One of the most commonly asked questions people ask me as a Turkey local would have to be, “Is it safe to travel to Istanbul?”
In this post, I will show you how safe Istanbul is and how to keep safe on the streets of Istanbul while you are in this iconic Turkish city.
You might think there should be a simple yes or no answer here, but nothing about traveling to Türkiye is ever that simple. The truth is that Istanbul, as with any large city, has its dodgy spots. Every city in the world requires you to be careful about personal safety, and Istanbul is no different.
However, asking this question in 2023 is understandable because you’ve undoubtedly heard a few stories.
Let’s lay those doubts to rest.
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Past Terrorist Attacks In Istanbul
The main reason why people ask about safety in Istanbul is that the city has, in the past, been the victim of several terrorist attacks. The most recent was in November 2022, when an explosion occurred on a busy Sunday afternoon on Istiklal Street, Taksim. This is one of the most active parts of the city.
Before that, the city suffered in 2015 when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb close to Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia in Sultanahmet. Again, this is a bustling and touristic part of Istanbul. Further suicide bombings occurred in 2016, and in 2017, a mass shooting happened at a busy nightclub.
Of course, from reading that, you undoubtedly decide that Istanbul is dangerous, but you have to put this into context. During these years, many cities worldwide were dealing with terrorism due to the rise of ISIS and its deadly campaign of terror. Unfortunately, Türkiye suffered very badly during this time too.
Since 2017, Turkey’s safety record has increased a significant amount. The last attack in November 2022 came to us locals as a huge surprise simply because we assumed that after a period of calm, such tragedies were a thing of the past. Unfortunately, terrorism is a global problem, and it’s not only Istanbul that has had to deal with it.
The point here is that, yes, Istanbul has suffered very severely in the past at the hands of terrorist groups. Still, visitors should not be overly concerned about visiting as long as they learn a little about the city before they arrive.
If there is a terrorist threat while you are in Istanbul, always follow the local authorities’ directives and contact your embassy just as you would while you are in any foreign country.
As I write this, I am in Istanbul, and I do not feel unsafe in the slightest.
Evening & Solo Female Travel Safety In Istanbul
Rather than worrying about personal safety in Istanbul, you’d probably be better off worrying about being ripped off more than anything else. There are several well-documented scams that many tourists fall foul of. To help you out, we’ll talk about those in a moment.
For now, let’s talk about whether Istanbul is a safe place during the evening hours and for solo female travel.
Istanbul is a large and bustling city, so there are some dangers during the evening hours. This is the same for every large and busy city worldwide. Walking alone at night is not advisable, and you’d be better off taking a taxi wherever you want. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t flash your valuables during the day or not.
Is Istanbul Safe For Women?
As for solo female travelers, you will see many females traveling on their own, and for the most part, they experience a very pleasant and enjoyable time. The key here is to stay within busy tourist areas. In that case, the worst you’ll ever experience is a rather over-eager waiter who wants to talk to you. A simple “no, thank you” will suffice.
Obviously, make sure that you dress sensibly. While you can wear whatever you want in Istanbul (unless you’re visiting a religious site), walking around with short skirts or low-cut tops doesn’t pay. Aside from anything else, it’s cold in the winter! Cover up a little, and you won’t attract unwanted attention.
Is Istanbul Safe With Kids?
Istanbul is a beautiful city for families with kids. The city has much to offer regarding history, culture, and fun activities for the whole family. However, as with any large city, there are also some safety concerns that parents should be aware of.
Here are a few tips to help keep your family safe while enjoying all that Istanbul has to offer:
- First and foremost, always be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your kids at all times, especially when they are near busy streets or crowded areas. If possible, stick to well-lit and populated areas when out and about after dark
- Secondly, be sure to educate your children about stranger danger. Teach them not to talk to strangers or accept gifts from them. If they do get lost, they should know to go to a police officer or security guard for help
- Lastly, it’s always a good idea to have a plan in case of an emergency. Know where the nearest hospitals and police stations are located, and make sure everyone in the family knows how to reach you if they get separated. By following these simple safety tips, you can rest assured that your family will have no safety issues and will have an enjoyable trip to Istanbul
- Public breastfeeding is not permitted in Istanbul, especially in conservative neighborhoods. If you need to breastfeed, you must do so discreetly
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Is There Much Violent Crime In Istanbul
With a population of 16 million – or 2o plus million, if you ask the locals, there is undoubtedly some crime in Istanbul.
Crime Against Tourists
The highest form of crime against tourists in Istanbul (and Turkey) is petty crime, such as pickpocketing, particularly in tourist attractions like Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, The Grand Bazaar, and Spice Bazaar. Taking precautions beforehand can mitigate your risk of being pickpocketed in busy areas or tourist destinations.
If you want to be extra safe, wear a money belt under your shirt rather than putting your belongings in your pockets.
Some victims have reported their bags being snatched or slashed, so keeping your travel documents secured in a safe in your hotel room is better.
Other than that, crime rates are not anything to worry about in Istanbul.
Istanbul’s Safest Neighborhoods And Not-So-Safe Areas
Let’s repeat the same line here – Istanbul is like any other city, which means it has very safe areas and dangerous areas that you should probably avoid.
You’re generally very safe in any touristic area, so we’re talking about Sultanahmet, Fatih, Kadikoy, Besiktas, Ortakoy, etc. You still need to use your common sense and not walk alone at night, but overall, you’re very safe in areas like this.
The question arises when we talk about Taksim and Beyoglu. Now, Taksim isn’t unsafe per se, but it’s a very large and busy area with many winding back streets, and this is also where the city’s main nightlife is located. This part of the city literally doesn’t sleep. You’ll find trouble if you deliberately open yourself up to it.
Beyoglu is the area around Taksim, which also includes Istiklal Street. You only have to visit there during the daytime to understand that it may be a little dangerous during the evening hours if you don’t speak the language and don’t know where you’re going.
So, while you shouldn’t necessarily avoid these areas, use common sense and caution, especially during evening hours.
That being said, there are a few neighborhoods to avoid in Istanbul:
Is It Safe To Walk Around Istanbul At Night
Yes, the city of Istanbul is a very safe city. However, as with most major cities worldwide, it can be a little more troublesome during dark hours. Istanbul is precisely the same, but that also means you need to use your common sense as you would anywhere else.
There are certain parts of Istanbul where it’s just not a good idea to walk around after dark, but if you stick to the main areas, such as Sultanahmet, Besiktas, and Kadikoy, to give a few examples, you’ll be fine. Just don’t wander into quiet residential areas, as these will likely cause you a few more problems when it’s quiet and dark.
However, Taksim and Beyoglu are two places (strictly speaking, they run into one another, so it’s just one area) where you should be careful at night.
This is where most of the nightlife is located, so there could be fights, people getting drunk and causing problems, etc, which is the same in any active nightlife hotspot. It’s best to stick to the main roads and avoid alleyways in these areas.
Take a taxi back to your hotel if you need to walk any distance, and you should be more than fine.
Is It Safe To Use Public Transport While In Istanbul
I would totally recommend you make use of Istanbul’s fantastic public transport network and it’s very safe and easy to use. The only thing to be careful of is if you’re carrying a bag with you, especially if it’s a backpack.
Public transport, such as Metros and buses, can get extremely busy, to the point where you’re sharing personal space with people you’ve never met before. Trust me, it can get CROWDED. Of course, this is prime time for pickpockets and petty thieves.
Keep a hold of your bag in front of you, and make sure you don’t carry valuables around with you. You’ll notice that a lot of locals have their backpacks on their fronts, so follow their lead and do the same.
I wouldn’t use the Metro late in the evening, but that’s just my opinion. I would much prefer to get a taxi in that situation, especially if I was alone or just with another person. That’s only because Metro stations can be quiet during the late evening hours.
Istanbul’s Well-Known Scams
There are some well-known scams that most tourists fall foul of at least once during their first stay. After your first visit, you’ll know what to look for and be savvier!
The most common is when you choose to use a taxi. Now, this is less of a problem these days because there are more rules that taxi drivers have to adhere to, but it doesn’t completely rule out the chances of this happening.
