Istanbul Layover – How To See The Famous City Yourself During A Short Layover

After I finished my travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo, I was now off to Romania with a 9 hour layover in Istanbul! I was definitely excited to leave the airport and check out the historic city of Istanbul, even if we only have a short layover. We started researching into Istanbul layover tours and learned that we can join a free one! Turkish Airlines apparently will give you a free city tour or hotel if you have an under 24 layover in Istanbul. Perfect! Karen and myself were very excited!

Until we realized we weren’t eligible to join a free Touristanbul tour or a free hotel

After getting off the plane and going through immigration (while also dealing with some rude people on the immigration line up), Karen and myself gunned it to the Touristanbul office. We were very giddy because we really wanted to see the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. As soon as we arrived, I enthusiastically handed over our boarding pass with a big smile on my face. I was definitely bursting with excitement.

Then, the individual working on the desk gave us the bad news. “Sorry sir, but your Istanbul layover doesn’t match the tour times we have available. You would still be in the tour when your flight leaves.”

Holy shit! Are you kidding me? I been looking forward to this! I began pleading with the individual working on the desk and told her we don’t mind leaving earlier! We just want to join the tour!

Rejected again

Her reply was definitely depressing. “Sorry sir, but I can’t even enter you in our system for the tour because it won’t allow us.”

Oh my god…I was so upset. “Okay…I thought…we’ll take the consolation prize.” I then asked if we can get the free hotel instead? The lady working on the desk pointed us at the other desk that helps Turkish airlines with getting a free hotel room.

We then went to the desk for the free hotel room and again, the news was bad. “Sorry sir, but we can only give you a free hotel if your layover is over 9 hours.”

What…?! Where does it say that? From here on out, Karen and myself were left without a plan on how we’re going to see the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul layover tours or do it ourselves?

While standing there brainstorming what to do next, we looked at our options. I’m sure we can join an Istanbul layover tour somewhere here in the airport. Then, I was standing there thinking some more and said, “wait, why don’t we just do it ourselves?”

Typically, I hate joining tours so Karen and myself started inquiring in the airport on how we can reach Hagia Sophia by public transit.

We were so excited I forgot what the name. Luckily, it’s really easy to find, just ask someone in the airport and they’ll point it out to you. The bus goes directly in the city centre where the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque is located.

The bus ride to the Istanbul city centre

Riding the bus during our Istanbul layover towards the city centre was quite pleasant. You get a scenic view of this ancient city. I’ve got to say, that Istanbul is a very nice city. I wish I can say the same about the many people we met here.

During the drive to the city centre, some rude locals would block the road. They’d park their car right where the bus bus stop is and won’t move as they take their sweet time to drop off their friends. One idiot who was doing this actually caused damage to another bus who drove through the driver side door.

Istanbul is definitely a chaotic city.

Hagia Sophia

As soon as the bus dropped us off at the city centre, Karen and myself made our way to the Hagia Sophia. It’s freaking beautiful! Amazing. I was looking forward to this moment long before coming to Istanbul.



The Hagia Sophia used to be a church but it’s now a museum. And it’s definitely impressive! Karen and myself bought tickets and went inside and was very impressed. It was worth seeing this place.

We took tons of pictures as we admired the architecture and art.


istanbul layover

istanbul layover

istanbul layover

istanbul layover

istanbul layover

istanbul layover


After feeling satisfied exploring the Hagia Sophia, we were off to the Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was spectacular to look at from the outside. But once you go inside, it’s quite underwhelming. I guess we had high expectations after seeing the Hagia Sophia. We took a few pictures but didn’t linger long. People weren’t friendly while going inside the Blue Mosque anyways.



We went outside the Blue Mosque and did a little bit more sight seeing before wrapping it up to buy souvenirs.



Buying souvenirs

It was boiling hot in Istanbul and Karen and myself started feeling dehydrated. We found a local store and bought some water as Karen browsed through their wares. Karen wanted to bring home some Turkish delight to give as souvenirs to her family members.

The lady that was assisting Karen was extremely rude and impatient which seems to be the common theme since visiting Istanbul. Rude, snobby, and impatient people.

Back to the airport

We probably spent 3-4 hours sight seeing before we went back to the airport. We most definitely welcomed the AC inside the bus because it was blistering hot in Istanbul.

Because we flew on business class thanks to using our Aeroplan miles, we were able to go through security really quickly.

The Turkish Airlines airport lounge is hands down one of the best lounges I have ever been to in my life. It was beautiful and the food was amazing.


istanbul layover


Not long after, it was time to board the plane towards Bucharest, Romania.


Overall, Karen and myself enjoyed our time doing an Istanbul layover tour. The only bad thing is that a lot of people in Istanbul act very rude, snobby, and elitist. We definitely didn’t like that. We get the vibe that people in Istanbul thinks they’re some posh European city.

So anyways, go to Istanbul and admire the sights. But you definitely don’t want to go here for the people. It’s not that kind of place. My sister travelled to other parts of Turkey outside Istanbul and apparently, people are significantly friendlier outside the capital city.

I’m definitely coming back to explore the beautiful country of Turkey when I get the chance. I still haven’t seen the hot air balloons at the legendary city of Cappadocia so that’s definitely still in my bucket list. As for Istanbul, I don’t think I’ll take anymore time to explore it in the future and will spend my time in other areas within Turkey.

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2 thoughts on “Istanbul Layover – How To See The Famous City Yourself During A Short Layover”

  1. Well if you’re referring to Istanbul as the capital of Turkey you may not find the residents of Ankara very friendly either! 😉

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