Is Istanbul Safe? – Insider Tips to Avoid Common Tourist Scams

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Istanbul is one of the most vibrant and ancient cities in the world. With a large population of both Turkish citizens, tourists, students, and foreign immigrants, it is one of the most diverse cities on the planet and it is the cultural, architectural, social, and financial center of Turkey. The metropolitan area is filled with activity, making it a popular destination for those looking to experience a new culture. However, with all that Istanbul has to offer, the city is crowded and along with it comes an element of risk. Read on for insider advice on how to stay safe while exploring this fascinating destination, as well as the answer to the common question “Is Istanbul Safe?”!

General Risk

Overall, Istanbul is a safe destination for tourists. As with any other large city in the world, if you take the proper precautions, you can enjoy your time in Istanbul without any issues. Of course, there are dangerous places you should avoid and be aware of the tourist hotspots.

Insider Advice: Kickstart your Istanbul adventure with the Istanbul E-Pass or Istanbul Tourist Pass. These passes provide free access to around 70+ top attractions, tours and essential local services in the city with around 70% savings.

Crowded attractions, shops, and public transportation are places where you should be alert and cautious. However, there are also a multitude of security checkpoints, security guards, civil servants, and police throughout the city for your safety. Should you have any questions or concerns, these authorities are happy to assist.

Is Istanbul Public Transportation Safe?

While visiting Istanbul, one of the best ways to explore the city is by metro, tramway, bus, metrobus, or ferry. Popular with both tourists and the locals, these modes of public transportation are easily navigated with the purchase of your IstanbulKart, which can be loaded online or at designated kiosks.

The metro, tramway, and ferry all have security guards at the entrance and exit, the passage ways are well-lit, clean, and have security cameras. However, there are times when these modes of transport may become very crowded, especially during rush hour periods during the work week and during popular times on the weekend.

Keep your belongings tightly close to you, taking special care of your bags, valuables, and pockets during these periods. You may also encounter some beggars, so please be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Taxi Rides

Yellow taxis are an option for getting around quickly in Istanbul. Unfortunately, taxi drivers are notorious for giving misinformation about the price of a ride or tricking both tourists and locals alike into paying more. While RideShare applications Uber and Lyft do not operate in Turkey, Istanbul has its own alternatives of iTaksi or BiTaksi.

These applications allow you to order your taxi with an approximate rate listed, and show the route which the driver is taking. If you do not want to download the applications, ask your taxi driver to use the meter, and ask for an approximate price prior to entering the vehicle.

Please keep in mind that traffic can be bad at times in Istanbul, so this price may need to be factored into your ride. Please also note that taxi drivers are famous for driving recklessly and ignoring traffic laws, so be prepared for an adventure.

Avoiding Pickpockets in Istanbul

Pickpocketing is a concern in tourist hotspots such as Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. In these areas keep your purses and bags close, never leaving them unattended or out of reach. It is also recommended to leave your passport and visa safely secured in your accommodation.

Instead of carrying these documents with you, take a picture of your passport and visa and keep the picture with you at all times. In some busy areas, the Turkish authorities will stop members of the public to conduct ID checks which is a normal occurrence and no reason for concern.

Common Tourist Scams in Istanbul

While in Istanbul, keep in mind that Turkey is a textile country and rich in agriculture. That being said, in many of the tourist destinations you may find items of clothing, shoes, or produce (spices or honey) which have been slightly altered.

Despite having the brand name logos or the shop owner’s saying that the item is 100% original, be aware that if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is a knock-off brand.

Regardless, these are usually of fair to good quality and tourists are encouraged to shop, depending on their needs.

Tour Booking Advice

Throughout Turkey, you also will find that the locals are usually very welcoming, friendly, excited to speak English, and happy to give directions. However, be careful as a common scam is to befriend tourists, taking them out for a drink or dinner, and then expecting the tourist to pay for a large tab.

What Parts of Istanbul You Should Take Care?

While walking near Taksim Square and Istiklal Street, beware of the Tarlabaşı and Dolapdere neighborhoods. While there are plenty of great restaurants and cafes within walking distance from Taksim Square and along Istiklal, if you like to wander off the beaten path you may find yourself unexpectedly in these areas. Ensure you stay near the crowds to avoid an unsafe or uncomfortable situation.

In any neighborhood of Istanbul, be aware of side alleyways and streets, as it is easy to get lost and you may find yourself in an unsavory location. The locals are generally friendly, but if you wander too far outside the city center, it is less likely to find English-speaking assistance if you find yourself lost.

