My son and his girlfriend used their air miles for two tickets to Rome for our family vacation this summer. They fly on Turkish Air from LAX with a 23 hour layover in Istanbul on the return flight. Can anyone recommend a hotel that is central to all the main sites and yet easy to get to on the tram from the airport? They plan to store their luggage at the airport and take only what they need for their 23 hour stay. Hotel Amira sounds like it might be a wonderful place to stay but it involves several transfers on the tram to get there and back. With so little time, it would be great to find a hotel with easier access. Thank you.
The hotel you mentioned is only one transfer made at "Zeytinburnu". At that connection, you have to switch from the M1 (subway) to the T1 (tram) heading in the direction of "Kabatas". Most likely "Sultanahmet" will be the final stop to reach the hotel. The transfer is very straightforward. I know where that hotel is since I've walked by it every day on one of my trips, it's a very nice hotel and centrally located in the Old City. I would keep it. There's no other way to get to the Old City (Sultanahmet) without that one transfer if you're using the subway/tram. If you need other recommendations that are even closer to the tram line, let me know (I've stayed in one apartment and two hotels that were right off the Gulhane stop - very close to everything. I've also stayed very close to the airport on another trip).
I'm wondering how are they going to store their luggage at the airport? The security at IST (Ataturk Airport) is much stricter than US airports. I cannot imagine luggage storage there. Can you confirm? I'd like to know for my own benefit.
Get a hotel at the airport. Travel to Turkey is not safe according to the USA State Department Turkey Travel Warning
LAST UPDATED: JANUARY 25, 2017:
I forgot to mention that they'll need a visitor Visa to leave the airport, even for 23 hours. It's not expensive and you can get it online.
On the RS Turkey tour we stayed at the Best Western Obelisk. Good neighborhood, nothing special about the rooms. Great patio where they serve breakfast. Nice view of the Blue Mosque. I took a taxi from the airport so I don't know if the tram will get you there.
Istanbul is my second favorite city...
Do they know about the free Turkish Airlines tours?
TA offer free tours for their layover passengers, with pickup and return to the airport included. There are several to choose from with different itineraries:
If you let me know when they get in, I am happy to offer feedback on the various tour schedules and what they can do on their own.
I would stay overnight at the airport and take a free tour rather than worry about getting back on time. Alternatively they could take advantage of the pickup, free tour, stay in Sultanahmet overnight so if they wanted to do anything else in the evening/morning they can.
If they have time for a leisurely dinner, I would highly recommend taking the ferry to Kadikoy and having dinner at Ciya Sofrasi. It is in my top 5 restaurants in the world. The NY Times wrote about it several years back. The menu is basic and the setting is not fancy but every ingredient is so thoughtfully chosen, and the execution is flawless. Plus the ferry ride is a wonderful way to get a cheap mini tour of the Bosphorus in - especially if they can take it at sunset on the way there or back.
Only takes about 30 mins from Sultanahmet if they stay there: Sult. --> Eminonu on the train, ferry from Eminonu to Kadikoy (or if they end up near Yenikapi they can take the ferry from Bursa). Ciya is a 5 min walk from the ferry dock. Kadikoy is a good taste of the less touristy part of Istanbul.
Oh! Last thing - Cemberlitas Hamam is open until 11:30pm and is a 10 min (very safe) walk from Hotel Amira if they stay there, so if they wanted to visit a hamam, they could leave it for the last thing in the evening. I went at 9pm on my first trip to Istanbul to get one more experience in before I left for the airport at 3am.
Have them check with Turkish Airlines: in most cases, if you have a long layover in IST, they will give you either 1) a free night at a nice hotel, or 2) a free guided tour of the city (obviously, depends on what time of day/night your layover is). I know, it sounds like a fantasy (imagine American Airlines offering something like that - hah!) but it's true. Turkish Airlines is great.
I forgot about those tours! That is an awesome deal. It never worked out for me sadly because I always got into Istanbul outside the time parameters (only one redeye flight from DC that always arrives at the same time). If the timing is right and the tour is available, I would definitely jump on it (even though I'm an independent traveler, I would have appreciated someone else showing me around the first time). Istanbul can be totally sensory overload for many people on the initial trip.
