Getting stuck with a long layover sounds about as exciting as a trip to the mall. However, Istanbul offers a lot for those who find themselves with a long waiting period between flights at one of the busiest airport hubs in Europe. Take a look at our guide for the best ways to discover Istanbul in no time – literally, no time.
Turkish Airlines has a newly-launched program for passengers with a connecting flight through Istanbul. Without pre-booking, passengers can discover the city during their down time. Free tours, led by professional Istanbul-based guides, cover most of Istanbul’s historical sights including Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern, along with other options available for those who would like a walking tour or to discover other hidden gems of the city. Meals are usually offered in a traditional Ottoman restaurant and all costs are covered by Turkish Airlines. Keep in mind, in order to participate in the program, the waiting period must be between 6-24 hours, you must be going through Atatürk airport and both legs of the flight have to be operated by Turkish Airlines. istanbulinhours.com
With the opening of Miniport offices in Taksim, Turkish Airlines passengers can now leave their bags and luggage at Miniport hubs to be transported to and from Istanbul Atatürk Airport in order to move freely while discovering the city. Service in the opposite direction, from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to Taksim, is also available allowing the visitors to go straight from the airport to sightseeing spots. Miniport offices are open between 7am to 11pm and luggages must be dropped at least 5 hours from the flight. Bear in mind that Miniport baggage handling services are not available for flights to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Israel for security reasons. miniport.istanbul/en/
Tour Studio offers layover tours for passengers with waiting times of six hours or more. On this tailor-made tour accompanied by a professional tour guide, you will be picked up from the Atatürk Airport to discover the must-see’s of Istanbul including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. This is a private tour made upon request, which means pre-booking is essential. Price for a one day tour is US$450 for groups. For those arriving at the Sabiha Gokcen airport, get in touch to figure out options. istanbultourstudio.com
Istanbul Layover Tours (ILT)
Istanbul Layover Tours offers three different types of private layover tours for passengers with a stopover no less than four hours in Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Istanbul Night Tour is for travelers who arrive late yet still want to explore the city. Many historical spots are covered along with other optional activities. The Bosphorus & Taksim Tour is for those who want to have the urban city experience. Finally, the Old City Tour is the classic Istanbul sightseeing route and one of the best alternatives for first-time visitors. Prices all start from US$75. istanbullayovertours.com
Getting out of the airport
If you want to explore the city on your own, here are means of transport that can get you out of and back to the airport – from airport shuttles to metro lines you can use.