With Istanbul being the bridge between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia – and with plenty of stories and concerns surrounding it – if you are a female traveler, you will end up wondering: Is Istanbul safe for me?
Based on my own experience traveling with my wife (who also went on a few bits of solo exploring of the city), I can say that Istanbul is indeed a generally safe destination for solo female travelers, as long as reasonable precautions are taken.
I got this confirmed by my wife too, with whom I spoken to get personal opinions for today’s article. This will hopefully help you understand all the potential issues regarding personal safety as a female traveler in Istanbul.
During my visit to Turkey’s capital, I found the city to be quite liberal in its outlook, with no need to cover up or dress modestly unless visiting religious sites. This is similar to visiting temples in Thailand, for example and it totally makes sense.
I discovered that the most common crimes against tourists in Istanbul were pickpocketing and your traditional tourist scams – and these happen to both genders, not ladies only and it’s relatively easy to prevent them.
To avoid falling victim to these petty crimes, it is crucial to adopt the same caution you would in any other cosmopolitan city and practice common sense safety measures.
In the end, you don’t want to end up like me when I was robbed in Colombia… and that only happened because I decided to completely ignore all the advice that I am giving.
But let’s get back to female traveler’s safety when in Istanbul!
Is Istanbul Safe for Female Tourists?
Istanbul is a generally safe destination for female tourists, including solo female travelers as petty crime rates are low and women are not particularly targeted.
While Turkey is known to be a more conservative country than others, Istanbul is known for being more liberal overall.
As a female traveler, you don’t have to feel obliged to cover up or dress modestly. It would probably be appreciated by some, but it’s definitely not necessary unless you want to visit any of the mosques or other religious sites.
So you don’t have to worry about being harassed or approached on the street for not covering up. There’s an extremely low chance of that happening – and if that does, simply ignoring the person that is talking to you will be enough to avoid any complications.
It’s important to take reasonable precautions when visiting any city, and Istanbul is no different – this is my experience with every touristy and not so touristy city that I have visited, alone or together with my wife, who also traveled alone without any problems.
Here are some tips that have helped my wife stay safe as a female traveler in Istanbul, especially when traveling solo:
- Be aware of your surroundings: Always keep an eye on what’s happening around you and be aware of your surroundings. Be alert, but without being paranoid.
- Choose accommodations wisely: Choose well-reputed hotels or hostels in a central location, especially if you are a solo traveler. Ideally, don’t share your room with strangers.
- Stay confident and assertive: Projecting self-assurance can often dissuade potential scammers or harassers.
- Plan your transportation: Stick to established public transport or registered taxi services, especially at night.
- Inform someone about your plans: Letting a trusted friend or family member know your itinerary can add a layer of security.
Keep in mind that Istanbul’s reputation as a safe destination for female travelers has weathered some controversy in recent years, including terrorist attacks.
But understanding the context, the USA has a higher crime rate than Turkey, and yet you don’t really hear anybody saying that the US is not safe for travelers, be them solo females or not.
While Tukey is not one of the safest countries in the world, it’s not bad either. It is still one of the countries where there’s a low occurrence of crimes against females.
From a geographical perspective, it’s worth noting that while Turkey shares a border with Syria, where a war is undergoing, Istanbul is about 900 miles away from the conflict zone.
So all in all, the conclusion is clear: Istanbul is generally safe for female tourists.
Safety Precautions in Istanbul for solo female travelers
During my trips to Istanbul, I’ve gathered some useful information about neighborhoods to avoid as they are considered less safe than the touristy places.
Better be safe than sorry, especially in a huge and beautiful city like Istanbul that has plenty to offer in its safe neighborhoods.
While many tourist areas, like Sultanahmet, Taksim, and the area around the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, are generally safe, there are certain neighborhoods that are best to avoid.
For instance, Tarlabasi and Dolapdere are known for higher crime rates and are probably the most notorious neighborhoods in Istanbul.
Be especially careful about Tarlabasi, which is located close to the safe Taksim neighborhood – so it’s easy to end up there if you start to aimlessly walk the city’s streets.
Also, I would recommend to stay away from other areas like Kasimpasa or Gaziosmanpasa. Basically, all of the neighborhoods that are not centrally located or touristy are best to be avoided.
I am not saying that something bad will surely happen if you visit any of these places, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid them, especially if you’re traveling alone.
Dealing with Attention and Harassment
Probably this will be the most common problem solo female travelers will have to face while in Istanbul – and Turkey as a whole.
Especially if you are a young woman with blonde hair. For some reason, the men living in Turkey seem to be fascinated by blonde-haired women who tend to get more attention than others.
I am not sure why this is happening – maybe because your regular Turkish woman usually has a darker complexion and dark hair, so blondes are considered exotic. But I have noticed that – and so did my wife.
Either way, as a woman – blonde haired or not – you might experience unwanted attention or even harassment if you’re traveling solo.
In my experience, the best approach is to acknowledge the situation calmly and assertively. Usually, simply ignoring the person that is talking to you will discourage them.
Here are some other ways to prevent this or stop it:
- Dress modestly, especially when visiting mosques or conservative neighborhoods.
- If someone is being unnecessarily persistent or engaging in aggressive behavior, don’t hesitate to seek help from police or locals. Enter a store, restaurant and make sure to get into a crowded area ASAP.
- You can use earphones or headphones to avoid disturbance from catcalls or other unwanted street interactions. However, make sure you still stay aware of your surroundings for your personal safety.
Common crime and scams in Istanbul
While Istanbul has a relatively low crime rate, overall and we’ve seen that it’s generally safe, there are three other potential scams that I want to cover in today’s article.
Istanbul is a bustling city, and I have noticed that pickpocketing tends to occur in crowded tourist areas, such as the Grand Bazaar. Some ways to minimize the risk of pickpocketing include:
- Using a money belt or hidden pouch for cash and valuables
- Avoiding displaying expensive devices or jewelry
- Keeping bags zipped and secured tightly to your body
- Keep your phone is a safe place (NOT your back pocket!)
- When in really crowded areas, pay extra attention to your surroundings and don’t let yourself distracted!
These are not only aimed at female travelers but any sort of tourists, but in many cases the drivers will get more vocal and cocky if a woman is involved, because they consider it’s easier to impress her.
I’ve been a victim of taxi scams all over the world, I have to admit it and sometimes it happens, no matter how hard you try. I wrote about avoiding taxi scams in Santiago, for example and most of the advice there goes in Turkey too.
To avoid falling for these scams, I follow these tips that I recommend you to follow too:
- Ensuring the taxi has a meter and the driver turns it on upon entering
- Confirming the estimated fare before starting the journey
- Avoiding taking taxis from unofficial taxi stands, especially around tourist hotspots
- Being aware that the taxi driver is taking a reasonable route, using a navigation app to check
- Take an Uber instead of a regular taxi
Some restaurants attempt to target unknowing tourists with various scams. In my experience, it is essential to be cautious when dining at unfamiliar establishments, particularly in popular tourist areas. To avoid being scammed, I:
- Check the menu and prices carefully before ordering
- Confirm any ambiguous charges on the bill
- Be cautious with restaurant recommendations from strangers. Actually, you should NEVER let a local you don’t know take you to a restaurant – there are plenty who will try to do it!
- Researching popular dining spots beforehand to identify reputable options
Dress Code for Female Travelers in Istanbul
As a female traveler visiting Istanbul, it’s essential to be aware of and respect local customs and traditions.
While Istanbul is more liberal compared to other Muslim cities in the country, it’s still essential to be mindful of cultural norms, especially when visiting religious sites like mosques.
Also, if you dress with more revealing clothes and show more skin than your regular Turkish girl (and it doesn’t take a lot to beat that), expect to be the target of extra attraction from locals – although in probably 99% of the cases, it won’t be more than an annoying thing.
But since it’s easy to prevent it by wearing longer sleeves and longer skirts or pants, it’s worth doing it! If you can accept wearing a scarf on your head or at least a hat, it’s even better. Not mandatory, but better.
As you can see, Istanbul is generally safe for solo female travelers, with low crime rates and only minor petty crimes being more common.
Also, if you are a young blonde woman, prepare to draw more stares than others (maybe some comments too) but most likely nothing to put you in danger.
If you have any experience visiting Istanbul as a solo female tourist, don’t hesitate to share it with our readers below.