Is Istanbul safe? Advice for 2022/23 Travel

Istanbul is without a doubt one of the most amazingly beautiful cities I’ve ever been to, and it has so much to do. You can read my 48 hour itinerary HERE, but I wanted to write a separate post addressing concerns which regularly come up about safety. This follows recent bombings (like the one just a few weeks ago, and a big one in 2016 at the airport), the Syrian war, and of course the regular reports of scamming.

Now, I can only base this on my own personal experience and of course no guide can tell you what’s safe and what isn’t based on only a limited amount of time in the city but in my personal experience Istanbul is as safe as any major city, if you’re careful.


Is it safe as a solo female?

I arrived in to Istanbul solo, on one of my trips to meet up with my husband while he was travelling. I never felt unsafe, but I did feel uneasy at times.

  • Dress sensibly. Istanbul is a fairly liberal city so there were many women in casual dress and without head coverings. However, my advice would be to cover up if you don’t want stares and comments. At the airport, I was in baggy trousers, a T-Shirt and a loose cardigan and I only got a couple of comments. However there was a woman in really tight push up leggings and a crop top with cleavage on show and many were commenting on her body and trying to touch her. She was clearly also a little tipsy – I found her crying at the airport and I ended up taking her in my taxi and escorting her safely to her hotel room. I know it’s 2022 but honestly this is about how comfortable you feel, not what’s right or wrong, so just dress sensibly.

  • Don’t get drunk on your own. Just don’t put yourself in that situation.

  • Be confident. I can’t stress enough that it’s great to be assertive and to  keep your wits about you so you don’t look like an easy target. I had an itinerary, maps on my phone at all times, had no valuables on show and just walked with purpose pretending I knew where I was going rather than hovering around. When I ordered food on my own I was also just really direct – two sellers tried to overcharge me or short change me and I had to be very firm.

  • Understand that the culture IS different. As a woman, you might receive attention from men that feels a bit uncomfortable. However, I just politely declined advances and not one man pushed it. Uneasy – yes, but unsafe – no.

The moment I was re-united with my husband it changed. He was deferred to, most taxi drives/hotel staff/restaurant staff etc spoke to him and he was served first. I was largely ignored and didn’t receive a single comment whilst with him.


And what about the scams?

Ah there’s no escaping them. They are EVERYWHERE. So let’s talk about them, because the best lesson for Istanbul – learn to say NO.

  • The Airport. The moment you get to arrivals people will be offering you rides. My advice is book in advance and then ignore everyone in the airport (a standard, decent value fare is about 300 Turkish Lira or about £20/EUR20). That said, even with a pre-book, be prepared for CHAOS. I had to meet at a meeting point but no-one turned up for 15 minutes, people were shouting, gesticulating, running everywhere and then I was taken to a basement to get in a blacked out van (complete with aforementioned sobbing drunk woman that I had to negotiate an additional stop at additional cost for). Not ideal. But also never actually unsafe.
At the Modern Airport

  • Taxi Safety. I’ve split taxis in to multiple points as there’s so much going on here. The first issue is safety. The drivers don’t wear seatbelts, are on their phone the entire time and often the back seats don’t have belts either. They then drive off at 100kmph. So just be warned, and check if the back has working seatbelts before getting in. I actually sat there thinking ‘I’m so glad my Mum can’t see me right now, she’d be having a complete fit’.

  • Taxi Costs. Istanbul is full of yellow taxis which are the city taxis and SHOULD operate on a meter. As a rough guide, a correctly working meter to the airport from the Old Town comes out at around 250 Turkish Lira. Around the Old Town to cross the bridge it’s about 100 Lira. However, don’t get in unless you’ve agreed you’re going off the meter and the route, or better still you’ve agreed a price. Haggling and demanding more money at the end of the ride is common so just be ready. And give the money to the man in your party to pay (if you have one) – you’ll pay a lower price that way.
The Infamous Yellow Taxis

  • Ubers. Uber does operate in Istanbul, but it’s largely a scam (and they are the same drivers as those yellow taxis above). You can book using the Uber app but about 80% of the drivers then cancel when a better fare comes up. They will also not quote a fair on the app, but instead message you on it with a minimum (normally 5x the price of the meter rate), so you’ll be overcharged. Then when you get in the car and start driving, they pull over saying the journey is cancelled and to get out unless you pay more, demanding more money in cash. This happened on all of our 5 Uber rides, and my husband had to be very very direct to avoid paying more.

  • Ticket Sellers. Attractions like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are FREE. Unless you want a guided tour, do not pay for any tickets as you can just walk in. If you want to visit Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern or other well known attractions, just get there for opening (if you can) and pay on the door. Even Viator/Get your Guide tours are ridiculously expensive vs door price, although our guides were great so we didn’t mind paying.
Queues and people everywhere (Galata Tower)

  • Queue Sellers & Pickpockets. Entrance queues at all the attractions were hideous, and you largely have to wait in them even if you’ve bought a tour. At Galata Tower we queued for over 1.5 hours, Hagia Sophia was 1 hour, Basilica Cistern was 45 mins (we visited in September). Queue sellers will be everywhere trying to sell you things and be careful as pick pockets (normally children unfortunately) also walk the queues so just keep your wits about you.
Hagia Sophia queue

  • Offers of help. Are usually just scams. Don’t be afraid to be ‘rude’ and just walk away, it’s totally acceptable behaviour here. You don’t need to go to that restaurant, or take the guided tour, or do anything you don’t want to do.

That said, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT, most of the people we met in Istanbul were so nice. They are hospitable, they really care about great service, and they were kind. I also recommend learning a few words of Turkish – we learned thank you and hello and definitely felt it was appreciated.

