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A 20 hour Istanbul Turkey layover adventure

Istanbul Turkey Atatürk airport

Arriving to Istanbul Turkey Atatürk airport after a ten hour flight from Chicago

Grand times at Istanbul Turkey Atatürk Airport

Flying to Bangkok with Turkish Airlines, I had an 8 hour layover sandwiched between two 10 plus hour flights in Istanbul. It is difficult to do much in 8 hours, so I hung out at the airport for 8 hours. It was quite a tedious experience.

Highlights included perusing the bookstore, going to Starbuck’s, walking aimlessly from one end of the airport to the other. I took a 20 minute nap at one point, read the paper for awhile, and got online at Starbuck’s and sent a tweet. I had such a good time at the bookstore, I returned to kill a few more minutes.

Mavi Guesthouse Istanbul Turkey

Charming Mavi Guesthouse in Istanbul Turkey

20 hour layover in Istanbul Turkey on way home

On the way back home, I had a 20 hour layover in Istanbul. There was no way in hell I was going to spend another minute at the Istanbul Airport, let alone almost a full day. I did a little bit of research and discovered a temporary Visa would cost $20.00. It was tempting to hang out at the bookstore again, but I got my Visa and rolled out.

Mavi Guesthouse

I also did research for a place to stay. I was coming in late in the afternoon, and flying out the next day in the early afternoon.  My plan was to find my way into the city, stay at a hostel and get a good night’s sleep, wake up early and explore the city for three hours, and then return to the airport.

My research pointed me to Mavi Guesthouse. It was reasonably priced and centrally located in the Sultanahmet or the Old City Neighborhood. The website also gave great directions on getting from the airport to the location.

Blue Mosque Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque lit up at night in the Sultanahmet Neighborhood

Arrival in Sultanahmet Neighborhood and Mavi Guesthouse

As soon as I got off at the stop, I was greeted by the Hagia Sophia on one side, and the Blue Mosque on the other both brilliantly lit up. I knew I made the right choice by coming here. It sure beat the airport bookstore. I was also greeted with cool crisp blast of weather, which was as refreshing on my body as the two mosques were to my eyes after three weeks in hot and humid Southeast Asia.

I admit I  struggled a little bit with getting on the subway and with finding the Guesthouse once I arrived in Sultanahmet.  They myriad of confusing angled streets were not easy to navigate, but  I eventually stumbled upon the Mavi Guesthouse. It is never easy coming to a new country and figuring out public transportation into town.

Istanbul Turkey

Cobblestone streets in the Old City in Istanbul Turkey

The guesthouse was awesome. There was a painter from Iraq staying at the hostel, along with a couple of people from Poland, and a few other travelers from other countries. We sat around for a couple hours talking about our travels before I retreated to bed.

Best of all, they had a very comfortable bed. I slept in a bunk room and had the bottom bunk. The bed was very comfortable and the sleeping space was very roomy. Even with the lights on in the room I could crawl against the wall and get enough darkness from the top bunk to fall asleep pretty quickly. Another great thing about the layover is the good night’s sleep I got at Mavi lessened the jet lag issue when I returned home.

Istanbul Turkey Bosphorus Straits

Walk along the Bosphorus Straits

I woke up the next morning completely refreshed and marched out of the guesthouse. My first stop was the Bosphorus Straits. Having a history background, I have read many a book and listened to many a professor lecture about the geographic importance of the Bosphorus Straits. I spent an hour on a beautiful crisp morning walking up and down the walkway that followed the straits.

Bosphorus Straits Istanbul

The Bosphorus Straits – Separation from East and West and Europe and Asia

Istanbul Turkey is a cross roads between East and West

It was cool to stand in Europe and look across to Asia. Istanbul is an interesting blend of Europe and Asia. It was also a good place to begin to acclimate back to the United States after spending three weeks in Asia. Turkey was also a middle ground weather wise. It was 90 degrees in Asia and below freezing in Chicago, so the 45 degree temps in Istanbul was refreshing after the Asian swelter, yet considerably warmer than what I was coming home to.

Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

The gorgeous Blue Mosque in the early morning light

Time to explore Istanbul Turkey and the Sultanahmet Neighborhood

The Mavi Guesthouse was a ten minute walk to the straits and just around the corner from the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace. I chose well with this guesthouse.

After the walk along the historic Bosphorus, I then visited the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, and the Topkapi Palace. I could not believe how beautiful these buildings were. It was December and quite cold, so definitely not peak tourist season. There were other tourists around, but it was not crowded at all and some places I had to myself.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey

The beautiful Hagia Sofia

I then retraced my steps from the day before back to the airport and even had time to browse through the bookstore before catching my flight. Leaving the airport in order to explore Istanbul even for a short time was a great decision. Coming home is always a bummer, but having an Istanbul adventure to look forward to made the return flight much more palpable.

Istanbul Turkey

Time to return to the airport and go home – My last photo from my three week adventure

For those looking for a tour instead of braving the city yourself, check out Tour Istanbul, which specializes in short tours for people on layovers. Free tours are led by English speakers and are offered three times each day.

Adventure On!

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23 Responses to A 20 hour Istanbul Turkey layover adventure

  1. Ben Warner April 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Teddy Two-Tone,

    Heard a great story from a mate about his experience in Turkey, specifically the Bosphorus Bridge Challenge.

    Without getting into too much detail, it involved drinking in Europe and Asia in the same night, shenanigans included.

    Stay Huge,

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:52 am #

      That would be quite a cool challenge. I think it would be cool to open a beer in Europe and drink it while walking across the bridge and finish in Asia. I am not sure that is possible, but it would be cool to say that you started a beer in one continent and finished in another.

