Is Istanbul Safe? Answered By a Local

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Istanbul is a vibrant city where you can feel a sense of authenticity along with modernity. Therefore, Istanbul is also known as the city of contrasts.

Istanbul as the capital of many empires reflects the traditions and cultures of its history. You can find all colors of Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Middle East with small doses of Africa in Istanbul.

In a sense, Istanbul doesn’t belong to a single culture but contains everything all at once.

One of the main things that people think about before visiting Istanbul is safety. Is Istanbul safe?

Istanbul is a safe city, and millions of visitors come to Istanbul every year, and nearly all of them return back safely.

People in Istanbul are open to foreigners due to the vast commercial and imperial culture of the city.

The crime rate is low in Istanbul and is mostly limited to scams and pickpocketing.

In this guide, I will provide some essential safety and travel tips that only locals know so that you can enjoy the most when visiting Istanbul.

On weekends and national holidays, major places in Istanbul like Taksim Istiklal Street can be overly crowded.

Is Istanbul Safe to Visit?

At first instance, Istanbul can seem crowded and scary at first instance. I felt the same when I first moved to Istanbul to study at Istanbul University, and it is a very common reaction.

Yet, Istanbul is as safe as any other cosmopolitan city. 

In Istanbul, crime rates in comparison to other metropolitan cities in the world, are considered to be very low.

Just like in every other city, minor crimes like theft, pickpocketing, and scams can happen.

If you are still not convinced, let me quote from the American Government Crime and Safety Report,

“The U.S. Department of State has assessed Istanbul as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Even though Istanbul is Turkey’s largest metropolitan city, Istanbul’s crime rates, as they relate to foreigners, are very low. Remain aware of the potential for petty crimes such as pickpocketing in popular tourist areas and other crowded locations. Source

Remember that Istanbul is not a dangerous city. They go out day and night, have fun with their friends and family, visit a bar or a restaurant, and have quality time.

The important thing is to take small precautions. For instance, you can go out at night with your friends, instead of being alone.

Additionally, despite the economic crises, the advanced CCTV systems employed in the streets of Istanbul 24/7 also caused a steep decline in street crimes and other risks of violence.

Long story short, Istanbul is a fabulous city to visit and there’s no need to be extra worried about safety when visiting Istanbul.

Istanbul is really big with many districts. Please read my guide “Where to Stay in Istanbul? A Local Answers with Map” to learn about Istanbul’s best neighborhoods.

A group of swimmers trying to retrieve the cross thrown to Golden Horn by the Orthodox Patriarch in January as part of the Christmas Celebration. Photo Source: Hürriyet Daily News

Is Istanbul Safe for Americans? British? or Christians?

Istanbul is safe for Americans, British, and Christians. Besides having a sizable Christian community in Istanbul, the city has always been a major tourist and commercial hub since ancient times.

Locals are very used to foreign people visiting their city. You can express your nationality and your religion freely and you will not face any discrimination.

Turkish people will not try to change you and they expect you to do the same.

As long as you do not discuss or try to promote a religious idea or a political idea, you will be perfectly fine. Even in that case, you will not see violence but a very heated Mediterranean-style debate.

Remember, Turkey sees itself as a part of the Western Alliance and Turkey is a member of NATO and a founding member of the Council of Europe.

There may be some anti-western sentiment, yet the majority of Turkey people see their future in Europe and support the continuation of NATO membership.

Additionally, Turkish people know how to differentiate the people from their government.

Turkish people may not like the current French or American President or protest the country, yet they will treat the citizens of that country the same as other nationals.

Just a hint, if you speak a couple of Turkish phrases, you will be greeted with extra hospitality regardless of your nationality.

For more travel tips and hacks about Istanbul click to read “What Do You Need to Know Before Visiting Istanbul?

Ferries are the cheapest and most fun way to explore Istanbul. Be sure to buy some bagel or bread to feed the seagulls accompanying you.

Top 10 Safety Tips for Istanbul

Istanbul is a safe city for both visitors and locals. However, there might be some risks in big cities like Istanbul. The key is to know how to stay safe and enjoy the trip.

Therefore, I have some tips about how to stay safe in Istanbul.

