The following interview on solo female travel in Istanbul comes from one of our readers, Simone.
Why did you decide to travel to Istanbul by yourself?
The first few times I went to Istanbul was with friends I met through belly dancing, and it was mostly to buy costumes and watch dance shows. By now I have become addicted to this city – I’ve been there 18 times and I’m already looking forward to my next trip! I usually go there once or twice a year since it’s only a 3 hour flight away from Switzerland.
As I often travelled with different people who went there for the first time, I kept visiting the same sights over and over again, because my friends all wanted to see the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Saray etc. So at a certain point I decided to go by myself to be able to explore new places and do other things. I also enjoy travelling alone because I don’t have to feel like I am responsible for others to have a good time.
Did you have any trouble traveling solo there?
The very first time I went to Istanbul in 1996 I had an encounter with some guy who used a very crowded tram as an excuse to fumble my butt. Ever since then I’ve never had anymore problems. There are the odd taxi drivers trying to scam you, but I guess they are a global phenomenon.
Did you ever feel unsafe?
As in every city, there are places where you shouldn’t go at certain times. I once walked through some shady streets in the evening because I wanted to get to a certain spot to photograph an illuminated new bridge. Nothing happened, it was just an uneasy feeling I got there.
But other than that I feel completely safe, and I often walk home alone in the middle of the night. There is also a high police presence in critical places.
Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling solo in Istanbul.
I like to visit new places, especially those that are not on the usual to-do list for tourists. One of my top favorites was a visit to the SantralIstanbul, a museum in a former power station built in 1914. The huge machines there are very impressive and the museum features many educational experiments about electricity. I had an absolute blast there.
Also, every time I go to Istanbul in April, I am just amazed at the millions of tulips and other flowers all over town. It is one of the best times in the year to travel there.
Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo?
No, but then I am pretty fearless and usually feel safe wherever I go. People who live in Istanbul told me that it’s advisable to always show confidence and sometimes bring out your inner diva to get respected. Being too nice can be interpreted as weakness.
Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were there?
One of my favorite activities in Istanbul is dancing tango at night. While this mostly means that you get in contact with men (locals and tourists) I also usually meet some other women who are visiting. We help each other out with finding good seats and exchanging notes about who the good dancers are and which should be avoided.
However, the most contact with other women I usually have are other belly dancers who live in Istanbul, be they locals or foreigners. I usually contact them before I go there and then spend a day or two with them, chatting about their work, who their favorite costume designers are and what it’s like to live there as a dancer in general.
What luggage did you bring with you to Istanbul?
Every time I go, I bring less stuff! Because let’s face it: shopping is one of my main activities in Istanbul. At least half of all the clothes and many shoes that I own are from there. It’s much cheaper than in Switzerland and there is so much choice! So my standard would now be: Cabin size trolley with a big empty duffle bag that I can fill with my new stuff.
>>See HPL’s favorite 22 inch rolling bags for carry-on travel.
Were there any items you were glad you brought with you or that you wished you had brought?
Let’s start with what I will not bring with me again: Shoes with heels or slippery soles. Istanbul is built on what feels to be about 1000 steep hills and the streets and sidewalks are often uneven. So comfortable, flat walking shoes are a must.
On my last trip in November I brought a beret that I really liked both as a protection from the sun, the wind and the occasional shower. It’s always windy there, so a scarf is a must.
If there is anything else I’m missing, I will just go buy it.
What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to Istanbul?
While the famous sights are certainly worth a visit, there is a less crowded alternative for almost everything, be it wonderful mosques, palaces, parks, hammams or others. Except the Grand Bazaar – it’s unique and I go there every time! My go-to website for discovering new things to see is Time Out Istanbul.
Not looking to travel solo?
Sign up for an Istanbul City Tour via Viator and join a group of travelers that want to explore the city together.
This tour is approximately 8 hours in length and even includes lunch. Learn more on Viator.
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About the author: Simone lives in Zurich, Switzerland where she works both an office job and as a teacher and performer for belly dance and Indian dances under the stage name of MEISSOUN. As a child she travelled with her family in the neighboring European countries, mostly Italy. But when she grew up she started to go further, especially to the east. India and the Middle East have been major destinations for years, as studying those countries’ dances also got her interested into their cultures. In the meantime she has added many other places, from Hawai’i to Japan. You can follow her on her travel blog, her dance website, and on Instagram.