One of the great perks flying Turkish Airlines is that you can take a free Istanbul city tour or touristanbul, depending on the duration of your connection. In my case, I had a little over 7 hours in Istanbul, which qualified me for the first and shortest city tour.
In this series:
- Alaska Airlines Economy Class A320 Washington to Los Angeles
- Crowne Plaza Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- Qantas First Lounge at Los Angeles International (LAX)
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge at Los Angeles International (LAX)
- American Airlines Business Class 787-9 Los Angeles to Shanghai
- Cathay Pacific Lounge at Shanghai Pudong (PVG)
- Cathay Dragon Economy Class A321 Shanghai to Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge at Hong Kong International (HKG)
- Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge at Hong Kong International (HKG)
- Cathay Pacific Economy Class 777-300 Hong Kong to Manila
- Cebu Pacific Economy Class ATR72 Manila to Busuanga (Round-Trip)
- Al Faro Cosmio Hotel Coron
- Island Adventure: Coron, Palawan
- Turkish Airlines Business Class 777-300ER Manila to Istanbul
- Touristanbul – Free Istanbul City Tour Sponsored by Turkish Airlines
- Turkish Airlines Business Class 777-300ER Istanbul to Los Angeles
- Star Alliance Lounge Business Class at Los Angeles International (LAX)
- Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at Los Angeles International (LAX)
- Air Canada 787-9 Los Angeles to Toronto
- Bond Place Toronto Hotel
- How I Spend my American Thanksgiving in Canada
- Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at Toronto Pearson (YYZ)
- United Economy Class Toronto to Washington
Upon arrival, I proceeded to passport control. There was no one in line, though if you fly in the premium cabin or have a Star Alliance Gold status, you could use a priority lane, which helps during peak arrival time. Please note that if you are planning to take this tour, you will have to take care of your visa (if needed) as the airline will not be responsible for that.
After clearing immigration and custom, take a right and walk towards the end of the arrival hall. You will see the Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk and touristanbul counter. The counter opens at 6:45 AM, and you will need to get a number using the automated kiosk. Once they’re open, they will call your number — please be ready.
The agent will then give each participant a strap and a tour booklet along with a contact information sticker placed on your boarding in case of an emergency. If you have luggage, you can take them with you, and they will store them in the compartment under the bus. Once the tour ends, you can retrieve them.
There were many people attending the tour that morning. In fact, they had to split the first tour into two groups/buses, 50 people each. And then the tour guide went through the roster and led us to the lower level where we boarded the bus.
The tour schedule differs slightly depending on the day. I took the tour on Tuesday, and the itinerary reads as follows:
- Departure from Istanbul Airport
- Following the Coastal Road
- Sight seeing tour (outer visit & sight seeing tour)
- Yedikule Fortress
- Old Samatya Armanian District
- Yeni Kapı Harbour
- Walls of Constantine
- Eminonu District
- Photo break on Galata Bridge for 10 mins
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Free time at Dolmabahçe Palace for 20 mins
- Departs from Dolmabahçe Palace
- Taksim Square
- Galata Tower
- Golden Horn
- Aqueduct of Valens
- Yeni Kapı Harbour
- Returns to Istanbul Airport
The journey from the airport to the city took about 25 minutes. There wasn’t much traffic until we cross the city limit, but it wasn’t that bad.
Since the first tour is limited to three and a half hours, we didn’t actually stop at most of the places listed above. Instead, we saw these places from the bus as we passed by them.
Our first photo break was on the Galata Bridge for 10 minutes.
We then headed to Dolmabahçe Palace, a beautiful place serving as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922. We stopped there for around 20 minutes or so.
You can also enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee along with breakfast pastries and cakes at Saat Kule Kafeterya while watching the sunrise on the Bosphorus Strait. I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to start the morning.
After we left Dolmabahçe Palace, we passed by a few more places, though I don’t remember seeing Taksim Square. We might have skipped that one as we were running behind schedule. Moments later, we were on our way back to the airport.
I think it’s a brilliant program sponsored by Turkish Airlines. Not only it gives the incentive and encourages passengers to book a ticket with a longer connection, but it also promotes Turkey’s tourism. Unfortunately, my connection time was only seven hours. Therefore I didn’t have many options but take the earliest and shortest tour. When I look at the full list of tours offered, some of the longer ones look much more exciting as some of these tours even offer complimentary lunch or dinner.
If you have more free time beyond the scheduled tour, you have the option to leave the tour by filling out the consent of leaving form — I certainly would.