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Is Istanbul safe for a single woman?

I'm considering taking a RS tour of Turkey next year. Is Istanbul going to be a problem if I arrive a day or two before the tour starts? I don't expect to have to cover my hair, but wonder about other dress and behavior "codes." I'm not young and have traveled in Europe a lot.

Posted by
1366 posts

What type of problems are you anticipating?

Have you done a search on previous posts on the same topic?

Are you planning on being in a small rural town or are you starting in Istanbul. If Istanbul, then it is a modern city and depending on which month will be overrun with tourists. I don't think you have much to worry about if you take the normal precautions that you would anywhere else.

Posted by
1158 posts

I went to Turkey, Istanbul mainly, in '95. I don't know if things have changed since then, but I didn't feel unsafe at all. The younger ladies don't wear scarves and other traditional clothes.
Speaking of behaviour...Will change your behavior just because you are going to Turkey? I find these questions that many here on RS ask about behaving like a European very silly. If you are a loud American, why is that you don't change such behavior while at home? I Being loud is considered rude anywhere, including USA.

Posted by
178 posts

We were in Istanbul this summer and had no problems. Everyone was very courteous and going about their business as anyone would in the US. There will be lots of tourists, and I imagine you will be at the normal sites. Everyone there dressed as we did. If there is a need for a shawl at the entrance to a mosque, you will be given one at the door and asked to remove your shoes. A bag will be provided to carry your shoes. It is a lovely city with lots of flower markets, and we are very glad we went, although my husband was concerned before we went. Just be a quiet tourist and have a memorable trip.

Posted by
3580 posts

Looks like I'm going to have to re-state my question. A woman traveling ALONE and without male or female escort may have to deal with aggressive and unwanted male attention in some countries. I'm not asking about behavior for "An American in Europe," nor am I asking about being "quiet enough." Male travelers and women traveling with husbands or other men are not faced with this problem. Women who have traveled ALONE might have some tips. If I have to be fending off aggressive men, as I did in Greece on one trip (I yelled nasty things at a few of them when they touched me), I think I will stay home or visit someplace where I can relax. I just received the new ETBD book on Istanbul. The city sounds fascinating.

Posted by
191 posts

I to am a single female traveler and I will be visiting Istanbul on my own this May. I think I know the unwanted attention you are talking about. I was in Marrakech this summer for 4 nights and found the men yelling and grabing me almost unbeareable by the second day. From the research and people who I have spoken to Istanbul is nothing like that. People are very friendly, I think you only really need to be worried about being bothered when you go to the bazaar but a firm no thank you should be fine and they will then leave you alone. I got Rick's book on Istanbul and it has lots of great info. For more advice check out trip advsior if you go to the Istanbul forum and put in single female you will get a ton of info from people who have traveled there.

Posted by
990 posts

I have traveled in Turkey as a single woman without any problems at all. In fact, Italy or Greece are considerably worse in terms of unwanted male attention.

I will say that Turkish norms of interaction with strangers are a bit different than in, say, California. We tend to think that establishing eye contact and a polite smile is the normal way of interacting with strangers, whereas in Turkey that could be misinterpreted as a signal of more personal interest.

So, I don't make eye contact with men on the street. If someone tries to make contact with me, it's almost always to try to sell me something--generally rugs. I brush them off brusquely with a "Sorry--I have all the rugs I need," and keep walking. Don't even break stride! Seriously, the most likely pestering you will get in Istanbul is from rug touts instead of would-be Romeos. Enjoy Istanbul--it's one of the world's great cities!

Posted by
3580 posts

I appreciate your comments. In the Istanbul book from ETBD an arm's length distance is considered a normal, comfortable personal space in that country (especially between men and women). I suppose it would help for me to carefully monitor my personal space.