  • Pickpocketing can happen in crowded places like Taksim. To avoid this situation, only carry the most useful ones, like your wallet, phone, etc. If you prefer, you can use a money belt as well.
  • All hotels have safes in rooms, or reception has a safe that you can use.
  • Chat about anything but not politics. Turkish Politics after Turkish Soccer is a kind of national sport. Turkish people can be fanatics about their political views. Don’t argue with the Turkish people about politics. It can lead to a very high-energy debate and may ruin your mood.
  • Respect the local people’s religion. Turkish Muslims respect other religions and are open-minded. Therefore, they expect the same treatment as well.
  • Do not go to strip club-style nightclubs, scams are common for foreigners and locals as well.
  • You can generally use taxis without any problems. Most taxi-related problems are about overcharging by taxi drivers. You can avoid this situation by making sure the taximeter is open. Also, you can check the route from Google Maps. If you see that the taxi driver is taking a long way, you can warn him. Additionally, you can use taxi apps like BiTaksi.
  • Using basic Turkish words like “lütfen” (please) and “teşekkürler” (thank you) will make a huge difference. Turkish people love these kinds of gestures.
  • Sometimes protests might happen. It would be better to avoid being in the area where it takes place.
  • Avoid visiting some poor areas and slums like Tarlabası, Kustepe, Gaziosmanpasa, Sultanbeyli. (You can learn more about this in the following parts of the article.) Visit popular places instead.
Istanbul has many palaces. Dolmabahce Palace in the future.

Looking for items for your bucket list check out my guide: 21 Fun and Unique Things To Do in Istanbul (A Local’s Guide)

Is Istanbul Safe to Travel Alone?

I’ve always admired solo travelers. I think it’s an amazing experience to discover a city on your own. The good news is that Istanbul has so many beauties to discover.

Yet, I believe exploring Istanbul with like-minded people will be more fun. If you can afford to travel with less luxury, the hostels in Istanbul can be excellent choices.

Hostels are mostly located in the Sultanahmet and Taksim area which is a walking or short distance most important touristic areas or landmarks in Istanbul.

Why do I recommend Hostels? I recommend them because you are likely to meet many like-minded travelers in hostels and their common halls are excellent places to find travel buddies.

By the way, most hostels provide private rooms in Istanbul and you do not need to share your sleeping place. For more, you can check Hostelworld.

Many amazing destinations are one or two-hour rides from Istanbul. Click to read Day Trip Ideas from Istanbul.

Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

Istanbul is a safe place for female travelers. Women are free to wear whatever they want in Istanbul and Turkey in general.

Only in mosques, do you need to respect a dress code and a simple headscarf would do the trick.

Some parts of this city are more modern than others. Women dress more freely in places like Bagdat Caddesi, Bebek, Nişantaşı, Moda, Besiktas districts.

Dressing modestly as you would do in a European country would suffice in Istanbul. Provocative clothes like super mini-skirts may increase the attention level like anywhere in the world.

Suggested Reading: Why and How Turkish Women are different?

Istanbul Aquarium is definitely a place to visit for families with children in Istanbul. Click on the picture to enlarge or click here to visit the official website of the Aquarium.

Safe to Travel for Families?

Istanbul is a safe and amazing option for traveling families.

Turkish people are generally very fond of children. One of the reasons is that Turkey is a family-oriented country.

Family means everything in Turkey, and the family members’ bond might surprise you.

You can easily see many locals showing affection to your child. It’s a pretty common situation in Istanbul.

For example, when I see a child, I usually smile when making eye contact. If the child smiles back, then this small event directly makes my day better.

Additionally, Turkish people also generally believe in “Nazar,” also known as “the evil eye.”

So, don’t be surprised if someone knocks on the wood three times when they see your kid. It’s believed that they do so for protection.

Suggested Reading: Fashion in Istanbul – Places to Shop, Brands, Designers, and more

Night in Istanbul. In the front is Maiden Tower Island which is operated as a restaurant. I believe location-wise, it is the most romantic restaurant in Istanbul.

Is Istanbul Safe at Night?

It’s normal to be skeptical about going out at night in a different city. Yet, Istanbul is safe at night. As a matter of fact, the nightlife in Istanbul is very popular.

To be safe, you can avoid going to nightclubs alone. Also, if you plan on drinking that night, it’s best to be with your friends or people you trust just in case.

