Turkey… Is it safe, and why should I go?
To say the least, Turkey has undergone a turbulent few years. From multiple terror attacks to a failed military coup – to a starring role in Brexit’s Leave campaign – bad press has been easy to come by. However your authors’ recent visits to the country, for 4 days and 1 year respectively, left them with a sense of awe and burning desire to return and discover more. So is Turkey safe, and why should you go?
The Security Situation
Over the past year Turkey has experienced terror attacks from multiple sources. In June there was a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport killing 41, while two tour groups were targeted in January and March.
Alongside the civil war in Syria, which rages along Turkey’s southern border, the Kurdish separatist movement has flared up, prompting The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice against all but essential travel to many of the western provinces, and against all travel within 10km of the Syrian border. In addition, a military coup was attempted in July against President Erdogan’s AKP government, leading to an on going ‘state of emergency’ called by the Turkish National Security Council.
How safe is travel?
FCO advice reads as… “The situation in Turkey has calmed following an attempted coup overnight on the 15-16th of July. The security situation, however, remains potentially volatile”.
This said, advice adds that the state of emergency is applicable to those involved in the attempted coup “and isn’t expected to impact tourists”. 2.5 million of us Brits travel to Turkey each year, and the FCO still considers it “generally safe” to travel, but notes that additional safety precautions should be taken such as alertness to surroundings and vigilance in crowded places.
It is noted that most attacks occur in Istanbul or Ankara, and coastal resorts (definitely worth the visit) “do not appear to be significantly affected”. We recommend that you check out the full FCO advice page here.
So why should I go?
The aforementioned threat can make what is meant to be a fun filled getaway seem daunting. The images we see on the media of shrapnel, ambulances and police cordons can often create the idea that an entire area or city is in complete disarray and chaos, despite it quite often being in one small, localised area. This is very much the case for the attacks in Istanbul. Despite these cowardly and horrific attacks, life in the city continues as it always did. Vendors on the pavement sell everything from orange juice to knock off Adidas to fine rugs, the ferries make their regular journey between the European and Asian side of the city, and of course, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times daily through their loudspeakers.
Istanbul is a city that, like Turkey as a whole, is a place on the doorstep of Europe, yet retains a distinctly un-European character. Perhaps this contributes to the reason that travellers are now more cautious to travel there than say, France, despite the prevalence of such threat there.
This distinct character, both European and not, is what gives Istanbul particularly its pull factor. When in town you will literally be sitting on over two thousand years of history and culture central to the development of Europe and the Middle East. As the past capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires you have the opportunity to truly jaw dropping sites such at the Hagia Sofia Roman basilica, the iconic Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace home of the Ottoman Sultans.
From Galata Tower (in the hipster part of town where we recommend you stay) you can get great views of the city, while enjoying some of the unreal Turkish cuisine that is available on every corner for any price. Sis and doner kebabs are unlike anything you’ve ever had from your local chippy, while kofte and iskender dishes are worth a shout. In terms of sweets, its like you’ve died and gone to heaven, from the syrupy pastry of baklavas to a personal favourite the sweet and cheesy kunefe and of course Turkish delights. Breakfast in Besiktas is also highly recommended.
But its not all traditional culture and face stuffing, if you’re just out to have fun some of the clubs and bars would be at ease in London or New York. Istiklal Street and its surrounding area (Turkey’s Oxford Circus and Soho all in one) is let loose and liberal at night. We’d particularly recommend the likes of Indigo or Beat for the tech, house and electro scene or Reina if you’re looking to splash the cash and have a classy one.
Of course there’s more than just Istanbul in Turkey; for relaxing on a beach the resorts of Antalya and Marmaris are world class, whilst you can catch a glimpse of the ancient world at Ephesus as well as the fairy-tale landscape of Cappadocia.
All in all, Turkey is a excellent locale to visit
For the right balance of historical and cultural attractions, tourist friendly nights out, restaurants, shopping and relaxing beaches with perfect weather… not many destinations can offer what Turkey has. The threats are real and worrying, while the on going political situation warrants reviewing. However, providing you take the necessary precautions, Turkey is well worth a consideration for a short or long break in 2017. Ultimately, exercise caution, and even more importantly, simple common sense when traversing a city and country as large as Istanbul and Turkey. If you do your research, you will be certain to have an amazing and enriching time in this truly fascinating destination.
You can access the full range of official advice at www.gov.uk/travelaware