Istanbul Travel Advice
Security travel advice for Istanbul
How safe is Istanbul?
Threat level: Medium-High
Istanbul is a very ancient city that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait and has been known by Byzantium or Byzantion, later becaming Constantinople and then Istanbul. The city, like most major cities, has general crime concerns, such as pickpockets and muggings.
Most visits to Istanbul are trouble-free and without incident, Istanbul does have a relatively low crime rate, when compared to other major cities. Major tourist areas are well-policed and police road blocks are a common feature in most areas of the city. Visitors to Istanbul are reminded that Turkey is a Muslim nation and to be respectful of Muslim traditions, including dress and behaviour.
July the 15th, 2016 saw a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces, organising themselves as the 'Peace at Home Council' and attempting a coup d’état against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Government. The coup quickly ran out of steam, but was well-organised and a coordinated operation across several major cities. After months of arrests, the situation has now calmed down. Turkey did come under international pressure, after the arrest of a number of academics and journalists in connection to the failed coup.
The state of emergency that was imposed after the military coup in 2016 has now been lifted, but restrictions are still in place.
The attempted coup has left Istanbul and the rest of Turkey in a state of political unease. Although the President remains in control, there are still tensions as he cracks down on those involved.
Terrorist attacks are a continual threat across Turkey and particularly in Istanbul and Ankara; the country has seen at least 6 significant attacks in 2016.
It is possible that terrorist attacks may be carried out in Istanbul by either Kurdish separatist groups, such as PKK, TAK, or by groups acting under the umbrella of ISIS/ISIL. The separatist group TAK has in particular made recent threats of attacks.
On New Year’s Eve 2016/17, a gun attack took place at a popular nightclub in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, killing 39 people and injuring a further 70. The victims who died were from 17 different countries, 25 were foreign nationals. The attack took place at a heightened period of security; ISIS have claimed responsibility and the lone gunman is still on the run.
Istanbul has been the victim of a number of bombings in 2016; most recently a series of explosions and shootings at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, in which 45 people were killed and over 230 people injured. Attackers stormed the airport armed with suicide vests and guns, and simultaneously targeted people and areas. It is believed that the attackers were acting on behalf of ISIS.
Another recent attack occurred on the 6th of October 2016, a bombing attack that took place at the police headquarters in the Yenibosna area, on the European side of Istanbul. Nobody was killed and no groups have taken responsibility for this attack.
In January 2016, a suicide explosion in the city killed 13 civilians, all of which were foreign visitors. The attack targeted an area popular amongst tourists and was also claimed by ISIS.
A bomb in the centre of the city caused 12 fatalities and injured several others in June 2016. Police forces were the target of the attack whereby the bomb was remotely detonated. A Kurdish nationalist militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, in an attempt to deter tourists from visiting the country.
The large number of terror-related incidents in Istanbul means that tourists should travel there with extreme caution and remain alert at all times.
Due to recent security events, the police are more frequently stopping passers-by in Istanbul and conducting ID checks. You should ensure that you carry some form of identification on you at all times, to prevent any trouble or issues arising.
Demonstrations have been known to break out at very little notice in Istanbul and can easily escalate into violence. You should not involve yourself in such events, particularly in the current state of the city, as this can lead to serious repercussions, including detention or heavy fines.
Thieves and pickpockets operate in Istanbul, particularly targeting tourist-heavy areas. Tourists are perceived as easy targets, as they are most likely carrying a number of valuables and will be distracted when visiting areas of interest. It is highly advised that you carry as few valuables as possible and keep them close to you at all times.
English is not widely spoken in Istanbul, so it is recommended to learn a few essential phrases for tourists and invest in a conversational guide for travellers.
Travelling around Istanbul
Public transport in the city is cheap and plentiful, helping you to reach all your necessary destinations. Available methods include: trams, metros and buses. Fares for all three can either be paid for by purchasing a token from a sales booth or vending machine, or through using an Istanbul Card, which gives you discounts on journeys.
If you plan to use public transport a lot during your stay, it is advised you invest in an Istanbul Card. If you are travelling with children younger than 6, they do not have to pay.
Roads are frequently congested and barely move between 7am and 10.30am and after 4pm. It is highly advised that you use public transport or walk during these times, as waiting times can be excessive. It is advised not to self drive as driving is erratic in Istanbul and road regulation is often ignored.
Taxis in Istanbul begin with 34 T – anything other than this claiming to be a taxi is fake and you should avoid using. Be careful of taxi drivers trying to rip you off, if they know you are a tourist. It is recommended to agree a fare or to make sure that the meter is in use. Do not let them drop you in an alternative place and take the same amount of cash. Stay firm with them if they try and ask for money before the journey. Only use taxis if you really have no other options, as it is not the best mean of transport in Istanbul, because of congested traffic which ends up being costly and very time-consuming; favour public transport instead.
Emergency services in Istanbul:
Police emergency: 155
Fire emergency: 110
Fire emergency: 177 (Woodland/Forest fire service)
Medical emergency: 112
Maritime emergency (Coastguard): 158
Missing child/Women's helpline: 183
Tourist Police: 0212 5274503 (Istanbul only)
Currency: Turkish lira
Time now in Istanbul:
Consular information for Istanbul
British Consulate General Istanbul
Meşrutiyet Caddesi No 34
Telephone: +90 212 334 64 00
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul
Üç Şehitler Sokak No.2
Telephone: +90 212 335 90 00
French Consulate General Istanbul
Istiklal Caddesi No: 4
Telephone: +90 212 334 8730
Italian Consulate Istanbul
Tom Tom Kaptan Sokak No:5
Telephone: +90 212 243 1024
For further embassy information and locations, please see our live travel map below.
Useful websites for visiting Istanbul
Healthcare and Immunisations
You should ensure that you have adequate travel and health insurance, as Turkey does not have a healthcare agreement with other countries. If you require medical treatment, private care is advised as the standard of care is high, and you will be able to be treated by an English-speaking doctor. You will have to pay for all treatments, and a consultation starts at around £80.
Many pharmacies in Istanbul are able to sell you medicines that may require prescription in your native country, so if you require more medication, it is worth consulting them before you seek further treatment.
Pharmacists will also be able to offer advice and prescribe basic medicine, which can prevent you having to pay excess medical fees. Most neighbourhoods in the city will have a 24/7 pharmacy, with many pharmacists being able to communicate in English.
Below are the addresses of two hospitals that provide a high standard of treatment, should you require it during your stay:
Güzelbahçe Sok No:20