The opportunity to visit Istanbul for a day presented itself and I couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity. I used a long layover to do minimal exploring and I would say it was worth the experience! I only wished I had more time to explore Turkey and try more local foods, since I was in a time crunch. But I’ll be back next time!
If you have a long layover, the airport is pretty busy during all hours of the day due to the volume of flights. So theoretically, you can stay airside for your whole transit time. The airport is also really big with lots of stores and amenities, so it’s one of the better airports to have a layover.
If you need somewhere to sleep (or even pass time), I would actually recommend paying for the Turkish Airlines lounge! Initially I booked a hotel near the airport, but I canceled it to save money and it was the right decision. First off, even if you don’t pay for the lounge, there’s so much space airside that you can definitely find a little space for yourself. But, in the lounge, there’s also a lot of open seats, couches, and even a “movie” area where there are semi-recliners. This is where I slept since in the late morning, the lights are dimmed. They do wake people up in the morning though to clean, but the lounge is worth it even if you don’t sleep. There’s a huge food selection, shower rooms, and a lot more to keep you occupied. Luckily for me, I have Star Alliance Gold so I’m able to get into the lounge for free.
When you get out of the airport for your layover, I recommend taking the metro to work your way downtown since it’s the most affordable option. You can get in Istanbulkart (their transit card) at the ticket machine and it also works on the bus and tram. The metro stop is attached to the airport, but be prepared for a LOT of walking. Everything is so spread out that I would make sure you budget enough time so you don’t miss your flight. Traffic in Istanbul is bad (good to know if you take the bus) and the metro stop is far from the airport itself. But other than that, it was pretty easy to get around!
Unfortunately I didn’t have that much time in the city but I want to come back someday! Below are the places I was able to see:
places i visited
*** when you visit the mosques, make sure you wear long sleeves and pants or else you probably can’t go in. They also make you take off your shoes, but there’s bags/cubbies to put them in the meantime.