A Closer Look at Istanbul’s People

With their lifestyle, eating and drinking habits, their jobs, social life, religions and, their physical appearance, everything about Istanbul’s people has importance for Istanbul. Although it seems like Istanbul doesn’t need anything to be one of the most popular places worldwide yet, it’s still impossible to take Istanbul and Istanbul’s people separately. They’re an inseparable whole that makes something great and unique. What makes great cities more valuable is the local people that live there. Without a society, the world is nothing but a wasteland.

Moreover, Istanbul is a megacity that is famous for its long historical background. The Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire and currently the Turkish Republic as a country are the most important civilizations that contribute to the history of Istanbul. However, local people contribute to a city more than the empires themselves. Here is how local Istanbul’s people shape the current situation of Istanbul.

Where Are the Istanbul People Coming From?

Istanbul, with its 15.52 million population, serves as a home to people from different cities, countries, and nationalities. As being a big city, there is a huge demand for Istanbul. Every year, many people from different cities and countries migrate to Istanbul. The basic reason behind thİS migration is generally either working or studying. All the immigrants seem to be mesmerized by its natural beauty and the opportunities that this big, old, great city offers. So, If you wonder how many people from different cities of Turkey you might come across during a visit to Istanbul, here are the numbers and cities in Turkey that form the population of Istanbul:

  1. People from Burdur that form the population of Istanbul: 5.730 
  2. People that come from Hakkari that form the population of Istanbul: 9.174 
  3. People from Yalova that form the population of Istanbul: 10.203
  4. People from Karaman that form the population of Istanbul: 11.412
  5. People from Mugla that form the population of Istanbul: 13.016
  6. People from Denizli that form the population of Istanbul: 23.136
  7. People from Isparta that form the population of Istanbul: 30.077
  8. People from Antalya that form the population of Istanbul: 31.666
  9. People from Duzce that form the population of Istanbul: 32.680
  10. People from Canakkale that form the population of Istanbul: 41.354

What Nationality Are Istanbul People?

You must have heard that Istanbul is always called as a metropolitan city. One of the reasons that make it metropolitan is its population from different nationalities as well as different cities in Turkey. This means that not only Turkish people but also foreign people shape the population of Istanbul. It is known that 199.260 people of Istanbul’s population are formed by foreign people. These 199.260 people include 75 different nationalities. If you wonder those nationalities, they’re listed below:

  1. German: German people are on the top of the list with 16.494 German population that lives and works in Istanbul. It is recorded that German people are mostly located in the Fenerbahce neighborhood. 
  2. British: European dwellers in Istanbul mostly prefer the European Side to live. British people are commonly located in the Moda neighborhood in Istanbul. 
  3. American, Italian, French, Spanish, and Swiss: Beyoglu neighborhood is a favorite place to live for Italian, French, Spanish and Swiss people in Istanbul. It is recorded that the population of these nationalities are common in Beyoglu. 
  4. Syrian: As a result of the devastating civil war in Syria, the Syrian population in Istanbul has increased recently. According to recorded data, there are almost 400 thousand Syrian in Istanbul. They are generally located in Okmeydani, Suleymaniye, Zeytinburnu, Bagcilar.
  5. Africans: African people generally prefer Okmeydani, Dolapdere, and Aksaray to live and work in Istanbul. 
  6. Central Asian: Uzbek, Georgian and Mongolian people have generally lived near Caglayan and Okmeydani neighborhood because textile factories are located in these neighborhoods. Uzbek, Georgian and Mongolian populations in Istanbul are 10.279, 7.978, and 5.768 respectively. 
  7. Iraqi: 9.307 Iraqi people live in Istanbul.
  8. Ukrainian: 7.724 Ukrainian people live in Istanbul. 
  9. Azerbaijani: 19.875 Azerbaijani people live in Istanbul.
  10. People of Kenya: The lowest rate belongs to the people of Kenya. It’s known that only 148 of them live in Istanbul.

What Are the Ethnic Minorities in Istanbul?

Kurdish people with more than 3 million population consists of the most important ethnic minorities in Istanbul. These people originate from the southern and eastern parts of Turkey. The largest Kurdish population of Turkey is also located in Istanbul. 

Secondly, in the 1950s there was a significant amount of Jewish people in Istanbul. Their number was up to 100.000 but recently, they are not more than 18.000. It is recorded that they mostly locate in Izmir. 

Moreover, there is a group of Assyrians people in Istanbul. Their number is up to 17.000. They mostly live in the Sulukule neighborhood which is known as the oldest place that once belonged to the Roman Empire.

What Do You Call a Person From Istanbul?

