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Current safety in Istanbul

Thank you for all the comments, but they are all from months or years in the past. I notice the State Department has Istanbul on the "reconsider travel" list. I have the possibility of visiting Istanbul on my home from a Oberammergau/Israel/Jordan/Egypt tour. The main part of the trip alone will be about 3 weeks. This is already stretching my husband's time being away from his own bed, so we'd only have two or three days to explore Istanbul.

Is Istanbul reasonably safe? We would be traveling on our own - would you recommend a guide, particularly for the Grand Bazaar? We visited Morocco a few years ago and, even though my husband's navigational skills rival that of Lewis & Clark, I'm concerned about getting lost and never finding my way out. :-)

I grew up in Vegas and well understand being in a tourist town. There are some areas in Vegas that are no problem, and others that I would advise anyone to stay far, far away.

I would appreciate any thoughts, ideas, or ruminations any of you might have to share.

Posted by
595 posts

We are heading to Turkey in 4 weeks and I really don't have any reservations. We have family members that live there with their young kids, and they say it is business as usual for them. I believe there are areas close to the Syrian border that would not be advisable, but Istanbul is perfectly safe at this time. Hope you have a great time! We are very much looking forward to our time there.

Posted by
16 posts

I had a phenomenal 3 weeks in Turkey last year, including about 6 days in Istanbul. My local guide was amazing, and I cruised the city on my own after a day with her. (In my 60s, solo travel, felt safe, regular city caution but nothing uncomfortable). BTW: State Dept. did not advise travel when I was there, no other groups from USA, not many USA travelers. I was on the RS tour plus 8 additional days on my own.
Here is a post I made last year if it's helpful:

The RS tour of Turkey has limited time in Istanbul, a city that
deserves many more days. I arrived 4 days before the tour began &
connected with a local guide who was outstanding. Being with her was
like visiting a friend in Istanbul and having her show you the town.
REMZIYE KURT: remziye.kurt2@gmail.com; +90 505 806 13 15. Remziye was
flexible in adjusting to my specific areas of interest. She had an
engaging, conversational style & introduced me to neighborhood
treasures I would have not found in a guide book or on my own. Also
can provide a Turkish culinary orientation. Flawless English and
German in addition to Turkish. I was questioning whether to spend the
money on a local guide, and it was totally worth it with Remziye.

On another topic, I found a local non-profit store representing women
artists from rural areas where I purchased gifts rather than from the
Grand Bazaar or other tourist centers (although some retail purchases
in that type of setting is part of the Turkey experience). NAHUL:
Isitklal Cd., Bekar Sk. No. 17, Beyoğlu District of Istanbul.

Posted by
935 posts

Unless something has happened recently that I missed, it’s safer than a few years ago. A guide is always nice and you could search this site for guides as I know some have posted names and tour operators as well.
You don’t need a guide at the Grand Bazaar. You won’t get lost for long.
It’s a great city. Stay in Old Town and you will be near the must sees!

Posted by
6033 posts

It's been quite a few years since I was in Istanbul but I would not hesitate to go there right now. Even though there is an increased threat in some parts of Turkey near the Syrian border, Istanbul has usually been quite safe for tourists. There was a demonstration at the US consulate back in January but nothing to worry about. And, by the way, the State Dept security level for Turkey is a 2, the same as France, Spain, and Italy. I know most would recommend at least 3+ full days to enjoy it but with a couple of days you could visit the Grand Bazaar, and maybe one or two other places - Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, etc.

Posted by
700 posts

Regarding the Grand Bazaar, and the possibility of getting lost, it's not at all what I expected. Think MALL. Main street and lots of side streets. You always come back to the main street. You will not get lost in it. Promise.

Posted by
4 posts

This is all very helpful. The State Department rating as of a week or so ago was a three, but I feel they would be extremely conservative in their ratings.

