There are not many cities as strange, special as Istanbul, dividing itself into two parts to share with two Continents. Istanbul is the gateway to Europe and also the gateway to the easternmost point of Asia. So, this city blends the best of two cultures and creates its own Turkish beauty. So, are you planning a trip to Europe and will have to layover in Istanbul or even stopover in Istanbul and still do not know what to do, where to go for this time?! During my trip to Europe, I had 12 hour layover in Istanbul (1 day layover in Istanbul) and below is my wonderful detailed itinerary in the Turkey’s most attractive destination that I want to share with you!
- Istanbul travel tips — 9 things & what to know before going to Istanbul
- What to eat in Istanbul? — 19+ Famous, must try food in Istanbul & best food in Istanbul
- Where to go in Istanbul? — 10 must & best places to visit in Istanbul
- Istanbul travel blog — The fullest Istanbul travel guide for a great budget trip for first-timers
- My trip to Istanbul — Explore the bridge city of Asia and Europe
Capturing the beauty of Istanbul for 12 hour layover in Istanbul (a day in Istanbul)
Waking up after a 12-hour flight to Istanbul and having a deep sleep on the plane, I arrived in Istanbul – the gateway to Europe. From Istanbul you can fly to almost all major cities in Europe within just 1-2 hours.
Today, I visit Turkey as a traveler with only one day to capture the beauty of this place. I simply took simple steps. Visited Istanbul once last year, just spent a few hours on a free city tour of Turkish Airlines, thus, on this trip, I wanted to discover the beauty of Istanbul on my own way. I booked a somewhat abnormal and weird flight… booked to have a very long transit time: 12 hours. Therefore, I had a 12 hour wonderful layover in Istanbul.
From the old Istanbul Atatürk Airport, I took an only metro M1A to get to the central city, then change to the T1 tram to get to Sultanahmet district — the Istanbul Old Quarter. My exploration of the Asia-Europe city began. I was excited to welcome the first sunshine of Istanbul, accompanied by the sea breeze caressing my skin. Enjoying nice weather in early May is as brilliant as a girl’s springtime. Not too hot, not too cold, the gentle breeze made me shiver a little but warm right away. Just felt the weather of Istanbul right now is enough for me to feel comfortable and intoxicated.
But what I was more passionate about are the street corners. Recalling the last year’s layover in Istanbul on an arranged tour of the airline, very attentive with the shuttle bus service pick up, the food is completely free, but I really love traveling alone on my own way… wandering around, freedom!! So today, I had the second chance with layover in Istanbul once again, roamed and was allowed to explore as I want.
I did not visit the Sultanahmet Mosque – also known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue color of this architecture – instead I went up to the rooftop of a nearby hotel, sat down to drink coffee and enjoying the sunrise from a corner and admiring the whole Sultanahmet Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the distance. I dropping my soul in the sky of Istanbul, already known it will be a beautiful day.
Leaving the Sultanahmet Mosque area, Grand Bazaar is the next place I want to go to let these gentle feet stop craving. Five years ago, I heard about an older friend’s story about the Grand Bazaar, about endless carpet and lamp shops, at that time I hadn’t even stepped out of Vietnam, never think of Turkey and the Grand Bazaar. But life filled full of surprises, 5 years later, here I am!
What impressed me the most was the ceiling decorated with fabric decorations like kites. But, my friend Nazli explained that it was a special decoration of Turkish, not a kite. The next impressive thing must be the “infinity” of the Grand Bazaar. It is known as the world’s first mixed-use market with a history dating back to the 15th century with countless shops, extremely large. The feeling when entering the “infinity” of the Grand Bazaar is entering a fairy tale. Magical lamp shops, woven carpet shops like come from the story of a Thousand and One Nights.
That’s what I had to say when I got here. Who would have thought that just “going to the market” would be so beautiful and sparkling. In 2014, the Grand Bazaar was the most visited place in the world with over 91 million visitors. The peak hours here are almost endless amidst the endless flow of people back and forth.
Leaving the Grand Bazaar, I stopped by Spice Bazaar – a place that specializes in selling spices and raw ingredients – if you want to find Turkish turmeric as a gift, this is the place you need to visit.
Located in Eminonu neighborhood, Spice Bazaar is small and beautiful and does not possess “infinity” like its brother Grand Bazaar. However, the light and warm colors from the ingredients and spices here give us a different atmosphere and space.
