Most people sleep, read a book or stare at their phones during layovers. But what if you have a looooong layover? How are you going to spend it? Stay at the airport and wander around its facilities or maximize your stay and explore the city for few hours?
I chose a 12-hour flight with a 15-hour layover, crazy right? I can just spend one more day in Barcelona but chose not to. Why? My layover is in Istanbul.
Istanbul, known as “The Second Rome” has a unique past and charm. The city witnessed four empires (Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman) that resulted to its rich history and culture. It is also the city where you can travel from Asia to Europe in a matter of minutes. Isn’t it amazing?
So here are some of my travel tips when in Istanbul:
BEFORE GOING TO ISTANBUL
For some citizens of the world like Filipinos, visa is required to enter the beautiful country of Turkey.
To learn if you need an e-visa, go to E-VISA TURKEY, click Apply Now, choose your country and passport type to know if you are visa exempted or not.
Should you need an E-visa, just fill up the online form, pay $20/₱1,000 and voila! You have a Turkish Visa. Print it and show it at the immigration together with your passport.
GOING TO THE CITY CENTER
The city centre is about 30 minutes away from the airport. You can choose to take taxi, private car or bus to go to downtown. I took the HAVABUS going to Taksim (downtown) for 12 TL (Turkish Lira).
You can also take the metro and tram. Take the airport metro or Havalimanı station to Zeytinburnu and ride a tram going eastbound to Sultanahmet. From there, toursist attractions are within reach.
PS: Before you leave the airport, make sure you have enough Lira to pay for transportation.
GOING AROUND THE CENTER
Istanbul is a walkable city. The popular landmarks are not far from each other. Just get a map and you can easily navigate the city.
If you don’t feel like walking, get an Istanbul Kart that costs 10TL. The card can be used in metro, buses, trams, funiculars and ferries. Each ride costs about 1.9 TL.
Here’s a cool thing, if you are travelling with a friend, you only need one card – just tap and pass it to your next buddy who will enter the ride.
WHAT TO SEE
Since layover time is limited, below are the must-see places to visit when in Istanbul.
Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) –A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the iconic and important landmarks of Istanbul. It was originally built as a church and later turned into a mosque and converted to a museum. Entrance fee is 40 TL / ₱326
Sultan Ahmed Mosque – also known as the Blue Mosque because its interior is filled with blue tiles. It is an active place of worship for Muslims so take note of the closing times when they pray. Entrance is FREE.
PS: For women, bring a scarf to cover your head. For men, wear pants.
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) –the cone-capped medieval stone tower has a 360-panoramic view of Istanbul city. Entrance fee is 25 TL / ₱204
WHAT TO EAT
Kebab and Baklava is a must try when in Turkey.
My friends took me to Ali Ocakbasi restaurant in Karakoy that serve kebabs and other delish meals. The restaurant is hard to find but worth searching for, they serve great food with a grand view of the city.
After lunch, we went to Karakoy Gulluoglu to try Baklava and other sweets. This shop is the best place to try Turkish desserts. There’s always a long queue, but it’s worth the wait.
You should also try Turkish delight and Turkish coffee which you can find in every street of the city.
If you fly via Turkish Airlines and you have a 6+ hours of layover, you are entitled to avail a FREE tour called Touristanbul. Sign up at the hotel desk in the International Arrivals Terminal of Istanbul Atartuk Airport.
There are different tours to choose from depending on your layover time.
The free tour includes transportation, museum fees and food! How AWESOME!
So what are you waiting for? Book a flight with a long layover in Istanbul, Turkey. 🙂