Although there is not a specific name for people that live in Istanbul, you can hear them being called Istanbulite, Istanbul local people, Istanbul residents or Istanbul natives. If you want even a simpler one, you can freely say Istanbul’s people.

What Religion Are People From Istanbul?

As a result of the majority of Turkish people located in Istanbul, the dominant religion is Islam in Istanbul. According to a survey, most of the Turkish people in Istanbul noted that they’re Muslims. This consists of 98% of the Istanbul population. Thanks to this majority, there are many different and worldwide famous mosques in Istanbul. They originally come from Byzantium or Ottoman Empire times. While some of them are open to worship, some others are not. We can list the main ones as:

  1. Blue Mosque (located in Sultanahmet Square, Fatih)
  2. Suleymaniye Mosque (located in Fatih)
  3. Hagia Sophia Mosque  (located in Fatih)
  4. New Mosque (located in Fatih)
  5. Fatih Mosque (located in Fatih)
  6. Mihrimah Sultan Mosque (located in Uskudar)

Although Istanbul is dominated by Islam thanks to the majority of Muslim people, the presence of different nationalities brings along different beliefs. Christianity, Jewish, Buddhism, Hinduism are among the minor religions in Istanbul.

Is There Freedom to Worship in Istanbul?

Not only in Istanbul but also in Turkey, everyone, regardless of their religion, is free to worship. As well as many mosques, there are also different places to worship such as churches for Christians and synagogues for Jews. This enables Istanbul people to worship freely any day or at any time. Toleration for different ideas and beliefs is what makes Istanbul popular and capital of civilization. During your trip to Istanbul, If you want to visit the religious places or to worship, here are some famous churches and synagogues in Istanbul:

Famous Churches:

  1. St. Antoine Church: If you want to visit this famous church, you can take the metro and get off at Yenikapi Station. It is located in Beyoglu.
  2. Union Church of Istanbul: This glamorous, old church is located in Istiklal Street, Beyoglu. 
  3. Saint Stephen Bulgarian Church: Located in Fatih.
  4. Rivers Church: Located in Sisli neighborhood.
  5. Assyrian Church: Located in Fatih.
  6. Roman Catholic Church Santa Maria Draperies: Located in Beyoglu.

Famous Synagogues:

  1. Neve Shalom Synagogue: Located in Beyoglu
  2. Italian Synagogue: Located in Beyoglu
  3. Ashkenazi Synagogue of Istanbul: Located in Beyoglu
  4. Yanbol Synagogue

What Are Istanbul People Like?

Istanbul is a multicultural city. As we talked about the population above, you can guess that many different cultures and practices you may see in Istanbul. However, as it is dominated by Turkish people, mostly it’s inevitable to witness Turkish culture and behaviors in society. For that reason, when you’re on a trip to Istanbul, you need to know more about Turkish people and their lifestyles. It’s always better to figure this out by living among Turkish people but if you want to be prepared beforehand, everything you need to know Turkish people is just a paragraph away!

What Do Turkish People Look Like?

In Istanbul, you can’t see just one type as it has a mixed population. However, in general:

  1. you can see black or dark-colored hair more commonly than blonde hair in Istanbul people. It’s not very common to see a Turkish person with blonde hair and green or blue eyes, however, it’s not impossible. 
  2. On the other hand, you can see lots of people with pale skin and dark-colored hair.
  3. Turkish people generally have straight and sparse hair.
  4. Turkish people are not known for being tall. On the contrary, they’re generally short or medium height.
  5. The average height for men can change from 5’5” to 5’11”. 
  6. The average height for women is between 4’11” and 5’7”. 
  7. Their eyes are not too close to each other.
  8. Their lips are neither too thick nor thin.

What Are the Characteristic Features of Istanbul People?

Again, dominated by Turkish people, Istanbul is under the influence of Turkish culture. For that reason, the family and social structure are shaped according to the customs of Turkish people in Istanbul. And Turkish people are known as:

