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.
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.
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.
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.
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.