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How Safe is Istanbul?

Updated: October 27, 2023

You must have heard that Istanbul is a wonderful city to travel to, but you are wondering how safe is Istanbul for tourists? 

While we understand your concern, the truth is that Istanbul is a beautiful, safe city to visit right now, for the most part.

And, in our post below, we will provide you with tips on safety in the city.


How Safe is Istanbul?

Istanbul, like any large city, has varying safety levels across its neighbourhoods. 

While it's generally safe for tourists in well-travelled areas like Sultanahmet and Taksim Square, petty crimes like pickpocketing can occur in crowded places. 

There have been occasional instances of terrorism and civil unrest in the past, but security measures have been heightened to mitigate such risks. 

The last terrorist attack happened in January 2017.


Traveling to Istanbul as a Solo Female Traveler


I travelled to Istanbul (and nearby Izmir) alone as a single woman in 2009. As an avid traveler at this point who often preferred to travel alone, I wasn't too concerned - though I did wait to tell my mom about the trip until I returned.

I was really put at ease at the number of people who were willing to help me. I was sure to be respectful of customs while there (carried a pashmina to cover my head when needed, packed flowing, long sleeves and pants, and learned a few words of Arabic before arriving) and I think that helped people want to show me the best of Istanbul. From directions and recommendations to the kind man who carried my suitcase up the stairs!

There was a funny (in hindsight) experience where the keeper of a spice stall saw me taking photos and asked if I wanted to be in one (of course!) so he motioned for me to hand my camera (this was before cell phone cameras!) to an assistant and invited me into the stall.
When I turned around, the assistant and my very nice DSLR camera was gone! He returned in just a few seconds, everyone laughing at my face. The shopkeeper reminded me not to be so trusting but assured me that most locals just want to tourists to enjoy their visit!

Canden Arciniega ( Tour Guide with Free Tours by Foot in Washington DC)

Canden with the Spice Stall Shopkeeper after his assistant "stole her camera"

Due to its location in seismically active region, there is also a possibility of natural disasters in the form of earthquakes.

The city has a visible police presence in tourist hubs, contributing to a sense of safety. 

Istanbul is also considered okay for solo female travelers and persons traveling alone, but everyone needs to be careful because some people might try to trick you, cheat you, or steal from you.


Which Areas of Istanbul Are Safe?

Istanbul, like any major city, has neighbourhoods that are generally considered safe for residents and visitors alike. 

These areas tend to have a lower crime rate and are popular among both locals and tourists due to their vibrant atmosphere, cultural attractions, and security measures. 

When deciding what neighbourhoods to visit during your trip, we recommend starting with these.


Sultanahmet

Located on the European side of the Istanbul, Sultanahmet is the heart of Istanbul's historical district, home to iconic landmarks and tourist attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Spice Bazaar and the Basilica Cistern.

It's a well-patrolled area and generally considered safe for tourists.

View from the hostel I stayed at in 2009 in Sultanahmet. I arrived in Istanbul at late at night due to flight delay and felt comfortable taking a taxi here alone.

Taksim Square and Beyoglu

Taksim Square is a central hub with hotels, restaurants, shops, and lively nightlife. 

The surrounding Beyoglu district offers a vibrant atmosphere and is known for its cultural events, making it generally safe for visitors.

Nisantasi

Nisantasi is an upscale neighborhood known for its fashionable boutiques, designer stores, elegant cafes, and restaurants. It's considered safe and attracts both locals and tourists.

Kadikoy

Located on the Asian side of Istanbul, Kadikoy is a diverse and bustling neighborhood known for its vibrant food scene, markets, and lively streets. 

It's generally considered safe and is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


While all these are a safe area overall, with so much activity from the local bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels, visitors should keep the safety tips in mind to blend in and watch out for scam artists or pickpockets in this area. 

Our best advice is to ignore or say, “no, thank you,” to anyone who tries to stop you or steps in your path, and keep moving. 


Is Istanbul Safe at Night?

Like anywhere, nighttime is more dangerous than daytime in Istanbul.

When the sun goes down, it is time to be extra mindful and cautious about where you travel and how you behave.

That is not to say that Istanbul becomes an active crime land at night, it does not, but rather that the possibility of crime can increase. 

Here are some tips to actively follow and remember which will make your night trip to Istanbul sweet and safer.