  1. The most characteristic feature of the Turkish people is their hospitality. If you ever visit a Turkish family in Istanbul, they will always have a warm welcome. Even if they don’t know anything about you or you just meet a few minutes ago, they will not hesitate to do their best to make you feel like you’re at home. Therefore, feel free to make Turkish friends and start friendships that might last lifelong. 
  2. Turkish people always show generosity. If you’re a guest in their house or when they help you take a trip around Istanbul, don’t feel surprised if they offer you to pay the food, transportation or any other things. Especially when you’re staying in a Turkish family’s house, you might eat the best food that you’ve ever eaten. They will welcome you with delicious foods from Turkish cuisine and insist you on eating more and more. 
  3. Turkish people are always associated with being hardworking. Since the Ottoman Empire, Turkish people have always known as a society that loves to work hard. Without giving up, you can see that they try everything and do whatever they want. 
  4. Turkish people are intelligent. They often take logical decisions in their life and follow the course of science. Even in one of his speeches, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, describes Turkish people with these words: “Turkish people are intelligent, Turkish People are hardworking!”. 
  5. Turkish people pay great importance to be clean. In their houses or in the places that they are surrounded by, you can see that they always tend to keep it clean. Don’t feel surprised If you’re studying in a Turkish house and wake up to the sound of a vacuum cleaner in the morning. 
  6. It’s important for Turkish people to be private. They don’t like to show their personal or family life in public. They often have an ideology based on the idea that what happens inside of the family, stays in the family. This means that they don’t share the things that happen inside of the family with others. 
  7. Turkish people love to show respect to the elderly. Elderly people have such a huge impact in a Turkish family. All the youngers show respect to them and ask their opinion first when they intend to do something. Moreover, at a gathering, drinks and foods are always served to the elderly first which is a way to show respect to them.
  8. Family life is important for the Turkish people. They keep it above all else. They always try to protect their family members no matter what. 
  9. They are friendly people. If you get lost in Istanbul, don’t hesitate to stop and ask someone the direction. They are always ready to help foreign people as much as they can. 
  10. They like to touch and hug. As being friendly people, it is very common for Turkish people to touch and hug the people even when they just meet. It might sound strange to you because it sometimes causes lesser personal space but it won’t be too often to disturb you. 

What’s Regarded as Rude for Istanbul People?

Just like in other cultures, there are some things that are regarded as rude in Turkish culture too. If you visit Istanbul, try to avoid these behaviors:

  1. Pointing at someone. This is actually a behavior that is accepted as rude worldwide and it is rude in Turkish culture as well. While walking down a street in Istanbul, at a restaurant or at a meeting, try to avoid showing someone with your finger. 
  2. Walking into a house with your shoes. As we mentioned above, Turkish people are very fond of cleaning. They regard the house as a sacred place and it’s important for them to keep it clean. So, it will be regarded as rude If you don’t take off your shoes before walking into a house.
  3. Not having eye contact. While having a conversation with a Turkish person, try to make eye contact as much as you can. They often find it rude when you don’t look them in the eye. Sometimes the absence of eye contact might even lead them to a thought that you don’t listen to them carefully.
  4. Crossing legs while sitting with elderly people. As it is mentioned before, elderly people are really important for Turkish people. As a show of respect, they don’t cross their legs while sitting in front of elderly people. When someone does it, they will probably find it rude.
  5. Whispering from ear to ear in a community. While coming together with a group of people, it is rude for Turkish people to have a conversation silently. 

What Are the Common Gestures of the Turkish People?

To show their likes or dislikes, using their gestures is a very common way to express their opinions and emotions for people. All around the world, these gestures might show some changes. There are also some specific gestures that Turkish people often show to convey their emotions. They can be listed as:   

  1. A worldwide common gesture is also used by Turkish people: Nodding head. This common gesture which includes moving your head up and down means yes for Turkish people too. Therefore, it means that they’re accepting something when they nod their head. 
  2. Shaking your head. It is also another common gesture that has the same meaning for people from different cultures. For Turkish people, it is common and has the same meaning too. Just shake your head from left to right to say no silently.
  3. Putting your fingers together and making a circle, then shaking your hand up and down means that you like the food for Turkish people. This is also followed by a sound to show their appreciation. 
  4. Turkish people sometimes put their hands on their left breast to show that they decline something. For instance, when you offer food for them to eat, If they don’t want to it, they sometimes put their hands to their breast to say “No, thank you.”

How Is the Social Life of Istanbul People?

Living in an overcrowded city brings along some difficulties. The first of them is transportation and traffic jams. This shapes social life without a doubt. You can always hear Istanbul people complain about traffic and huge crowds. Especially in the rush hours, going to work or school can sometimes become torture. Rush hours for Istanbul generally change from 8 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 7 pm. In this period of time, it’s almost impossible to find available public transportation as it is highly crowded. All the buses, minibusses, taxis and subways are full. 

If you prefer to ride a subway, traffic jams are not a problem for you. However, for those who take a bus, metro bus, taxi or their own private car, traffic jam is a nightmare in Istanbul. You might get stuck in the traffic for hours so don’t forget to leave your place earlier than you should in order to arrive at your destination on time If you need to go out during rush hours. 

