To coffee and to sleep in Istanbul? What do you mean? Easy.
Upon returning from Vietnam, we had a 13-hour stopover in Istanbul, which we wanted to use to see the city by ourselves. When we landed at the airport, we exchanged some money and went to the metro station. Before the ride we bought Istanbulcard, which is used for paying the rides.
Upon arrival in the city, it was raining and the temperature was a bit above the freezing point, everything was closed … After one hour of searching, we finally found an open coffee shop, where we were able to get warm and tried a real Turkish coffee and thought about what we should do. The weather wasnt in our favour, the famous Grand Bazaar was closed (Sunday) … so we decided to return to the airport by the metro and ask for a free hotel.
Stopover in Istanbul
Turkish Airlines offers you a free tour of Istanbul if your stopover is more than six hours. At the airport, you must first to the customs and document control, then find the Turkish counter located next to the Starbucks cafe. There are several daily tours available, and you choose the one that suits you according to your stopover time. All tours are free (lunch, guide, transportation …). You can find more information about the tours here.
See the city on your own
If you are not exactly fan of guided tours, go by yourself to explore the Istanbul. The amount of time you can spend on viewing the sites depends of multiple factors, and most of all, how long your stop is. In our opinion, it is not worth to go to the city it if you have a stop less than six hours. Our calculation is that you need about 2 hours to arrange all the formalities at the airport and to get to the city center. A similar time applies for return. During this time, you will not see more than the famous Blue Mosque, but it’s definitely better than waiting at the airport.
How to get to the city
The easiest and cheapest way to get to the city is by metro, which runs every day between 6 am and 24 pm. Before entering the metro, you can buy an Istanbulcard at the kiosk or at the self serving machine. We needed about 5-6 eur for the purchase of instanbulcard and for rides. You can only pay with Turkish liras, so you need to exchange some money at the airport. For Istanbulcard it will take 9 TRY (1.5 eur), but can be used by more people. For each ride it will be necessary to pay 3.6 TRY (0.6 €), and each transfer is 2.6 TRY (0.4 €).
If you want to see the Blue Mosque, go to Zeytinburnu station, where you make transfer to Sultanahmed station. Here is the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar are nearby.
In order to arrive to the airportin time and take all the controls, in our opinion, it is best to leave the city three hours before the flight.
Hotel and long stopover
Passengers who have a longer stop of 10 hours can apply for a free stay at the Turkish counter. The option is valid if you selected the most optimal flight when buying a flight ticket (it means that there was no flight available with shorter stop). You can find the counter at the arrival hall by the Starbucks coffee shop. You can ask for a free hotel, regardless of the time of arrival and departure.
Our experience with the hotel
After returning from the city, we approached the Turkish window and asked for a hotel. When more people gathered, they took us to the Novotel hotel, which surpassed all expectations. Extremely modern hotel, friendly staff, excellent and varied food offer and not to mention the comfort of the room. In a few hours of using the room, we got breakfast and lunch, and had some sleep before the flight home.
We flew with Turkish Airlines for the first time and we were truly surprised with offer on board, tasty meals, friendly staff, and most of all with the offer during the stop. Unfortunately, weather was not in our favor during the visit of Istanbul, so we did not have anything more than a quick tour. But we will definitely return soon in Istanbul.
* If you are going to the city, you can leave your luggage at the airport. The cost of storage is around 6 euros (24 hours), which depends on the size of the luggage itself.
* Grand Bazaar is closed on sundays