Although Turkey is by no means a dangerous country to visit, it's always wise to be a little cautious.
- Despite the terrorist attacks in 2016, the likelihood of being caught in such incidents remains small. Coastal resorts have not been targeted to date, and, although attacks have hit airports in İstanbul and Ankara, the usual targets are government and military installations or convoys.
- Be aware of cultural differences, for example the lese-majesty rule about not insulting the Turkish Republic.
- In more conservative parts of the country, women should be aware of cultural differences in the way men and women interact – if in doubt, follow the lead of local women.
Sexual assaults have occurred against travellers of both sexes in hotels in central and eastern Anatolia. Make enquiries, check forums and do a little research in advance if you are travelling alone or heading off the beaten track.
Marches and demonstrations are a regular sight in Turkish cities, especially İstanbul. These are best avoided as they can lead to clashes with the police.
Flies & Mosquitoes
In high summer (late June to August), mosquitoes are troublesome even in İstanbul; they can make a stay along the coast a nightmare. Some hotel rooms come equipped with nets and/or plug-in bugbusters, but it's a good idea to bring some insect repellent and mosquito coils.
The laws against insulting, defaming or making light of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish flag, the Turkish government, the Turkish people and the Turkish president are taken very seriously. Making derogatory remarks, even in the heat of a quarrel, can be enough to get a foreigner carted off to jail.
Scams & Druggings
Various scams operate in İstanbul. In the most notorious, normally targeted at single men, a pleasant local guy befriends you in the street and takes you to a bar. After a few drinks, and possibly the attention of some ladies, to whom you offer drinks, the bill arrives. The prices are astronomical and the proprietors can produce a menu showing the same prices. If you don't have enough cash, you'll be frogmarched to the nearest ATM. If this happens to you, report it to the tourist police; some travellers have taken the police back to the bar and received a refund.
A less common variation on this trick involves the traveller having their drink spiked and waking up in an unexpected place with their belongings, right down to their shoes, missing – or worse.
Single men should not accept invitations from unknown folk in large cities without sizing the situation up carefully. You could invite your new-found friends to a bar of your choice; if they're not keen to go, chances are they are shady characters.
The spiking scam has also been reported on overnight trains, with passengers getting robbed. Turks are often genuinely sociable and generous travelling companions, but be cautious about accepting food and drinks from people you are not 100% sure about.
Do not buy coins or other artefacts offered to you by touts at ancient sites such as Ephesus and Perge. It is a serious crime here, punishable by long prison terms, and the touts are likely in cahoots with the local police.
In Sultanahmet, İstanbul, if a shoe cleaner walking in front of you drops his brush, don't pick it up. He will insist on giving you a 'free' clean in return, before demanding an extortionate fee.
As a pedestrian, note that some Turks are aggressive, dangerous drivers; 'right of way' doesn't compute with many motorists, despite the little green man on traffic lights. Give way to vehicles in all situations, even if you have to jump out of the way.
Government Travel Advice
For the latest travel information log on to the following websites:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.minbuza.nl)
- German Federal Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
- Global Affairs Canada (www.travel.gc.ca)
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/travel)
- US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs (www.travel.state.gov)
A number of incidents in 2016 illustrated the increased danger of terrorist attacks in Turkey, with jihadis linked to the Islamic State (Isis) group entering the country from war-torn Syria and Iraq and perpetrating horrible attacks on both locals and tourists. The terrorist group, often referred to as Daesh in Turkey, stated that at least two of the attacks were aimed at harming Turkey's tourist industry, in retaliation for the country's active role in the US coalition against Isis.
Other attacks have been undertaken by the TAK (Freedom of Kurdistan, also known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons or Hawks), a splinter group from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). There is ongoing fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK, after peace talks faltered and a two-year ceasefire ended in 2015. The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by the USA and the EU, wants greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish population. Despite TAK's bombs in Ankara and İstanbul, attacks by the PKK and splinter groups still generally happen far from travellers' routes in remote parts of mountainous southeastern Anatolia, and target the Turkish military and government. However, check the latest situation if visiting southeastern Anatolia, as fighting has been seen in urban areas such as Diyarbakır.
At the time of writing, the US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs advised of a high threat from terrorism in Turkey and advised US citizens to reconsider their travel to Turkey and totally avoid travelling to the country's southeast. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advised caution at all times and warned against travel within 10km of the Syrian border and to Diyarbakır. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised its citizen to exercise a high degree of caution throughout the country, and reconsider travel to İstanbul, Ankara and the southeast. However, it is worth remembering that, as with the atrocities seen in Western cities, these attacks are random; the chance of being caught in an incident is statistically low, so keep things in perspective amid the media coverage. The terrorists want to create a climate of fear and uncertainty, so do not fall into their trap; instead, weigh up the situation cautiously but rationally when deciding whether to visit. Once in Turkey, always avoid political rallies and large gatherings of people.
Do not visit areas in close proximity to the Syrian border, which are the most dangerous parts of Turkey. Here, there is the risk of being caught in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and of being kidnapped or harmed by terrorists from Syria.
Turkey is not a safety-conscious country: holes in pavements go unmended; precipitous drops go unguarded; seat belts are not always worn; lifeguards on beaches are rare; and dolmuş (minibus) drivers negotiate bends while counting out change.
Incidents on the street remain rare, but do happen in big cities such as İstanbul, İzmir and Ankara, often perpetrated by young men and even boys in busy areas such as bazaars and transport terminals, and on public transport. Risks include pickpocketing, bag-slashing, bag-snatching and, very rarely, mugging.