Spotlight City: Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, with a population of about 14,804,000, is Turkey’s most populous city as well as the country’s cultural and financial hub. Istanbul is a transcontinental city, bridging both sides of the Bosphorus strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea. As a result, the city is a cultural blend of both Europe and Asia. Drawing more than 13 million tourists each year, Istanbul’s biggest attraction is its historic center, which is partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Istanbul experiences moderate crime rates, including a relatively high level of petty crime. As a visitor to Istanbul, you should be aware of a handful of safety tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.
Threats and Risks to Travelers in Istanbul
Crime levels in Istanbul are generally moderate, and travelers are most at risk of petty crime. Pickpockets and thieves frequently operate in crowded public locations, such as popular tourist attractions and onboard public transportation. Take caution with your belongings when out in public.
Some locals may look to start a fight and rob you if you are not careful. Be wary of men in Taksim who splash water on the backs of your neck, hoping to get you to turn around and begin a fight. When possible, avoid direct confrontation.
Scammers and shady individuals often reside in the slums located between Suleymaniye and Ataturk avenue. These areas are not safe to traverse, even during daytime, as locals have been known to exercise aggressive behavior towards foreigners in their territory. Avoid these urban zones whenever possible.
There are also many scams and traps that attempt to target travelers. Avoid local bars, sketchy currency exchange services and unofficial taxis. Try to agree on taxi fares ahead of time based on advice from trusted locals, as taxis overcharging is the most common trap that travelers become victim to.
Remain attentive at all times, as thieves can relieve you of your possessions very quickly. Be aware of personal space and exercise caution if you find people bumping into you haphazardly, as this is a common way pickpockets steal. Thieves can also work in pairs: some types of beggars can be insistent and distract you while another thief quietly pickpockets your person. Do not carry high amounts of cash on your person, and keep personal documents separate from your wallet to minimize the chance of loss.
Whenever possible, stick to larger, well-lit roads and avoid side-alleys or isolated streets, especially after dark. At night, it is best to remain in areas with lots of people. If you can help it, avoid travelling alone.
Women travelling alone should take particular care in Istanbul, as locals are known to harass and even stalk female foreigners. If you feel threatened, yell and get the attention of the crowd.
Istanbul is home to three of the biggest football clubs in Turkey: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. Intense rivalries exist, meaning you should avoid wearing colours that associate yourself with any of the clubs: black and white, blue and yellow, and red and yellow, respectively. Be especially attentive on game days.
What to Do in an Emergency
In the event of an emergency, dial 112 to access emergency fire, medical and police services. Be advised that assistance in English is not guaranteed. Contact the representation of your country in Istanbul as they may be able to provide further assistance. The Istanbul Police Department has a “Tourism Police” department that deals with passport loss and theft or any other criminal activity that travelers may encounter. This department has an office in Sultanahmet and can reportedly speak English, German, French, and Arabic. They can be reached directly by dialing (+90) 212 527 45 03.
Istanbul is an international hotspot for tourism, having been declared the European Capital of Culture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Istanbul is also considered a global city and possesses one of the fastest growing metropolitan economies in the world. Its vibrant synthesis of both European and Asian culture combined with the charms of its rigorous revitalization and expansion makes Istanbul a valuable destination for any traveler.
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