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Travel to Istanbul - Is it safe? YES!

I went to Istanbul in early September and had a marvelous time. I am so glad I went.
Everything was superb, the hotel, the food, the people, the sites.

A trip to remember. I never once felt uncomfortable.
I hired a private guide and she was wonderful.
original post:
USA lists Turkey as Level 3 for travel (means reconsider).
I want to Travel to Istanbul for 4 days in 9/2018 as part of a trip to Egypt.
It would be as a single woman. I want to see this grand old capital before I get too old! There are so many things to see, and I have been wanting to go for ages.
The UK says Istanbul is safe, but I am concerned about the US warning. I plan on staying in top hotel, and observing all the safe practices for a woman traveling alone.

Posted by
2027 posts

1000michele, I was in Istanbul for almost a week in late May of this year, and went throughout the city by public transit and walking, at all times of day and into the night. It was totally safe, at least to my view, with plenty of police around. You do need to provide a firm “no thank you” to all the young men who offer to befriend and help you, but who have the ultimate goal of your visiting “their uncle’s” rug shop. Their goal is not evil, but it is commercial.

Posted by
5195 posts

I don't know what kind of risks you're expecting or worried about, but the worst that will likely happen is that you'll be bothered by touts trying to sell anything and everything under the sun (carpets, trinkets, etc.). I've been there as a solo traveler at least 3 times, once for over two weeks at a time. I dressed modestly, tried not to stand out, and had no problems (only some minor ones that you'd get in any big city). People were very friendly, and I thoroughly enjoyed each of my trips. There were so many things to see, 4 days will fly by before you know it.

Posted by
8895 posts

Well, the UK doesn't exactly say it's safe. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey

But it sounds better than the US State Department warning. Maybe because Americans are more prestigious targets for terrorists than Brits. (excuse the sarcasm)

I passed through the airport in Istanbul a few months ago on the way back to the US with a companion flying on a passport from a country that is a known supporter of terrorism. Neither of us got a second look at security. My companion had a mark on the boarding pass that I thought at the time was SSSS, but K, below says that's not possible, so my memory might be skewed. No one on the flight coming from the US or going to the US through Istanbul got a second look at their carry on luggage. A few months earlier i had been checked in Amsterdam (didnt mind at all) so i thought this was a bit lax compared to what i have seen the last few years.

To the positive, the process in the airport was a bit confusing but not overly so and all in all better than going through Chucky D airport.

Oh, your question, I was in Istanbul about a year ago. I FELT PERFECTLY SAFE (excuse the sarcasm). A week later a number of tourists were killed in a bombing. Would I go back? Probably not, but not because of the terrorism threat. If I give in to that I will have to avoid Paris too (and I love Paris).

Posted by
148 posts

I am a 67 year old woman. I have been to Istanbul twice - once on a one-week RS tour in 2015. I spent a day on my own at the end of the tour. I also struck out on my own during free time on the tour. I returned to Istanbul in 2016 when I had to transfer flights there on another trip. I spent two days there on my own. In both cases I felt quite comfortable there. I LOVE the city and am glad to have spent time there.

Yes, there were touts everywhere, but they were easy to get rid of. But many Turkish people were very welcoming and friendly - the hotel concierge who welcomed me with a drink and help planning my visit, the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar, and so on.

You might want to hire a private guide for part of your time. A good guide can help you learn how to navigate the city and give you suggestions for your alone time. There’s a tour agency that some of the RS guides work for when not working for Rick (and the guide I had on the RS tour was terrific). It’s website is: http://www.srmtravel.com/. I notice on their website that they offer half-day and full-day tours on a regular basis, and they also do private tours.

Have a wonderful adventure!

Posted by
8895 posts

renee: It was about the same when I was there. We only had 4 nights in Istanbul, but in that time I can not think of one person who i met that did not impress me as kind and generous; well at least outside of the bazaar. But I knew what the bazaar would be like and I just accepted it as a life experience. One great lesson, never confuse governments with people.

Posted by
3 posts

Many thanks to those with helpful replies. I am not concerned but getting feedback from family and friends.
I am going, and I plan on hiring a private guide for some of the time. I am really looking forward to this trip!
again, thanks

Posted by
348 posts

Curious, what are your family and friends saying? Have they first hand experience? Is it what they have here from a friend of a friends cousin or a dubious news outlet? If you wanf to go, go and have a fabulous trip😁

Posted by
15913 posts

The areas described as most troubled by terrorism on the State Dept. alert for Turkey are all far from Istanbul. The rest of the page is the same as for Egypt. Frankly, Egypt would worry me more, but that's partly because I haven't been there, yet.

SSSS can appear on flight tickets toward the USA, as reported here in a variety of other threads. I and others have gone through checks in Frankfurt, for instance. It is not necessarily a thorough or apparently logical checking procedure. For instance, you can easily just give your carry-on luggage to your travel partner who is not being checked.

Posted by
546 posts

I just left Istanbul and can reassure you that I never once felt threatened or uncomfortable in the slightest...except by the large number of Riot Police stationed in many places with very large and sophisticated crowd control vehicles. This is a government afraid of it’s own people. Not terrorists. And this display of force seemed to me more about who is in charge and what will happen if they disagree. It’s more intimidation than anything.

I found Istanbul to be very friendly and easy going. While there were the usual sales men importuning you to sit in their restaurant or buy something the best thing to do is ignore them.

And if you want to put a big smile on a Turks face, say a few words in Turkish. My guess is very few visitors make the effort and it is definitely appreciated.

Be sure you visit the Blue Mosque (dress appropriately) where they have a great explanation of Islam, what it is. And what it isn’t. Also be sure you see the Museum of Ottoman and Islamic Art and the Archeology Museum, especially the Ancient Orient. Both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are being renovated but still accessible and well worth it. The Archeology Museum is also under renovation but still open.

If I was to recommend ONE thing to you before you go it would be this: READ Orhan Pamuk’s historical novel My Name Is Red He won the Nobel prize in literature for this book and his others which are all good. But MNIR is his best. It is so interestingly constructed and is at it’s heart a murder mystery set in ancient Istanbul. It will really mean a lot when you go to the museum of Ottoman and Islamic Art as well as many other sights.

We really enjoyed eating in Istanbul and surprisingly one place in the guidebooks turned out to be our favorite lunch spot. The Pudding Shop or Lala Cafe as it is officially known. They have the coldest beer in town, really good and simple food a great and friendly staff and it is almost directly across from the Sultahnamet tram stop. Give it a try.

Go with no worries and have fun.

Posted by
3 posts

The negative for F&F is that Turkey is Level 3. Their opinion and I have to respect that, not from dubious news. Some are not as adventurous as me!
Touts don't bother me, that is part of traveling,
I understand security measures. Sad how 9-11 changed our world. I have nieces that think this is the way it has always been.
Thanks for the tips on what to see, my list is full! I am an avid reader and a history buff so I am very excited to see Istanbul first hand.

So many spy novels set in Istanbul as well.
Thank you Renee for your input.

Posted by
34 posts

I was there in October 2015 when they had the first bombing in Ankara. No one could believe it! All of Istanbul was in shock over it and at the time it seemed like some crazy one time thing. There was an “election” coming up and the nationalistic fervor was overwhelming.
I felt safe and welcomed when with my husband but the one time I ran an errand during lunch I did not. I was followed for several blocks in a residential area, until I was able to duck into a corner grocery , I really did feel like I was moments away from something unpleasant of some sort happening and was grateful to the grocery clerk for confronting and running the guy off. Maybe it was bad luck but I’m 56 and never had a problem traveling before on my own.
There were groups of young military police around every corner with water cannons that looked like tanks and they would occasionally slowly parade up and down streets. At first it was scary but as our week progressed without incident I became quickly used to it, which was a weird experience. Our hosts said that that was normal those days. At the time the state department had sent out a message about the bombing but there weren’t any long lasting, elevated warnings other than the general world wide caution.
The people were WONDERFUL and the city was beautiful and we enjoyed our Airbnb (European) expat hosts very much. In the intervening years they closed up shop and sold their property, because they felt it was too dangerous and it wasn’t the terrorist threat but the threat that the Turkish government poses to the people that both live and visit their.
It’s true that probably nothing bad will happen if you stay in Istanbul but if something were to go wrong or if you said something perhaps in innocence to the wrong person you could end up in very serious trouble. Regardless of how you feel about our governments policies towards other countries the bottom line is that we are absolutely not on good terms with Turkey and the possibility of becoming snared in it will keep me away for some time. I’m pretty sure US citizens weren’t even allowed in last year for a while. A level 3 warning is not to be taken lightly. We aren’t from the UK.

Posted by
8895 posts

I felt safe and welcomed when with my husband but the one time I ran
an errand during lunch I did not.

That's a perfect example of how useless "I felt safe" is. Nothing personal. Just one of those terms that bugs me. And before everyone freaks out. Its the term that bothers me, not Istanbul. I have been, and I think the risks of going are reasonable. I can think of a few other reasons not to go though.

Posted by
34 posts

Pick pick pick, James. You know what bugs me? Nit picking other people’s experiences or writing. I find it hard to believe that your disdain and sarcasm is helpful to anybody visiting Turkey. You already made clear your position on Turkey in your own post. My understanding of these forums, is that ithey are here to share our diverse experience and suggestions, not to exchange hyper-critical banter. Being nitpicked discourages other people from participating. Invalidating other people’s experiences and how that might be expressed is just being a bully. I’m not even sure exactly what you were saying you hedged your bullying so much in your remarks about my post. Yea it is personal when you post stuff like that. If you don’t like an expression, tell it to your dog not the forum community. And by the way if you can think of other reasons not to go to Turkey then maybe THAT is what you should be writing about.

Posted by
8895 posts

tracy.seattle, you made such a brilliant point about "feelings" vs reality that it supported my premise of the flaw of relying on feelings. I have to catch myself on such issues as well. I don't think I could live with myself if someone got hurt if based in only a small part on my feelings; especially when my feelings are counter to the warnings of those who presumably know more than I do. In other words, I take social responsibility seriously.

As far as my view of Istanbul I will stand behind my statement that those I met there were among the kindest and most generous I have met while traveling. And Istanbul is one of the more fascinating places I have ever been.

Sorry you had that bad experience, it would surprise me if your experience was indicative of any meaningful percentage of the people. I understand if you think differently. Such an experience as yours can be upsetting to put it mildly.

I added "excuse my sarcasm" in my post after the Hawaiian in the next post (since deleted) admonished me for replying on feelings after I have pointed out the fallacy of that. In point of fact there was nothing sarcastic about my statement, but I gave in for him. We never agree on much but he always made me think and reevaluate and that's a good thing. I always appreciate a healthy argument. I love Agnes for that and hope the Hawaiian returns.

Most in the world are perfect in their thoughts, me? I'm still learning.

And as for your personal attacks? I take them for what they are.

Posted by
1102 posts

With the latest in Turkey, I think the level of safety has surely gone down and I wonder about RS tours there. Now that Turkey is upset with the USA, will there be trouble for those who are visiting or plan to visit?
I will say too, that Turkey/Istanbul is on my to travel to list. But, not now or in the near future.

Posted by
5195 posts

With the latest in Turkey, I think the level of safety has surely gone
down

I don't mean to be critical, but what is the evidence behind this statement, specifically when it comes to tourists and those who are in the care of tour groups/guides during their trips? Conjecture should not be substituted for hard evidence. As of now, has there been an uptick in violence or rioting, etc.?

Posted by
1102 posts

@Agnes-no hard evidence and nothing untoward has happened to any tourist that I know of. Just would not want to visit right now with the deteriorating relationship between our country and theirs. I know other countries too are upset with us. Can’t say I blame them. #Metoo

Posted by
4730 posts

Agnes: I think the thought that Turkey is becoming more unstable is brought on by the Turkish President's recent response to the American president's economical sanctions imposed because of Turkey's detention of a Christian-American pastor. The Turkish President seems to be making anti-American speeches to flag waving Turks blaming Turkey's economic problems on the US.

At a minimum, economic markets are in extreme flux. It is still to early to know if the unrest will affect American tourist. That said, an American tourist may want to avoid red ball caps and american flag patches.

Posted by
5195 posts

I think the thought that Turkey is becoming more unstable is brought
on by the Turkish President's recent response to the American
president's economical sanctions imposed because of Turkey's detention
of a Christian-American pastor.

The grievance list and deterioration in relations goes back further than that - from Turkey wanting to have Fethullah Gülen in PA extradited, to criticism of the US for supporting the Syrian Kurd YPG in Syria, etc. Just a year or so ago, reciprocal tourist VISAs were scrapped for months. It's not a new spat, it just makes more waves because you have two strongmen going at each other with a lot of bark and blame-shifting.

No denying there will be uncertainty, but that has been the case for years already. The failed coup also added a lot to the mix. When I went to Turkey years ago, I'm sure there were warnings already on the State Department website. But regardless, the US has to get along with Turkey because we have a major air base located on Turkish soil @ Incirlik and we rely on them as NATO members.

Posted by
8895 posts

I'm not sure about the real extent of the risk of going to Turkey would be. But with the anti-American sentiment of the leadership of what is pretty much a dictatorship these days; then you cant trust the rule of law to provide you any protection --- if someone should choose to make a political statement.

Then there is the failing economy. Already on the way down before the US made it worse. If anything the US has provided someone to blame and divert attention from a more complex truth. So with peoples livelihoods being affected, i would expect at some point there to be protests and possibly violence like is ongoing in Iran right now (for pretty much the same reasons).

I wouldn't worry about the citizens of the country. Like everywhere they have their nuts, but my impression is that they don't harbor any animosity towards Americans or anyone else.

So, what are the odds of any of this affecting your vacation? Fairly small i bet. But i vacation to enjoy and not to worry so i would skip it right now. Although if you do go, I bet there are some real bargains on hotels and maybe airfare... While its not the situation I would want to be in; i really don't think traveling to Istanbul and getting a good guide or a structured tour is a ridiculous idea. Although, if something does happen I would have to ask myself, do i want my tax payer money bailing out someone that was warned by the state department?

Posted by
1604 posts

I personally would NOT go at this time. We visited several years ago, and we are glad we went THEN.
Google, if you have not heard the latest news (on world news this a.m. ) that several shots were fired at the American Embassy in Turkey.

I trust the State Department's warnings.

(Note: I incorrectly posted Istanbul earlier, but Agnes is correct it was in Ankara. I personally still would not to to Turkey at this time as an American.)

Posted by
5195 posts

It wasn't Istanbul, it was the US Embassy in Ankara. Please folks, if you're going to share news, make sure it's factually correct.

Posted by
1604 posts

Agnes,
You are correct. I was just returning to correct my post. When I searched for a link to add, I realized I was mistaken. The news article was from Instanbul, but the embassy is in Ankara.

Posted by
12277 posts

Michele, If it gives you some peace of mind, I was in Istanbul for 5 nights at the end of June (single, retired woman) and had a great time. It was my second trip there. If you have any questions, please PM me. I'll be happy to share.

Posted by
8895 posts

My impression is that Ankara is a little dicier than Istanbul.

And I trust Chani's judgment a lot.

Posted by
34 posts

Just got back from a few days in Cappadocia and a week in Istanbul. Everyone I interacted with was extremely friendly and helpful. I never felt unsafe at any point. I can't wait to go back!

Posted by
24 posts

I have been to Turkey many times over the past decade and more. I was just in Istanbul and Fethiye for three weeks last month (November 2018). We (two women) felt very safe. I would follow precautions that I would follow anywhere: don’t walk around very late at night, just say no thank you to shop keepers. I am going to Turkey again in a few months with another female friend. I am looking forward to seeing parts of Turkey I haven’t yet seen as well as visiting Istanbul again.

Posted by
8895 posts

I was in Istanbul about 18 months ago. I never felt threatened. I know some Turks here in the US and have to admit that they are among the best of people I know. But there is a sizable minority in Turkey that will resent you, just because of who or what you are. So, my attitude in such situations is to always be the ambassador of decorum and of respect and to always error on the side of caution in all things.
Safety is relative and feeling safe is individually subjective. Still, Istanbul is a facinating and beautiful place and worth the effort. Would I go right now? Probably not, but for reasons other than safety. Would I return to Egypt right now? Absolutely, and that proves all the paradoxes in making such decisions.

Posted by
2572 posts

Great advice from James.
We loved Turkey, been there twice. Istanbul is special.

Unfortunately, the secular Turkey that was in place for almost a century is being reversed by Erdogan and Turkey is moving backward.

The country is divided between a more European orientation and one focused more on Islam. I think visiting the country these days requires more concern for safety that in the past. It would largely depend on where you want to go. Most of the tourist place in Istanbul are likely still safe enough.