Istanbul is one of the most popular travel destinations on the planet. The city that straddles the Bosphorus consistently ranks at the top of travel popularity rankings. The reasons for this are obvious. Its documented history dates back to the founding of the Greek city of Byzantium in 657 BC. In 330 AD the Roman Empire renamed it Constantinople and re-inaugurated it as the new capital of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire. It also served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire from its conquest in 1453 until that empire’s collapse in 1922. Finally it has become both the cultural and financial, if not political, capital of the modern Republic of Turkey. There is no city with a richer history.
I have the seen the question “Is it safe to travel to Istanbul?” asked many times over the last few years. Initially the context behind the question related to the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and general public discontent. However since then, there has been an attempted coup and numerous terrorist attacks including:
- 12th of January, 2016 Istanbul bombing
- 19th of March 2016 Istanbul bombing
- 7th of June 2016 Istanbul bombing
- 28th of June, 2016 Atatürk Airport attack
The first step in answering this question, is ensuring that you are well-informed.
Where to get current government advice?
I am Australian. Occasionally I use the Australian government’s travel advice website but I consistently find that the British government’s service provides more up to date and detailed yet succinct advice. The US government’s website is not as up to date as the British government’s either. On the 3rd of August 2016, the British service (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey) included information on two rallies/protests due to take place in Izmir and Istanbul on the 4th and 7th of August. The Australian and US websites did not include this information and have not updated their advice with any extra detail since the first updates following the attempted coup d’état on the 15th of July 2016. In my opinion if there is one Government warning website you should monitor, it is the British one.
How do I get up date information from people on the ground in Istanbul?
Government released travel warnings, even the more detailed ones, give broad travel advice. The advice is broad and generic both by region and by time. In reality the situation evolves from day-to-day and from one of area of Istanbul to the next. To get an accurate portrayal of the detailed situation, you need to speak to people on the ground.
The best way to get in touch with locals or tourists in the country now or very recently, is through social media. A website like Reddit is great for this kind of purpose. The two subreddits most applicable in this case would be /r/istanbul and /r/travel. Another method to get in touch with locals is through couchsurfing.com. Most couchsurfing hosts are just travellers who are looking to make friends with other travellers. They would be happy to offer travel and safety advice. A quick search of Istanbul shows over 3,000 hosts in Istanbul who have logged into their accounts within the last week. Try to organise a get-together and use the chat as a means to get some information as to what the city is really like.
What should you really be asking yourself?
If you are reading this post looking for a definitive answer to your question, you won’t really get one. Because ultimately this is a question that every person will need to answer themselves and then, most importantly, be comfortable with.
The question I ask myself is Will I be able to enjoy myself? Or will my fear cause me to have an unenjoyable trip. No matter your decision, you don’t want to be left with any regret. Deciding to travel to Istanbul while full of doubt will spoil your time. Similarly avoiding Istanbul altogether at the request of friends or family in spite of your true feelings will always be a decision that your privately regret. These are the two outcomes to avoid. Conversely, going without apprehension, or staying away because of it, should both be outcomes that you are forever comfortable with.
I am always sceptical when anyone tells me where I shouldn’t travel to on the grounds of safety. I love hearing other people’s anecdotes and opinions, they always help inform my decision. However I am always mindful of what is informing this other person’s opinion. Have they travelled there recently? Do they have some information informing their decision that I do not? The key in all of this is to make sure that whatever you choose to do, you make an informed decision, one that you and only you are comfortable with, no regrets.