Is It Safe To Visit Istanbul, Turkey?

February 4, 2016 by Anil Polat  

ortakoy istanbul

It’s disheartening to have to answer this question, especially now about Istanbul, one that legitimately needs to be asked of most major cities around the world these days. This isn’t a matter of crime as it is in Quito, Ecuador, but rather personal security, given two recent terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul.

Turkey, in particular Istanbul, which saw 10.4 million tourists a in 2013, had overcome its perception problem of being a predominantly Muslim nation bridging an unfamiliar orient with the West.

Then, the Gezi Park protests happened, which lead to more of this.

Buffered Border Broken

Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq were always the concern on the horizon but over 1,400 kilometers from Istanbul was far enough for conscious travelers. (The distance from Istanbul to the Syrian border is about the same distance as New York City to Savannah, Georgia.) Until foreigners, specifically tourists, were targeted in an attack by ISIS that killed 11 people in Istanbul’s most famous tourist area.

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Tourism to Turkey overall fell sharply in 2015, now many of you might be considering a change of travel plans since it’s very reasonable to be concerned about your safety.

Security Experience

For better or worse, Turkey has a lot of experience with terrorism, primarily in its southeast along the border with Syria and Iraq. Combined with a strong intelligence service, many potential attacks are stopped in planning stages. After the Istanbul attack in January this year, more than 50 people were detained or arrested in connection. In 2015, there were twice as many terror incidents in the United Kingdom, for example, according to the Institute of Economics and Peace. In that same year, 142 people were killed in terror attacks in Paris, compared to 6 in Istanbul – 17 if you include 2016’s January attacks.

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istanbul turkey skyline

These numbers aren’t to say that one city is more dangerous than the other. Rather that in these large cities (Paris 2.2 million, Istanbul 14ish million) representing the 3rd and 5th most visited globally, both highly targeted by terrorists for those very reasons, the numbers are exceptionally low.

Realistic Reactions

Of course, every terror attack, anywhere, is concerning. Each life lost a crime against humanity. However terrorism is a tactic whose success depends on the reaction of the onlooker, notes CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. A day after the Istanbul attacks, local tourism companies held an anti-terror vigil where the suicide bombing took place.

According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Istanbul is one of the safest large cities in the world. Statistically you’re no more likely to be a victim of terrorism in Istanbul than London. Our Paleolithic brains evolved to be cautious – so although you should always trust your traveler instinct – realize that not visiting Istanbul to stay safe from terrorism would be equivalent to not flying because you’re worried about crashing.

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  1. Great article! It is a relief to see people like you. I live in Istanbul and I am getting upset keep on seeing articles of people who scared. They tell how their inner voice tell them about cancelling their trip to Istanbul. Of course it tells you that if you watched the news. However to come across to a terrorist attack is one in a million possibility. It can happen anywhere in the world nowadays. Thank you for encouraging the people.

  2. Claudia says:

    Put it this way: I was in NY on 9/11 and in London on 7/7/2005 and for months afterwards. I can honestly say they were the safest cities to be right at the time. So much security around, police, checks etc. Terrorism doesn’t really strike in the same place twice. It would be too obvious. I won’t restrict myself!!

    • Anil Polat says:

      That’s generally true, security increases dramatically right after an attack. Plus, since the chances of being a victim of an attack is so low, trying to dodge it is statistically unfeasible. It would be safer and wiser to avoid driving, for example, if one really wanted to beat the odds.

  3. Julia says:

    Well, we’re certainlynot changing any travel plans for Istanbul. We’ll be there at least once this year…and any extra visits, by travelling-elsewhere-default are a bonus. We’ll use that as an excuse to crash at a cheap hotel/apt for an extra night or two. Istanbul is a truly exceptional city. As Brits of our generation, we’ve grown up with more than enough of our share of domestic terrorist acts (VERY close to home for where we’re from). When people are killed, it is an absolute travesty. How the media report that travesty is sometimes what determines the response to that travesty and the country where that travesty happens is also significant in how the media portray it. So thanks for the stats and for this post. 🙂

  4. Deepa says:

    🙁 Sadly I have cancelled my trip to Istanbul. I was supposed to be there this 18th. But the constant news about firings and bombings have really deterred me this time. Its a very tough feeling to deal with when you’v to cancel a trip, Istanbul of all the places!! 🙁 🙁 last night a bus was set on fire in Eyup. Yes, I too believe in traveler instinct! have had quite a few experiences.

  5. Wai says:

    Well said – there are many risks more serious than terrorism while you travel. In Israel for example, more people die from road accidents than terrorism.