With that being said, I really feel it would be best to save it for another trip, when I can truly appreciate it. It won't be for a couple of years, because I refuse to fly to Europe in coach class. We have to wait until we've accumulated enough frequent-flyer miles to go business or first class. It would be so lovely if sea travel became common once again!! That, or teletransportation. :-)

Posted by
7 posts

Hello baltic2,

We are currently on the RS Turkey tour. We got here a few days (prior to day 1), and we've been in the area of Sultanahmet for approximately 4 days. The area is very safe. Police officers are visible around all the sites, and are very professional and helpful. The people are friendly, and some of the merchants are a bit pushy, but not in a threatening way. A simple "thanks, but no thanks" will keep them away (at least in my experience).

Quite frankly, I feel very safe here, but you have to take certain steps to protect your personal property and valuables. The RS Turkey book does a great job addressing your concerns.

About getting lost. If you have T-Mobile, you're in great hands. We get free data (2g speeds), and we roam for free, as such Google maps has been primary navigational tool for us. We have yet to get lost 😃.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. We're here in Turkey for the next 12 days.

Z.

The grand Bazar does not require a tour guide, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to have someone for some of the other sites.

Posted by
4 posts

KatyO,

Thank you for the notice on the nonprofit shop. I am a weaver and have learned about these outlets providing a way for rural women to market their wares, and to encourage the keeping alive of traditional skills. I will keep this address in my Istanbul travel file for when I do go!

Posted by
17 posts

No one cares that you 'grew up in Vegas'. Not relevant. Istanbul is fine, extremely friendly yet a bit chaotic provided you use common sense. Yes there are scammers like anywhere else. Stamp around telling people 'I grew up in Vegas!' and you will get fleeced.

Posted by
4 posts

Adrian, that's kinda rude. Why would being from Vegas make me more susceptible to scammers? And why is my experience in a tourist-oriented town not relevant to traveling anywhere else?

Posted by
110 posts

Istanbul and most of Turkey is quite safe now a days. I wouldn’t go near the Syrian border, that’s it. I suggest that even though you will only have a few days, you should take this opportunity. One never knows if there will be a chance to go to Istanbul for a longer visit? If you love it, there is so much to see, that you can go back and also visit other parts of Turkey. The RS tour of Turkey hits all the important sights but Istanbul deserves more time. Therefore, you would definitely enjoy a few days in Istanbul now and would still love a second visit!

I highly recommend a tour guide I have hired when visiting with friends. He is extremely knowledgeable, his English is excellent, he is honest, and he is funny! I promise you will love seeing Istanbul with Metin. Here is his contact info:
Name: Metin Koca
Email: metinkoca@gmail.com
Cell phone: +90 (533) 322 00 85. (If you have the app WhatsApp, you can message him for free)

Posted by
4073 posts

I’m pretty sure that Metin would not be pleased that you posted his email and phone number (!) on a public forum. How inconsiderate!

Or Michelle Traveler is Metin and is self-promoting. Look at the posting history. I’m not sure.

Posted by
110 posts

Emily, you are very rude. I am a repeat traveler to Turkey. When friends come with me I like to hire a guide because I do not have all the history of each historical sight memorized. Visiting is much more meaningful with a terrific guide. I have hired Metin a few times. He is a fantastic guide and I am happy to recommend him. I am not Metin, nor is he a friend! I am quite insulted by your accusations. Many people appreciate a tour guide recommendation. Metin is a professional tour guide. He would be happy to be recommended, including giving his contact information. Keep your negative comments to yourself.

Posted by
4073 posts

What I think you fail to understand is that it isn’t just travelers who look at this website. People with nefarious intentions purposefully look for phone numbers and emails. By posting his name, phone and email, you’ve given bad people the keys to the kingdom for your friend. He should expect his account to be hacked and fraud to happen. Your actions, though well meaning, are very naive. You seriously should remove this information for his sake. Did he give you permission to post this information? In the EU, what you have done is illegal.

Posted by
110 posts

Emily, your condescending tone is unnecessary. Neither I, nor Metin are in the EU. Not to mention, he did say I could provide his contact info. Again, he is not my friend. Metin is a professional tour guide who relies on references. He is an amazing tour guide and anyone would truly enjoy walking around with him. I do not need or want your insulting “advice”.

Posted by
4073 posts

I am aware that neither you or your tour guide are in the EU. I’m simply pointing out that many places are already banning this type of behavior. Again, fingers crossed your tour guide doesn’t get hacked.

Posted by
766 posts

We are going in April 2020 and at this point have no reservations and frankly don't put much stake in the state departments rating. If I were them my own country (US) would be at the highest alert level. If what you want is more time than what you have then by all means save it for a different trip when you can really delve deep. We are doing the RS tour but have 3 full days before our tour starts and are so excited about seeing all Istanbul has to offer.

Posted by
110 posts

As you can see from Metin’s reviews on Trip Advisor, he is a fantastic tour guide in Istanbul. He is aware I gave out his contact info here. He is fine with it.

Posted by
10924 posts

Michelle Traveller, I am glad that using "he-whos-name-must-not-be-spoken" worked out well for you (sorry, I dont need Interpol looking for me along with you).

Posted by
266 posts

Is Istanbul reasonably safe?

I was there in 2015 and 2017. I felt safe on both trips. I am planning to go back again next year.

We would be traveling on our own - would you recommend a guide, particularly for the Grand Bazaar?

It's pretty easy to get around Istanbul without a guide, but I think you'll get more out of your experience with a guide. You don't need a guide for the Grand Bazaar. On my first trip to Istanbul, I was glad to have a guide. On the second trip, I went completely solo with no guide, and I didn't have any problems.

Istanbul is a marvelous, welcoming city. I highly recommend it.

Posted by
10924 posts

I will add, when asked, I think Istanbul is a must see for anyone interested in the world. Safe? For my tolerances, safe enough. Just remember you aren't in your gated residential neighborhood in the US, and be a little extra alert. It's a big and a bit complicated and a bit crowded, so I think a guide is an especially good idea.

Posted by
10 posts

James E Thank you for your thoughtful comments here and particularly in the Budapest forum.

I visited Istanbul 30+ years ago in the navy and finally convinced my wife to visit in 2020 along with a return to Budapest. Can't wait and I'm no more concerned about security on this trip than I would be on a trip to Rome or Paris.

Thanks again for all the great comments from all the Rick Steve's Forum posters.

Posted by
55 posts

We just got back from Turkey. It was safe. Before going I had read a lot about how to dress in Turkey. Many people had written that men and women should wear conservative clothes that covered knees and shoulders. After being there I would say that other than going to a Mosque most foreign tourists and many Turks wore shorts and form fitting clothes. The only place that seemed really conservative was Konya, which our guide said was a very conservative city. My wife and some other women wore shorts in Konya and noticed that some people stared. The starring was disapproving lots from a few Turk women mostly. Overall nobody seemed to care what you wore. In Antalya, the old city, it seemed like you could get away with almost any type of dress.

Posted by
10924 posts

The problem with questions of safety is that it's so subjective. Most responses will be based on personal perception with nothing factual to back it up. I'm not a big fan of asking on a forum and then proceeding on the views of one or two strangers. Me? On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being a gated US suburb and 1 being Syria, I "felt" about a 3. Well within my tolerance. But that should be meaningless to you, cause who am I? A navy seal may say 4.5 and a snowflake may say 2. Of course we should ignore State Department advisories, cause what do they know; except a hell of a lot more than I do. But yes, they will be conservative. Better that than be blamed if ....

Posted by
3304 posts

Safety is so relative to personal experience and comfort levels. That said, my 21 year old son just got back from 3 weeks in Istanbul and states that it is the best place he's ever been. He immediately went to Rome afterwards and said he felt far less safe in Rome than he did in Istanbul. There are soldiers with weapons in strategic locations (like you see in many European cities these days) but, other than that, it felt absolutely fine to him. He's widely traveled and has pretty good radar for dicey people and places. He was impressed with the kindness and friendliness of the people who live in the city, they beautiful way they interact with children, and how clean it was.

Posted by
1 posts

I am currently in Istanbul travelling alone and I feel perfectly fine. I found the Grand Bazaar a bit overwhelming with the crowds and pesky shopkeepers always trying to grab my attention. I don’t think there is a need for a tour guide. Getting lost in the Grand Bazaar is all part of the experience ;) I wasn’t able to exit the Grand Bazaar from where I entered but I found a way out no problem by reading the signs.