I am a blonde haired, green-eyed female who has travelled to Istanbul many times ALONE and have never been scammed or in danger! I am like others who have written in amazement of the naivete of travellers. If you have a little common sense you can avoid scams and traps....it does not take a rocket scientist.
Every city in every country I have been to has had bad sections and scam artists and prostitution, etc. That's why you find out where these areas are BEFORE you go to that city in that country and avoid it! Simple!
Yes, the men flirt with foreign women a lot but so what?! Every country I have been to I have had men flirt with me. It is just the difference and excitement of different cultures. Also, Istanbul is not nearly as bad in this area as the "resort" cities in Turkey or once again, any other country. You go to a resort area in another country and the men (and some women) are going to try to seduce you and get you in bed. If you are silly enough to fall for their lines five minutes after you meet them then it is your own fault.
I love Istanbul and I have a few female friends from different parts of the world that travel to Istanbul alone and have done so for years without problems. I'm sorry but I get tired of people singling out a particular city in a particular country and making it sound so much worse than any other place on the planet. Believe me, I can find the same scam artists and dangerous areas in many, many, many states in America.
So go and enjoy Istanbul and feel safe. Just use common sense and if you lack common sense then just don't travel anywhere!
I always say that no matter wherever you are travelling in the world, if you are a woman travelling by yourself you always have to be that extra bit careful.
Turkey is a secular country and there are women wearing whatever they want. Some wear headscarves, mosf of them however, do not. You'll get away with a mini skirt here.
Above all you just gotta toughen up a little. Don't let hassles from idiot males upset you and don't make eye contact with them. The best way is to just act with a little confidence... The Turkish women manage just fine!
Istanbul is a fantastic place and everyone I met was polite, courteous and friendly but, as a single women traveller, you may find you gain some attention.
In my experience most of it was the usual kind of approaches i.e. invitations to visit shops, asking if you wanted a guide to sites and attractions. Only on a couple of occasions did I feel that there may have been an ulterior motive. However, even then I never felt threatened. My response most times was a polite "No thank you" or a "Sorry but I'm on my way to meet friends". Just use your common sense. Dress appropriately and respect the customs and conventions of the country you are in. What might not stand out on Oxford Street may stand out in Sultanahmet. Walk purposefully and if you are out at night stick to main, well-lit roads (I ate out every evening in and around Sultanahmet and had no problems walking back to my hotel at night) Don't 'advertise' your valuables i.e. camera, phone etc.. or money, make sure they are in a well zipped up bag or pocket. All advice that pertains to a lot of places not just Istanbul.
You will probably get stared at but just ignore it. If things do go further and you do find the attention becomes a bit too much (I did get somone trying surreptitously to slide there hands down to my bottom while they were selling me a bag!) then a loud and firm "No" or "Don't do that please" usually has the desired effect. Again I have suffered much the same on the London Underground and, again, a sharp no (though usually preceded by an expletive) works well!
Be careful, be aware but don't let it stop you from having a good time
When I first moved to Istanbul, I met a carpet dealer who told me something I have never forgotten. In tourism, the men are either after money or sex - there is no inbetween. While this is a very generalization, I have found it to be true way too often. It differs from city to city, but many women are taken in. Of course there are always exceptions to a generalization, but I think it is better to enter Turkey without naivity!
As a local I have to say that Jetgirly's experience and advices are true. There are millions of street vagrants who bother girls in Turkey. But the formula is SIMPLY IGNORE them. Saying "no, thanks" by a smiling face would only encourage them, this is not Europe.
I am really bored of hearing this "Istanbul is much safer than other metropols". No it is not. I have travelled 30 countries and never felt as unsafe as I feel in my own city (okay, except Mongolia). People don't kill each other on the streets much, but petty crime is high. Pickpocking, grabbing and home robbery are frequent. Traffic is horroble, no driver cares zebra crossings. You may simply die if you rely on crossings if you are from a civilar country thinking that all the world is like at home.
For your daughter: she will be safe with just a common sense, leave her to come. Istanbul is great and yes, that is true people are friendy and helpful.
It won't take you long after arriving in Sultanahmet to realise that alot of the guys think they are Casanova!
