Is Istanbul a dangerous city? Yes, it can be. I recently came back from Turkey and even that I see myself as an experienced traveler, I was a target of numerous scams and hostile situations. I will tell you about them and how to handle or avoid them. Because Istanbul is a very beautiful and interesting city, and I don’t want your vacation to be ruined.
Have in mind that I visited Turkey during the Corona pandemic. I guess people in common are more desperate now, when not so many tourists are coming.
Taxis in Istanbul
Taxis is the worst chapter of moving around in Istanbul. In general, if all is correct, using a taxi service can even be cheaper than buying single tickets on the metro. But, it depends on if the driver is honest or not.
Taxis in Istanbul are categorized in three different colors:
Yellow: Regular taxi with regular fares.
Turquoise: Premium taxis.
Black: “Luxury” taxis.
All should use the taximeter. In a regular taxi, the price always starts at 6 TRY. The taximeter is located and integrated into the rearview mirror of the car. In common, you can not pay with credit cards in taxis. If they have that possibility, it is announced in the car but still very seldom.
So, this sounds good, isn’t it? But how will they try to scam you?
“The non-existent taxi car”
Especially at tourist hotspots like Taksim square, you may see drivers standing in front of taxi cars and ask if you need a taxi. If you say yes, they will ask you to wait, and instead, a regular private owned car will arrive and drive you to your location – To over-price of course.
Just ignore them and go away. Talk to a driver that sits inside a taxi car instead.
“Dishonest taxi drivers”
This can be in different ways. Most common is a wish for them to drive another way or drive without the taximeter turned on. The taximeter must be turned on and the fee always starts at 6 TRY.
To avoid any detours, show the route to your destination on your mobile phone. If you don’t have a flat rate Internet usage in Turkey, use any app for offline maps with directions, for example, Maps.me. Show you are confident about how he should drive, but NOT hand over the phone. The taxi drivers know each other and your phone can quickly change the owner through the car window in traffic jams.
Taxi drivers can either say that they will drive another way combined with any bad excuse or simply just drive and hope you won’t notify it. If they start driving and say they will drive you another way, use as much force as needed to make them stop the car and walk away from it. Usually, it is enough to raise your voice or you won’t have any clue where you will end up.
If you notice the taximeter isn’t turned on, act in the same way as above if you not have any very good deal with the taxi driver. Be just careful. Taxi is very very cheap in Turkey, so fixed prices will in most cases be more expensive. If they refuse to turn on the taximeter, tell them to stop the car, and use a legal taxi instead.
Other things worth mentioning about taxis in Istanbul
You may stop a taxi anywhere on the street.
Going by taxi to the Asian side of Istanbul or reversed, will cause extra costs.
If you prefer calmness, pre-order a taxi from Istanbul airport. If you are tired and arrive late, you will have a lot of more or less serious taxi drivers poking for your attention.
Restaurants/Alcohol in Istanbul
Tourists in Turkey often want food and alcohol, and this environment also attracts scammers. From my own experience, I can say it’s hard to see if the restaurant is scamming people or not. Restaurants can have a very fancy facade but be divided into two parts. One where alcohol is served and one without. The room serving alcohol can be located behind the main restaurant, so even if you see the restaurant and how it looks, the waitress may bring you to another place if you say you want beer or wine to the food.
Many of the staff outside restaurants, especially around Taksim square, can be very rude and threatening to you if you not agree to eat at their restaurant. They may spot you in hundreds of meters of distance and they may even start to argue with other employees of restaurants nearby – All to get you inside. I had several situations very employees of restaurants tried to force me to stop by standing in front of me and shouting. If necessary, walk around them, be rude back if needed. You are the one who is choosing what and where to eat.
Scammed in an Istanbul Restaurant
This evening, I was so hungry. I had spent 2 hours in a taxi from the beach to get to the main street, Istiklal. Unfortunately, the kitchen at my favorite restaurant had closed for the day, so I started to hunt for something else. After a very hot day with a lot of walking, I wanted a traditional restaurant that offered typical European food like steak, hamburgers, and beer.
After some time of walking, including fighting with waitresses described above, one restaurant that looked okay showed up. English menu, regular dishes. The restaurant was exactly at Istiklal Avenue, but suddenly the waitress says that seats are available only in their second room. He insists they have the same menu and serving beer and wine there.
Food was ordered, the food arrived. Service was acceptable, the customer toilet was located in a closed kitchen behind…But that’s okay. It was no problem to eat.
So, to the most interesting part – Payment!
A asked about the bill and the waiter said, “ok, three minutes”. I wait for maybe 5 minutes and I’m sure the meal with drinks and dessert will cost 215 TRY. I counted with giving a total of 220 TRY with tip because the service was far from excellent.
When the bill arrives I see directly that it is made of imagination. The bill is hand-written, with the amount 250 TRY. 215 for the food which is OK, but another line says “tax 35 TRY”. Of course, taxes are included in the menu price in Turkey, so it is a clear scam to add this “tax”. But, he, the waiter was lucky. I am a peaceful person in most cases, I was tired and just wanted to go to the hotel and rest. Since food in restaurants is pretty cheap in Turkey, I had no intention of arguing about 35 TRY, at least in the beginning.
I wanted to pay by card since I was saving cash for the taxi to the hotel. The scammer waiter came with the debit card terminal. I gave him my card. The waiter says that he should be thankful if I can pay 170 TRY by card and the rest in cash… I say no.
He passes me the debit card terminal for entering the PIN code. But the purchase cannot be completed because of some reason. When I rewind the situation in my brain afterward, I realize that each time before I enter my PIN code, he pulls out the card just a little, but enough to disconnect with the debit card terminal. The waiter says, “Hey wait, let’s try our other terminal because this can be a little unreliable”. The next terminal is a little bigger and seems to be made of more plastic. Even on this terminal stupid me entering my PIN code once, until I get enough of problems.
