Is Istanbul safe for tourists? Many travelers have this question before setting out to explore a big metropolitan city. Istanbul, a hub of diverse cultures nestled between Europe and Asia, is renowned for its ancient history, delicious foods, and much more.
But just because it’s so beautiful doesn’t mean that you can not care about safeguarding your personal safety. Thankfully, I’ve rarely felt unsafe in Istanbul and I’ve been there a lot over many years. But I owe a lot of that to following basic safety measures. Here’s a comprehensive guide to staying safe in the big city of Istanbul:
Safety Concerns in Istanbul
Avoid Bad Neighborhoods
Some neighborhoods are rougher than others, so it’s important to stay aware of where you are. You won’t want to go anywhere near Tarlabaşı, Dolapdere, Gaziosmanpaşa, Laleli, Aksaray, Esenyurt, and Sultanbeyli – basically, just stick to the touristy, more suburban areas and you’ll be a lot safer.
If you’re a woman (especially traveling solo), this is even more important for you! These neighborhoods are more religiously conservative, so it’s important for a woman’s safety that you’re covered up as much as possible. If you don’t want to do that, just stay where other tourists are.
Safe Areas (And Where You Should Stay)
Some neighborhoods in Istanbul offer a lot of (safe) fun for tourists, so you’re going to want to take a note of these. Neighborhoods like Nisantasi, Beyoglu, Zincirlikuyu, Arnavutkoy, Bebek, and Karakoy are great on the European side. On the Asian side, neighborhoods like Kadikoy, Maltepe, Caddebostan, and Fenerbahce are great.
If you’re choosing between the European side or the Asian side, I’d recommend staying on the European side but doing day trips with taxis to the Asian side. That way, you’ll be much closer to the airport and get to experience both sides of Istanbul.
Warnings & Dangers in Istanbul
Transport & Taxis Risk
In general, public transportation and taxis are safe for tourists and foreigners. According to locals, taxies on the European side have started to be ruder to tourists over the past few years. I’m not sure why, but that’s just the way it is. You’ll still be able to take a taxi places, but do a little research beforehand on how much taxi fares should cost. Also, illegal taxis do go around pretending to be legitimate – real ones always have a TAKSI/TAXI sign on top of their yellow car and the name of the taxi company with its phone number on the side of the car.
For your safety, always sit in the back seat of a taxi or Uber and if solo, sit right behind the driver. This prevents the driver from easily reaching back around and touching you. If riding in an Uber, please always double check that the license plate is correct – no matter how convincing the driver is, never get into a car without verifying it first!
When it comes to flying, Turkish Airlines is extremely safe. You can definitely feel at ease when flying domestically or internationally with Turkish Airlines – the incident rate in the airlines’ 89-year history is basically 0.
Pickpockets, Scams, & Muggings Risk
It’s safe to say you can expect that there are pickpockets and muggers walking around the highly touristic areas of Istanbul. Did you know 16 million people visited Istanbul in 2022? With that many people flying in from literally every part of the world, you’re bound to attract thieves who target wealthy tourists.
One common scam or way of pressuring money from tourists is a group of 3 or 4 people will play some instruments and then a guy will walk up to people in the crowd and shove his trumpet in your face until you put cash into a hat. That happened one time when my family and I were walking down Istiklal Street several years ago. Nothing happened the most recent time I was on Istiklal Street.
To improve your safety against them, I’d recommend grabbing this anti-theft protected bag from Amazon here. I personally LOVE this brand for feeling safe while traveling!
Natural Disasters Risk
As you probably already know, southern Turkey experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6, 2023. That’s because, just like California and Japan, Turkey is on fault lines. Fault lines are where two of Earth’s tectonic plates meet.
As you can see, Istanbul is very close to a fault line on the North Anatolian fault. And it’s not good news. According to Professor Celal Sengor of Istanbul Technical University, “If a major earthquake doesn’t happen in the next 20 years in Istanbul, then we would all be very surprised. That’s how close it is. It’s only a probability, but the probability is high.”
The odds of anything happening while you’re visiting the country for a week are super low – let’s be real. Aside from earthquakes, other natural disasters that happen outside of the main city are forest fires, floods, and landslides. That’s why there’s not much risk to you from natural disasters.
Unfortunately, Istanbul has seen its fair share of terrorism. There have been 29 incidents since 1896, resulting in over 200 casualties. The most recent one was a bombing on November 2022 on Istiklal Street.
I’ve personally never witnessed a terrorist attack. Again, the likelihood of anything happening while you’re visiting the country for a week are super low. If you’re really worried about it, I’d recommend staying away from super touristic spots like Eminonu, Istiklal Street, and The Grand Bazaar as much as possible.
