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What if I told you that you could visit Istanbul in a few hours? That’s right, if you take a flight on Turkish Airlines with a long layover in Istanbul, you too can experience the magic of this city. 

Other airlines offer free layovers, where you can add a stopover in their home airport. For example, add a stop in Reykjavik if you’re flying with Icelandair or a stop in Lisbon or Porto if you’re flying with TAP. But this is different – this is a layover in Istanbul where Turkish Airlines hosts you during your stay.

Layover in Istanbul | The Common Traveler | image: Hagia Sophia at sunrise

What to do in a Layover in Istanbul

What is Touristanbul?

Touristanbul is a free service provided by Turkish Airlines for its passengers who have a longer layover. If your flight itinerary includes a layover in Istanbul lasting six to 24 hours, you have options.

Gone are the days when you have to just sit at the airport for extended periods of time just waiting for your next flight. You know, those times when you’re wandering around from shop to shop, trying not to spend any more money. Or when you’re looking for a spot where you can rest comfortably without someone stealing your stuff. 

If you’re interested in getting just a quick taste of Istanbul, then Touristanbul offers several options, depending on the time of day and departure times. If you’re in doubt, the Touristanbul clerk will let you know if you’ll be able to participate in a particular tour.

PRO TIP: Your luggage will be checked through to your destination, so pack anything you will need for your layover in your carry-on piece.

Who can use Touristanbul?

Any passenger traveling on Turkish Airlines with a stopover in Istanbul lasting longer than six hours can participate. When booking your flight, you’ll see the itineraries featuring Touristanbul clearly labeled.

How do you book your Touristanbul?

Upon arriving at Istanbul Airport (IST), go through immigration. Once you have passed through all the duty-free areas, proceed through the exit. Proceed to the right to the very end of the terminal. Look for the signs that say “Hotel.” Before you reach Touristanbul, you’ll pass a lot of travel, car rental, hotels, and other desks. Touristanbul is the very last area on the right-hand side.

When approaching the desk, you’ll have two options: hotel or tours. You cannot take advantage of both programs, you have to choose. To book a tour, there is only one window, to the right. No need to take a number, just get in line. If you’re looking for a hotel room, you’ll need to get a number and wait to be called. 

Tour participants will be given a lanyard with their tour number to wear. You must sign up no later than an hour prior to the designated departure time. Meet the tour guide in front of the Touristanbul desk. The guide will take you to the bus awaiting your group.

PRO TIP: Ask your guide for their phone or Whatsapp number. If you get separated from the group, you’ll be able to reach them and reunite.

Layover in Istanbul | The Common Traveler | image: colorful lamps at market

What tour options do I have?

Tour registrations stop half an hour before the tour departure time, so make your way to the desk with plenty of time to register.

As of March 2023, there are tours as follows:

8:00 am – 11:30 am
8:30 am – 3:00 pm
8:30 am – 6:00 pm (lucky devils!)
12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
4:00 pm – 9:30 pm (I took this one!)

Each tour time has a different itinerary. The itinerary for each tour is slightly different depending on the day of the week, so check not only what time, but also which day you’re planning to visit. The itineraries take into account traffic issues depending on the hours and days. 

What is included in the Touristanbul?

Each Touristanbul tour includes an English-speaking guide, transportation to and from the Istanbul Airport, and generally, a meal. There is no need for additional cash – as a guest of Turkish Airlines, everything is complimentary.

Layover in Istanbul | The Common Traveler | image: ceiling inside Hagia Sophia

Do I need a visa to participate?

Because you will be leaving the Istanbul Airport, each participant in Touristanbul will need to check whether they need a visa. Keep in mind the cost of an eVisa if you are planning a trip with a tight budget. 

PRO TIP: While you can apply for a visa upon arrival at Istanbul airport, make your life easier by applying online in advance. 

What do you think of this type of layover option? Are you more likely to book a flight with Turkish Airlines? 

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Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

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Do you have a long layover in Istanbul? The Common Traveler shares the best way to spend your long layover in Istanbul using Turkish Airlines Touristanbul program. Click here!

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