  1. If you are going out to enjoy the nightlife, or visiting bars or clubs, take only what you need and keep a close eye on your belongings and your drinks.
  2. Stick to the popular tourist areas like Sultanahmet, Taksim Square, and Kadikoy which are generally safe at night. These areas often have a significant police presence and are well-lit, making them safer for visitors.
  3. Travel with someone else or in a group whenever possible. 
  4. If you are walking, stay in well-lit areas. Use Google Maps for navigating popular, safe routes.
  5. Avoid alleyways or empty lots or spaces.
  6. Be cautious when using public transportation at night. Stick to reputable transportation options and consider using licensed taxis or ride-sharing services.
  7. Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers and know how to reach out for help if needed.

Besides all these, if something feels unsafe or uncomfortable, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. Don’t wait for something bad to happen.


Are the Trains and Buses Safe to Ride?

It’s easy to take public transportation in Istanbul!

Istanbul's has a well-developed metro, tram, bus, and ferry network which offers comprehensive coverage across the city including Istanbul's airport and grand bazaar.

Trains and buses are an affordable, fast way to see more of the city, and we highly recommend riding them with safety in mind. 

The time I was thrown from a moving train in Istanbul

During my 2009 trip to Istanbul as a solo female traveler, I was definitely on a budget and took public transportation to get to the airport.

The train was very crowded and I was unsure how many stops until the airport. We arrived at a station and I was trying to ask someone if it was the airport because I could not see the sign. I do not know how to stay airport in Arabic so I am mimicking a plane when someone yells "yes, this is the airport" right as the train is moving away from the station.

Did I miss my station?! Yes - until someone ran off to the conductor who slowed down the strain. And the kind man returned, grabbed my backpack and tossed it off the moving train saying "You go. Train Slow"

So I jumped out after my bag, walked back to the station to get to my flight.

-Canden Arciniega (tour guide with Free Tours by Foot in Washington DC)

The best way to get around the city is by using smart RFID card known as Istanbul Kart.

However, the problem with both trains and buses is that they can become very crowded, especially during rush hours. 

You can use this card to pay for multiple types of transportation: metros, ferries, buses, funiculars, and tramways.

This is the time when many thieves focus on train stations and buses and it is also when most pickpocketing incidences can happen.

The best way to prevent yourself from such incidences is to keep a watch on your belongings and your surroundings. 

Keep your wallet or mobile phone safe and don't leave them in your pocket where they can be easily snatched. 

If you take care of these tips, public transportation will make your Istanbul trip much easier and fun.


Tips to Stay Safe While Visiting Istanbul

Stay alert. Always be mindful of who is around you and use all your senses. When enjoying our fabulous nightlife, moderate your alcohol or drug consumption so that you can stay aware of potential threats.

Travel with others when you can. Walking with a friend or group is always a good idea. If you are traveling solo, consider exploring Istanbul on a group tour.

Take a rideshare or taxi at night. Sometimes it is worth the peace of mind to spend money on a safe ride home. In night public transportation can become gloomy so it’s better to avoid using them in nighttime.

Keep your bags and valuables secure. This means bags zipped, snapped, and across your shoulder. Avoid putting your wallet in any pocket where it can be seen and stolen.

Avoid bad neighbourhoods. Like every city, Istanbul has both good and bad neighborhoods. Its better to keep yourself away from some dangerous neighbourhoods like Tarlabasi, Dolapdere and Gaziosmanpasa. 

Dress like a local. This will not prevent you from unwanted attention, but also help you to visit all the places seamlessly as some places require to be dressed modestly.

Canden in one of Istanbul's Mosques. It is respectful to cover your shoulders and head as a woman. Unfortunately, many tourists take them off once inside past security but you'll find a lot more locals are excited to help you if you're respecftul of their cultural norms.

Avoid strangers. Stay away from those who try to become over friendly and offer to have a drink with you. You can end up paying heavy bills for your stranger friends.

Don’t use the ‘OK’ sign. This symbol is sometimes used derogatorily to call someone homosexual. Avoid using it while in Turkey.

Don’t discuss politics or internal affairs. Avoid talking about politics or internal affairs of the country with locals. Also don’t criticize anyone as you may never know which topic can offend them.

Apart from that, shoe shine scam is also a common scam in which shoe shiners charge you hefty price by initially offering the service for free. 

Currency scam is also popular where shops and vendors charge a tourist’s credit card in Euros instead of Turkish Lira.

Remember, if you stay alert and mindful of potential danger, you are unlikely to run into any problems while visiting Istanbul.


If you found this post helpful, here are a few other resources to check out:

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Follow On Instagram | I'm a historian & tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. I have written for HuffPost Travel and have been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. I am the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All. I am an authority on D.C. history, and have led tours in the city since 2011. I currently resides in DC, but have also lived in London and South Korea, and have traveled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. I homeschool my 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC. Read More...
Updated: October 27th, 2023
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