Female Solo Travelers Risk
If you’re a solo woman traveling to Istanbul, you should take extra precautions. Unfortunately, about 4 in 10 women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a romantic partner.That extends to the streets, meaning you should definitely dress more conservatively and try not attract attention to yourself. Always carry something that could turn into a weapon – just for extra protection and security.
What Istanbul is Like Today
Today, Istanbul is FULL of beauty, culture, and delicious food! When the weather”s sunny with blue skies it’s fun to walk the streets of the city and pop in and out of different shops and cafes. It’s also a ton of fun to visit the big, super modern shopping centers. You can grab a Shake Shack burger and then go see the latest James Bond movie. Or sit down for an Iskender Doner Kebab and then sip on Turkish tea for the night.
Istanbul is a blend of the old and the new in many ways. Young people continue to drive change forward. New skyscrapers go up next to centuries-old mosques. New fusion flavors pop up left and right. Istanbul is constantly changing! The options are endless.
Istanbul is a huge, metropolitan city
That’s right, Istanbul is a humongous (try 16 million people), metropolitan city smack dab in the middle between Europe and Asia. Before Istanbul, there was Constantinople. And Constantinople was founded way back in 330 AD. That means there’s been over 1692 years for people to build out the city we now know today as Istanbul.
Just like New York City, Berlin, and Paris, Istanbul also has its fair share of negative city elements. It’s important to remember that it’s a huge city in a foreign country. It attracts all kinds of different people, some good and some bad, just like any other major city.
Terrorism is a threat in many major cities in Europe (and the U.S.)
Terrorism is also a threat in many major cities in the Western world – it’s not just Turkey and the Middle East. Unfortunately, there were 15 terrorist attacks in the E.U. in 2021 and 77 terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. that same year. It’s our sad reality that terrorist attacks do happen every now and then around the world and are impossible to accurately predict. To avoid them as much as possible, avoid highly touristic destinations and big crowds.
Islamophobia is at an all-time high
In a Gallup survey, among Americans who reported no personal prejudice toward Muslims, one-third (36% to be exact) said they had an unfavorable opinion about Islam. In the United Kingdom, a survey found that about 42% of surveyed mosques or Islamic bodies in the UK have come under attack in the last three years. Also, the UK Home Office statistics shows 6,377 religious hate crimes occurred between March 2020 and 2021 with almost 50% of them aimed at the Muslim community in Britain.
That’s just a sample of what’s going on in a couple of Western countries. Go all over the world and it’s the same thing unfortunately. There’s islamophobia in South Korea, Australia, India, Brazil, and even Canada.
Turkey is a Muslim country
Since 1453, Istanbul has been a Muslim city. And for thousands of years, Turkey has been a Muslim country. So understandably, the culture is deeply rooted in the religion. In general, that means 99% of food is pork-free, women are unfortunately treated more like second-class citizens, and religious holidays are taken seriously.
As a tourist, you should just be aware of the cultural differences so that you don’t do anything that could get you in trouble. Also, please be respectful of the culture as you explore around. If you’re disrespectful, don’t assume nothing would ever happen to you.
Tips For Solo Travelers in Istanbul
1. Enroll in your government’s safe traveling program
A lot of countries, including the U.S., have free safe traveling programs designed to keep their citizens safe while traveling abroad. Before traveling to Turkey (or anywhere for that matter), I’d recommend signing up to your country’s program and making sure all of the details (like your emergency contacts) are correct. For easy access, here are resources for a few countries:
United States citizens: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Canadian citizens: Registration of Canadians Abroad
United Kingdom citizens: Travel Aware
Australian citizens: Smartraveller
2. Never leave your stuff unattended
Sometimes people think their bags will be fine if they want to take a photo somewhere but don’t want to take their stuff. Please don’t do this! Especially if you’re in a touristic spot. Because you can bet that there are some pickpockets going around looking for easy targets. To not even put yourself into a situation where your stuff could be stolen, I’d recommend adopting the mentality of ‘better safe than sorry’.
3. Limit the number of valuable belongings on you
Passport. Money. IDs. Credit cards. These are all valuable belongings that you should either leave locked up in your luggage at the hotel or very safely packed away in your bag/purse. When traveling, I only carry some cash, a credit card, and my driver’s license on me at all times. I use an awesome anti-theft bag, so I always feel like my valuable belongings are safe and sound.
4. Keep your money safe
Keeping your money safe is definitely easier said than done. If you prefer to travel with a lot of cash on hand, then you should take extra care to keep it all safe. That means not carrying all of it on you all of the time and either locking what you’re not going to carry in your luggage at the hotel or using the hotel’s lock box. It’s up to you, but I’d recommend keeping it in your luggage (it’s less conspicuous than a locked lock box).
On the other side, if you’re just carrying credit or debit cards around, that means keeping your wallet and bag safe. I’d recommend just using this anti-theft bag from Amazon to make it easy and give you peace of mind. That brand tends to use RFID-blocking technology, which blocks scammers from walking around and electronically getting your credit/debit card details.
5. Keep a hard copy of your card numbers, phone numbers, & passport information
It’s easy to ignore making a hard copy of your most important details (I mean, who has the time?!), but I promise it’s so important to do! Just in case your bag got stolen, what would you do? Imagine your phone’s gone, wallet’s gone, passport’s gone. That’s why this is so essential.
Write everything down on a post-it note or small piece of paper and then tuck it away in a secure pocket while you’re out and about. You’ll feel a lot better knowing your most precious information is safely tucked away and that you’ll never worry about who to call or what to do if the worst case were to happen. Fingers crossed nothing happens to you, but better safe than sorry!
6. Keep a hard copy of your country’s consulate & the Istanbul tourist police’s address and contact information
In addition to writing down your personal and financial details, I’d also recommend having your country’s local consulate and the Istanbul tourist police’s address and phone numbers written down for easy access. This is just in case your passport gets stolen or a crime is committed against you. The consulate should be your first contact because they’ll know exactly what to do as a citizen of your country. Here are important details for a few countries:
Poligon Mahallesi, Sariyer Caddesi No: 75
İstinye 34460 Sariyer- Istanbul / Türkiye
(+90) 212 335 9000
Meşrutiyet Caddesi No 42
Tepebaşı Beyoglu 34435 Istanbul / Türkiye
(+90) 212 334 6400
Büyükdere Caddesi No: 209, Tekfen Tower, 4.
Levent 34394 Istanbul / Türkiye
(+90) 212 385 9700
Elmadag Askerocagi Caddesi No. 15,
Sisli 34367 Istanbul / Türkiye
(+90) 212 393 3300
The Istanbul Tourist Police:
(+90) 212 527 4503
There are 2 offices: one near Taksim Square and Beyoglu, and the other one is near Hagia Sophia mosque – both heavily touristic areas.
7. Always pay attention to your surroundings
Paying attention to your surroundings might seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. This is especially important if it’s nighttime and/or you’re alone. No need to run everywhere or anything, but it’s a good idea to look around and behind you every so often. Because Istanbul has many streets, alleys, and dark spots, I’d recommend staying where there’s light, other people, and cars.
As a woman, never walk around with earphones in and/or scrolling or using your phone. Bad people are known to look for people doing these things because they’re easier targets. Wear comfortable sneakers and, if you’re a solo female traveler, I’d recommend carrying a whistle just in case. Also, the word for help in Turkish is yardim – good to know!
8. Don’t join any political events, protests, or rallies
Even if your friends pressure you, try to avoid any political events, protests, rallies, demonstrations, or parades (like an LGBTQ+ parade). These can be magnets for terrorists, violence, and theft. But if you’re absolutely determined to go, I’d recommend taking as many safety precautions as possible like studying a map of the area beforehand, having your phone and valuable documents safely tucked away, and deciding beforehand what to do in case one of your friends feels unsafe and wants to leave immediately.
Tips For Female Travelers in Istanbul
1. Ignore sketchy men selling things on the street
Walking around Istanbul, you’ll see lots of shopkeepers and sellers at stalls/tables. Majority of the time, they’re harmless good people just trying to peacefully sell their goods. If you’re in a crowded area like Kadikoy or Ortakoy, the sellers there are all good and used to tourists. However, if you find yourself in a random area or on a random street with men trying to sell you stuff, then that’s a no-go just to be on the safe side. I’d recommend not engaging with these sellers, no matter how real that fake Prada bag looks!
2. Only go out at night in a group & don’t separate
There’s definitely safety in numbers, especially for female travelers. If you’re traveling solo, try to make friends at your hostel (if you’re staying in one) or use Meetup to join gatherings with locals and expats. I used Meetup in Dublin, Ireland a couple of years ago and found some really nice people through it. Also, be sure to stay with the group wherever it goes until you’re ready to split and head back to your accommodation. Even then, stick to well-lit paths and where other people are to either walk back or get a taxi. Just in case you might get separated, I’d recommend saving two people’s phone numbers (that is, two people who are a part of your group) in your phone so you can find the group again.
