Istanbul’s Stray Cats in Photos: Street Cats Of Instanbul, Turkey

A woman drinking tea on her door stoop drops a hot dog to the ground.

A young man at a baked potato stand collects small scraps in a plastic bowl.

A gentleman in a tan jacket leaves handfuls of cat food along the eastern wall of Hagia Sophia.

And me? I pick the slices of deli meat out of my sandwich and drop them at my feet.

That is how Istanbul’s cats are fed.

Istanbul's Stray Cats in Photos: Street Cats Of Instanbul, Turkey

The first thing I noticed as a first time visitor to Istanbul were all the domes and minarets; the second were the cats. Lots and lots of cats!

Most cities would regard an excess of strays as a bit of a nuisance, but in Istanbul it’s a completely different story. The stray cats are treated as the city’s pets, and they are collectively fed and taken care of. The cats come and go as they please, but wherever they may find themselves – strolling the walls of the Blue Mosque or sauntering down the streets of Cihangir – you can be sure that someone will be leaving food out for them.

A little research revealed that the reason why Istanbul’s cats are well looked after may have its roots in Islam. While reading up on the issue, I came across two legends in Islam: one of a cat who saved the prophet Muhammad from a poisonous snake, and another instance of how when the prophet Muhammad found a cat sleeping on his tunic, he simply cut a piece off the fabric so as to not disturb the sleeping cat. This along with the popular saying, “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God,” may be the reason why Istanbul’s felines are so revered.

But now let’s meet some of Istanbul’s cats through photos:

Cute multi colour cat we encountered on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey

The sophisticated feline who hangs out in front of the posh cafes of Istiklal Avenue.

A cute black and white cat in a flower pot that we noticed in Istanbul, Turkey

The cat who likes to spend his mornings relaxing in a flower pot.

A shy Turkish cat looking at us through the gates of a house in Istanbul, Turkey

The shy tabby peering through the gates of Hagia Sophia.

Cat and beautiful architecture in Istanbul, Turkey

The regal one who calls Hagia Sophia his personal residence.

Stray cat eating some cat food in Istanbul, Turkey

The white kitty with little vampire teeth.

Stay cat eating cat food in Istanbul, Turkey by a gate

The one who glares when you get too close to his food.

A cute white kitten in Istanbul, Turkey

The startled white kitten who isn’t sure whether to trust the camera wielding stranger.

A black and white kitten standing on the street of Istanbul, Turkey

The sweet cat who rubs against people’s legs outside Istanbul Archeaological Museum.

Two cats sleeping together in Istanbul, Turkey

The sunbathing twins enjoying a quick nap in the morning sunshine.

Hagia Sofia and a sleepy cat in Istanbul, Turkey

The welcoming committee at the Blue Mosque.

Stray white cat looking a bit confused in Istanbul, Turkey

The cat who followed us down the streets of Beyoğlu.

A stray cat in Istanbul that looks like it just got into a fight in Turkey

A plump tabby living in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia.

A very cute black and white cat looking up at us in Istanbul, Turkey

A black kitten with a natural white bib and white paws.

A cute grey cat eating kibbles in Istanbul, Turkey

The cat who is too busy eating to pose for the camera.

A sleepy cat in Istanbul, Turkey dozing off in the afternoon

The sleepy tabby taking a morning nap outside the Archaeological Museum.

A black cat with yellow eyes in Istanbul, Turkey

The Halloween cat with the questioning look in his honey eyes.

A multi color cat sleeping on a mat in Istanbul, Turkey

 The fur ball who naps in front of high end boutiques.

An orange and white cat eating cat food in Istanbul, Turkey beside a blue door

A white and marmalade kitty enjoying some cat food.

A white cat sleeping on the curb in Istanbul, Turkey

The sleepy kitty enjoying a nap along the walls of Hagia Sophia.

An huge orange cat sleeping on top of a shirt in Istanbul, Turkey
A huge orange cat sleeping on top of a shirt in Istanbul, Turkey

And lastly, the cat who stole Sam’s shirt and decided it made a really nice blanket and chew toy.

I seriously could have taken hundreds of photos of cats because they are everywhere, but hopefully you get the idea of what you can expect to find in Istanbul. While I have met lots of cats around the world, it was refreshing to see a city that really cares for its strays.