Posted by
864 posts

My husband was sick in the hotel for the first two days we were in Istanbul so my choice was sit around or get around. Get going I did. Had a great time. Don't worry to much about monitoring your personal distance as it's not all that different from here (maybe a little further apart but don't stress over it). It is true you shouldn't maintain eye contact. Is that really so different from here. As a woman I bet your eyes slide over and to the side of unknown men's faces all the time without your even thinking about it. I dressed modestly in pants and a billowly top and a sweater. Sunglasses are also helpful. Your hotel can set you up with a safe cab or tour. My cabbie escorted me through the bazaar (and yes he steered me to his buddies) but I had alot of fun and he fended off the more in your face kinda salesmen. Oh, and his buddies sold me some great leather coats so there!

Posted by
16 posts

I just came back from Turkey in October. I am a man, but don't think you will have any problems.Turks seems to be very polite people, both the men and women. Your biggest, in your face types, will be people trying to get you to buy a rug or get you into their shop. A polite No thank you and keep on walking will do. In fact, I found that they assume you speak English and address you in English. I found replying in Italian that I did not speak English threw them off enough and I was out of range before they could become more persuasive. You'll enjoy the country. Buon viaggio.

Posted by
1 posts

just returned from Istanbul.
pickpockets very very good.
had passport and lira lifted from inside zipped pocket,on tramvay from sultahamet to eminonu.
very crowded sro train.keep one hand on important stuff.
american embassy very helpful if you have problem.
jerry

Posted by
283 posts

Don't hesitate, GO! I am just back from Istanbul today. I was amazed at what an incredible city it is. I felt totally safe as a single woman. No extraordinary unwanted attention, market sellers were nowhere near as aggressive as Rick's book make them out to be... this totally isn't Cairo or Nairobi. It was actually somewhat pleasant to hear the lines they throw out as you walk by.

Posted by
6 posts

I am a 39 single y.o. woman with a curvy figure. However, I NEVER felt unsafe or weird in turkey or istanbul, even at night. in fact, i feel safer there than i do in the states or in europe--yes, even in nebraska. i would love to buy a condo on the coast and use it as a vacation home. that would be the only place in the world where i would consider a vacation home and i have been all over the world. the turks remind me of the italians and the irish. they are super friendly, relaxed, quick to laugh and they like to share their pride of their country. they like to be social with others. i recommend that you join in a game of backgammon at a cafe. don't worry about any language barriers or knowing how to play. someone will move your piece for you! you will be surprised at how cosmopolitan istanbul & western turkey are. check all of your prejudices about islam at the door because it is nothing that the media makes it out to be. they have no understanding that islam can co exist with a secular government. women are forbidden to wear a scarf in state buildings and schools since 1923. turkish women had the right to vote before american women. that is just the tip of the iceberg. i never felt that i was in a bad neighborhood or that i was in danger. i liked the rug salesmen. they were funny. they would say anything to get you in their store. "where you from, where you from? US? where?" "Nebraska!" "i have a cousin there!" they were too funny. i always wanted to see what they would say next. if i didn't want to be bothered, i would say no in turkish "hire" and keep walking. usually that did the trick. i am so jealous that you are going to turkey. i have been trying to get back for 2 years! also, don't be surprised if people want to help you find where you are going and don't be surprised if they physically walk you in the right direction if you seem lost. turkey is one of my favorite countries.

Posted by
2 posts

I am a solo traveller completely comfortable with heading out on my owm. Last October I spent 5 weeks travelling in Greece and the Greek Islands. I have travelled to the UK, Italy, Mexico, Canada and India. Istanbul is the ONLY place that I will never consider returning to alone!

I dress modestly and spend a lot of time walking my "new" environment. Women alone are hasseled in Istanbul, followed, waited for and spoken to in very agressive ways. Let me be clear... I am not young - I'm 69 years old, though attractive for my age. Still...no teenager by anyone's definition.

It is impossible for a single woman to just amble along looking in shop windows and taking your time. You are constantly approached by men trying to lure you into their shops. Despite indications of no interest, you are followed down the street. If you enter a museum or mosque they wait for you to come back out and hassle you some more.

After three days of this, I flew off the handle at a man who attempted to sell me a tourist book on the street near the Hippodrome. He didn't speak English but called over a friend who did.

