During my recent trip, I had a layover of close to nine hours in Istanbul, so I joined the Turkish Airlines free tour of Istanbul. This tour was offered for transfer passengers flying Turkish Airlines who have a waiting time of at least six hours.
It was my first time flying with Turkish Airlines and I was pleasantly surprised. The food in the plane was delicious, and the service was impeccable. Besides earning airlines miles (Turkish Airlines is a star alliance member airlines), the free tour which includes entrance tickets and a four-course meal was a bonus point.
The cultural walk tour includes the visit to Beyazit Square, Hippodrome Square, Grand Bazaar, and Blue Mosque. The female guide was professional and knowledgeable. She explained to us about the history and significance of the landmarks and interesting stories about Turkey politics.
When we alighted from the bus, we were directed to the Hippodrome Square which lies between the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. Hippodrome Square is a paved area outlining what was once the famous Hippodrome. The columns and obelisks in the middle have both Greek and Latin, representing a multilingual empire.
Near the Hippodrome, we can see the Kaiser Fountain also known as ‘German Fountain’, which was a gift by German Kaiser in 1898. The fountain has four Norwegian rare black marble made columns. The tour guide informed us that this would be the meeting point in case we lost our way during the tour.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is the highlight of this tour. The mosque is the most important historical sights of Istanbul. It is so beautiful with intricate details and blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. I can spend hours here, if not for the time limit given.
We then continued our tour to the Grand Bazaar with a stop at an ice-cream shop. The vendor played some neat, super cool, and amazing skills for ice-cream serving.
The Grand Bazaar is enormous and beautiful, famous for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. However, I felt that the price was expensive, and the traders were too flirtatious and some of them too aggressive. To be fair, I only spent a few hours in Istanbul, so I cannot really judge.
We had certain time for dinner and because of the delays in waiting, we arrived late. The food was ready when we arrived at the restaurant so the soup was not warm enough to my liking. It was a nice introduction to Turkish cuisines, delicious, but so much food went to waste as there were six people missing from the group.
The tour guide was panicky and could not enjoy her food as she was busy on the phone looking out for those missing people. In the midst of the dinner, she walked back to the ‘German Fountain’ to search for them and only found one.
During the tour, there was a lot of unnecessary waiting. The guide allowed us to spend fifteen to thirty minutes at each stop but some people just enjoyed taking their own sweet times. They expected others to wait for them and have no courtesy to inform the tour guide if they wanted to explore on their own. This is the reason I don’t like joining a group tour. You spent most of the time waiting for selfish and inconsiderate people, it can really drain one spirit, and affect the travel experience.
By the time we were ready to return to the airport, we spent another half an hour waiting on the bus. When the tour guide asked whether we should wait further, I replied that it’s only fair that we all go. Everyone agreed. Enough of waiting.
Being a free tour, I won’t complain too much. Overall, it was a good experience, and I’m glad I did the tour. Hopefully one day I would have the chance to explore this beautiful country on my own terms. Thank you, Turkish Airlines!
SUGGESTIONS AND TIPS
- There is a total of five tours daily >> Turkish Airlines Free Tour Schedules
- Singaporeans do not need a visa. Those require a visa, you can apply for e-visa to enter Turkey.
- Proceed to Hotel Desk in the International Arrival Hall at Atartuk airport (at least half hour before the tour).
- Pass through Passport and Customs control
- Exit and turn to the right [Hotel Desk is located next to Starbucks]
- To reserve your spot, hand your boarding pass at the Hotel Desk. They will pass back to you during the start of the tour.
- Change currency if you need to, there are many counters around. I changed USD20 for souvenirs and tips.
- If you do not want to carry around your luggage, you can leave it at the ‘Left Baggage’ counter next to the hotel desk. It costs about USD8.
- The prices of souvenirs at Grand Bazaar were more expensive than the small shops near the Blue Mosque.
- If you are happy with the service, it’s nice to tip the tour guide.