Is Istanbul Safe? [2024 Insider Tips]

Last Updated: May 15th, 2024

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A city dating back to 700 B.C., Istanbul is a must-visit destination for history buffs. The Turkish hotspot is widely considered the point where east meets west, and has a culture and culinary scene that reflects the blending of European and Asian influences. There were estimated to be 6.3 million tourists in Istanbul in the first half of 2023 alone (via Hürriyet Daily News). There’s no doubt that Istanbul is a unique destination full of magical experiences, but is it safe for the average tourist?

Is Istanbul Safe to Visit in 2024?

Taksim-Square-In-Istanbul
The popular Taksim Square.

Turkey is a country full of diversity, and different cities within this colorful nation can feel worlds apart. While some areas of Turkey aren’t considered safe, such as the section that borders Syria, Istanbul is an overall safe destination for international tourists.

The two biggest threats that most tourists will have to worry about is the threat of terrorism and petty crime. Pickpocketing does frequently occur in Istanbul, especially around the most popular tourist attractions such as the Grand Bazaar and Taksim Square.

In 2015 and 2016, Istanbul was tragically the scene of suicide bombings, along with a nightclub shooting in 2017 and another bombing in 2022. These attacks all took place in busy public areas. That’s not to say that you should avoid Istanbul altogether due to the threat of terrorism, but just be aware that these things can happen, and to always stay vigilant to your surroundings. If you notice someone acting suspiciously, report it as soon as possible.

While Istanbul is generally safe for female travelers, dressing immodestly may attract unwanted attention. Note that breastfeeding in public is not welcome in Istanbul.

For both men and women, it’s not advisable to travel alone at night or in poorly lit areas. Try to stick to busy areas when walking, or take a taxi

If you are traveling to Istanbul with children, teach them not to trust strangers. Let them know never to accept gifts from random people on the street, as this is how many scams in Istanbul begin.

Safe Neighborhoods and Areas in Istanbul

Tarlabasi-The-Poorest-Area-In-Istanbul
Tarlabasi, one of the poorest areas in Istanbul.

When you’re choosing where to stay in Istanbul, there are many wonderful neighborhoods and areas to choose from. While you generally should apply common sense and basic safety principles everywhere, there are lots of areas to stay that you can feel perfectly safe in. They include:

  • Sultanahmet – Located in the city’s east, the neighborhood is full of historic charm and boasts some of Istanbul’s main attractions, including the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Practice regular safety precautions here, as it is a hectic tourist area, but with people around all the time, it can make nervous travelers feel safe.
  • Taksim – A popular part of the city with European flavor, Taksim is always bustling with people and is one of the top places to sample traditional Turkish street food and Turkish coffee. Though there have been terrorist attacks here in the past, it is considered one of the safest and best places for tourists to stay in.
  • Besiktas – This is a quieter district in the city’s west where you’ll encounter fewer tourists and more locals. You may find that pickpocketing, scams, and street begging are less common here, but it’s still advisable to practice normal safety measures. Besiktas is home to the city’s financial center of Levent.
  • Nisantasi – Mostly residential but still with many accommodation options to choose from, Nisantasi is home to higher-end boutiques and shopping outlets, and also features some of the city’s best restaurants.
  • Galata and Karakoy – Two neighborhoods in the Beyoglu district famed for their architecture, culture, and nightlife.
  • Mecidiyekoy – This is an upmarket neighborhood that tends to be popular among business travelers in Istanbul. It’s also served by the metro, which makes traveling to other areas of Istanbul convenient.
Old-City-Buildings-Istanbul-Turkey
A poverty-stricken street in Tarlabasi in 2015.

Just as Istanbul has safe areas that weary travelers should base themselves in, there are locations to avoid. In many cases, they’re low socio-economic areas where higher crime rates are a reflection of the deep-rooted societal issues plaguing the local population. They include:

  • Dolapdere – A poverty-stricken area that’s still relatively centrally located. There are high levels of crime here, including car theft.
  • Tarlabasi – A neighborhood located close to Taksim Square that is associated with street gangs and prostitution.
  • Gaziosmanpasa – This is another centrally located but low socio-economic area with high levels of crime.

Crime in Istanbul

The-Grand-Bazaar-Istanbul-Turkey
The bustling Grand Bazaar where you can pick up a lot of great products (but watch out for pickpockets!).

Istanbul has an overall crime index of 47.84, which is considered to be moderate by world standards (via Numbeo).

This largely comes down to moderate levels of local worries relating to muggings and other forms of violent crime, drug dealing, vandalism and theft, and breaking and entering. There are also high levels of bribery, and crime levels in general seem to have increased over the last three years.

However, despite these concerns, most people in Istanbul feel safe walking around during the day, with less feeling safe at night. Pickpocketing is likely to be the greatest concern for most tourists who aren’t visiting the sketchy areas listed above.

While there are moderate levels of violent crime, these aren’t likely to occur in tourist hotspots. And by world standards, crimes like homicide are still relatively rare in Istanbul. Back in 2017, the homicide rate was 2.6 per 100,000 residents (via TRT World).

Common Scams in Istanbul

A-Shoe-Shiner-At-Istanbul-Street
A genuine shoe shiner in Istanbul.

Like any popular tourist destination, Istanbul is brimming with scams and tourist traps to watch out for. But as long as you know how to identify them, they’re easy enough to avoid.

One of the most common is known as the “nightclub hustle” but can also apply to restaurants. Basically, strangers will approach you, become friendly, and then lure you to a nightclub or restaurant where they will rack up a huge bill with you over drinks and food. Then when it’s time to pay the bill, they disappear.

