Sultanahmet and Taksim are two of the top tourist areas in Istanbul. But Sultanahmet is the historic heart with all the top tourist attractions located here. So I understand if you are considering staying in Sultanahmet and wondering if Sultanahmet is safe.
Or are you traveling solo to Istanbul and wondering where to stay? Have you heard crazy stories about scams and pickpocketing in Sultanahmet and other tourist places in Istanbul?
Regardless of what your concerns are – this article would work as a definitive guide on safety in Sultanahmet, Istanbul.
On my recent solo trip to Istanbul, I stayed in Sultanahmet for over a week. I walked all across its length and breadth during the day and until late in the night. So how was my experience as a woman of color traveling solo through Sultanahmet? Is Sultanahmet really safe?
Read my full account to find out all about Sultanahmet’s safety quotient.
Sultanahmet is one of the best areas to stay in Istanbul for solo travelers, first-time travelers as well as couples and families. It is generally a perfectly safe area but there are a few scams and risks that you should be aware of.
The top places to stay in Sultanahmet are:
- Social House Istanbul (Airbnb) – perfect for budget travelers
(See availability and prices)
- Miss Istanbul Hotel and Spa – Mid-range hotel, ideal for families, central location
(See availability and prices)
- Four Seasons – Luxury accommodation, best location, ideal for older couples, families
(See availability and prices)
Is Sultanahmet Safe?
Sultanahmet is safe. It’s a great place to stay as a solo traveler or even with your partner, friends, or family. But there are certain scams and concerns that you need to be aware of.
To help you picture your time in Sultanahmet, I will be breaking down this section in Sultanahmet’s general vibe during the day and night, what to expect in Sultanahmet as a solo female traveler, followed by quick tips on possible scams and safety concerns.
Sultanahmet during the day
Area close to the main street and tourist attractions
Sultanahmet is the central area in Istanbul in terms of touristy highlights. The main tram station is located right opposite the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque as well as the Basilica Cistern.
The road on which the tram station is located is surrounded on both sides by shops selling souvenirs, bakeries, restaurants, hair salons, etc. This street is always bustling with activity thanks to the tourist inflow this area attracts.
The tourist areas are also crowded throughout the day. You’ll see long queues outside Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern. Both sides of Sultanahmet – that going towards Grand Bazaar as well as that going towards Sirkeci or Topkapi Palace are full of tourists shopping from local shops or eating at nearby cafes and restaurants.
So during the day – you’ll never have to worry about traveling through a secluded area so long as you’re between Grand Bazaar and Sirkeci.
On both sides of this road, there is a maze of smaller roads and lanes. These lanes are not as buzzing as the main street. But during the day, there’s still enough activity to keep you feeling safe.
The small shopkeepers on this street, and the restaurant owners will try to get friendly with you only to help them get business. But they are harmless and will not bother you if you say a firm no.
Regardless of whether you are on the main street or on the internal roads – you’re never too far from the tourism police patrolling these parts.
Sultanahmet at night
Sultanahmet calms down after sunset as the tourists visiting this area from other parts of Istanbul head back.
Area close to the main street
But the tourists that stay in Sultanahmet itself keep the area moderately active. Restaurants, shops, and pharmacies stay open until well past midnight. The number of people on the street do start dwindling down once the trams shut at midnight. But you’ll still find construction workers and traffic police actively working in the area.
The internal roads and streets do get a bit deserted as most restaurants and shops in these lanes shut.
But I have traveled solo even through these lanes quite late in the night and even as a brown woman – I never sensed physical harm or trouble. In fact, at this hour, with most shops shut – there were no strangers or shop owners trying to engage in conversation.
But this is only true of the lanes right next to the main tram station. The more internal and remote areas – behind the Arasta Bazaar and the Blue Mosque begin to get completely deserted as there are hardly any accommodations here. So always be on your guard when walking alone here after midnight.
Sultanahmet for solo travelers
What changes as a solo traveler to Istanbul? Does anything change?
As a solo female traveler, walking through the lanes of Sultanahmet, exploring the many shops and supermarkets, eating at the many restaurants and street food carts – I noticed that many shopkeepers tried to initiate conversations with me.
Many would randomly wave out to me. Ask me where I was from, if it was my first time in Istanbul, and if I liked the place.
Some would even ask me to check out their shop and come inside for tea.
Honestly – all of these conversations were completely harmless. You can simply ignore and walk away from these people or politely decline. Either way – you won’t be persuaded later.
I only felt the need to heighten my vigilance once when a man seemed to follow me along a street behind the Arasta Bazaar – near Kennedy Street. While he maintained a distance and never approached me directly, his presence was disconcerting. However, as soon as I initiated a video call with my husband and gestured towards the man, he promptly retreated.
But I want to underline that this area is away from the main touristy area and as a regular tourist – you will never have to go close to this area.
Potential Safety Concerns
There are no major safety concerns about staying in Sultanahmet. You can happily book yourself accommodation if you want to be close to all the tourist attractions.
The few scams and safety hazards to be aware of are
Pickpocketing is common near tourist areas. I heard of cases where wallets, cameras, and phones were stolen during broad daylight from unassuming tourists.
But during my time in Sultanahmet, I honestly didn’t feel threatened by pickpockets at all as the area is fairly spread out, and if you exercise basic caution – you’ll easily notice if someone tries to get too close to you or your personal belongings.
But when standing in long queues outside Hagia Sophia or the Basilica – watch out.
If you’re eating at restaurants right outside the Blue Mosque or in the area behind the Arasta Bazaar – stay vigilant. Don’t leave your bag unattended.
Feigning Faint Theft
(Note: I’ve read about this in travel groups but haven’t personally witnessed such an incident.)
Near the Grand Bazaar and along the main street, there’s a peculiar pickpocketing method that’s often discussed in Istanbul travel forums.
Here’s how it works: An individual, either a man or a woman, will suddenly act as if they’re fainting near you. When you’re distracted and move to assist, an accomplice quickly rifles through your bag, stealing any valuables. As soon as they’ve taken what they want, the person who simulated the fainting spell abruptly gets up and vanishes.
To be honest, reading a post on the safety of a place often results in occasional incidents of theft, pickpocketing, tailing, etc getting highlighted. The person reading such a post often loses context and perceives the danger to be much larger than it actually is.
So even though I have highlighted possible safety concerns in this article – please remember that such episodes are rare and happen to a small fraction of tourists – who are often walking around without exercising basic caution.
If you are contemplating choosing Sultanahmet as your base for your vacation in Istanbul – please go ahead and book your accommodation. Sultanahmet is one of the safest areas to stay in Istanbul.