Additionally, you can also stay away from isolated streets and ghettos during the night and in general.

Normal discos and nightclubs are very good in Istanbul but stay away from strip club-style places. Many tourists, scams happen in strip clubs (pavyons).

You should go and eat outside at one of the popular restaurants. Cicek Pasaji and Navizadeh in Taksim or Ortaköy are excellent destinations to dine out.

Long story short, Istanbul looks even more magical at night.

Biletix is a popular website for checking music, art, and sports events.

Dangerous Parts of Istanbul

Istanbul is safe, yet there are streets or districts you need to avoid in almost every city.

For instance, Tarlabası is considered a dangerous neighborhood to visit. This slum is located to the west of Istiklal Caddesi (Taksim).

Another dangerous part of Istanbul is Kustepe which is in the Sisli district. Other than that, Gaziosmanpasa, Sultanbeyli, can be considered dangerous as well.

Most of the dangerous places are slums. Yet, it’d be a misconception to assume every poor area is dangerous. If in doubt, ask a local before visiting.

Is Istanbul Safe to Live?

I can easily say that Istanbul is a great city to live in. Most of my educated friends live in Istanbul and they believe Istanbul is a safe and marvelous place to live.

I also like to visit Istanbul frequently but find it too crowded to live in.

Istanbul may be safer than other metropolitan cities in the world, yet it is not as orderly as London or New York. It takes some time to get used to the Turkish way of life.

However, a small dose of Istanbul chaos may present good surprises.

If you want to live in a city that is constantly alive every hour of the day and has the potential to amaze you with different things Istanbul is the place to be.

Maybe because I am a family man and I want my daughter to experience nature and less city life, I am more hesitant to live in Istanbul, unlike most of my closest friends.

Check out my article to learn more about Languages Spoken in Istanbul.

The historic gate of Istanbul University. For years, I passed through these gates to attend my classes in Istanbul University Law School.

Is Istanbul Safe for Students?

Turkey is a very developed country in terms of education. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many international students enroll in Turkish universities.

Istanbul has 58 universities (13 public and 45 private).

Istanbul University, Bogazici University, Istanbul Technical University, Koc University, and Sabanci University are the most well-known universities in Istanbul.

Additionally, high schools like Robert College, Galatasaray, German, Uskudar American, Istanbul High School, and Saint Benoit are very hard to get high schools in and provide bilingual high school education.

Other than Istanbul being expensive, I wouldn’t say that there is no major issue for students in Istanbul.

Students go out at night with their friends. They frequently gather together and visit cafes and restaurants.

Traffic Congestion in Istanbul

SUGGESTED READING: Why and When Istanbul became Constantinople? A Local Answers

Is it Safe to Drive in Istanbul?

Driving in Istanbul is generally safe, yet foreigners and even Turkish people have trouble driving in Istanbul.

One of the main problems is that traffic jams are quite common in Istanbul.

This situation generally worsens during the weekends. Yet, it’s almost impossible to know when you will be caught in a traffic jam.

We tend to believe that every driver follows the rules as we do. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. It’s better to drive safely and expect anything in traffic.

Additionally, if you miss an exit in Istanbul, it is quite normal to travel many miles more to return to the same place to take that exit.

Istanbul has a very developed public transportation infrastructure.

Is Public Transport Safe in Istanbul?

As I mentioned, people usually tend to avoid driving in Istanbul. Since it’s a high-populated city, using public transport seems like a more sensible option.

Istanbul has many means of transport. Every day, almost everyone goes to work or school using public transport.

Yet, in the early morning and late afternoon, public transport can be overcrowded, because locals use them to go to their schools and work and return back.

Since you are a tourist, organize your schedule accordingly, and go one hour before or after the prime time.

My last tip about public transport is to be careful about pickpockets. For instance, if you’re wearing a backpack, you can wear it in front.

Istanbul Rail, Metro, and Tram Map (click on the map to enlarge) or click to check the latest map on the official website.

Are Taxis Safe in Istanbul?

Taxis are considered safe in Istanbul, and many people use taxis in this city. However, there can be scams to overcharge you, and it’s important to try to avoid them as much as possible.

To prevent situations like that, it’s always better to use an official taxi.

There are also unofficial (pirate) taxis, but I would not use them unless a Turkish friend of mine uses them and strongly recommends the taxi driver to me.

