Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Travel in Turkey
Welcome to your “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Travel in Turkey!” I traveled to Turkey many years ago, as a young twenty-something. And to be 100% honest: it’s a country that left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s beautiful & exotic ~ with gorgeous beaches, wonders like Cappadoccia & the ruins of Ephesus, & Istanbul’s hauntingly beautiful mosques. But on the other hand, it’s the country where I felt least safe as a female traveler ~ compared to more than 35 countries I’ve traveled to. This won’t stop me from recommending travel there, because it’s such a fascinating place, but if you’re a female traveler, I definitely think you need to be informed about what to expect when traveling to Turkey.
Turkey Travel Map
If you’re coming from Western Europe or the United States, Turkey will probably feel like a world apart. With 95% of its land mass in Asia, & the remaining 5% in Europe: Turkey literally blends elements of Western and Eastern culture, possibly more than any country on earth. In looking at a map, you’ll see it’s the bridge between Europe & Asia. It’s a fascinating, at-times challenging, modern, erotic, & unusual country.
Ruins at Ephesus
Turkey Travel Overview!
- Safety = There are definitely safety concerns in Turkey, particularly the south-eastern region near Syria 25% 25%
- Cost = Affordable 40% 40%
- Exotic Adventures = Abundant!!! 95% 95%
- How Safe I Felt as a Female Traveler = Turkey is a place where I felt the least safe as a female traveler. 40% 40%
Turkey & Safety for the Female Traveler
On the Global Peace Index 2018, which ranks each country’s safety based on a wide variety of factors related to crime & violence, Turkey comes in at #149, out of 163 countries ~ which places it in “red,” making it one of the least safe countries in the world. For reference, Iceland is the world’s safest country, & is ranked at #1; while Syria is currently least safe, ranked at #163.
So, strictly in terms of statistics, Turkey is NOT one of the safest countries for travel. Bordering Syria, Iran, Armenia, & Georgia, Turkey lies next to some of the most unstable regions in the world ~ in addition to having issues of its own (such as the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that occurred in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate). I’m not saying this to deter you from traveling there; but it wouldn’t be wise walking into Turkey with zero knowledge of its culture & current climate. Check with the U.S. State Department prior to travel, & if you can, speak with other travelers who have recently traveled to Turkey.
What Was My Personal Experience in Turkey?
To give some context, I traveled to Turkey from Greece (via a HUGE ferry), with one of my best friends, Lea. The port town we entered was Kusadasi (on Turkey’s western coast), & I still have negative memories of that day. When we got off the dock, it seemed like hundreds of people were waiting there, trying to sell you taxi services or a place to stay; after such a long ferry ride, it was overwhelming. And one man in particular followed us to a phone booth (we needed to call our hotel), & though we declined his services, he proceeded to berate us & call us C-U-N-T-S…that lovely word!
Quite an introduction to Turkey.
We then hopped on a bus for Hierapolis (amazing, otherworldly white hot springs), & our experiences there & in beach-side Antalya (southern Turkey) were much more pleasant; our hotel owners were friendly & welcoming, & people seemed much more relaxed. But then, in Istanbul, we were confronted with more aggressive behavior: men followed us for blocks at a time, trying either to sell us something or proposition us; & in the busy, tourist areas near Hagia Sofia & the Blue Mosque, there seemed to be endless touts & aggressive men, who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Moving out of these busy, Sultanahmet areas helped, & we were bothered less as we ventured outward, exploring other parts of the city.
Tips for Staying Safe as a Female Traveler
Now that I’ve probably scared the crap out of you about traveling in Turkey (not necessarily my intention ~ but I’m always going to give my honest opinion!), here are some of my best thoughts & tips on staying safe as a female traveler in Turkey.
- Bring modest clothing & plenty of scarves, even during warm, summer months. All mosques we entered in Turkey had strict dress codes, requiring females to cover their heads upon entry. Because I got so much (negative) attention as a blonde, I took to wearing scarves around town, just to save myself some grief. (Note: You will see young Turkish women, particularly in night clubs ~ wearing mini skirts, high heels, & skimpy tops. I 100% do NOT recommend that you, the traveler, do as they do!! Unless you like being hassled.)
- Consider traveling to Turkey with a group, another traveler, or male companion. Friends of mine who traveled to Turkey with their boyfriend or husband had a completely different experience than we did, as two female travelers. Even if you love solo travel, this is one place where I think group travel is a better idea.
- Consider visiting more relaxed beach towns like Antalya, or busy & happening Bodrum, where you’ll run into plenty of tourists & ex-pats. The vibe is very different along the coast than in Istanbul, & feels much more safe & relaxed.
- For busy Istanbul tourist areas like Sultanahmet, consider taking guided tours to major sites, in order to minimize hassles with aggressive touts.