My advice would just be stay somewhere where you can walk between places and minimise navigating taxis or public transport scams.


And what about the security?

  • Airports. I’ve never known anywhere with so many security checks. At the airport, you go through security, then passport control, then a more detailed security check. THEN you get to your gate and have to open all your bags, and have a full body scan and get everything swiped as well. After 3 very detailed security checks, the airport definitely felt safe (and this is understandable after the 2016 bombing). Of course you can never guarantee safety, but they definitely take it seriously.

  • Hotels. I’m not used to going through security scanners for entering a hotel, but most of the chain hotels in Istanbul ask you to do this. Fine by me if they want to scan my tissues and multiple pairs of glasses to add another layer of security.
Our hotel foyer after the scanners

  • Streets. All the main tourist areas had police presence and were well barricaded so cars couldn’t mount up the pavement. You can never guarantee security, but Turkey had definitely made an effort.

Update: Between writing this post and it publishing, there was a bombing on Istiklal Street, which I had walked along and shopped in. I bought a jumper in Mango, where just 4 weeks later a bomb was detonated killing many, including children. Events like this serve as a constant reminder that life can be over at any point and I was just lucky it wasn’t 4 weeks ago. That bombing could have happened in any major city – life is precious and make the most of it.


Overall, at the time I felt safer against a terrorist attack in Istanbul than I do in London but Istanbul does suffer regular bombings and you can never be 100% safe. For me, once I relaxed and embraced the different culture, I had the absolute best time. Stay safe and happy travelling everyone.

24 Comments

  1. I visited Istanbul in 2019, and although I went with guided tours to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, there was a day or two that I was out on my own exploring the city. It felt safe within the touristy neighborhoods (e.g. Sultanahmet), but I did have an incident where a guy tried to follow me after I got off the tram, but thankfully he left me alone after a bit. I definitely kept my wits about where I was, but I will say that it still felt a bit safer than when I was in Morocco. Thanks for your safety advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience as well Rebecca – I definitely agree with you, the touristy areas felt safe but you definitely have to keep your wits about you. Agree vs Morocco though, I found it really tough there too although I remember reading about your terrifying experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We took the airport bus in from the airport and were pleased to note that tags were put on our cases when they went into the hold and the driver checked our receipts before handing them back. I travelled with my son and he was also referred to and not me in restaurants etc. but it was OK. We never felt intimidated but it was all push and shove on the trams. They don’t seem to understand what queuing means but I’d go back again. The only hotels where I’ve had to go through security at the entrance have been the Sofitel in Manila (because of a recent incident in the city) and the Tivoli in Doha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s so interesting you took the airport bus, and definitely sounds preferable to a taxi for sure – a great recommendation for people. Oh yeh there’s definitely no such thing as a queue, drove me nuts (I feel like queuing is just inherently English and so I probably overreacted haha!)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been to Turkey a few times but never to Istanbul but I can easily gather from your beautiful photos that it is a truly amazing travel destination. Your advice about what to wear in Istanbul as a woman is a spot on even thou technically, you can wear whatever you want in Istanbul, as there are no rules. But I think the Istanbul dress code for tourists is important, especially for women visiting Istanbul, to feel more comfortable exploring the city. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree Aiva, it’s all about feeling comfortable and acknowledging what’s appropriate and sensitive to the culture in which you’re situated. It was a really great and interesting visit for sure, and I’d definitely return to Turkey. Thanks for sharing your views and taking the time to comment 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a really great resource, well done! It’s hard to know what places will be like until you’re actually there. Some news channels have convinced people that NYC is riddled with violence and crime, but that’s not the full story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with that, you have to go and see for yourself. I think every major city has nice areas and not so nice areas, plus varying crime rates – the media can always find stats to frighten and scare, but it’s very rarely a true picture when taken in isolation

      Like

  5. This is a very thoughtful and helpful post in navigating this city and any city. You have really put a great deal of consideration here and what a help it will be to anyone traveling there. My heart hurts over the recent bombing there, you just never know what a day will bring.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really useful information. It’s disappointing that you were essentially ignored once you were with a man, but there’s a silver lining there, I think. It’s not often we are treated like second class citizens and I think it’s good to see what life is like on the other side sometimes. May help build compassion. Speaking of which, how very nice of you to take care of that stranger who was drunk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I totally agree but actually I didn’t mind too much and it definitely helped me see another perspective – plus it forced my husband to make some decisions which was actually a fun experience to be a part of 🙂 I couldn’t leave her on her own, my conscience wouldn’t let me. I hope she was OK.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post and really comprehensive! As you say, it is important to be mindful and firm in any major city, and things can really happen anywhere. What saddens me the most is the difference in treatment for men and women but I guess we’re used to it in a way, and it does happen everywhere too, maybe not in such an obvious way, but it’s still there! Thank you for the advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Istanbul looks like such a lovely city (your views from the top tower are beautiful) … but you are right, being alert and confident can go a long way in not ending up in a bad situation. Almost everything you mentioned here, we also experienced on our short visit in Cairo.
    “Life is precious and we should make the most of it” … thanks for this valuable lesson in life Hannah 🌻.
    (It’s been a hectic time the past month – first holiday and since we returned, Berto’s been sick – he’s currently in hospital after an operation … but I hope to catch up on your posts in the next couple of days).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. He had an excess amount of fluid in his left lung … the doctors are still puzzled how it ended up there. After 8 days in hospital, he was discharged on Friday – still a long way to go, but we trust he’s now on the road to recovery. Thanks for your well wishes, it’s much appreciated.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s