  2. Raul (@ilivetotravel) April 27, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    I am so glad you got to do the 20 hr layover and didn’t choose the bookstore! Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in this world!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..Chattahoochee River Hikes: Island Ford

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:53 am #

      I would like for Istanbul to be the destination sometime and not the layover in order to explore in more depth.

  3. Grant Kennedy April 28, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    I love the Mavi Guesthouse! I stay there frequently when I am in Turkey. Perfect location, good price, and sociable! I love the Sultanahmet district in general(except the overpriced food). Where else do you like in Turkey?

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:55 am #

      Hi Grant,

      This was my first time in Turkey and it was due to a layover with Turkish Airlines on the way back from Thailand. I was amazed with the Sultanahmet District, and I definitely will be back to see more. What other areas in Turkey besides Sultanhahmet and Istanbul do you recommend?

      • Grant Kennedy April 29, 2014 at 4:32 am #

        Hi Ted,
        Where to begin? For geographical beauty, nice beaches and good weather, head along the Aegean and Med coast. Beautiful little towns such as Bodrum with it’s white washed walls, or Fethiye and the Olu Deniz. Cappadocia is a really cool place also. I love it up on the Black Sea. Great food, cheap, and pide. Pide you can find anywhere but it’s a Black Sea specialty. Sumela monastery near Trabzon is definitely worth checking out. Turkey is full of history and culture, and the food changes from region to region. There is too much for just a comment. Oh, without a doubt visit Pamukkale and Aspendos

        • Ted Nelson April 30, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

          Thanks for the tips. This list is definitely a good start.

  4. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) April 28, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    If you had a place like Hagia Sophia to yourself, you certainly made the right choice! Too bad you didn’t have the time to visit Basilica Cistern, my favorite attraction in Istanbul. It’s such an interesting place.
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Why I let my five-year-old have her own travel blog

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:56 am #

      Always good to savor something for the next visit.

  5. 2 Girls & a Bikini April 28, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I don’t know how you were able to leave after such a short period of time. I was in Istanbul 5 days and I almost “missed” my flight. LOL. Great times!

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:57 am #

      Since this trip really was not even on my itinerary, I did not mind leaving as I was kind of looking forward to getting home. This layover felt like a bonus, so I savored every minute before leaving. I definitely will be back.

  6. Craig Zabransky April 28, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    from one night in bangkok to one day in istanbul…. awesome. this has TBHoF written all over it. Still need to get to Istanbul, now i know I can do it on the way to Chiang Mai…

    stayhistorical, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..My 200th Sunset Sunday – Reflecting on the Series from Islamorada, Florida

    • Ted Nelson April 29, 2014 at 1:59 am #

      You definitely want to schedule the layover in Istanbul before Chiang Mai because you won’t want to leave northern Thailand ever 🙂

  7. Trips By Lance April 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Did you have much conversation with the Iraqi? I don’t like talking politics, but I would have enjoyed a conversation with him to get a better understanding of what’s going on in his country right now. And I agree with you on the history aspect of being there.
    Trips By Lance recently posted..48 Hours in Memphis

    • Ted Nelson April 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

      The only thing he mentioned about his homeland was that it was not a good environment for artists because when people are afraid, they are not into art. He was quite an interesting guy, and I have been in touch with him on Facebook.

  8. Erin - The World Wanderer April 30, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    I love having a long layover, as it’s an excuse to see a new place. Sounds like you had an awesome experience. I’ve been dreaming about the Hagia Sophia for years, and now we may have a chance to stop in Istanbul on the Mongol Rally – this post obviously got me excited! It also got me excited for my layover in Abu Dhabi. It’s only 12 hours, but still enough time for a little whirlwind tour. 😉
    Erin – The World Wanderer recently posted..Music Monday: Scare Away the Dark.

    • Ted Nelson April 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      You definitely have a lot to look forward to in the coming months once school is over.

  9. Shereen May 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    People usually hate long lay overs because by that point they just want to get to where they are going but, your post showed that with as little as 20 hours you can get a good glimpse of a city you might not have gone out of your way to see. I’m headed there in a few months. What’s one thing I should know?

    • Ted Nelson May 3, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      I pretty much laid out all I know in this post. The Sultanahmet neighborhood is where all the heavy hitting tourist action takes place and the Mavi Guesthouse is a great place to stay. The big four are located here, which are the Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia. Francesca has noted in the comments that Basilica Cistern is another cool place in the same area.

  10. Agness May 17, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    You seem to be a very well-organised traveler, Ted. Only 20 hours in Istanbul, but you were able to see and experience a lot of different things! I will definitely follow your tips next time when visiting Turkey on the cheap :).
    Agness recently posted..5 Ways To Beat Homesickness When Travelling

  11. Julie K. May 20, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    So many reasons to love and go back to Istanbul:) I´ve been several times and every time I go I try to visit a different local pazar (outdoor market) — aromas, colors, that pleasant kind of hustle and bustle! I could go on and on about the Turkish markets and food. Highly reccomend checking out Feriye Restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus in Ortakoy — beautiful beautiful location!
    Julie K. recently posted..Daily Bread Food Bank – Fighting Hunger for the Last 30 Years

  12. Miriam Jasmin Risager September 1, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Wonderful article and photos, Ted. I’m a huge fan of layovers myself – they’re such a great way to explore a new city. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that your time there is limited so you spend every second exploring, being fully attentive and taking in new impressions.
    Miriam Jasmin Risager recently posted..Finding Bliss in Ubud

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