- Be extremely careful when going out at night; keep your drink in hand at all times, & avoid intoxication. Have a plan for how you’ll get back to your hotel/hostel, & if you can, make the journey with a friend. Istanbul has some of the best nightlife I’ve seen anywhere ~ so don’t miss it! But go with friends or join a group…you’ll have more fun that way too. Also note: There’s more nightlife in the Galata & Golden Horn areas of Istanbul, as opposed to Sultanahmet ~ so if you want a quick walk to nightlife, stay in one of those two districts!
- Don’t make travel plans that include arriving late at night. Arrange (if possible) all your Turkey travel plans to include morning or afternoon arrivals, & if you can arrange for your hotel to pick you up ~ even better.
- Wear a cross-body, theft-proof purse and/or use a jacket with an inside pocket, to avoid petty theft in busy areas.
- And finally, for taxi travel in Turkey, use these tips: 1) Bring small bills (they often don’t have change for large bills); 2) Write your destination address down, as well as your return/hotel address ~ since most drivers don’t speak English; & 3) Make sure the taxi meter is ON at the start of your journey ~ DON’T negotiate the fair upfront! If a driver says his meter is broken, find another cab.
Turkey Travel Quick Facts!
- Turkey in One Word = Exotic.
- Turkey in One More Word = Mosques.
- Wi-Fi = Wi-Fi is readily available in large cities, but less so off-the-beaten path & in central Turkey.
- Global Peace Ranking = #149 out of 163 countries (U.S. is #121, Syria is #163) = Safety is definitely a concern when traveling to Turkey. If you’re a female traveling without a male, you will likely encounter some negative attention and/or experiences. Check with the U.S. State Department for up-to-date information prior to any travel in Turkey.
- Hotels = Turkey has world-class hotels (at world-class prices) ~ but also has plenty of affordable options as well, & you can usually find hostels in all major cities.
- Must-Do’s = Cruise the Bosphorus. Marvel at the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Watch the balloons at sunrise in Cappadocia. Study ancient ruins in Ephesus. Sail the Aegean Sea. Dance on tables in Bodrum. Lay on the beach in Antalya.
- Is Turkey Good for Solo Travelers = In this current political climate & with the unrest in Syria, I would have to say no. Especially if you’re a first-time solo traveler ~ I would NOT advise that Turkey be your first solo travel experience. Turkey is for more experienced solo travelers, or group travel. Having a male in your group will also greatly decrease your chances of negative encounters.
- What to Expect as a Female Traveler = As two female travelers in Turkey, we experienced the worst issues in the Sultanahmet region of Istanbul, & the port town of Kusadasi. Men followed & hassled us, particularly near the Blue Mosque & other high-traffic tourist areas in Istanbul. Also be aware, as a female traveler, that dressing more modestly & covering your head with a scarf is expected in mosques & other religious temples. If you don’t, expect not be admitted. On a final note, my friends who’ve traveled to Turkey with male companions say they weren’t hassled like we were, & seemed to have an entirely different travel experience.
- Would I Go Back? = Maybe. But it’s not at the top of my list. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that left a sour taste in my mouth ~ though it may be different now that I’m older, & a more confident traveler.
Photos of Istanbul, Turkey
In spite of our issues in Istanbul, I still managed to fall in love with many parts of it….like the crowded bazaars, the exquisite blue tiles of the Topkapi Palace, & of course, the splendor of Hagia Sofia & the Blue Mosque. Cruising the Bosphorus was also a delight, literally seeing the difference between the Asian & European sides of the river. But, what blew me away most about Istanbul was its incredible nightlife: to this day, I’ve never seen such HUGE nightclubs, with descending terraces leading down the Bosphorus. I can’t convey their sheer size, how packed they were, & how beautiful the people were: cosmopolitan, well-dressed, & of every nationality. It was an eye-opening, if not slightly intimidating, experience!
Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Travel in Turkey
Here are a few other popular destinations in Turkey, to be used as a guide for trip-planning. To find hotels near any particular location, simply click on that photo.
Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Travel in Turkey
Thanks for reading this “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Travel in Turkey!” One final thought I have, if you’re unsure where to book accommodations in Istanbul: if your #1 priority is seeing sites like Hagia Sofia & the Blue Mosque, stay in the Sultanahmet district, so you can easily walk to the city’s most impressive monuments. However, if nightlife is your priority, look up hotels in the Galata district~ so that a walk or taxi home is quick & easy!
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on female travel in Turkey. I have been twice (I have relatives who live there), and I have to say – the difference between me walking on the streets with locals is VERY different than the few times I walked them by myself. Though I have dark hair, when I walked alone, I felt the men were much more persistent in hassling me – and when I walked with my male relatives, this was not the case at all. On my second trip, for whatever reason, I did not find that I was hassled so much. The busy/congested areas in Istanbul was where I seemed to encounter the most issues; none in Bodrum, which felt very resort-like.
Hi Angie ~ thanks so much for contributing your insight. And I agree when you say you weren’t hassled as much on your second visit ~ I found that the longer I was in Turkey/Istanbul, the more comfortable I became, & I was also hassled less. It’s strange how that works sometimes! Appreciate your thoughts : ) xoxo Noelia