Additionally, don’t forget to tell the driver to open the taximeter so that you can see the exact amount of money you need to pay.

It’s also advisable to take a photo of the license plate. If you have any problems with the driver, you can report them. Also, if you forget any of your belongings in the cab, you can contact the driver.

Check my other guide if you wish to learn more about Taxis in Turkey and the cost of taxis in Turkish cities, common taxi scams, and more tips.

No spice added, and grilled Chestnuts and Corns are popular foods in Istanbul, especially on winter nights. It can be a good starting point for your Turkish Street Food journey.

Is Food Safe in Istanbul?

The food in Istanbul is considered safe. Most foreigners love Turkish cuisine. The biggest risk is that you might gain weight because of the delicious options.

The food in Istanbul is so delicious that people usually prefer to eat outside.

One popular tip I may give is to check if locals are also eating from the restaurant.

If locals are also entering the restaurant, it means the restaurant has a consistent reputation for delivering good quality food. Choose the crowded restaurants.

Street food is also very popular in Istanbul. You can suddenly feel hungry when you’re walking down the street.

When that happens, you should try the most popular street food like steamed burgers or kokorec. If you want to be extra safe, you can avoid eating street food with meat.

The most popular street food in Istanbul can be listed as manti, lahmacun, doner, and kebap. Also, desserts like baklava and künefe are quite popular as well.

Be sure to check local tavernas, you can eat delicious herb tapas and local fish meals with Turkish raki.

Check my other guide if you wish to learn more about Turkish Food and What to expect in Turkish Cuisine. 

You can also look at the online ratings of the restaurants and order online or visit the restaurant. Here is my guide explaining how to order food online in Istanbul and check restaurant rankings.

How is Healthcare in Istanbul?

Istanbul is a very developed city in terms of healthcare. In this city, you can find 235 public and private hospitals. Additionally, there are 4970 health clinics in Istanbul.

In private hospitals, doctors are usually very friendly, and most of them know how to speak English. Personally, I prefer visiting private hospitals. Yet, there are some great public healthcare services as well.

According to the UNDP, Turkey has a High Human Development on par with other industrial nations. Istanbul has one of the best health services compared to the other parts of Turkey. [Source] [Source 2]

You can find many historical fountains in Istanbul. I would drink their water due to the ancient plumbing system. Yet, they are perfectly okay to use to wash yourself. Locals use them for cleaning before prayers.

Is Istanbul’s Tap Water Safe to Drink?

Istanbul’s tap water is safe, but I think it’s not suitable for drinking. It may not be good for you if you are not used to it.

Yet, the tap water is perfectly fine for washing your teeth or any other cleaning purposes.

Additionally, tap water doesn’t taste great either. The majority of people use bottled water for drinking and tap water for cooking purposes.

However, if you are staying long-term in Istanbul, you can also use a water purifier in your house if you prefer. I have a water purifier at the place I stay in Istanbul and I’m very pleased with that choice.

Additionally, most hotels use filtration services and provide good quality tap water.

Suggested Reading: Which Water Should You Use in Istanbul? Answered by a Turkish Local

Natural Disaster Risks in Istanbul

Istanbul is expecting a big earthquake this decade. Nobody knows when the big one will happen, yet it is normal to experience small earthquakes in Istanbul.

Small earthquakes have little impact on daily life. If you are afraid of these earthquakes, choose newly built modern hotels. Historical hotels may be more affected by the earthquakes.

Also, the southern parts of the city are closer to earthquake lines, and the northern parts of the city have a lower risk of earthquakes.

Last Word About Travel Warnings to Turkey

You may also wish to check the United Kingdom, United States Government, and Australian Government’s travel warnings.

Remember, these warnings are mostly not city-specific, and they are written for Turkey as a whole.

I do not always agree with them, especially for Istanbul. I believe that some of the warnings are about exaggerated rare situations. Yet, they do not cover the normal situation that I covered in this guide.

It’s important to be aware of possibilities. However, I don’t think that these possibilities should keep you away from enjoying your time in Istanbul.

As long as you take simple precautions, I believe that you will really enjoy your visit to Istanbul.

I tried to give you a local’s perspective on safety in Istanbul. It’s the city where I’ve had the best memories of my life. I hope that was helpful for you.

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