On the positive side, Istanbul is one of the best places in the world that you can have fun at night. There are many different options for both local Istanbul people and for tourists. For that reason, the social life of local Istanbul people is mostly shaped by cultural or social activities. These activities mainly include the followings: 

  1. Visiting art galleries or museums.
  2. Going to concerts. (Every year, worldwide famous singers have concerts in Istanbul)
  3. Going to the cinema and theatre. (Istanbul National Theatre offers a variety of famous plays for Istanbul people to see. You can find the schedules and the information about the plays here: http://devtiyatro.gov.tr/ )
  4. Spending time at the national parks. Especially when it’s spring or summertime, there are many natural parks in Istanbul. Most of Istanbul people spend their evenings or day-offs at these parks. These famous parks include Gulhane Park, Taksim Gezi Park or Moda Park. 
  5. Spending time at cafes and bars. Istanbul people like to meet their friends after work in the evening. To grab a coffee or drink a beer, they prefer cafes or bars in Istanbul. Beyoglu and Taksim Square are really famous for these kinds of places. 

If you want to spend an enjoyable day in Istanbul, you can choose one or more daily activities that Istanbul people commonly do.

What Do The Istanbul People Eat?

Turkish cuisine has a rich variety and widely accepted food worldwide. Istanbul people commonly eat from Turkish cuisine. Kebab, manti, rice, and different homemade foods are widely preferred by Istanbul people. Istanbul people like to eat meat. Even homemade foods with vegetables include meat.  If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t be afraid. There are good places that offer vegan or vegetarian food for vegan people to eat. On the other hand, the eating habits of Istanbul people mostly include spicy and hot food. These might not sound healthy but since the Ottoman Empire, Turkish people haven’t changed their eating habits and it seems like they enjoy it. 

Moreover, some famous foods associated with Istanbul are:

  1. Sultanahmet Meatballs
  2. Beykoz Kebab
  3. Istanbul Rice
  4. Lakerda (fish)

On the other hand, it’s very seldom for Turkish people to eat pork. According to their belief, it’s a sin to eat pork. For that reason, you can rarely come across foods with pork in them in Istanbul. 

What Do Istanbul People Drink?

Turkish people are known for their love for eating and drinking. Eating and drinking have a big and important part of their lives. They even shape their daily life with eating and drinking. You can always witness friendly BBQ meetings, especially at weekends. Most of the time, they come together to eat, drink and chat

Do Istanbul People Drink Alcohol?

During their meetings, they prefer both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Although it’s regarded as a sin to drink alcohol in their belief just like eating pork, Turkish people are not too strict to drink alcohol than to eat pork. Popular non-alcoholic drinks are: 

  1. Ayran (It is made by a mixture of yogurt and water. You can add some ice and salt too.)
  2. Salgam (Commonly famous in Adana but Turkish people generally like to drink it especially when they eat kebab. It has a sour taste and it is red and it looks like cherry juice or red wine.) 
  3. Lemonade
  4. Turkish Coffee. (Turkish people like to drink Turkish Coffee and with coffee grounds, they’re even fortune-telling by making comments on the shapes in the cup.)
  5. Boza

What Is the National Drink of Istanbul People?

An alcoholic drink called raki is accepted as the national drink of Turkish People. Raki is often being likened with a Greek drink, Ouzo. Raki is an indispensable drink for Turkish people. They sometimes call it “Aslan sutu” in daily language. It basically means the lion’s milk. They refer to an animal with great courage, lion and they refer raki as the drink that a glorious animal like a lion drinks by using this term. They indicate that they are strong and courageous people. 

When they are drinking raki, they like to eat watermelon and cheese with it. And they call it “cilingir sofrasi”. It basically means that a dining table with good food for raki on it. If you ever want to give the raki a try in Istanbul, besides having a main dish, you will be served with watermelon and cheese. 

What Do Istanbul People Wear?

Although loose pants named salvar (shalwar) is the traditional cloth of Turkish people, it is not common to wear it in daily life. Just like other people, Istanbul people wear casual clothes such as jeans, skirts, shirts, t-shirts, dresses in their daily life. 

Do I Have to Wear a Headscarf in Istanbul?

It’s not legally a must to wear a headscarf in Istanbul. Therefore, it’s up to your free will to wear it or not just like local Istanbul people unless you visit a religious place like a mosque. Other than that, everybody is free to wear whatever they want in Turkey. 

To sum up, Istanbul people are often associated with Turkish culture and often show the characteristics of Turkish culture. Istanbul is a big, modern city with its mixed population and the drinks, foods, clothing style and daily life. If you get any chance, don’t miss it to experience this culture in Istanbul. 

Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I love Istanbul. I have been to 10 different countries. Istanbul is in the top 3 cities. I like to play soccer too :)

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