If you want, you can leave the Spice Bazaar like I did and board a ferry heading towards the Asian shores of Istanbul. In the Asian side, it won’t overwhelm you, but the ferry experience is another interesting story. There will be a ferry every 15 minutes for you to experience, crossing the Bosphorus strait. Boarding a ferry and watching the panoramic view of the two sides of Asia – Europe, it must be a special and strange experience. I wonder if I go to work in the European part while my home is in the Asian part, wouldn’t I cross two continents every day in just 20 minutes?!
I returned to the shores of Europe right after because there are still things to explore and that is Turkish cuisine.
Three must-try dishes in Istanbul
Of course with little time I will not be able to try all the delicious Turkish dishes. This modest list is definitely shortage and I skipped Kebab because it is a very popular dish and everyone also has ever tried it once. So I chose 3 dishes: Turkish tea, grilled fish sandwich and stretchy ice cream.
Turkish tea is my passion drink, strong tea flavor comes in a small cup with a very standard “waist”. A cup of tea costs from 3-4 TL depending on each shop. You can try this tea at any restaurant and remember to read it as Çay /chai/ so the waiter who don’t know English can understand your mean.
Grilled fish sandwich costs about 7.5 TL. You can go along the shops near the Spice Bazaar or heading to Galata bridge to buy. The interesting thing is that the grilled salty fish is sandwiched with a long piece of bread served with shredded cabbage. The taste will be a bit bland but the fresh fish makes the dish perfect.
Stretchy ice cream, oh, this is classic and wonderful ice cream. Made of goat’s milk and served with small Turkish pastries. Place to try: (Address: Alemdar, Divan Yolu Cd. No:24, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey/Hours: 8AM–12AM). A 3-min walk from the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
12 hour layover in istanbul: Getting around Istanbul
At the airport, you go down to the metro station and find the ticket counter. You choose to buy Istanbulkart card in advance for 6 TL at ticket vending machines. If at that time you put in 20 TL bank note, the machine will automatically top-up for you 14 TL in the card to use. In my experience, just top up 30 TL is enough for a day of traveling because you won’t traveling too much.
Istanbulkart can be used for metro, tram and even ferries. This is very convenient because with just one card you can take all means of public transport in Istanbul.
Flying to Istanbul/Europe
This was the second time I flying with Turkish Airlines. This time, I chose Turkish Airlines to getting to Europe because I wanted to have a deep sleep with a longer transit time. The previous flights, I flew with Etihad and Emirates, it took 7 hours for 2 routes, I had to get off so I couldn’t get a long sleep. Turkish Airlines offers food that I think it is better and also provides a kit including blindfolds, cleaning supplies, socks and slippers for passengers for the flight from Vietnam to Istanbul, how nice. And so I could get a long good sleep.
After that, if you choose to fly to other European cities, it only takes 1 and a half to 2 hours to come. Like my trip to Amsterdam, there are 3 flights a day, morning, afternoon and night. But because I crave Istanbul, I booked a night flight for a longer transit time and you also save a hotel night. If you are in a hurry, you can absolutely book a morning flight and only layover in Instanbul about 2 hours.
Air tickets from Vietnam to Europe such as me flying to Amsterdam starting from $650 and more. It was a rather late booking because I waited for the visa to book tickets. But you can watch the promotion at the end of February every year to get a good price.
How to transit in Turkey?
If you already have a Schengen visa, you just need to go to the link https://www.evisa.gov.tr/ to register, it’s very simple and fee is $45. Note, you MUST print out your e-visa to be able to enter the country. Customs will not accept e-visa on the phone.
If you do not want to explore Istanbul by yourself, you can join the City Tour of Turkish Airlines, there are many types of tours depending on your short or long transit time and the important thing is that this service is completely free.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Istanbul you can refer to
- Istanbul Welcome Card
- Hagia Sophia Introduction Tour with Audio Guide
- Istanbul Classics Tour
- Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque Small Group Tour
- Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, & Basilica Cistern Combo Tour in Istanbul
- Istanbul Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tours (Open-Top)
- Hop-on Hop-off Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise
- 4G SIM Card (MY Delivery) for Turkey from joytel2u
- Istanbul Museum Pass
- [Sale] Sea Life Aquarium Ticket in Istanbul
- Round Trip Ferry Tickets between Prince’s Islands and Istanbul
- Princes’ Island Full Day Tour from Istanbul
- Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise Tour
- Istanbul: Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show
- Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table
- Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App
- Istanbul: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Small-Group Tour
- Best of Istanbul in 1 Day
- Istanbul: Topkapi Palace Guided Tour and Skip The Line
- Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht
- Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
Are you looking for more top things to do in Istanbul: Tours, activities, attractions and other things? Let’s check it out here. And My trip to Istanbul — Explore the bridge city of Asia and Europe. And Turkey travel guide here.