Have you heard of Touristanbul? Such a great option for everyone who travels via Istanbul Airport and has a longer layover between two flights. Exactly one week ago, we were returning home from Doha, Qatar via Istanbul, and since we were flying with Turkish Airlines and had a longer stopover before our flight to Ljubljana, we happily joined this free guided tour of the city. We initially wanted a morning connection to Ljubljana, but the flight was already fully booked, so we had no choice but to book an evening flight. Read more about who is entitled to these Touristanbul trips, how to book them, which one to chose and what our experience was like in this post.
So, this unique offer is courtesy of TURKISH AIRLINES and it applies to everyone who flies with the mentioned airline and has a layover at Istanbul airport which is between 6 AND 24 HOURS long. In addition, the connecting flight must be international and not within Turkey. Check also if you happen to need a VISA to enter the country.
Depending on how much time you have, what time of the day you fly in and when your next flight is, you currently have 8 DIFFERENT TOURS to choose from – Sightseeing tour, Balat tour Half day tour (we took this one), Full day tour, Afternoon tour, Evening tour, Bosphorous tour and Shopping tour.
HOW DOES TOURISTANBUL WORK AND OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I’ll admit, Charlie and I were pretty tired, having spent the previous day in the hot sun at the beach and by the pool, and then we only closed our eyes for about two hours on the night flight from Doha to Istanbul. So at one point I even thought it would have been easier to just stay at the airport as walking around the old part of Istanbul with an energetic almost two-year-old girl, who of course slept about 6 hours more than the two of us, sounded quite torturous. But 9 hours at the airport didn’t sound good to us either. So we went. And it turned out to be a great decision!
We landed around 7:30 in the morning, followed the signs for exit and baggage claim, got our passports stamped at the immigration window and a couple of ten meters later found ourselves at an otherwise rather small window where it said Touristanbul. If you can’t find it, there are enough info stands around the airport where you can ask for directions.
Our next flight to Ljubljana was around six in the afternoon, so we chose the HALF DAY TOUR, starting at 8:30 a.m. and arriving back at the airport at 3:00 p.m. RESERVATION IN ADVANCE is not required, but you must be at this window in the arrivals hall at least half an hour before the start of the tour. 15 minutes before the start, your GUIDE picks you up, ticks your name off the list and quickly explains the basic things about the trip, before walking out towards the bus together.
Okay, I have to mention that I’m really not used to this kind of group guided tours, because we always travel on our own and I love this freedom to go where we want, stay as long as we want and spontaneously change the plan anytime in between. But we liked this tour also because we could go around on our own without a problem – you just have to tell the guide.
The two of us already spent 5 days in Istanbul at the end of 2019 and got to know the city really well, so we have already been to most of the sights. The pace of our tour was quite fast which is great if you’re in the city for the first time, because you actually get to see many things, but it’s a little less great if you have a small child with you who doesn’t walk that fast yet and at the same time doesn’t want to sit in a stroller anymore. My back decided that there was no point in carrying 13 kg for several hours while walking that fast, so we wondered off on our own during the tour two times. Instead of visiting all the rooms in Topkapi Palace, we spent more time observing hundreds of ants, petted at least 20 cats, smelled blooming flowers, winked and waved at most of the security guards and admired interestingly dressed tourists from all over the world. Just a slightly different experience 🙂
But let’s go to the beginning. The BUS RIDE from the airport to the center of Istanbul went by in the blink of an eye, our guide was entertaining and full of interesting anecdotes and historical facts at the same time. Otherwise, we were obviously not the only ones with empty batteries – on the way to the city, some of us closed our eyes for a couple of ten minutes and woke up somewhere in the old part of Istanbul with our mouths open and a sore neck.
First stop – BREAKFAST. Free of course. Absolutely EVERYTHING IS INCLUDED in this trip. From food and drinks, transport, guiding, entrance fees. Don’t expect any culinary excesses, but actually there is no reason to complain because a) we ate well and b) we didn’t pay anything. When we arrived, tables were already waiting for us in one of the restaurants, packed with Turkish cheeses, traditional bread, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, honey, salami, eggs, Turkish tea and water.
From here we walked through the nearby BAZAAR with really wonderful textile and other products, but there was no time for shopping. A visit to the TOPKAPI PALACE awaited us. It was really nice to reminisce, and we enjoyed how everything was so beautiful green and blooming. We visited Istanbul in the month of November back in 2019, when, of course, everything is a little grayer. Inside the palace we also visited the HAREM for the first time, for which there is an extra entrance fee, which we did not pay the last time. I really recommend visiting this part as well, since it is a very interesting part of the palace.
Then we broke away from our group and went on our own until 10:30. We continued past the famous HAGIA SOFIA to the BLUE MOSQUE or SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE, took a quick look at the interior and went on our own way again until lunch. We walked slowly around the former HIPPODROME and rested a bit on one of the many benches – ideal spot for people watching or running after pigeons if you ask Mila.
LUNCH awaited us in one of the nearby restaurants, and we again had a more TRADITIONAL TURKISH MEAL, with the option of a vegetarian or vegan menu (the guide asked for our preferences right away on the bus when we left the airport). Grilled meat, rice and tasty vegetable sides, salad, soup, water and soft drinks, all included. After lunch, we walked to the LITTLE HAGIA SOFIA mosque, which we also visited for the first time. A little further on, the bus was already waiting for us and we returned to the airport on time. As mentioned, the tour is completely free, but you can reward the guide with a tip.
At the excellent Istanbul airport, we looked for a SPECIAL ZONE FOR FAMILIES with children under 5 years old, where special counters for passport control as well as special lines for security checks are set up. We got everything done very quickly since there were absolutely no crowds here. Before boarding, we still had enough time for a walk among the many boutiques, one drink and a few ten minutes of playing on one of the airport’s indoor children’s playgrounds. Just perfect.
Overall, we found Touristanbul to be a great option for seeing the city, regardless of whether you’ve been to Istanbul before or not. In addition to the fact that you don’t have to think about anything at all, you also get to eat twice and chat with some interesting fellow travelers (in our group we had a couple from Bangkok, a family from Mongolia, travelers from India, Kazakhstan, the USA, Hungary, etc. and also one Slovenian). If for any reason you arrive late at the airport and consequently miss your next flight, Turkish Airlines will also take responsibility and rebook you on the first possible flight free of charge.
We arrived in Ljubljana quite tired, but full of new memories and satisfied that we also decided to make this jump to the city of Istanbul. We would be happy to repeat it again and maybe choose one of the other tours. By the way, did you know that in certain cases, you even get a FREE NIGHT IN A HOTEL? The first condition is that you have a connection with Turkish Airlines with a stopover of more than 20 hours between international flights. We haven’t experienced this yet, but if we do I’ll definitely report about it.
There is a really EXTENSIVE POST ABOUT ISTANBUL on my blog already so if you are interested in what you can see and experience in this interesting city, click on the button below.