Now, this dialogue will take place:
- We skip this complicated process. I pay by cash, but this home invented “tax amount” I won’t pay”.
- It’s a standard procedure tax.
- No, it’s not. This is not the first restaurant I visit in Turkey. Tax is included in the prices in the menu.
- It’s standard procedure here.
- No, it’s not. You are a bad liar.
- You have to pay the bill.
- Do you think I’m stupid and not understand that you are scamming me?
- Pay what the fuck you want!
He throws the bill on the table and shouting. I throw the money on him, exactly 215 TRY, and walking away quickly. So I avoided paying the extra fee, but instead, my credit card was skimmed. I guess this more plastic-looking terminal just saved the card number (yes, he pulled the magnetic strip even that the card had a chip) together with my PIN code. I run as quickly as I could to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash for a taxi before blocking my credit card. I got the cash, blocked my card, and realized that directly after the ATM visit I was followed by four guys who looked very interested in me. This is another story but it was possible to get rid of them while hiding in a store…
Pickpockets in Istanbul
Pickpockets are a plague in Istanbul, especially at the tourist crowded places. Subway, narrow streets, main sights – To summarize they are everywhere where people are.
I run into one pickpocket at Taksim square, right outside Burger King. I had side pockets on my pants and suddenly I felt strong hands grips my pocket. The pickpocket looked surprised in the same way as me, and I guess he wanted the situation to look as we just crashed into each other.
Pickpockets in Istanbul or in Roma or Paris. It’s the same everywhere. Have caution and keep your belongings close to your body and use common sense.
Dogs in Istanbul and Surroundings
I thought it was many stray dogs in Romania, but around Istanbul they really everywhere. Also, a lot of cats make their company. Mostly they aren’t dangerous, they are used to stay on their side. But there are dogs that are either stupid or never learn. They may show up on the beach when you are totally unprotected…
Right after a swim, only wearing swim pants, a slightly aggressive but playful dog showed up at the spot. He started to bite on the backpack and towel and dragged it around. Pushing the dog away didn’t make any reaction. The dog pushed more towards me, a few people on the beach tried to call for the dog, some people laughed. Nothing helped. Hitting the dog on the nose, throwing sand also didn’t change anything. Suddenly, a stone laid on the beach. Then the dog realized it was a serious situation.
This time it ended lucky, just wash the bag and towels and you are good to go again. What could be worse is if you got bit by the dog. So, on not paid beaches, maybe keeping a stone or stick close to you can be an option.
Other than this situation, the stray animals mostly kept themselves in distance during my visit. But don’t pet them anyway.
Stay Safe on The streets of Istanbul
The streets of Istanbul can be jammed, chaotic, and intense. On the other hand, you can also find cozy and calm backstreets with nice restaurants and cafes. But since this is an article about avoiding trouble, we continue to focus on the negative things.
The biggest issue I had was staying away from speeding cars. Traffic in Istanbul is very hectic, and it is not every driver that respects pedestrians. If you are disabled to need to keep in mind that the streets aren’t adapted for example wheelchairs. Sharp edges and potholes can make trouble for you.
Be very careful of the people around you when using an ATM.
Beggars in Istanbul
Now under the corona pandemic, I think there is a higher rate of poor people, gathering in bigger cities as Istanbul. Their regular possibilities to get an income is maybe gone and begging and harassment can be the last chance to survive.
During walking in Istanbul, a lot of beggars tried to interact with me. There is a thin line between people begging or selling cheap goods like napkins. They act in the same way. Some children approached while walking on the streets. They are harder to keep a distance from comparing with the adults. The children may touch your pockets or point.
If you don’t want to be harassed, start with ignoring them and if they don’t give up, become aggressive. It’s a universal language.
While driving or go by taxi, people will approach the car at the traffic lights. Drivers mostly have some coins to give when children clean the windscreen. But you should also be prepared for that mothers with toddlers can press their children and lean them towards the window and stare to get sympathy (money). If you go by taxi, the taxi driver will usually handle this. Otherwise, pay a little for any services offers in traffic jams. Remember that Turkey is a cheap country.
When social people approach you it can be a tricky situation. Is it just a kind person, or will you be a tool for them to make money?
The social people mostly hang out at places close to restaurants, night clubs, or tourist sights. They will probably get near you by using some polite phrases or offer you help with anything – Maybe finding “the best” restaurant nearby.
To separate these fake friends from real friends, you have to use your common sense. How logical is it that a well-dressed, nice man (mostly), just stands and has nothing to do, more than talk with you or show you any club or restaurant? What’s logical? It’s up to you.
I have also experienced someone walking up beside you on the street and start small talking. He wants to know some details about you. It can be where you are from, what you have seen, and where you live. In the end, it’s just to evaluate how to best use your money.
But if you get into this trick, never be afraid of just walk away. Don’t care if they openly ask you why you are so rude.
Beaches around Istanbul
Summer can be very hot in Turkey and you will be desperate to find a place to swim. You will choose among public beaches with entrance fee (ex. Tarihi haylayf plajı) or without (ex. Sarıyer Menekşe Kadınlar Plajı). Around Istanbul, it can be a huge difference. See below…
One rule I found out is to get to a beach outside the cityscape – Especially if it’s an unpaid beach. I visited some public beaches without fee within reach of public transportation. Except for stray dogs, the beaches also was resting place for drug addicts, homeless people, and the mentally ill. A lot of garbage also was on the beach. Probably this only is the shape of the beaches around Istanbul, but if you want a calm and safe swim, you better pay around 60 TRY to enter a so-called beach club.
Have a nice and safe stay in Istanbul!