Have you ever come across a city that loves its cats?

Join the Conversation

54 Comments

    1. says: Audrey

      They are hard to miss, the cats are everywhere! I did also notice quite a few dogs wandering around the streets, but that was to a lesser degree.

  1. says: Kerry

    I am such a sucker for cat photos when travelling! And you’ve just reminded me of what a cool city Istanbul is – I think I will need a return visit sometime soon.

    Shanghai is also very good with its cats, they can be found all over the place and particularly at the various parks in the city centre. I can’t even count how many cat photos I took during my time there.

    Travelling cat ladies unite!

  2. says: Stephen

    Haha whata great idea for a post. I always noticed how many cats there were in Istanbul, but it would have never have crossed my mind to do a photo essay about them.

  3. says: Mani

    I love this post! I love the photos and the variety of cats, they really look great and healthy! I’m a cat lover, so I’m glad to know they are cared for in Istanbul 🙂

    1. says: Audrey

      Most of the cats are really well taken care of. Aside from being fed by locals, I even noticed that some shops had placed little pillows for the cats to sleep on.

  4. says: acrosstheneversky

    I absolutely love this post! The cats were an unexpected but quickly most favorite part of Istanbul (and Turkey) for me! I have great cat photos like this from Ephesus, too.

    1. says: Audrey

      I guess cats are a trend across all of Turkey. 😉 I didn’t make it to Ephesus this time around sadly. How did you enjoy it there?

  5. I just spent some time in Istanbul and was also struck by the number of cats in the city and how healthy they all look. I asked abut it and was told that “Turkish people are compassionate people. They don’t want the cats to be sent to a pound and destroyed, so everyone cares for them collectively.” A city/country that cares so much about its animals is a special place.

    1. says: Sali Haci

      I’m Turkish and I have a lot of relatives that used to have or still have a lot of animals back in the days- cows, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, ducks, a donkey, rabbits- I grew around animals,fruit trees, strewberries, tomatoes and other plants. As a lot of Turks I come from a family that at some point of their history were working in the agriculture, had a farm and used their own production to feed the whole big family. I will always remember how my relatives were always feeling sad and prayed for the soul of the animal that was about to get cut. I will always remember how much they loved all their animals and how they looked after them as their own kids. Love for animals is in Turkish people’s culture as most of us believe every living creature has a soul and should be respected as God’s creation… Of course there is also people who hate animals but you know that every nation has it’s own share of stupid, bad, ignorant people.

  6. says: Amanda @ Living in Another Language

    I love the kitten photo! also the one sleeping on his side. 🙂 How cute. I’m majorly allergic to cats though, which is pretty sad, they’re so lovable!

  7. says: Rebecca

    great article! I love the photos, you got some really good ones! I would have never guessed that for religious reasons the cats are not best, thanks for doing the research, you have allowed me to tick off my “learn interesting fact” for the day 😛

  8. says: Rashad Pharaon

    What an amazing idea – a cat collective! It seems to foreign in the West, the idea of something or someone belonging to the community as opposed to an individual. I absolutely love it!

  9. says: Vanessa

    Pretty sure I have a cat problem… Thanks for helping feed the addiction! ;D The first “sophisticated feline” is my favorite!

  10. says: Natalie

    Not sure whether it is my imagination but there seems to be an increase in cats everywhere I go in Turkey. It is the local street dogs that are the problem though

  11. Screw the food and the history, I now have my real reason to visit Istanbul – teh kittehs! 🙂

    Oh, and to answer your question, the village of Air Batang in the Tioman Islands in Malaysia does an outstanding job of caring for their stray cats … so adorable!

  12. says: Turtle

    Oh my gosh – they’re so cute! And they all look quite well-fed. Although I have a feeling the cat with the vampire teeth is drinking people’s blood to look like that…

  13. says: Beth

    Brb– heading to the cat cafe here because now I need to get my own fix.

    But really, these are some super cute kitty pictures!