Propositions of dinner, drinks, massages, tour guides, english lessons, almost everything, spring forth when a foreign woman walks the street, especially alone. I have to admit I did get really sick of it, and one night, I was almost in tears because I couldn't go anywhere without being harrassed (not that I have tickets on myself!!! It happens to woman of all ages and types, as long as they are foreign!!).
All of the restaurants and bars have men outside trying to get passerby's in. They learn where you are from, where you are staying and your name and NEVER forget! Also you are followed relentlessly around the streets and bizarre's as well. I learnt these guys are usually the ones that spread your origin, accomodation details and name around because they know everyone.
But let me tell you, it doesn't take long to realise that all roads lead to a carpet store! Basically the street hustlers are carpet sellers and also have deals with the local restaurants and shop owners to get you into their carpet stores. Sometimes its about accommodation scams but mostly carpets!
It may be scary but its usually harmless, as long as you don't go anywhere with them, give them no money or information about yourself and if you are alone, it may pay to pretend that your boyfriend is around somewhere or on his way!. If you get suckered in and end up sipping apple tea in a carpet shop with one of these fellows who are refusing to take no for an answer, just claim you can't make a decision without your boyfriend being there! You may also wish to decline his final attempt at keeping you there "Ok, do you want a massage instead?"..............ummmm...............no!!!!!!
Yes, I know it's clear by now that there are many pushy or sexually agressive men in the Sultanahmet area. While I was rarely frightened of them, I WAS unnerved when a car followed me slowly and occasionally honking. But if I were in a dark street, I probably would have been more freaked out. I can say with certainty, that I've never met as many men with sleazy smiles on their faces than anywhere else. (p.s. I wasn't wearing anything "provocative", just jeans and chunky sweater). I even got harassed by little boys. They were probably 7-12 years old and calling out stuff like, "Hey sexy japanese lady". While they were mostly likely imitating what they've seen, this kind of tipped me over the edge. Never mind the fact that I'm NOT Japanese!
Despite all the arguable annoyances, there really are many very kind and helpful Turks. i.e. When I was nearby Topkapi Sarayi, a twenty-something guy asked me if I needed help (I must have looked confused). I was already wary, due to my other encounters, but he didn't hound me for a date or try to sell me something. Perfect gentleman. Some cops warned me that Taksim Square wasn't such a great place for a foreign woman travelling alone and got me a cab. And a older woman on a bus to Istanbul made me sit next to her, so the weird guy who was giving us looks wouldn't have a chance. She was so cool.
In any case, I don't think it hurts to know how to yell for "Help" in different languages. Just yell "IMDAT!"
when travelling around the city by taxi it is a good idea to sit in the back of the cab.
Some taxi drivers can misinterpret why you wish to sit up front with them............
also it is marginally safer if you get a driver who thinks he should be a Formula 1 driver
Now, I'm not a girl who falls easily for a guy's line. I've heard a lot of them before but I have to say that one very sweet and boyish looking Turk had me feeling very guilty about rebuffing him. I mean, the guy was really clean cut and my travelling companion agreed that he did not seem the least bit sleezy.
It was only after returning from Istanbul and hearing stories from a friend of a friend that I see how common it is for Turkish men 'fall in love'. Yes, my would-be Romeo invited me to dinner saying I was a beautiful girl. He was good looking, but I'm just not into holiday romances which was probably what saved me from making a silly mistake. He was our guide while in Istanbul and when we met up again after our tour of Cappadocia, he appeared hurt because I had not replied to his sms invitation to dinner. I felt bad and composed a polite rebuff which only encouraged him. Good thing it was the end of the trip otherwise the pursuit might have gotten more intense.
My advice would be to go in with your eyes open. If you want a fling, they seem to be willing partners and power to you for that but don't give them your personal contact details. If you mean to rebuff them, don't bother being polite. Be totally blunt about your disinterest. Politeness seems to encourage them. Don't ever feel bad if they appear heartbroken. It's all part of the game. Proof? Once I left the country, his pledges of affection dried up immediately.
