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 while you are.
You might think there should be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer here, but nothing about traveling to Turkey 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.
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 busiest 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 attacks occurred in 2016, and in 2017, a mass shooting happened at a busy nightclub.
Of course, from reading that, you are undoubtedly deciding that Istanbul is dangerous, but you have to put this into context. During these mentioned years, many cities worldwide were dealing with terrorism due to the rise of ISIS and its deadly campaign of terror. Unfortunately, Turkey suffered very badly during this time too.
Since 2017, Turkey’s safety record has increased a large 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, that 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 badly in the past at the hands of terrorists, but visitors should not be overly concerned about visiting as long as they learn a little about the city before they arrive.
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 safe 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. Obviously, 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, touristic areas. In that case, the worse 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), it doesn’t pay to walk around with short skirts or low-cut tops. 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 wonderful city for families with kids. The city has so 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 a safe and 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
Is There Much 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 pickpocketing crimes, 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.
Istanbul’s Safe & 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 places 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 really 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:
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 give you 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 shops, 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.
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 Turkey, 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 a high number of people in a small space. Keep your bag very close to you, and if you’re going to 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 huge amount, and a lot 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 keep your drink with you at all times. 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.