Istanbul in 6 Hours

This post was written in October of 2012. Visa processes may have changed since then.


I’m posting this seven days after the fact. More on our time in New York to follow.

If you’re flying Turkish Airlines with a transfer in Istanbul on the same carrier and have more than ten hours of in-transit time ahead of you, you’re eligible for a free city tour. Our exploration of this iconic settlement straddling Europe and Asia began with a two hour appraisal of  its airport as we shuffled from information desk to information desk to queue to security check. Jet lag must have garbled the gutterals of our South African accents to unintelligible levels, as ground staff dismissed our queries as the pipe dreams of the travel-weary.  We traversed over stock granite tiles in Arrivals to dark-grey wood laminate that updated the ambiance in Duty-Free, bowed over by our backpacks and the lament; Oh Istanbul, is this it? Eventually, one savvy desk clerk saved her city for us.

This is what you do to get onto a free tour of Istanbul (provided you are more than ten hours in transit and are flying Turkish Airlines for both nodes of your journey):

  • South Africans proceed to Passport Control 2. A free visa will be entered into your passport and you’re good to go.
  • Follow the exit signs and make your way towards the Hotel Desk (located across Starbucks). Show them your boarding pass and they’ll put you on a time-appropriate tour. There are baggage lockers right next to the Hotel Desk, it cost us 30 Turkish Lira to check two backpacks.
The tour includes a light breakfast and lunch and covers the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and surrounds, Hagia Sophia and the Spice Bazaar. It’s a quick scratch over the city and you get a bit of free time in each area to soak up some vibe.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

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