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Long layover in Istanbul

We are flying to Athens from SFO in September 2019. There is an option on Turkish Airlines for a 20 hour layover in Istanbul. Anyone with experience in Istanbul have any advice on this? We arrive at 5pm, and leave the next day at 1pm. Is this amount of time even worth the effort? We would have time for a tour in the evening and I expect would need to be back to the airport with plenty of time for security etc before leaving for Athens. Also, the day we'd be there will be my 50th birthday so what a fabulous experience for such a milestone... Thanks in advance for all your thoughts!

Julie & Mike

Posted by
4354 posts

Given your arrival time, I would look for a hotel at the airport, dinner and 'lay my head down to sleep'

13 hrs on a plane and 11 time zones, are not what I consider prep for 'playing tourist'. Perhaps your stamina is better than mine

Posted by
4944 posts

I've done this layover 3 times or so. I think it's too rough and not optimal introduction to a city like Istanbul because it doesn't give you enough time to do anything of substance while the city is as busy and sensory overload as New York City. I was happy to do the layovers because I knew how to fill in my short time stint pretty efficiently (I would narrowly focus on a sight I didn't get to yet on prior trips) but that's not how I would have wanted my first trip to Istanbul to be. Flying in from the West Coast would be much worse than my redeye 6 hour flight, and you may arrive totally jet lagged (too much so to do anything). I think if you could give Istanbul more time, it would be worthwhile, but this is a really short stint after a really, really long flight. Plus Istanbul is a gateway for air traffic from east and west, so getting through passport control takes a while. By the time you would finally get into town, it may very well be after 7pm. Realistically, do you think you'll be able to hit the ground running by that point?

Perhaps you could just play by ear, you never know. Turkish Air is a great airline and I wouldn't pass it up even if it involves a layover (after all, you could use the layover just to crash and call your first day "a wash"). Maybe you'd be able to make something of it, however small. Nice hotels are very affordable. My last trip, I thought I would just get in and go to sleep but my jet lag didn't hit hard until the following day. So I was way too awake. I wandered around and had some good food and enjoyed myself nonetheless (I've already seen all the major tourists sites and they were closed by then). You will need a relatively inexpensive Turkish VISA just to leave the airport.

Posted by
1445 posts

I like memorable birthdays. The airport isn't that far away from Sultanahmet district for some quick sightseeing and a beautiful city by night. I can recommend the Hotel Nena....particularly the deluxe room with private belcony and full views of the Blue Mosque. It is a local boutique hotel. No Four Seasons, but a good flavour of the city and well located to attractions or just walking.

Posted by
1011 posts

I agree with Agnes, with that weird connection better to save Istanbul for another time ... move on. There is a connection from SFO with 2 hrs. Also, the last poster mentioned proximity ... that will not be the case in September, presumably even if there are delays, the new airport should be running by then, meaning you are further away from the center.

One other thing though, if Istanbul is on your radar and you have the time to spend a few days, check out the price for a multicity on Turkish Air. E.g. SFO> ATH, ATH>IST, IST>SFO or SFO> IST, IST>ATH, ATH>SFO ... often the price is similar to a RT.

Posted by
12022 posts

Yes, the new airport is farther from town and, yes, that's probably where you'll be landing and taking off in September. Check if the new airport hotel is airside or landside, in other words if you need to get a Turkish visa. If you need visas, then you might as well get a room in the city. Istanbul is very romantic at night and you'll have time for a quick walk around in the morning before returning to the airport.

Posted by
1445 posts

I see I am late to add that pricewise, adding more days in IST is neglible for flight costs. 3 days is a nice visit, if you can afford tje time and then added per day expenses.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you to all for your thoughts and advice! On the way over, we decided to go directly to Athens due to jet lag, and will spend 3 nights, 2 full days in Istanbul at the end of our trip when we are not jet lagged. Will still have a few days at home to recover before going back to work. Yay! So glad I posted, thank you again for all your suggestions. :)

Posted by
8 posts

-just reread posts above - will need visa to leave airport right?

Oh, one more question - I think with just the 20hr layover we did not need a visa - will we now need an evisa?

Thanks,
Julie

Posted by
4944 posts

Yes, if you leave the airport for however long, you'll need a VISA. Here is the link for the eVISA so you can avoid standing in a long line:
https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
If you can, try to spend at least 3 full days in Istanbul. It's a huge city, and even 3 full days isn't much. Even if you confine yourself just to the Old City center/ Sultanahmet (which is a sliver of the City), it's packed with things to see. I spent almost a day in Topkapi Palace alone.

Posted by
8 posts

Agnes, thank you for the reply :) We are spending 10 days in Athens and the islands, and only have time for 2 full days in Istanbul, so we will definitely have to maximize our time there.

-Julie

Posted by
1011 posts

Cool, 2 full days is definitely better than the original plan. Also, I'm not a planner, so I wouldn't normally say this, but check your attraction times. I am slightly traumatized by somehow having missed seeing Aya Sofia on three separate visits. First time didn't know it was closed Mondays, second time knew that and went Sunday afternoon but got closing hours wrong (difference between summer and winter closing times ... literally they closed the gates on us) and then it was Monday again, third time it was closed for something else (renovations?).