The good news is that public transport is effortless and very cheap, so that you can avoid this to a certain degree. A taxi driver may decide to take you on the scenic route to your destination, which costs you a lot more because the fare is determined by the meter and, therefore, by kilometer. Efforts, that plus, not every taxi driver will try to do this to you – it’s just the minority that may.
Shine Those Shoes
You’ll usually see someone drop a brush before you and walk away as though they’ve accidentally dropped it. This is usually a little older man. You’ll probably pick it up and call him back, thinking you’re doing a good deed. What you’ve done is fall for a scam.
The person will then offer to thank you for picking up their brush by giving your shoes a shine. They will refuse to take no for an answer, but you don’t know that they’re not doing this for free, and you’ll end up paying for their services.
“It’s Turkish Hospitality”
Now, I can vouch for the fact that most Turks are very hospitable and will treat you with great respect. But, in Istanbul, you’ll find this scam that takes that to another level and misuses it.
You’ll meet someone, and they will want to speak to you, usually because they want you to help them with their English. They’ll tell you that chatting like this is all part of Turkish hospitality.
You’ll have a friendly little chat, and everything will be great. But you don’t realize that you’re paying for the drinks they’re consuming. And often, the bar or restaurant is in on it, and you’re not getting away with not paying, no matter how much you complain.
It’s really best to say that you’re busy and walk away.
Always check your change when you pay in cash, and try not to give large notes if possible. One common scam is that they will provide you with the change for a smaller note and then refuse your explanation that you gave them a larger note.
Pay with the right money if you can, or use your debit/credit card, which is widely available.
Lira Or Euro
In shopping malls, prices are set in Turkish lira, but some scrupulous traders will take your credit cards and process the sale in euros. Needless to say, the difference is drastic. You can avoid the charade by always paying in cash, which Turkish people like anyway.
Another way tourists are swindled is through the restaurant scam. Let’s say you go to a restaurant, review the menu, and order food. Your waiter comes over with a dish you haven’t ordered but insists you try. You might think it’s free, but it’s not. If you read reviews online and ask what’s included in the dish before ordering, you can avoid being scammed by restaurants.
Storms & Earthquakes In Turkey
Natural disasters are impossible to prevent, but keeping up with storm and snow weather forecasts and the news may help you stay safe.
In Istanbul and throughout Türkiye, earthquakes and tremors are common. Although they cannot be avoided, you can mitigate your own risk by following safety protocols during an earthquake.
If you’re caught in an Earthquake, flood, or snowstorm in Turkey, listen to the local authorities and follow their safety instructions.
Istanbul Safety Tips To Know
Using your common sense will ensure your safety in Istanbul. To help you out, here are a few pointers.
Learn A Few Words Of The Local Language
You’re far less likely to be scammed if you speak Turkish, even just a little. Plus, it’s nice to talk to locals in their mother language.
This is especially the case on public transport when there are usually many people in a small space. Keep your bag very close to you, and if you use a backpack, have it on your front instead.
Don’t Show Off Your Valuables
It goes without saying, surely? Just leave them at home or in the hotel safe.
Get A Local SIM Card
Turkcell and Vodafone offer tourist sim cards with packets that give you internet, call, and text allowances. This will help you to get around more efficiently, and you’ll always have the ability to call someone if you need to
Don’t Go For The Cheapest Accommodation
If you search for accommodation in Istanbul, you’ll undoubtedly find a considerable amount, which is very reasonable. However, the cheapest options are usually not in the greatest of spots. Do your research and make sure you’re staying in a safe area.
Use The Istanbul Kart
This is a pre-paid card you can use on public transport. You buy the card from a Metro station or the airport, or alternatively, a small kiosk on the street with the sign. Then top up your card and use it on buses, trams, Metro, and ferries.
Watch Your Drinks
It’s always best to drink bottled beer and always keep your drink with you. Remember, drink measures vary from country to country, and you don’t want to find yourself drunk and unable to find your way back to your hotel.
As you can see, Turkey is a safe country, and you will have a safe trip to one of my favorite cities in Türkiye.