Nazar in Turkey, were created o repel evil spirits and keep you safe from harm. It is not supposed to bring good luck, but to protect.
A Nazar is an eye-shaped amulet made out of beautiful blue glass, with certain colors majorly consisting of the standard order of blue, white, yellow, and black. You’ll see it everywhere in turkey and recognize them immediately.
Turkish Baths, or Hammam in Turkish, are one of the most famous things in Turkey. They are very popular within old Ottoman rule (Hungary, Greece, Syria, Israel, etc) and a prominent characteristic of the Muslim world culture. Mostly inherited from the Roman and Greek thermae, they evolved to a complex sequence of rooms: an undressing room, a cold room, a warm room, and a hot room, where you should go from the colder to the hotter rooms.
In Turkey (and Islamic cultures in general) the hammam was significant in three major ways. Religiously, it provided for the needs of ritual ablutions; it provided general hygiene as most houses didn’t have baths; and finally, it served important social functions in the community, as it was a gendered meeting place for men and for women.
One major characteristic of the Turkish baths is that it is a public bathing facility with rooms for relaxing, washing, and socializing. They are usually beautiful buildings featuring domed ceilings, marble interiors, adorned with colorful tiles, and beautiful small windows that allow fascinating natural light creating a dreamy atmosphere. Going to a hammam is a cultural experience, and a very enjoyable one if we may add.
Turkish baths have become popular in Spa’s all over the world, but they are a different experience. In those facilities, the Turkish bath is more about relaxing and purifying the body with the typical hot, humid air than the cultural and social event that’s a Hammam in Turkey.
Carpets and Rugs
Turkish carpets and rugs are some of the most famous products from Turkey. They are regarded as some of the best in the world and each rug and carpet represents an important part of Turkish history, culture, and heritage.
They are one of the most meaningful souvenirs to buy in Turkey but also tend to be expensive ones. Some of the most expensive Turkish carpets have been passed from generation to generation and can go up to 5 figure amounts. Some even have royal roots. If you only want to see and enjoy them but aren’t really interested in buying them, we suggest a visit to Dolmabahce Palace as that’s where you can find the most iconic rugs in Turkey.
Carpets prices range from several hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars and this difference depends upon many factors. Recently there are some fake versions and factory versions, which are much cheaper. They won’t have the same quality, value, or history, but still are usually colorful and beautiful.
What is Turkey famous for? Baklavas obviously! Everyone knows what baklava is, right? If you are somewhat of a foodie, you surely know this delightful sweet from Ottoman cuisine. For those who haven’t tried it yet, baklava is a layered pastry dessert made of filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts (pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds), and sweetened with syrup or honey. Yes, It’s as good and sweet as it sounds.
The origins of this dish aren’t really known, but it’s believed that it comes from the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul (Constantinople at the time). Besides Turkey, Baklava is also a traditional dessert of Iran and Arab cuisines, but also from the Balkans, South Caucasus, Central Asia, Levant, and the Maghreb… Though, it’s so good, that today it’s popular everywhere really.
Another famous Turkish food is the Kebab, one of the most typical dishes in turkey and the Middle East. A Kebab (or Kebap in Turkish) generally refers to any dish (usually meat, but also fish or vegetables) where the food is grilled on a skewer or roasted on a rotisserie. Though, in Turkey, it can also include dishes cooked over or next to a flame. They can be served on a plate, in sandwiches, or even in wraps (known as dürüm).
Thus, there are many varieties of Kebabs in Turkey such as Adana kebap (spicy kebab made with ground mince formed over a wide skewer and grilled over charcoals), Shish kebab (the more traditional and familiar Turkish kebab of meat and vegetables, generally cubed and threaded onto a skewer), Iskender Kebab (essentially döner kebab, served with a slathering of melted butter over a bed of bread, with yogurt on the side), and the Döner Kebap.
The Doner Kebap became famous and popular worldwide, thus the reason why Kebab became so popular worldwide. Doner Kebap means literally rotating kebap in Turkish. It is made with sliced lamb, beef, or chicken, slowly roasted on a vertical rotating spit. It is considered the original dish to other very popular similar ones, such as the Middle Eastern shawarma, Mexican tacos al pastor, and Greek gyros. The German-style döner kebab sandwich was invented by Turkish immigrants in Berlin in the 1970s, and ultimately became one of the most popular dishes in the world.
I’ll honest here, when we were first researching what is Turkey famous for, we were surprised to find that Turkish soap operas were so famous and popular. We had never heard of them before, though, it seems that they are very popular in some countries, particularly other Muslim countries but also parts of Europe, China, and India.
As we do enjoy watching tv from different countries, we will have to give a try to Turkish Soap Operas! If they are as entertaining as K-dramas, it will be a blast!
Hair Transplants and Dental Work
Hair transplants and dental work? Yes, that’s one rather surprising thing Turkey is famous for, but Turkey is investing in its health tourism industry. Hair transplants and dental work are very popular, but other cosmetic surgeries are also available.
The main reason for this popularity is the competitive price. A dental work in Turkey may cost 3, 5, 10 times less than in the UK or US. The reason is professionalism of medical staff and top-notch health centers. Note that we aren’t advocating for (or against) this kind of tourism, but that it is popular and a possibility for anyone.
Hair transplants and dental work may not be the first tourist attraction in Turkey, but they are important for the tourism industry as a whole. Turkey expects to have about 1.5M million medical tourists by 2023, and estimates to earn about 10 billion USD from it. So, it’s a big business.
On the other hand, if you happen to notice a few people with a band on their head while exploring Ankara, or Istanbul, now you know why…