Thank you, everyone for all the advice and suggestions. With last year's attacks and the recent travel restrictions, I didn't expect so many responses. We will definitely checkout the possibility of free accommodations and tours with Turkish Air and look into the various hotel, restaurant and transportation options as well. I looked up luggage storage at Ataturk airport and it looks like they do offer 24-hour services at their International terminal for a small fee. Very surprised to hear that a visa is required to leave the airport!
Happy and safe travels to all!
Very surprised to hear that a visa is required to leave the airport!
A lot of countries have tourist Visa fees, most likely because their own citizens get hit with those same fees when traveling to a reciprocal country. It's tit-for-tat. For example, I had to pay over $120 or so upon arrival in Argentina back in 2009. Its wasn't until relations with Argentina and US became more positive (within 2-3 years ago, I believe) that this Visa fee was finally lifted on both sides.
The Turkish Visa fee is very reasonable. I would definitely take care of it online because that's one less long line to stand in. Considering the cost of travel in Istanbul and all the treasures there, I would gladly pay the 25 EUR or so. It's not really a leave-the-airport fee, it's more of a 90-day tourist VISA. It may be good for a few years or one year (for multiple trips) - you'd have to check, I'm not 100% sure anymore. There are many countries that enjoy Turkey Visa-free, but the US is not one of them.
Thanks, Agnes. I'll tell them to take care of their visas before leaving home to avoid any hassle when they land in Istanbul.
Last year some friends were at the Beijing airport on a brief layover that turned into an overnight stay at the hotel because one of them got lost looking for coffee and didn't make it back in time for boarding. When they decided to take in a few sights in Beijing after settling into their hotel room, they were told that they couldn't leave the airport because no one had a visa. No offer was made to expedite an e-visa for them and they don't recall seeing any visa kiosks at the airport like the ones at Ataturk.
Adrienne, when you think about it, Chinese or Turks cannot enter the USA, not even to just leave the airport to sightsee, without a visa. It is not surprising that Beijing airport has no "visa kiosks" for easy access to visas. It is a major undertaking for Canadians to get a visa for China and I expect it is the same for Americans, plus the visa costs well over $200 and takes about 10 days to process.
Thanks, Norma. It's interesting how each country has their own peculiar visa requirements. I hope my son and his girlfriend have a relatively smooth 23 hours once they land in Istanbul. We've arranged for a pick up at Ataturk airport and a night's stay at Hotel Amira so that and all the suggestions from contributors to this post should be a good start.
I just got back from a long layover in Istanbul yesterday, and I stayed at the Hotel Niles. It's a wonderful, family-operated boutique hotel just around the corner from the Grand Bazaar. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are also within easy walking distance. Hotel Niles is lovely and reasonably priced with a delightful, English-speaking staff. They arranged transportation to and from the airport. Also, they serve a full breakfast. The travel warnings have devastated the tourist industry in Istanbul, and it was sad to see that there were very few guests in such an excellent hotel. I very highly recommend them, and wish I could have stayed there more than one night. I would stay there again in a heartbeat.
And one more thing about visas. If your son and girlfriend are flying both ways on Turkish Airlines, make sure to make the visa start date on the first date of travel, even if you are anticipated the layover on the back end of the trip. My layover was on the back end of the trip, and I set the effective date of the visa to the date of the layover. Unfortunately, my outbound flight from the US was delayed, and I missed my connection to my final destination. I had to buy a second visa at the airport to cover the unexpected stay at the beginning of the trip. Arrrgghh. Lesson learned.
Thanks for the advice, Marie. I'll pass on the info. I looked up Hotel Niles and it looks wonderful and so reasonably priced. We like staying in smaller family-owned hotels and want to support them, especially during harder economic times as you describe in Istanbul. Glad you had a safe and enjoyable visit.
They should get some Turkish Lira from an ATM at the airport. Even if they can pay for some things with dollars, they're likely to get ripped off on the exchange rate. And they'll probably want some lira at the airport on the way home too.
Also, check with Turkish Air if their luggage is checked through to Rome. It should be, so they'll need to take what they need for an overnight in their carry-on (a good idea in any case, you never know when your luggage will be delayed). And they should be able to get their IST-FCO boarding passes at LAX when they check in.
Thanks, Chani. I'll pass on your message about checking in at LAX and picking up liras. Didn't think that US dollars would even be accepted in Turkey but it's good to know in a pinch.