Speaking of restaurant bills, some more touristy restaurants may “accidentally” add on extra items to your bill at the end of the night hoping you won’t realize. That’s why it always pays to look over everything carefully and make sure you’ve only been charged for what you’ve actually ordered.

While it’s important to always respect authority figures when traveling abroad, Istanbul has a problem with police officer scams. This is when fake police stop you and ask to see your wallet. You can guess what happens once you give it to them. If anyone who seems like an authority figure ever stops you, the only thing you should be required to give them is your identification.

When walking through the streets of Istanbul, you’ll come across genuine shoe shiners, and if you’re wearing the right footwear, this might be a fun service to purchase since it’s not readily available in other areas of the world. However, along with the genuine shoe shiners, there are also scammers. These people will offer you a free shoe shine, give you a sob story, and then try to guilt you into giving them a lot more money than a shoe shine should cost.

Other street vendors will be selling clothes or souvenirs. These people can become very pushy, so always avoid touching any of their products. If you do pick up something to observe it, they may be aggressive in getting you to buy it.

Public transport

The-Public-Transport-In-Istanbul
The public transport system in Istanbul is world class.

There is a thriving public transport network in Istanbul that comprises buses, trains, funiculars, and boats. Generally, these are considered safe to use during the day, but may be less so at night, even though many are monitored by security.

Using taxis in Istanbul can definitely come in handy, particularly if you don’t want to walk or catch public transport at night. However, always make sure the taxi meter is running, and tell the driver that you won’t pay anything other than what the meter says. It can also help to research the travel time beforehand, so you’ll know if they try to take you on the scenic route.

Terrorism

The-Hagia-Sophia-Grand-Mosque-Istanbul

The U.S. Embassy confirms that terrorists can attack in Turkey without warning. They’re likely to attack tourist-heavy areas, which makes Istanbul a target. In particular, transport hubs, malls, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, and sport and cultural events are the most likely to be targeted by terrorists.

The risk of terrorism in Istanbul has increased in 2023 following anti-Islamic demonstrations across Europe, which experts believe may trigger retaliation (via The Times of Israel). Tensions in the Middle East may also contribute to an increased risk of terror attack.

To stay safe in Istanbul, be aware of your surroundings, follow the advice of government and authorities, and report any suspicious behavior.

Hazardous Weather and Natural Disasters

The-Market-And-Restaurant-In-Istanbul

Turkey is prone to a wide range of natural disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, and flooding. Istanbul lies to the north of a fault line, which means a potentially catastrophic earthquake is possible (via Reuters).

A devastating earthquake that struck Turkey in February of 2023 and killed 50,000 people has prompted officials in Istanbul to demolish unstable housing in the city.

Additionally, temperatures soared in Istanbul over the summer of 2023, which led to wildfires raging all over the country (via Hurriyet Daily News).

If you are traveling to Istanbul in summer, stay hydrated, wear sun protection, and try to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day. In the event of natural disa

sters, follow the guidelines of authorities and stay up to date on media alerts.

Things to Consider – Safety Tips For Istanbul

Ortakoy-Mosque-Of-Istanbul
Be especially respectful when entering religious buildings like the Ortakoy Mosque in Istanbul.

Keep an eye out for groups of “street children.” They operate in gangs in some public areas in Istanbul and are known to target tourists and rob them.

Consider wearing a money belt. If you do want to keep your money and valuables in a normal bag, ensure that it is securely strapped to your person. Avoid loosely hanging bags over your shoulder as this increases the likelihood that they will be snatched.

Avoid public demonstrations. While these don’t take place in Istanbul that frequently, they can occur, and they can turn violent, even if they start off peacefully.

Use licensed public transport operators only. If you’re hailing a cab off the street, make sure it’s from a reputable company. Always confirm the fare with the driver before you start your journey to avoid getting ripped off.

Only drive in Istanbul if you’re a confident driver. Many local drivers don’t respect the road rules, which can leave you in a vulnerable situation behind the wheel. Also ensure that you have the relevant license and insurance before driving.

Dress modestly. Though Turkey is home to a melting pot of cultures and religions, it is predominantly an Islamic country, and modesty values apply. This will also help you to avoid standing out as a tourist.

In addition to dressing modestly, get familiar with Islamic customs prior to entering a mosque. Women may need to wear a head covering.

Memorize the number 112. This is the emergency number that you’ll need to call for medical assistance.

Stay vigilant around busy tourist areas. Not only are pickpockets likely to operate here, but these areas are the most likely to be targeted by terrorists. Be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious behavior.

Avoid walking on your own at night, even through areas that are considered safe during the day. If you need to travel at night, stay in well-lit public areas.

FAQs About Istanbul Attractions

Sunset-View-Of-Eminonu-District-Istanbul
Istanbul can be crowded with tourists, particularly during the summer high season.

Is Istanbul American-friendly?

Istanbul is perfectly safe for Americans to travel to. The city is home to many cultures and influences, and people from all over the world are welcomed.

What should you avoid in Istanbul?

Don’t use illegal drugs in Istanbul. While you should always avoid illegal activity overseas, the penalties for drug use in Turkey are particularly harsh and may result in long prison sentences.

Additionally, don’t take food or drink from strangers or unlicensed venues. This is a common tactic to sedate tourists and then rob them once they have passed out.

Don’t insult Turkey, the Turkish flag, the founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the current President, or any member of the government. Even if you’re just joking, this is illegal in Turkey. Avoid making jokes in person or on social media.

Avoid photographing military sites, which is illegal.

About The Author

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists. When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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Picture of Vanessa Elle

Vanessa Elle

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists.

When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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