Got a 24 hours’ layover in the mystical city of Istanbul or planning for one? Please don’t let slip a perfect opportunity of being awed by this eclectic city.
Like the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine once said,“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Istanbul is truly engrossing in all ways no matter what your interests are. It comes with its own code of culture, cuisines, philosophies, architecture, poetry and music. We promise you won’t regret this one layover.
Here, we guide you towards making the best of your Istanbul layover. Right from the essentials to the things to do and see, we have you covered for the most entertaining 24 hours in Istanbul.
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1. Start with the basics
Once you land at the Ataturk airport, one of the five busiest in all of Europe, keep a map in hand for an easy navigation. Also, it is best to apply for a Turkish visa online before your actual trip. It is not a great idea to invest time in obtaining a visa during a layover in an airport that has over 50 million passengers passing through each year. The immigration will take about 90 minutes to clear and once you are done, make sure to store your luggage for a hassle-free day trip.
2. Store your luggage
Baggage Custody Service is offered on the Arrivals Floor of the International and Domestic Terminals 24 hours a day in two locations. Fees are charged on daily basis and are due when retrieving stored items. The Luggage Safety Tariffs vary as per the size of the bags. A large luggage will cost you 25 Turkish Lira (7.3 USD) whereas an average suitcase costs 18TL (5.2 USD). For the handbags and plastic bags, the charges are 12 TL (3.5 USD).
Baggage Custody Service
Website: Ataturk Airport baggage
3. Make sure to get some local currency
Ensure that you convert your Dollars to Turkish Lira at the airport or use an ATM. Yes, of course you will need them when you are out in the city. In case you are flying Turkish Airlines, definitely use the free tours they provide to their international transit passengers who have a layover in Istanbul. The service offers a free shuttle, tour guides, and museum entry.
Banks and Currency Exchange Offices- Ataturk Airport
4. From the airport to the city
Excited to go out in the city? The good news is that it doesn’t take long. The city center is just 15 miles away from the airport. If you are wondering how to get there, the city is easily accessible through car hire, rails, buses, taxis and private transfers. All information and options in relation to car hire can be found past the baggage claim area at the International terminal. For the rail, you can catch one in the Esenler terminal. Furthermore, there are airport shuttle buses conducted by Havas and taxis can be found outside the terminals. The taxis in Istanbul are popular as ‘Dolmus.’
Transportation from Ataturk Airport
Website: Airport Transportation Info
Depending on the time you have to yourself and the choices that are on offer, decide on how you want to explore this historic city. Istanbul has a wide range of city tours that are personalized as well as in groups. The tours are done by different companies and each comes with a knowledgeable guide who will entertain and enlighten you with quirky facts and introduce you to the nooks and corners of the attractions. If you are interested in the ancient architectural buildings Sultanahmet’s historical highlights, there are customized options to cover that choice.
Istanbul City Tour with Bosphorus Strait Sightseeing Cruise
Price: from 39.77 USD
Duration: around 3 hours required.
Highlights of Istanbul
Price: from 113.64 USD
Duration: around 7 hours required.
Near by Food: All tickets and lunch are included
Discover The Old City of Istanbul In a Half-Day
Duration: 4 hours
Must see and do when doing on-your-own visit
A comfortable estimate duration of five to seven hours is enough when you wish to do your own exploration. Assuming that you are starting in the morning as it is best to, begin with the Blue Mosque(free) and cover Hagia Sophia (13 USD) and Topkapi Palace (13 USD). Wander in the streets and experiment with the delicious Turkish cuisines after you are don visiting the glorious mosques and palaces. Do the Grand Bazaar during late afternoon and if you still have the evening to discover, experimenting with a Turkish bath is a great idea.
The Blue Mosque
The pictures of the Blue Mosque are enchanting enough to make you start your tour with it. The entry to the mosque is free and you can see stunning architecture no matter where you look. Experience the grandeur and enjoy the exotic feel this place offers.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Opening Hours: Daily 9am-6pm except during prayer times (about 30 min. five times a day) and midday on Fridays
Website: Blue Mosque
Built to be the world’s largest place of worship by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD, Hagia Sophia isone of Turkey’s architectural masterpiece. There is an entrance fee of 13 USD if you want to go inside. Standing amidst a riot of domes and minarets is sure to make you travel back to a century you have never known. Once can happily walk to the monument if coming from the Blue Mosque. In any other case, there is an option of taking a tram up Divan Yolu.
Address: Aya Sofya Square,Istanbul, Turkey
Price: from 13 USD
Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 9am-4:30pm
Website: Hagia Sophia
In the north-east of Hagia Sofia, you can easily spot the Topkapi Palace. Take a stroll along Divan Yolu through Sultanahmet to reach this historical landmark. Track the Turkish progress from a feudal society to a great empire yourself when visiting this Ottoman styled architecture.
Price: from 13.43 USD
Opening Hours: Museum is open everyday except Tuesdays.Museum, Harem and Hagia Irene can be visited between 9:00 AM - 6:45 PM
Access: From Sultanahmet station, you can reach to the Topkapı Palace Museum by walking from the path in front of from Hagia Sophia Museum and Hürrem Sultan Bath
Take a breather after a tour through the mesmerizing monuments and relish the Mediterranean cuisine. You are sure to get hooked to the lusciously mouthwatering Turkish dishes when in the city that is famously referred as the ferry ride to Asia. Enjoy a full meal with Turkish kabsa (a mixed rice dish) or take a short coffee, kebabs and baklava break before your shopping spree. Another great option is a quick mackerel sandwich at the pier. In addition to being quick and cheap, they are very popular throughout Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi (as locally called) is a few streets back from the waterfront in Sultanahmet and is a shopping place where anything and everything can be found. Packed into more than 60 alleys or streets, about 5,000 stallholders hold court in the labyrinthine enclosed marketplace. Resembling a still from the Arabian nights, this is one place that should not be missed.
The Grand Bazaar
Address: Beyazıt Mh., İstanbul, Turkey
Opening Hours: from 08.30 – 19.00. Closed: Sunday, October 29th and the full duration of religious holidays
Website: The Grand Bazaar
And for the ones who still have some time to give to the city, you can indulge in a unique experience of living an Ottoman tradition by going for a Turkish bath. A traditional massage and bath is an ideal option for first-timers and would cost around 55 Turkish lira (16 USD).
Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam
Address: Cankurtaran Mh., Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Opening Hours: 8AM–10PM
Duration: around 3 hours required.
Contact: +90 212 517 3535
Near by Food: on-site restaurant
Website: Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam
Majestic, lively and dynamic - that's Istanbul!
Istanbul will surely steal your heart with its timeless beauty. A walk along the Bosphorus, beauty everywhere, majestic monuments, friendly locals, stray cats, pretty tulips and simit carts - you can never get enough of it. But rush to the airport before your check in and make sure you come back again!
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