Is Istanbul safe? Staying safe as a tourist in Turkey’s largest city

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Matthew Hillier

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Istanbul is a city that has been attracting tourists from all over the world for centuries.

Over the years there have been many movies made and stories written that have portrayed Istanbul as a dangerous city or at least one which has some element of risk.

Not only that, the city has experienced real unrest and attacks in the past.

So we can't blame you for asking if Istanbul is safe to visit?

Key takeaways

Istanbul is a relatively safe city for tourists. This is reflected in the numbers with over 6 million foreign tourists visiting the city in the first half of 2023.

Like any big city in the world, Istanbul has its fair share of crime and safety concerns. However, the Turkish government has taken steps to improve security measures, especially in tourist areas. Police presence and security is felt in places where people gather such such as main historical sites, train and metro stations and shopping malls.

Is Istanbul safe for tourists?

Istanbul is generally a safe city for tourists and locals alike. However, as with any major city, you should always be careful traveling around and be aware of your surroundings.

Pick-pocketing and theft can occur in crowded areas, such as tourist attractions and public transportation. It is recommended to keep your valuables secure and out of sight, and to avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

Traffic in Istanbul can be chaotic and dangerous, with many drivers ignoring traffic laws. As a pedestrian always be cautious. Even if there is a crosswalk do not assume cars will stop for you.

There is a low risk of terrorism in Istanbul, but visitors should remain aware and follow the advice of local authorities. You should avoid large gatherings and demonstrations.

Personal note

From personal experience Istanbul has always felt like a safe place for us to live as a family. We have not had any situation out of the ordinary where we were overly concerned.

Saying that, we know no one is immune from danger. We always remain aware of our surroundings, especially in areas where there are crowds.

Is public transportation safe?

Public transportation in Istanbul

Istanbul has a well-developed public transportation system that includes buses, trams, metros, and ferries. The public transportation system is generally safe and reliable, with regular schedules and affordable fares. However, it can be crowded during peak hours, and pick-pocketing is a common issue.

Taxi services in Istanbul

Taxis are readily available in Istanbul, but before using one you should make sure that the taxi is licensed and has a working meter. Some unlicensed taxis may overcharge tourists, so it is always best to use licensed taxis. You should be cautious when using taxi services at night and avoid getting into taxis that already have passengers.

One easy way to get a Taxi in Istanbul is to use the Uber app.

Helpful tip

We will always wear a seatbelt if the taxi has them. Sometimes you don't have a choice as they are not there.

Taxi drivers in Istanbul are known for their crazy and often fast driving. We trust they are experienced at what they do!

If you don't like the sound of that, public transportation such as the metro can be a more relaxing option.

An alternative to public transportation for those more confident drivers is renting a car. Just be aware the traffic can be crazy and finding a parking space can be a challenge in Istanbul.

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Pedestrian safety in Istanbul

Pedestrian safety is a concern in Istanbul, especially in busy areas such as Taksim Square and Istiklal Street. Drivers in Istanbul may not always follow traffic rules, so you should exercise be extra carful when crossing the street.

Helpful tip

Walk cautiously. Some sidewalks in the older city areas can be quite narrow - if they are event there at all!

Be aware of traffic on the road while navigating streets, as you tend to walk on the road and off again. It can make pushing a stroller (pram) a difficult task!

Health and hygiene

Istanbul has generally a good standard of health and hygiene. The city has many hospitals and clinics that provide high-quality medical care. People from all over the world come to Istanbul to receive treatment at their specialty clinics.

Water quality is generally good in Istanbul, but it is still recommended that visitors drink bottled water. It's extremely cheap to buy.

Be cautious when eating street food, especially if it looks like it's been sitting out for a while. You should be aware of the potential for food poisoning and if you want to go the extra mile check the reviews on Google or TripAdvisor and eat only at highly rated restaurants.

Istanbul has a number of public restrooms, but not all of them are well-maintained. Carrying some hand sanitiser with you is a good idea.

In terms of personal hygiene, you should be aware that the city can be quite dusty and polluted. If you have respiratory issues bring appropriate medication and take precautions to avoid exposure to pollution.

One thing to be aware of is that locals will always take off their shoes before entering a home. It's common at some tourist sites to see them hand out disposable shoe covers to prevent dirt getting inside.

Political stability and safety

Istanbul has experienced some political unrest over its history, which has led to concerns about the safety of tourists and locals.

Turkey has had a stable government for many years. However, there have been political issues that have led to protests and disagreements. It is reassuring knowing that at the recent election, the time when you'd most likely expect unrest, there was very little disruption. The election process seemed to go smoothly.

As we mentioned earlier there is a strong police presence in the city to protect tourists and locals. At times throughout the year there are certain days where cause for protest is more likely but it is reassuring that on those days more police are placed on duty in key locations around the city.

Is Istanbul safe for solo female travelers?

When it comes to safety for women travelers in Istanbul, you do need to be cautious, as with any other major city. Istanbul is generally a safe city for women to travel in, but there are a few things that women can do to ensure their safety while exploring the city.

It is a good idea to avoid walking alone at night, especially in quieter areas of the city.

Women should dress modestly when visiting more conservative areas of the city, and especially at religious sites. This means avoiding revealing clothing and covering shoulders and knees.

Women should be aware of their surroundings and keep an eye on their belongings, especially in crowded areas such as, popular tourist sites, markets and public transportation.

For women traveling alone, it may be a good idea to stay in a hotel or hostel that has good security measures in place. Many hotels in Istanbul have 24-hour security and require guests to show identification before entering the building.

Safety tips for tourists

In summary it is important to be aware of the potential safety risks and take necessary precautions. Here are some safety tips:

  • Be mindful of your surroundings: Tourists should always be aware of their surroundings and avoid walking alone in unfamiliar areas, especially at night. It is also important to be cautious of pickpockets and scams targeting tourists.
  • Respect local customs and laws: Istanbul is a conservative city, and tourists should dress modestly and respect local customs and laws.
  • Use licensed taxis: Tourists should use licensed taxis and avoid unmarked or unofficial taxis.
  • Avoid political demonstrations: Istanbul has seen political demonstrations in the past, and tourists should avoid these events.
  • Be prepared for emergencies: Tourists should always carry a copy of their passport and keep it in a safe place. It is also recommended to have a local emergency contact and a plan in case of an emergency.

Istanbul is a relatively safe city. While there have been incidents of terrorism and political unrest in the past, the Turkish government has taken steps to improve security measures.

Like any big city, Istanbul has its share of petty crime such as pick-pocketing and theft. Crowded areas are more susceptible to that type of crime, so you should always take common sense precautions such as keeping valuables out of sight and avoiding unlit or isolated areas at night.

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