What Are the Safest Areas of Istanbul?

There are many great neighborhoods to explore in Istanbul! These are some of the recommended areas to stay, or check-out while you are visiting!

  • European Side – Most Luxurious
    Nisantasi, Maçka, Bebek, and Arnavutköy
  • Asian Side – Most Luxurious
    Suadiye (Bağdat Street) and Moda (in Kadıköy).
  • European Side – Tourist Areas
    Sultanahmet, Grand Bazaar (Eminönü), Spice Bazaar (Eminönü), Beşiktaş, Karaköy, Beyoğlu, Ortaköy, Galataport, Fener & Balat
  • Asian Side – Tourist Areas
    Üsküdar, Kadıköy, Kuzguncuk

Is Istanbul Safe for Solo Travelers?

Istanbul can be a wonderful place for solo travelers and as a popular international destination, where you can meet many other international students, expats, travelers, and foreigners and make friends. The city is as welcoming and safe as any big city for visitors.

As in any big city, be aware of your surroundings, be careful about walking alone at night and in non-tourist areas, and protect your belongings for an enjoyable stay. For a unique advantage while traveling solo, learn some Turkish and impress the locals! This is greatly appreciated by Turkish locals and will help you gain a small edge during bargaining or sightseeing.

Is Istanbul Safe for Women?

During the day, Istanbul is generally safe for women and solo women travelers. In Istanbul you’ll see Turkish women dressed very differently from each other, some women will fully cover, some will partly cover up and some will be in short shorts, strappy dresses and small tops.

As a tourist, whatever you wear will blend with what some Turkish women or foreign women living in Istanbul are wearing. However, in order to avoid uncomfortable situations, women should be conscious about their attire.

If you plan on touring and entering a religious site such as the Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque, your shoulders and knees must be covered, and women are required to wear a headscarf.

If you forget, there is a limited quantity provided by the sites for free outside these locations and the personnel will advise you accordingly. In general, walking alone after dark is not recommended for women and isolated or poorly lit areas should be avoided. It is always recommended to travel in a group or with another friend.

Do People Speak English in Istanbul?

In the main tourist areas and city central locations of Istanbul, many shopkeepers, restaurant waiters, locals, and students speak basic English and will be happy to talk with you. Turkish citizens begin learning English from a young age at school so many locals can communicate at the basic level.

In Istanbul, it is common to ask for directions and even non-English speaking locals are happy to point you in the right direction, so feel-free to stop someone on the street if you need help finding your destination.

Izmir, Marmaris, Fethiye, and Antalya are other prominent English-speaking tourist areas in Turkey. If you travel outside of the tourist areas, or venture into other areas of Turkey, finding English-speaking individuals may be less common. Depending on your destination, you may want to research the area in advance and hire a tour guide. Turkish citizens are also always happy if you learn a few words in Turkish!

General Istanbul Safety Tips

– While using public transportation, please be aware that during rush hours and popular times during the weekend, these areas can be exceptionally crowded, with standing room only and very limited personal space.

In Turkey it is normal for younger generations to give up their seats for the elderly, and during exceptionally crowded times do not become upset if someone accidentally bumps or leans into you. Bus drivers and shared-taxis drivers are notorious for driving recklessly and ignoring traffic rules, so use caution when you are on-board or crossing the street.

– Turkey is a cash-friendly country meaning that you can often receive discounts for paying in cash when purchasing souvenirs. You are also encouraged to test out your bargaining skills with local vendors if buying in bulk or multiple items.

– Throughout Istanbul, there are a variety of security checkpoints in public transportation, malls, large shopping centers, and tourist areas. While these may become cumbersome, please follow the rules, respecting the civil servants and guards.

– If you get invited to a Turkish home, it is traditional to take off your shoes upon arrival and bring a small gift for the host. Turkish locals love to share their culture and will likely present you with tea, coffee, and food, expecting you to try at least a little bit of everything! Turkish hospitality is renowned worldwide, and Turkish food is exceptionally rich and delicious, so you are encouraged to try everything.

Summary of All

Istanbul is an amazing city that has a lot to offer tourists and travelers. However, it is important to be cautious and aware of your surroundings when visiting Istanbul. Be prepared for the crowds and take precautions when riding on public transportation or exploring new areas. With a little preparation, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip to Istanbul. Are you ready for an adventure? Come visit this exciting city today!

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