Single women traveling alone will likely get a lot of male attention. It's usually quite harmless--I never felt harassed by it--but it can be a nuisance.
One way to limit this is to buy or borrow a wedding ring, which will cut down on the requests for dinner or a drink or a walk in the park.
If anybody asks, you can say that you're out looking at museums (or shopping for a gift for him, or whatever) while your husband has to check his email (is shopping for a gift for you, is having a Turkish bath in a men-only hamman, or whatever).
Before I went to Istanbul, I read all the warnings and tips I could possibly found online. Some tips or warnings were a bit "scary" to me. In March of 2009, I traveled alone and stayed in Istanbul 4 nights. I really loved the city. I stayed somewhere close to the Tulip Mosque. I basically walked in old town, took the tram, and visited palaces, mosques, bazaar, shops, etc. I generally was outside until 9pm. Sometimes I walked outside after 11pm (e.g. checking out the bus stop where I would take to the airport).
It is a lively city with so many people on the streets until midnight. I grew up in Beijing. While I was in Istanbul, I felt like I was in Beijing, very comfortable with surroundings. I walked around at night and there were people all over the places. Later in the evening street vendors set up their "carpet" with small crafts just like those in downtown Beijing. I never felt unsafe at all. While shopping or dining, sales or waiters were very friendly. They were saying hello and were very polite. They chatted with me asking me where I was from, what I was doing there, how I liked Istanbul, etc. During the entire time when I was in Istanbul, I did not see any Asian woman walking alone like myself, but no one bothered me.
I am writing here is to tell women who are like myself enjoying travel alone that as long as you stay in major attraction areas with a lot of people and are aware of surroundings, you are generally safe in Istanbul.
Please do not stop going to a place when you read or hear something negative. Bad things can happen in any place. I now live in the US, I feel like that the city closing to my home is more dangerous than Istanbul. I would never want to walk downtown there myself even during the day. Some US cities are terrible! There are so many "scum bags" hanging out on the streets in some cities in the US. I got most hassles when I was visiting places in the US. The worst I got was some crazy teenager was coming to me screaming right off my ear and left laughing loud. On the contrary, these cities in the foreign countries with world famous attractions and tourists are much safer than the cities or towns I live close by. I traveled by myself to several cities in Europe and Istanbul, no one ever has getting that close to me and doing these type of silly things like the kids or adults did to me in the US.
While on my second trip in Istanbul I decided to go to the grand bazaar by myself, while I was shopping around, this guy ask me if I wanted to purchase leather bags and I said no, but he would not leave me so I gave in. He offered me Turkish Apple Tea and told me I did not need to buy anything. The next thing I know, I'm in this small room with him and all of these leather bags. He ask me to pick out which one I liked and I hesitated, but he was very persistent so I picked out a purple one. He took the bag and and put on my shoulder. I was holding the bag when I felt him brushing up against me. I pushed him off and when I reached for the door, it was locked. I did not realized he had locked the doors. He began to get more aggressive - this was going back and forth for a while - I don't know how but I pushed him off. I'm sure people heard the commotion outside, but no-one did or say anything. When I finally made it back into the grand bazaar, I wanted to report the incident so I wrote down the following information, His name is Selim and he is from Madrid, Barcelona. He has been a vendor at the Grand Bazaar for about 12 years. He is white, with shoulder length dark blond hair, he is about 5'5" - 5'7" and weights about 130 pounds. When I got back to my hotel room, I was so devastated, that I did not want to think about it, so I just try to forget about it.
I think Istanbul is very beautiful. I met some wonderful people there who were amazingly kind and helpful to me. I am not trying to generalize, but if you're a female, you should go to the Grand Bazaar with a friend, preferably a male. With a male you won't have to worry about the men degrading you.
