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)