"Do you understand how upsetting it is to be accosted constantly like this? I am upset and angry and frightened by this behavior. A Moslem woman would not be accosted like this." He apologized, said he was "ashamed of this behavior, that he is trying to move to the US.

I decided to experiment. That evening I covered my hair and headed out for my usual walk from hotel to the Hippodrome. Only the (male) vendors who had seen me pass by daily called out to me - with an improper invitation to smoke (something illegal) with them! Otherwise, I was left alone because they couldn't be sure that I was not Muslim.

It makes me sad to have to report this. I have profound respect for all the world's spiritual traditions but I am forced to conclude that male Muslims have NO RESPECT for women who are not co-religionists. DO NOT GO ALONE IF YOU EXPECT TO HAVE A PLEASANT TIME.

Posted by
3580 posts

I appreciate all your responses. I guess it depends on how thick-skinned a woman is about being hassled on a regular basis. I had similar experiences in Greece and even Paris of men approaching me for whatever. "Do you speak English?" was the starter in Greece and if I refused to respond the man sometimes would persist to the point of touching my arm. That was my limit. I screamed at several of them. So, my original question regarding safety in Istanbul was based on previous experience. If I decide to go, I will be prepared to cover my hair. I'm not sure if it is really a religious thing, but if that's what it takes to be left alone I'll wear a scarf.

Posted by
2 posts

I just got back from five days in Istanbul. I'm 68, a female solo traveler.

About the hassling. First there are the shopkeepers who are just trying to sell their wares. It's disappointing to someone who likes to window shop but it's just the way they do things. It got better as the days went by.

Then there is that small segment of the male population that are professional hasslers of Western women no matter what their age. One young man followed me for half a block yelling the whole time. When he started to move in on me and cut me off I turned and faced him and told him to go away and leave me alone. And he did.

Hassling seems to be confined to the tourist areas.

What's sad about this is that Turks are really friendly people and it's hard to distinguish between someone who is just being friendly and someone who is about to hassle you.

My biggest problem was the hotel. It was very comfortable, well run and affordable. But the staff was overly protective and wouldn't leave me alone. The waiter stood by my table when I was eating and put food on my plate that I didn't want. They were somewhat controlling. When I didn't go to breakfast one morning they wanted to know why. This drove me nuts.

I think that a great many Turks are uncomfortable seeing women traveling by themselves. They just don't understand it.

I can't speak to covering hair because my head was covered the whole time just to keep warm.

In spite of everything I would go back to Istanbul in a New York minute. It's a fascinating medley of the old and the new. Great for people watching. Smartly dressed teenagers, plenty of women with headscarves, men who carry bundles like beasts of burden, and the street vendor in Sultanhamet who balanced a huge tray of bread on his head with no hands.

I need to find a hotel with some psychic neutrality. If someone has a suggestion let me know.

Posted by
2 posts

Within reason, you have nothing to worry about. Istanbul is much like any other major city in Europe or elsewhere. The Great Bazaar might be an area to avoid if you're concerned about pickpockets or muggers, but such areas exist in any city. As for cultural codes, Istanbul is reasonably progressive. There's no need for a veil, but wearing just shorts and a bikini top might be frowned upon. Recognize that the culture and religion of the region (even the Christian areas) are conservative, but not radically so. Enjoy the place, it's one of the most amazing experiences on the continent.

Posted by
7948 posts

I have been to Turkey and I have worked with many Turkish men and I have had Turkish friends. They are very warm, hospitable, friendly people. I never felt disrespected in Turkey, nor from any of the men I have worked with. This is not a country that I would have qualms about traveling alone in. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan maybe, but not Turkey.

Turkey wants to be in the EU so badly, that they strive to be as European as possible, except for that small extremist faction. Unfortunately, their treatment of the Kurds leaves a lot to be desired.

If you go to a small village, you might want a head covering of sorts, but even then I don't think I would wear one. I am not Moslem, it does not say to wear one in the Koran, so why should I? Going into a holy place is one thing and calls for different behaviour, walking down the street is another.