  14. says: Flora | Flora the Explorer

    Argh these guys are ridiculously cute! I’d forgotten how adorable the Turkish cats were – thanks for reminding me 🙂 Now getting on the hunt for cuter South American specimens…

  15. I love the idea of a city where everybody looks after strays! In Bali there were cats everywhere and I noticed that most of us tourists looked after them (people would buy cat food and leave it in little metal trays outside of their bungalows etc) but the locals were largely indifferent to them. I think if there hadn’t been so many tourists around then many of these cats wouldn’t have survived. So to hear of a city where the locals love the cats as much as the tourists is really refreshing.

    Also on the Muslim-cat connection – I’m not sure if this has any relevance but when you were in Thailand did you go to Koh Panyee, the floating village in Phang Nga Bay? It is a Muslim village and because of that no dogs are allowed in the village at all. Therefore everybody has cats as pets instead.

  16. Amazing images and story! There is something so beautiful about the relationship between the city and its’ cats! The explanation is wonderful and I loved the inclusion of the story about Muhammad and the sleeping! The tale of the tunic will stay with me!

  17. says: Morgan

    I feel like I just made a lifelong friend. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who saves left overs for friendly felines. There isn’t a stray I haven’t tried to pet or whisk away for a life of 8-hr naps and overflowing food bowl. Good for you!!!

  18. says: Henry

    Just came across your blog planning for a trip to Thailand. Been looking through and enjoying your posts and pictures!

    Wanted to know what camera you use.

  19. says: John Haynes

    Cats are lovable creatures for me! I used to have 2 cats in my house when I was young. They are sweet and appreciative to anything that we can give. I’m just curious, if there’s a lot of cats in Istanbul, how do people deal with cats’ poops along their ways? I know that cat’s poops smells really bad so no one would want to accidentally step on it.

  20. Thanks for sharing these, Audrey. Beautiful photos and a great story. My wife and I are in Istanbul now (sorry to have missed you, we’d love to have met up). Cats are, indeed, all over the place; I can’t decide if there are more of them here or in Rome. Travelers like to photograph them. It’s fascinating and reassuring to see how people collectively care for them even as we keep hearing about various scams taking place at the same time.

    Dogs complement the straylife picture here. On our second night we walked down Istiklal avenue and saw at Galatasaray a throng of people watching a buskers’ performance and an even bigger throng watching a huge lab standing off against a cat hissing on a ledge. Just this morning at 5 (don’t ask) we walked across Taksim Square where we rushed to lose a lone hound who was walking around barking at every person, pigeon, cat, and car in sight. Other than that, the dogs have been fine, though perhaps not as photogenic as your cats…

  21. says: Ellen

    I shared my food with cats in the Cihangir neighborhood, where many of them were hungry. I felt so sad when the younger ones didn’t get their share. Even dry bread was gobbled down. What happens to these beautiful animals in the winter time when the weather turns cold? Where do they go to keep warm or to sleep? My 2 feral cats don’t know how good they have it.

  22. says: paper boat sailor

    Beautiful article. As a self-professed cat lady living in the Middle East, cats were one of the first things I noticed around here too. And when I went on to read about the phenomenon, I found similar connections to Islam–what an ineresting backdrop. TO go even further back, apparently the stories in the Quran were influenced by old Egyptian mythology and its feline goddesses. Hence the cat admiration all across the Middle East and North Africa. Isn’t it fascinating how so many of our common practices have such old and incredible beginnings?
    And with that I say ciao miaow.

  23. says: Franca

    These kittens photos are amazing, I really need to go to Istanbul and Turkey in general, I think the only problem with that it’s be having troubles leaving without taking as many cats as possible with me 🙂

  24. says: Carol

    Loved seeing these cats throughout Turkey. Lots of cats in Buenos Aires and in Chile as well. Recently spent time in Peru, where dogs seem to rule. They all meet in the morning, hang out together during the day, and return to guard the home for the evening, according to our guide! Cats stay indoors.

  25. says: Svelka

    I was just in Istanbul and saw all the dogs and cats. When I came back I googled this, because I wanted to know what the story is for all the well-fed animals that don’t seem to belong to anybody. Your post was the first that I came upon. Loved it! Wish all religions and cultures could have that much respect for animals. Unfortunately where I am from it is the absolute opposite. I mentioned your post in my blog, hope you don’t mind.

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