I visited Istanbul back in 2015 as a solo female traveler. At the time, I was 18 and still new to International travel. I had been in Italy for three months as part of a study abroad program, but that was it. I’d never traveled anywhere alone and didn’t have any friends who’d been to Istanbul before.
Leading up to my trip to Turkey, I received a lot of questions and concerns from my family and friends. The one consistent question being - is Istanbul safe for a solo female traveler? While I knew everyone’s concern was genuine, it seemed to stem from misconceptions about Middle Eastern culture. Few people seemed to know where Turkey was on a map, yet everyone had an opinion about my trip and, ‘that area of the world.’
When came down to it, I knew I had to go to Istanbul and find out what it was like for myself.
So, did I have a good experience?
I had an amazing and safe experience. Having since visited a handful of other cities around the world, Istanbul is still one of my favorites. Looking back, I think this is because Istanbul is such a vibrant mix of different cultures and sights. You’ll see people here from every inch of the globe and encounter some truly beautiful and historical pieces of architecture. Plus, the food is delicious. Even after eating my way through Italy, I was blown away by things like Turkish ravioli, baklava, and simit (a type of Turkish bagel).
Check out my complete list of things to see and do in Istanbul.
Tips for woman traveling alone to Istanbul
Stay in a hostel and make friends
One of the best ways to feel comfortable in Istanbul is by staying in a hostel and talking to the other guests. During my trip, I stayed at Bauhaus Guesthouse Hostel. It wasn’t the fanciest, but it was filled with other travelers. Some people had been in Istanbul for a while and were able to give me lots of advice on where to go and which neighborhoods to avoid.
Other travelers were like me and had just arrived in Istanbul. In those situations, I’d sometimes ask if they wanted to explore some of the city sights together. With a buddy by my side, I gained confidence in my surroundings and felt more comfortable venturing out alone.
TIP: To make friends in a hostel, stay in a dorm room and try to get to know people.
To avoid getting unwanted attention from men, I recommend dressing conservatively while you’re in Istanbul. This means leaving high heels, miniskirts, and skimpy tank tops at home. Instead, opt for tunics, pants, maxi skirts, and loose-fitting clothing. For examples on specific articles of clothing you could pack, check out The Blonde Abroad’s guide on what to pack for a trip to a conservative country.
Take a shuttle from the airport
If you’re arriving late at night or are unsure about taking a taxi in Istanbul, considering arranging a shuttle to pick you up from the airport. Most hostels and hotels have shuttle options you can set up before your trip. While it usually costs a little more than a taxi, it can be nice knowing your accommodation is aware of who picked you up and when you should be arriving. If you’re still not comfortable with taxis by the end of your time in Istanbul, considering getting a shuttle to take you back to the airport as well.
use common sense
For the most part, don’t do anything in Istanbul that you wouldn’t do as a solo female in a big city at home. For example, if you want to go out and drink, make sure you’re with people you can trust. Don’t get into a situation where you’re drunk, alone, and can’t find your way back to the hostel…that’s just asking for trouble.
Limit the number of valuable belongings on you
Most crime tourists run into in Istanbul is pick-pocketing and bag snatching. To fly under the radar of thieves, avoid wearing or carrying around expensive belongings. This includes things like flashy jewelry, designer handbags, and expensive camera equipment.
Locate the Istanbul tourist police
In case something does goes wrong during your solo trip to Istanbul, make sure you know how to find the Istanbul Tourist Police. This department of Istanbul’s police is specifically focused on helping tourists. You can find them in the Sultanahmet district between Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern.
Don’t be scared away by the news
Like any major city around the world, if you look up recent news on Istanbul, chances are negative articles will pop up. This is because frightening headlines sell and usually lead the pack in search results. One thing I always try to remember though, is I feel safe in the United States regardless of the crazy news stories happening here at home. This helps me remember the news isn’t always a good indication about what everyday life is like in a country.
My advice: Be aware of what’s going on in and around Istanbul leading up to your trip. Has a natural disaster struck recently? Are there any political campaigns causing unrest? These are the types of questions you should be informed on. Once you know what’s going on in the city, you can decide whether the news is a deal breaker or not.
The one time I questioned my safety in Istanbul
During my solo trip to Istanbul, there was only one time when I got a bad feeling about something. I was shopping for lanterns in a little boutique, when the man running the shop told me there were more upstairs. I started to follow him, but then noticed another man suddenly appear behind me on the stairs. He worked in the shop as well but had been out of sight. Not wanting to get myself in a bad situation, I hurried back down the stairs and out of the shop.
Did I overreact? I don’t know, but I also didn’t want to find out.
Chances are the men in the boutique were fine. However, there was no one else in the shop and I was shopping by myself. In using common sense, I decided to look for a lantern is a shop which was a little more frequented and not venture out-of-sight from other tourists.
Overall, I had a very positive experience in Istanbul. I felt as safe as I do in the cities here in the U.S. and can’t wait to make a return trip to Turkey someday. If you’re a solo female traveler thinking about visiting Istanbul, my main words of advice are, be brave but don’t be stupid.
Want to read other girls’ accounts on traveling to Istanbul alone? Here’s some good blog posts I found: