Istanbul in 24 hours – Long layover done right !!

What is if I say that you can travel to the country and spend a day in the city absolutely free without spending a dime . Exciting isn’t it ? Well, here is the thing that while I was planning for my Europe Trip . I went ahead and decided to fly with Turkish Airlines because of being economical , budget friendly and it suited my timing more so because, it was giving me a long layover. So, while I was returning from Vilnius, Lithuania, I had a long layover in Istanbul for almost a day .

Istanbul
Inside Aya Sophia

I already had a valid Schengen Visa which enabled me to apply for Turkish E-Visa just few days earlier than my visit. Infact, it is also possible to get the E-visa at the airport. But, to avoid unnecessary rush, to save time and for the sake of comfort , a prior purchase of visa is always suggested. Turkish E-visa can be applied through the official site of Govt of Turkey which is https://www.evisa.gov.tr/ . It costed me USD 44.5 . And, the process was super easy to do it online.

Since, I reached in Istanbul at 22.00 hrs on the previous day than my onward flight to New Delhi which was next day around 20.30 hrs. Either I had an option to stay in the airport or else to book myself a stay for the night. Hence, I decided to resort to Couchsurfing and luckily I got a very good host who not only agreed to host me even for the few night hours but also took all the trouble to come and pick me up from the airport just out of gratitude.  I came out of the airport finally around 11.30 pm after passing through immigration process. We decided to check out the beautiful Bosphorus , which is a natural strait connecting the two continent. I went to quite a number of places which included driving through two out of three bridges which connects Europe and Asia . Witnessing the historical city at 2 am was way more fun than I thought.

Oh, for those who might be thinking about the safety part .I would suggest to do this only if you are with a local or a trusted source.

There are places that we decided to check out as per the recommendation of my host. As I was super excited to see the first sight of grand Bosphorus Strait from the moment I landed. And hell yeah, there I was! standing in front of the same overlooking the Maiden’s Tower . The Maiden’s Tower, also known as Leander’s or Kizkulesi Tower since the medieval Byzantine period. It is a tower lying on a small islet located at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus strait 200 m from the coast of Üsküdar in Istanbul.  The tower was used as a lighthouse and control tower also during Ottoman period after the Conquest of Constantinople. 

 

There was a constant chill in the wind which was gushing through my tired spine. Hence, we decided to sit by the bay to sip my very first Turkish coffee.

Istanbul
Traditional Turkish Coffee

 

 

The two bridges that I passed through were Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge out of the total three bridge connecting the two continents. The third bridge is called Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.

There is a striking contrast between European and Anatolian or Asian side of Istanbul . While European side, they say is more calm and organised but Asian side also happens to boast some of the busiest and coolest neighbourhood like Kadikoy known for hip cafes , shopping  scenes and night life almost at half the price. 

 

Of the several mosques and churches to choose from in Istanbul, Ortakoy Mosque is one of the prettiest mosque which sits pretty on the banks of Bosphorus. Hence, the night view of the same was nothing but stunning as I stood beside the same to feel the cool breeze of water. Ortakoy Mosque is actually a pint sized as compared to other mosque in the city which is built in Neo-Baroque style. But, a visit to the same is definitely recommended.  It is also suggested to visit the mosque early morning hours specially to enjoy sunrise with a delicious cup of Turkey Coffee overlooking the Bosphorus .

The city is interesting enough to keep you on your toes to have a glimpse at the vibrancy of the same . But I was already tired and worn out to call it a day as I had to wake up early morning to move out to make the most out of my limited time.

Now, one of the main reason to choose Turkish Airlines was, I came to know that since I had a long layover for almost a day. They offer a daily city guided tour inclusive of two meals absolutely free of charge.. Happy Dance! Hence, next morning I reached back the airport at around 7.30 am to book myself a city tour as per my onward flight schedule. The staff at Turkish Airlines took our boarding passes and assigned us the tour accordingly.

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia

And there I was, sitting with group of passengers who were transiting from all around the world in the bus towards the city. Since, my layover was the longest, hence I opted for the longest tour which was from 9-6pm. In the bus they gifted us with a welcome kit which included a beautiful city map and a cool bandana.

Istanbul

The places which was covered as per the schedule were Hippodrome – German Fountain, Blue Mosque , Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Thedosius , Hagia Sophia Museum and Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture followed by some me time to explore Grand Bazaar. 

Istanbul
German Fountain, Istanbul
Hippodrome's Tomb
Hippodrome of Constantinople

 

Istanbul
Museum of Islamic Arts,Istanbul

 

Istanbul
Blue Mosque

 

Istanbul
Ornated Tile work , Blue Mosque

 

Istanbul
Blue Mosque Interiors

 

Istanbul
Prayer Area, Blue Mosque

 

For breakfast , we were taken to a very nice restaurant somewhere close to the Blue Mosque and for the lunch , we headed to a traditional style old school restaurant which served us mouth watering Turkish cuisine. On other days of the week, if you visit , they also make you experience the sumptuous Turkish style lunch on the banks of Bosphorus overlooking the beautiful Top Kapi Palace.  So, tempted enough??

Our guide, Emre was absolutely fantastic to explain us the history and the story with great detail. After getting happily tired and content , we bid goodbye to Istanbul and headed back to the airport for our respective flights , taking back countless pictures and memories.

With a fellow traveller from Greece, and our tour guide, Emre

The other things which I missed out was to visit Top Kapi Palace, Taksim Square and many such things as it was not possible to cover everything in one day and also that few places were closed  as well.

We ended our tour at the Grand Bazaar and after making a brief stop to explore the Museum of Islamic Art and Culture. Although, I hardly had any local currency with me but strolling through one of the oldest and largest souk in the entire world which sheltered more than 4000 shops , I could not resist myself to exchange some euros to quickly get some Turkish Lira (their local currency) to do litttle bit of “Yes I have been to Istanbul” shopping . I bet this place is just irresistible to shop.

Well, I am definitely sure that one short visit like this is just not enough to soak into the richness of this city . I have to and yes I will definitely be back to Turkey next time for a proper trip.

So, if you are transiting to /from Europe or Westward somewhere , my recommendation would be to definitely avail this offer if you are one of the first timer like me and wants to get the first hand impression of this vibrant city.

Istanbul was never a part of my main Europe itinerary but definitely left me with a long lasting desire to be back again.

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So are you planning a trip to Europe or somewhere ? Do you need tips for safe and smart travel ? Hit me up in the comments below, like I say I am always there to help.

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Comments

  1. Mohit Agarwal

    Wow, what a lively way to make use of the layover. Suprising is the fact that the airline provides a free tour and meals is cherry on top. Also licky you to find such nice hosts who took you around in kiddle if the night.

  2. Yogesh Mankani

    That is the best way I’ve seen so far to make optimum use of the layover. Also, thank you for sharing the information that airlines provided such trips. Looking forward for some enjoyable moments you had in your Europe trip.

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  3. Sukanya Dutta

    Looks like you had fully enjoyed that 24 hours layover. It was a nice explanation of your visited places along with the lovely pics. I really enjoyed your blog thoroughly. Keep it up. Visit many more place and gift us so many blogs like this one.

  4. Anjali Chawla

    Lovely!!! I’d love to take a free guided trip like this! There are many airline carriers like Turkish airlines that provide guided tours not all are free though 🙂 I must say, you’ve made a good use of your layover which otherwise can be boring and excruciating. Thanks for the inspiration, Debs!

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  5. Pamela

    Such vibrant colorful place it is and m sure you had enjoyed every moment there. The transition travel is just too good option, next time I will keep in mind this…..

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  6. Anita

    I am absolutely fan of Tukey and visited Istanbul many times, crossing the same paths as you. I also used the visa website once to get visa, it’s so easy. Getting the stamp on the airport is easy and quick as well, just few more dollars more expensive. I am in love with turkish coffee even though I am not so big coffee drinker. This is what I always bring back home.

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  7. Daniel

    I’m always a bit skeptical when reading articles about x city in 24 hours but wow! You really managed to cover a lot in just a day. Very useful post, as a lot of people have long layovers in Istanbul. Thank you for sharing

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  8. Sinjana Ghosh

    Hey fellow bong here! Love your blog’s name. This is a great 1 day guide to exploring Istanbul. It’s so nice that you got to visit the city even though it was not a part of your Europe itinerary. The mosques look so beautiful. You did cover a lot of gorund in 1 day!

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  9. aareeba

    wow, i loved your post. What a adventurous layover it was for you filled with beautiful architecture everywhere.I would really love to do something like this in my next layover.I really loved the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazar

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      Debjani Lahiri

      Yes touring Istanbul through the airlines was like a boom in disguise ..and the best part is everyone who is travelling through Istanbul and have long layover can avail it

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  10. yukti

    Wow, you had a beautiful layover and seen quite a lot of famous places in Istanbul. It is good to know that on Schengen visa, we get the e-Turkish visa very easily. It is always very unique to see the city at 2:00 A.M. and mostly we people miss it but due to layover you managed to see it.

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  11. Parnashree Devi

    I have been planning for Instanbul for some time and your post makes me realize that I should visit Turkey as soon as possible. Istanbul is one fascinating destination which celebrates the best of everything. I am too keen to visit Hagia Sofia. Another is a river cruise experience on the Bosphorus river there. Can’t wait to visit. Loved it.

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  12. Archana Singh

    The first time I visited Europe some 15 years back, I too had a long layover in Istanbul. And, I did exactly the same but instead of 24 hours I ended up spending two days and returned thrice since then. Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridges are one of my favourites too. Grand Bazaar is like a treasure bazaar for me. I love shopping there. Good guide for someone looking for a small stopover.

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