We flew Turkish Airlines earlier this year to Maldives and had an 11-hour layover in Istanbul (the Ataturk airport: IST). Instead of spending the entire time at the lounge - one of the best lounges I've been to - we decided to go to check out the area around Hagia Sophia. Here's how we did it:
Stored our carry-on luggage in the lounge. There is also a paid public luggage storages in the arrival area that you can use if you don't have lounge access. Here's some more info
Exchanged some cash for the metro and other incidentals. We exchanged $40 and it was more than enough for the day. The metro to Hagia Sophia area was only 10 Turkish Lira (around $2)
Took the metro to the Hagia Sophia/Sultan Ahmed Mosque neighborhood (took 1 hour ish). It's pretty easy to take the metro, and much cheaper than taking a cab:
- From the airport we took line M1A to Zeytinburnu metro station
- Transferred to T1 tram line at Zeytinburnu
- Got off T1 at Sultanahmet station
- From there we just explored the neighborhood on foot. I found this neighborhood very walkable. There are a lot of nice sights packed in this area. We checked out:
Sultan Ahmed mosque: just walked around it as it was prayer time when we were there and it's off limits to tourists during these times
Hagia Sophia: we spent about 1 hour exploring the grounds here. It's absolutely massive!
Basilica Cistern: very close to Hagia Sophia. It's an underground water cistern. There's a cool sideway medusa head in here
The Grand Bazaar: the last thing we did before heading back to the airport. We just walked around and took some pictures
Went back to the airport by about 8pm. Had a dinner and shower at the lounge and boarded our flight
I don't think we even scratched the surface of Istanbul. We're thinking of going back for an actual trip soon. But with the layover we had it worked out well. I think you can do this if you have a minimum of 6-8 hours of layover. Even 6 hours is pretty tight I think.
Some pictures we took on Instagram:
Sultan Ahmed mosque (or Blue Mosque)