Like VanessaK, I am interested in the thoughts any of you who have been in Istanbul think of a single woman traveling there alone. I would (at least for a first visit) rely primarily on tours. Still, I definitely would not look like a local resident, so I wonder about safety. I am a savvy traveler, but have never been to the Near East.
Some of my own misconceptions and myths about the status of women in the Near East were shattered upon learning that when many women in Europe did not have the right to vote, there were more than a dozen women in the Turkish parliament in the mid-1930's.
I've not had the opportunity to visit the Near East, yet. But, being in New York, I know many immigrants from that part of the world and enjoy the distinct pleasure of having a Turkish neighbor. A business woman who enjoys travelling, she suggested touching base with the International Women of Istanbul for starters. By networking, you may be able to connect with like-minded individuals.
All the best and happy travels.
I will definitely check. I've been advised by a few others than while many if not most women in Istanbul do not wear headscarves, with my blonde hair it wouldn't be a bad idea. I've also heard others say that the main problem (not really a problem but more of a nuisance) is men at bazaars who keep following you trying to get you to buy something. If that's the worst problem, I can handle it.
NewHiltonMembr's post points to a great website: Women/Female Travelers in Turkey My neighbor found the presentation absolutely fascinating and very true of Turkish social behavior and expectations.
My husband and I stayed in Istanbul for three days after a cruise in September. I loved it! You do feel like you're in a different place, and you do stand out as a foreigner, but the Brits and Australians are there already (like they always are) and other American tourists are there also. I felt safe, and would go back by myself. I want to take my daughter. The people are nice, not a lot of English spoken, but enough. One of my favorite parts of Istanbul was a section called Ortakoy on the Bosphorus. I highly recommend that area. A little quieter than the old city, right on the Bosphorus River, lovely little market, great restaurants, very scenic. Charming, very friendly people there. The buses are easy to ride, the streetcar is easy to ride, and there are cabs everywhere. Don't hesitate because you are a woman. There are a lot of head scarves, very few birka's (how do you spell that?) and many women dressed like they would in the U.S. or Europe. The men are friendly, but very hands off. Even when trying on scarves, the vendors were very careful not to touch! Very different than say, Italy! They are aggressive vendors, especially around the bazaar area. Bargain, bargain, bargain! I thought Istanbul was beautiful. Great semi precious jewelry - I didn't buy gold - but the "costume" jewelry was really nice and extremely reasonable. Scarves were beautiful! Go, you will like it!!-- I read a great book when I came home, called "The Yoghurt Man Cometh" that was a good true story about a male teacher who lived in Turkey for a year. I recommend the book too. Gives some good insight - and it is positive and informative book about Turkish culture from an American's viewpoint.