I've found several of the remarks from women here to be spot on, but there is something missing: the way they gain your trust and can get you feeling like you're the only female tourist they are in a real relationship with. Sultanahmet is crawling with cute, charming, fun, young, helpful guys who seem to care about you so much, act like they're your guardian angels. They'll protect you from all the (other) scumbags out there, right? Meanwhile they are getting to know what you like to hear and see, and they are playing the part. Pay attention to all the little red flags you might like to ignore for the sake of your holiday fantasy: they tell you things to fit what you've said about yourself. Notice the little bits of money you end up paying for them while you're together - they will become bigger! It starts small, but eventually they'll want more stuff. They'll spend every available moment with you in an attempt to tie you in to them, because you're their meal ticket and always a mark. (And you'll be missing things you really wanted to do, so they're robbing you of precious time in a great place.) They'll have their friends watch your movements, and they'll know where you are most or all of the time - not just to protect you. They don't want any of the other guys like them to get hold of you. When you go home they'll act like they miss you so much, want you to come back, they might even say they love you if that's what you want to hear... What you won't know without digging is how many other women they've done the same thing with and are doing it at the same time. They're continuing to work locally at this while writing multiple women internationally to get them to visit. This is how they make extra money because they are poor and their salaries are too low. Feel sorry for that, but don't believe all the lies. And don't believe you can change their lives - they like doing this to women and will continue as long as it pays in sex, money and ego trips.
Don't let anyone tell you this is harmless! It's only harmless to those who walk away after one conversation! Women who think it's harmless don't know where it can lead. For many others it has led to a lot of wasted money and time and energy. Sometimes it's also dangerous to your health: these men are promiscuous and don't believe in using condoms.
The one I encountered - nickname Gurhan (see picture) - was a hotel receptionist and got my cell phone number from the registration information. Engaging in relationships with hotel guests is against all hotel policies, for good reason! So they'll meet you elsewhere. Sometimes they have little apartments they share with other guys doing the same thing. Sometimes they'll have deals with friends who own rental apartments - they erase the record or have it in your name because even this is illegal. Even the carpet dealers will flirt with you, 'fall in love with you', be your best friend, whatever they think will get you to trust them so you give them your money.
My advice if any of this has already happened to you: make a written complaint to the hotel in question; make a police report as soon as you know the truth. If you bought anything big, have it appraised at home as soon as possible, and get the merchant's written Certificate with price you paid and the nature of the product. That way you will have documentation behind whatever you do. If the guy pressured you to do things you didn't want, report it! The police want to know.
Here are the email addresses to write to and a tourism police phone number. If you are in Istanbul you can just dial 155. It is like 911.
Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: +90 212 638 81 27
Watch your back - even with those men you feel great around. And go enjoy all the wonderful things Istanbul has to offer.
Unfortunatelly it is not an isolated case. Street harassment is very often in Turkey. I have been to 24 countries including very undeveloped, poor and nontouristy ones and never got any street discomfort, even any aggressive look. But in Istanbul it is almost impossible not to have any hassles neither from sellers or horny ignorant vagrants, especially for females, like you saw.
We have millions of people living in cities but don't know how to behave. Lots of uneducated men think that western tourists are easygoing and they can sleep with them whenever they want.
I am really angry with that case especially in Sultanahmet, Taksim, etc because there must be a kind of tourism police to save the tourists from street hassles, but they prefer not to deal with it.
Your post does not have anything blaming all the country or nation, no worries.
My German friend who lives in Istanbul for 5 years has just back from travelling Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Kongo, Burundi, and never has as much street hassles as in Istanbul.
I hope this does not prevent you from visiting our beautiful country again.
We were traveling to Istanbul as 2 married couple from Europe. We enjoyed markets and bargain until we experienced it outside markets - in almost every shop you will be overcharged and it is annoying as you don't want to spend all your holidays calculating and searching for appropriate rate. Even at Topkapi palace pay-office they lie about one cost for all sights, we felt not jiggered when we saw extra cost for Harem in Topkapi palace. Worse things were ahead when our wives went for shopping alone. If you want to avoid inappropriate touching never smile to Turk, watch your back in public transports and crowded places, and wear long dress even if its 35C degrees. However it haven't helped for our woman. Endless discourteous staring at European woman and Turkish man abusive attitude to their own woman made memorable experience. I believe some Turkish man fail to conflate and survive strict religion and some live aspects in new century what lead to gauche behavior they are not even aware of. We made few conclusions- Turks think tourists are stupid and they didn't make pleasant stay for us , we will never come back.