Posted by
1445 posts

Yes, closing times can be a challenge. I was there over a Sunday and Monday and trying to maximize my touring was a focused effort.
You should be eligible for a multiple entry e visa.
Glad you have decided to add it in to your plans. For some, it isn't a final destination, but if you are flying through there anyway, it is convenient to stop over.

Posted by
2 posts

Do I gather from above that I can stay at hotel in new airport without obtaining Turkish visa? I will have 14 hr layover so must unfortunately miss Istanbul this trip.

Posted by
29 posts

Hi Julie, congratulations on adding a few days in Istanbul. Tina in a posting called something like "2 or 3 day in Istanbul" got lots of responses, including mine. I have copied it here:

Hi Tina, I spent several weeks in Istanbul in 2016. One big change is the airport. Its' operational date for North American and Greek flights is still fluid. You won't be able to plan the overnight airport stay until you know which location will be used by your flights.
For your stay of 2-3 days in Istanbul I recommend the following in order to minimize travel time and maximize enjoyment. Purchase electronic visas, you may need multiple entry, depending on the overnight transiting procedure.
Buy RS Istanbul guide. Read thoroughly. Reread the sections that cover Sultanamet, what it offers, the walking tours that RS describes, and the interior descriptive guides that RS offers.

Hagia Sophia [at least 45 minutes] Topkapi [at least 2 hours] Archaeological Museum [at least 2 hours] , Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum [at least an hour]. You can easily double these times. I tripled them, but I have an intense interest in history, archaeology,architecture. These four places have individual admission prices or you can buy a Museum Pass which covers over a dozen major museums in Istanbul; you will need to calculate the economy and usefulness since you bypass the ticket booth and go direct to the entrance check station. If 2 days, maybe; if 3 full days, probably.
Underground Cistern [at least 30 minutes, not covered by Museum Pass]
Blue Mosque [at least 30 minutes], no admission but consider a donation, it is a Mosque in which Muslims worship, it is closed during "official" worship times, non Muslims are very welcome at other times. While visiting consider sitting on the floor and worshiping in silence which I believe will improve your appreciation of the blue tile artwork, and, indirectly , of Hagia Sophia, which was a spiritual worship space, both Christian and Muslim, for a millenia. BTW I understand it has been undergoing major restoration, so that might reduce the benefit of visiting it.
Hippodrome [30 minutes], it is outside so no admission price.
Harvey

Posted by
29 posts

This is the remainder of my post. I may have altered it a bit because of limitations on reposting.

Grand Bazaar which is about a 20-30 minute walk from Hagia Sophia. The walk itself is enjoyable since you will be immersed in Istanbul. Thirty minutes of wandering inside The BG is just a dip of your toe. If possible, spend two hours, including sitting for a espresso and enjoying the ambiance. BTW salespeople are persistent; say no and move on, do not engage them in conversation unless you do want to buy a rug, or whatever. If you get tired of saying no, just move on; it is not an insult, it is a necessity.

If you like spices, herbs, nuts, wander down to The Spice Market, which is close to the waterfront and good views. It is about a 30 minute walk back to Hagia Sophia. Have a good map of Sultanamet if you leave the major streets, or enjoy being slightly lost as you enjoy the walk.
Doing these things will fill up two full days, and easily a third. That is why I recommend staying at a Guest House/ Pension/ small hotel in the Sultanamet area. I prefer the area located between Hagia Sophia and Bosphorus. It is quieter, more pedestrian than automotive, and since it is on a slope many hotels and restaurants have roof top patios that overlook the Bosphorus. It is delightful to eat breakfast with a beautiful view. With the expansion of Youtube and other video websites, you can probably view the interiors of some of the hotels. The following would be important to me; in July air conditioning, good breakfast with a good view, quiet area and room, within a 5 minute walk of Hagia Sophia. Because tourism has declined hotel prices are negotiable.
Highly recommend getting the RS Istanbul guidebook. It is essential to making the most of two days in Ist. And choosing a hotel, restaurants, etc.
Have a wonderful trip!
Harvey

Posted by
29 posts

Some aspects I forgot to address is transportation from the airport [especially the new airport] to hotel and then the return for departure; money exchange.
Most hotels can arrange a van which will take around 6 or so people and luggage from the airport to their hotel[s]. There may be one or two stops before they arrive at your specific hotel. Since your time in Istanbul is short, every hour is valuable. That makes the hours and luggage handling you save by van, compared to public transit, worth the reasonable cost. They can also arrange a private vehicle for a higher cost.

Details should be well known and easily communicated to you by the hotel. If that is not the case, consider a different hotel.
I would suggest asking for a package price. Hotel plus transportation. Ensure that breakfast is included, and read reviews of their breakfast. To me, an unhurried breakfast with a variety of tasty foods, accompanied by good coffee, is essential to the start of a good day. Even better if there is a beautiful view.
Also ask if they prefer to be paid in Turkish Lira or Euros; and whether there is a discount for cash compared to credit card; some places offer a discount to RS guidebook owners.
There are multiple currency exchanges on the main street in Sultanamet [the one with the modern streetcar system] which are only a few minutes walk from Hagia Sophia and which deal with over twenty different currencies, including Japanese and Norwegian and Danish. I mention that because I enjoy looking at a board of many currencies because of the wonderful variety of travelling possibilities which they represent. The buy and sell rate for each currency is clearly stated on an electronic bulletin board of about 3 feet by 5 feet, so these shops are hard to miss.

Harvey