12 h Layover in Istanbul – What to Visit in a Day

12 h Layover in Istanbul – What to Visit in a Day

Istanbul, the city of two continents is truly a unique destination. This vibrant metropolis has been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Christian Byzantine Empire, as well as the heart of the Ottoman Empire. This influences have left Istanbul with rich history, interesting culture and majestic architecture. The city’s location allows it also to embrace the mixture of European and Asian culture and visitors will sense the contrasts at each corner. The truth is you could spend days in this beautiful town and not get bored. But you can also visit Istanbul in one day, taking advantage of a long layover on your way to other destinations in Asia- as did we.


Straight from the airport take a bus or a taxi to Sultanahmet: the oldest part of the city.

Sultanahmet known also as The Historical Penisula is surrounded by the Sea of Marmara. Most of the well known attractions are located here. This is mainly were you will spend your layover in Istanbul. And it promises to be packed with beauty.

Note : The Atatürk Airport has been closed on 5th of April 2019. Now the flights operate to and from Istanbul Airport.

The Hagia Sophia

The most majestic building in Istanbul and one of the world’s greatest monuments. Built in Constantinople (as Istanbul was once called) in the 6th century, it was initially a church. It then became a mosque and today serves as a museum. Standing in the middle of the spacious nave, under the 55m high dome is a truly awe experience. Don’t forget to climb the stairs to the gallery to admire the Byzantine mosaics.

Opening hours

1st April – 31st October 9AM – 7PM (last tickets sold at 6PM)
1st November – 31st March 9AM- 5PM (last tickets sold at 4PM)

Ticket Price: 72 TL (12 EUR)

The Basilica Cystern

Located just in front of Hagia Sophia, this exquisite piece of Byzantine architecture is a spectacular underground cistern. In other words, it used to bring drinking water with aqueducts from current Bulgaria to Istanbul. The Basilica Cystern is a 1,500-year-old building supported by 336 columns. Walking around the underground space with deemed lights and classical music in the background is for sure a unique experience.

Did you know that a scene of Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ book takes place there?

Opening hours

1st April – 31st October 9AM – 6.30PM
1st November – 31st March 9AM- 5.30PM

Ticket Price: 20 TL (3 EUR)

The Blue Mosque

The breathtaking Blue Mosque is known for the blue tiles surrounding the walls of its interior. The mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Today it’s still an active mosque and closed to non worshippers for half an hour during each of the five daily prayers.

Opening hours

Sat- Thu: 8.30AM to 11.30AM – 1PM to 2.30PM – 3.30PM to 4.45PM
Fri: 1.30PM to 4.45PM

The Blue Mosque is free to enter.

There is a dress requirement. Men must wear long pants and at least short sleeves shirt. Women must cover their legs, shoulders and hair.

The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Baazaar dates back to 15th century and it’s considered as one of the largest in the world. The bazaar is famous for its carpets, leather, ceramics, souvenirs and jewelry. It’s an interesting experience to walk around the small alleys and watch the locals conduct business.

TIP : Do not forget that you should have good bargain skills if you want to purchase anything here at a good price: bargaining is a tradition.

The Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace was a main centre of the Ottoman Empire. The giant complex consists of four courtyards and many buildings and pavilions. It’s one of the most visited monument in Istanbul. Therefore, it can get really crowded. Make sure to visit the beautifully-tiled Harem where the crown jewels are stored. Located on the tip of the peninsula the Topkapi Palace futures also beautiful views the Marmara Sea, Bosphorus and The Golden Horn.

Opening hours

1st April – 2nd October 9AM – 6.45PM (last tickets sold at 6PM)
2nd October – 1st April 9AM- 5PM (last tickets sold at 4PM)

Ticket Price:

– Museum 72 TL (12 EUR) free for kids under 8 years old
– Harem and Halberdiers with Tresses Dormitory 42 TL (6,7 EUR) free for kids under 6 years old
– Hagia Irene 36 TL (5,8 EUR) free for kids under 8 years old

The Golden Horn

The Golden Horn was the ancient harbor of Istanbul during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Today it’s a major urban waterway and the main bay of the Bosphorus (strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara). You can take a ferry from Ayvansaray Pier down this scenic waterway to the stunning Galata Bridge or all the way to the Black Sea. This will allow you to view both sides of the waterway, the European and Asian.

Roof top bar

End your long layover in Istanbul with a bliss by heading over to the Arcadia Blue Hotel for a cup of famous Turkish coffee. Sip the delicious drink and enjoy spectacular views over the historic buildings of the old city, the Sea of Marmara and Asia.

Practical Info

From the airport

The new Istanbul Airport is located 50 km from the cities center. You can get either a taxi or go by bus.

Traveling by bus takes about an hour and the tickets are very cheap (around 1 EUR). Bus to Sultanahmet runes every 40 min. You can find all the informations and timetable here.

Note : Metro line M11 going directly from the center to the airport will be open at the beginning of 2020.

Where to eat

Giritli Restaurant a beautiful restaurant with garden and delicious food

Mihri Restaurant located just behind Hagia Sophia it’s the perfect place for lunch. The food is authentic and delicious and very well priced.

Matbah rather fancy restaurant with delicious food with incredible views of the Old Town.

House of Medusa this restaurant located right in the centre has a stunning back patio and good typical dishes.

Good to know

Istanbul is a safe place to visit. The people are very polite and kind, yet out of respect it is advised for women to dress modestly covering knees and shoulders.

Where to stay

Find all hotels for Istanbul on booking.com if you wish to stay longer than just during a layover.

We recommend: Hotel Sultania Boutique ClassHotel Yasmak Sultan

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