A time-strapped guide for transit travellers in Turkey

2016-05-28 14:13 - Louzel Lombard
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The city of Istanbul has made no secret about it that they would like to become the new centre of the world. 

Istanbul New Airport, set to be the largest airport in the world when fully completed, announced that the first of the airport's four phases is due for completion at the end of 2018. As the city already sits on both the Asian and European continents, the new hub seems obvious.  

Along with that, Turkish Airlines serve more international destinations that any other airline operator on the globe, flying to 288 destinations in 113 countries globally. According to Samil Karakas, sales and marketing manager for the airline, Turkish Airlines launches flights " to a new destination every 19 days". 

Naturally, there is a great amount of transit travellers in Istanbul on any given moment. And Turkish Airlines is making these waylaid passengers’ airport time a little less horrible by providing free passes into Istanbul

This Istanbul Tourist Pass is also available for purchase, but if you're flying with Turkish Airlines, it will save you the R2 200 per person for a day pass in the city. 

ALSO SEE: Turkey: Budget-friendly escapes for South Africans

It's an opportunity too good to give up. 

Here are the must-dos for an 8-hour visit:

See: The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Topkapi Palace are top choices. Make the Blue Mosque your first stop. After exiting, you can simply walk across Sultanahmet square until you see Topkapi Palace gate in front of you, on the right. Buy your ticket online to skip the queue.

Exiting the palace, you can continue on to see iconic Hagia Sophia. 


Eat & Drink: A simit, or round Turkish bread snack sold by many street vendors. Then, a quick Turkish coffee or tea, with Turkish Delight. And, of course, Turkish ice cream or dondurma. 

Do: Take a cruise of the Bosphorus Strait.


Here are the must-dos for a 12-hour visit:

Add onto the 8-hour visit: 

See: Take in the view from the Eyüp gondola or Eyüp–Piyerloti aerial cable car - a two-station gondola-type line which takes you up to the best viewpoint of Istanbul. Pick a café and enjoy a glass of local Ayran under the shade of the trees up there. 

For another viewpoint, Galata Tower also offers stunning views of all major monuments of the Old City. 

Eat & Drink: If you’re going up with the Eyüp–Piyerloti cable car, have lunch at one of the cafes at the top. Opt for Doner kebabs or lahmacun from the street vendors, or pick a café under the large trees. 

You can also opt for a fresh fish meal at Galata Bridge, the bridge which spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul, connecting the Old City with the new, modern parts. Underneath it, some of the most hip, most sought-after seafood restaurants in the city operate.

Do: If you have time between visits at Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia, take a stroll along the picturesque back streets of this touristy neighborhood. The area is filled with small cafes where you can knock back a Turkish coffee or tea. 

Also make time to see the Grand Bazaar, or Kapaliçarsi. The market is located in the neigbourhood, and can also be easily reached from Sultanahmet and Sirkeci by trams, from the Beyazit-Kapaliçarsi stop.

If you still have an hour or two, visit a Sultan’s Palace. Sightseeing from a ferry is one of the best ways to view the palaces of the Bosphorus, nothing beats being inside one! A visit to the Beylerbeyi Sarayi is highly recommended for history boffins. 

Here are the must-dos for a 24 hour visit – 

Add onto the 12-hour visit: 

See: Cats! Istanbul is famed for its many cats, so you need at least one selfie with one of these well-cared for strays. 

Also, if you’re in Istanbul during the evening, visit Istiklal Caddesi or Independence Street. During the day, Istiklal Caddesi is abuzz with trams and young professionals, who then frequent the pubs at night.

Eat & Drink: First, enjoy a classic Turkish tea at the Tarihi Cinaralti Cay Bahcesi. For dinner or lunch, a meal of whole baked fresh fish and real Turkish meze Yakamoz Restaurant is also highly recommended. The restaurant overlooks the Bosporus, so views of the city are mesmerizing. 

In Istiklal Caddesi, enjoy a local beer - Efes Pilsen, brewed in Izmir. 

Do: Buy spices and souvenirs at the Spice Bazaar, or Misir Çarsisi. This market is alive with smells of turmeric and Turkish Delight, and you can buy world-class spices, like real saffron, as well as Turkish Delight and teas at great prices. The locals buy here too, which makes it that much cooler. 



Getting there and back: Many of the city’s must-dos are located in the Old City. The fastest way to get there form Ataturk airport is by taking the metro form the arrivals terminal to Aksaray, then changing to the tram that takes you directly to Sultanahmet district. You go back the same way as you came. 

If you're going with the Turkish Airlines Touristanbul pass, you'll be escorted by bus. 

What you need to know about Touristanbul with Turkish Airlines

• No pre-booking or reservation is required but passengers must not have already used the accommodation service provided by us during the same connecting flight.
• Passengers must be traveling from one international location to another with a flight connection at Atatürk Airport. Both legs of the flight must be operated by Turkish Airlines.
• Passengers must have a waiting period of no more than 24 hours at Atatürk Airport. Lay-overs may be no less than 6 hours. 
• Connection times must be appropriate for our tour schedule: Passengers need to be at the Hotel Desk of the International Arrivals terminal 30 minutes before the start of the tour. Passengers will arrive back at the airport at the scheduled finish time of the tour. 
• Passengers must ensure their flight departure time is at least one hour after the finish time of the tour.
• Tours accompanied by an English speaking guide take place from 08:30-11:00,09:00-15:00, 09:00-18:00,12:00-18:00 and 16:00-21:00 every day.
• Passengers are responsible for making their own visa arrangements for entry into Turkey and any related costs. Visas for Turkey can be done online, and are free for South Africans. 

If you're not a transit passenger of Turkish Airlines, you can still enter Istanbul, given you buy the R2 200 day pass. See details here

Turkish Airlines is the only airline to offer direct return flights to Istanbul from Durban four times a week a week, and daily from Joburg and Cape Town. You can book cheap flights here

The flights fly through the evening, so you'll land ready for a morning of exploring Istanbul. While it may be a bit strenuous, there’s nothing a good, strong Turkish coffee can’t fix. 



Disclaimer: Louzel Lombard for Traveller24 was hosted as media by Turkish Airlines in Istanbul, including flights and accommodation.

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