3. Don’t make yourself an easy target
Not to scare you, but an easy target looks like a drunk young woman walking alone at night who’s on her phone. Please please don’t make yourself easy to mug/attack. Stay off your phone as much as possible, look behind you every so often, don’t seem drunk or intoxicated, and make sure there are other people around you at all times. If you ever end up in a bad situation, try to find an open shop – shop owners would help you. Most importantly, DO NOT get into a car without checking first that it’s the correct Uber or checking that it’s a legitimate taxi (see the section ‘Transport & Taxis Risk’ above for how to tell if a taxi is legitimate or not).
4. Don’t look like a tourist or stand out
What’s a tourist look like? Stereotypically, they wear bright colors, khaki shorts/pants, and travel-ready backpacks. Whenever I visit touristic areas in Istanbul, the tourists are pretty easy to spot. To blend into the locals, I’d recommend wearing soft or neutral colors and not wearing anything more revealing than a t-shirt and mid-thigh length shorts. You’ll also blend in by walking straight ahead and not stopping to look at everything, like a local would. At touristic places, it’s perfectly fine to stop and look at everything. But in neighborhoods and suburban areas, you’ll stay safer by not standing out as a tourist.
5. Always dress appropriately
If you didn’t guess already, dressing appropriately in Istanbul is way more important for women than it is for men. For women, don’t wear anything more revealing than a t-shirt and mid-thigh length shorts. Even dressed liked that you’ll get stares from men on the street. So if you don’t want to attract male attention (you don’t), I’d recommend carrying a light sweater around just in case you have to cover up to go into a mosque or have to walk in a more religiously conservative area.
Men and young children can wear shorts and a t-shirt without any worries. Men can even wear a sleeveless t-shirt and be fine. For female children between the ages of 7 and 18, I’d recommend they stick to a minimum of thigh-length shorts and a t-shirt. Also, don’t let them go off and do their own thing! Always keep them in your sights.
6. Don’t smile at men on the street (even just to be friendly)
In Istanbul, most men are highly religiously conservative. Don’t forget, Istanbul hosts millions of people from strict religious backgrounds (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.) so it’s not just Turkish men you need to be aware of.
Especially as a solo female traveler, absolutely DO NOT smile or stare at men on the street (even if you just want to be friendly). Us Americans, I know we have a tendency to smile at strangers and be friendly towards strangers, but this is something you should be actively aware of when walking around Istanbul. Turkish women don’t go around randomly smiling at strange men, so a smile from a woman can be considered as flirting or an invitation. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where someone starts following you or tries to engage with you. Just in case that ever happens to you, seek safety in a nearby shop or restaurant, explain to them what’s going on, and stay there until you feel safe.
Tips For Family Travelers in Istanbul
1. Never lose sight of your child(ren)
Children! You love ’em but they love to run around. If your kid likes to randomly walk away from you, then you should take extra precautionary measures before traveling to Istanbul. Things like packing them only bright colors (so they’re easier to spot from far away), this inconspicuous GPS tracker from Amazon, and maybe even creating incentives for your child to be rewarded with if they don’t wander off (like an hour of phone use or ice cream).
2. Give your child(ren) a GPS tracking bracelet
The best way to easily find your kids (if they ever went missing) is giving them this highly-rated GPS tracking bracelet before traveling. You can literally learn their exact location with this. I mean, imagine the relief knowing you can just locate them on your phone. Even if it didn’t work for some reason, I know $8 USD would be worth the extra safeguard.
PRO TIP: To make sure you can always find your child, I’d recommend purchasing a portable Wi-Fi device called VINN at a local Turkcell store because there’s no publicly available Wi-Fi in Istanbul. Keep it on whenever you and your family are out and about. As of publishing, a VINN costs about $77 USD. If your phone data still works in a foreign country, then you can just use that!
3. Avoid large crowds as much as possible
Would definitely recommend avoiding huge crowds as much as possible. It’s super easy to lose track of a small kid in a large crowd. That’s why that GPS bracelet is really useful!
If you’re visiting highly touristic spots, be sure to take extra precautions (especially if your kid tends to randomly walk away from you). There are lots of fun things for families to do in Istanbul that don’t involve crowds! Things like visiting Galata Tower, taking a boat tour of the Bosphorus, trying different foods, visiting malls/shopping centers, going on day tours, etc.
4. Bring lots of sanitizing wipes – these come in handy!
Especially with COVID-19, E. coli, and tuberculosis increasing around the world, it’s more important than ever to travel with an arsenal of sanitizing wipes. I promise, they’re worth it 100x over. You can wipe down your flight’s seats, sanitize your kids’ hands before snack time, sanitize door handles – you can literally clean anything that has a surface. Here are the wipes I specially recommend: