You may have heard of recent news surrounding the overall safety in Istanbul. While it’s true that Turkey shares a border with Syria, the city is more than 900 miles away from the turmoil and conflict that’s being shown on television and internet news coverage. As is the case with so much news these days, it can be difficult to determine what is real and what is fiction. In a recent trip to the popular and culturally-rich city of Istanbul, I witnessed unprecedented beauty, culture, and generosity.
What is considered safe?
With a population of over 15 million, Istanbul is bursting with people day and night. It’s considered to be the economic, financial, and cultural center of Turkey even though it isn’t the capital city. With so many people living and visiting the city, safety is an obvious topic. What once seemed like a volatile area, my firsthand experience proved it to be a very normal city.
The city is safe. To give you more peace of mind, the streets are lined with patrolmen from early morning to late at night. They are there to enforce peace, but there’s also a subliminal message of intimidation just by seeing them on the streets; their stern looks also add to the effect. Like other cities of Istanbul’s size, you must be vigilant of your surroundings and trust your instinct, but I had no trouble as a first-time solo traveler.
Inside Istanbul – Beauty, Culture, and Generosity
In addition to covering the culture, here are some things I learned firsthand which may help you plan your own visit to Istanbul:
- Travel in the spring or fall. The best time to visit and avoid the heat and humidity is early spring or, if you’re like me, go between the months of September to November in order to have near-perfect temperatures in the high 70s.
- Convert your money. Before arriving in Istanbul, convert enough money in Turkish lira (Tl) to cover your bus fare from the airport to the hotel. Do not convert money near tourist areas because you won’t get a fair trade.
- Take the bus. It’s cheaper to take a bus to your accommodations. Taxis (or, even worse in Istanbul, an Uber) are way too expensive and will cost over 50 Euro. Bus fare will cost you under 5 Tl one way, which is currently less than $1.
- Free walking tours. Before arriving, or the day of, look for a free walking tour online by searching Google or visiting sites like FreeTour. The local guide will tell you everything you need to know about your neighborhood, attractions, and local dos and don’ts.
- Be a bargainer. When shopping anywhere, you should never agree on the first price. If you negotiate in Tl, especially at the spice market or bazaar, the merchant will give you a much better price. Also, merchants hate credit cards. If you use cash instead, the merchant is more inclined to give you a better deal.
- Eat and be happy. The streets are lined with restaurants and promotors doing their best to coerce you to eat at their establishment. Take a chance and enjoy the delicious and fresh cuisine. If you’re not interested, don’t be afraid to say no. A simple “no thank you” will suffice and you can continue walking.
- Talk to other tourists. If you’re traveling alone like I did, talking to other tourists and making friends goes a long way. Speaking from experience, having a familiar face around makes you feel more at ease about being halfway around the world. It also helps to learn a few words in Turkish. The locals will LOVE it, and you’ll feel more like one of them.
- Be nice. My hotel staff was so helpful and made me feel at home just because I enjoyed conversing with them. They were very kind, and we even enjoyed tea and snacks together “on the house”! Oh yeah, tea is a staple and you can see people drinking it at any time of day.
Lastly, traveling around Istanbul would not be complete without mentioning the cultural and historic beauty that is gushing from every pocket of the city. No matter if you stay in the historic Sultanahmet Square or if you’re in Taksim Square on the Asian side (there is a European and Asia side separated by the Bosporus Sea) you can still experience the great wonders of this bustling city.
Your hotel or travel agency can help you book half or full-day excursions which include sights like touring the Bosporus Strait, visiting Princes’ Island, nightly dinner cruises on the Bosporus, and much more. Other activities include shopping at the Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, exploring the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Roman-era Hippodrome, and Topkapi Palace Museum. I encourage you to check out all that Istanbul has to offer.