Touristanbul: Rekindling My Love Affair with Turkey

While doing my research for my upcoming Moroccan trip, I stumbled upon Turkish Airlines’ Touristanbul promo. Touristanbul is available to international transit passengers whose connection is between 6 to 24 hours. A qualified passenger may avail either a hotel stay or a city tour, depending on the length of their connection. City tour itinerary varies each day. Round trip transfers are covered. 

Since I immensely enjoyed my 2009 trip to Turkey, I thought I’d try to look for a Turkish Airline flight that would qualify me to avail Touristanbul. Luckily, I found a TA flight that connects in Istanbul for 10 hours and 10 minutes and which was within my budget range. It was perfect! My travel buddy leaves UAE on another flight but and we will both arrive in Casablanca about the same time. So I booked my tickets and applied for a Turkish visa in Kabul. All set!

A Turkish officemate was in Istanbul that time and he volunteered to show me around. Great! City tour option was definitely out of the picture.  

My flight to Istanbul arrived at 06:25 in the morning. Istanbul was still dark when we landed. I didn’t know the sun rises late there, but how would a late riser like me know? Hehe…

Istanbul at 6:30 in the morning

As soon as I exited the airport, I immediately looked for the Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk. The staff will verify if you qualify for the Touristanbul promo. Then, they will arrange for your hotel (I didn’t get to pick and I’m not sure if you can) and transfers and advise you on the hotel pick-up time. The process was quite a wait. After a while, a van which had already several passengers came and picked me up.

The traffic to the city was heavy, it was rush hour! Just to get to my hotel alone, I already used up 1.5 hours of my 10 hour stop-over.

My hotel’s location was conveniently located close to metro or tram (not sure now) station. It was a 3-star hotel (I forgot the hotel name) which has a small lobby and a small elevator. The hotel staff were polite and accommodating. I was given a twin room which was basic but clean. Not bad, considering that I got it for FREE and that I’d be spending most, if not all, of my time outside.

My room, courtesy of Touristanbul 🙂

I messaged my officemate as soon as I knew which hotel I’d be staying at and told him we can meet up at 10am. I reached the hotel and he still had not responded. I was not sure if he can still meet me. I decided that if I won’t hear from him by 10am, I would go around myself. I have been to Turkey before and except for some guys who approach you and try to start a conversation, I felt I will be ok.

A little later, my officemate called. He woke up late from a night out, hehehe… We would meet me up in a while.

First order of the day was not food, but Dolmabahce Palace. I was not able to visit the palace last time so now I placed it on top of my list.

Facade of Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace is located in Besiktas on the other side of the Bosphorus Strait. It was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Visitors are free to roam the grounds and admire the Gate of the Sultan, Gate of the Treasury and the garden, however, to get inside the palace and the harem (for an additional fee), one has to join a guided tour. Most notable in their collection is the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier at the center hall that weighs 4.5 tons and the very regal horse-shoe-shaped Baccarat crystal staircase.

After doing both palace and harem tours, we didn’t have much time left. My pick-up time from the hotel was at 1pm, 3 hours prior to my flight. My friend and I were discussing whether I should catch my pick-up service or just go to the airport via metro. Option 2 sounded tempting but my ms-goody-two-shoes persona prevailed. We went back to the hotel in time for my hotel pick-up. I bade goodbye to my friend and left to catch my flight to Casablanca.

In hindsight, I think the city tour is a better option unless you have somebody to show you around. Taking the metro to the airport is fast and easy, it should not be a problem. I could have “saved” another hour and enjoyed the colors of the Grand Bazaar or soaked in the scents in the Spice Market or had my fill of doner and Mado’s ice cream.

My Touristanbul trip was brief yet fun. It was another chance to “bond” with this city which has a lot of history and culture. It was like spending time with a loved one once again, reliving the memories you shared and just being happy to be reunited.

Turkish Airlines made a fantastic idea in promoting Istanbul’s (and Turkey’s) tourism through the Touristanbul promo. If only to experience Touristanbul once again, I would not hesitate booking my third TA flight. I must say that I never had bad experiences flying TA.

Now, I remember the hot bread served during meals and I sigh…

Plane Ticket – Visa
Turkish Visa – $58 Cash
Dolmabahce Palace Tour – Paid for by the Turkish friend
10-hour Touristanbul Experience – Priceless!

Dolmabahce Palace Clock Tower
Gate of the Sultan
Peacock in the palace grounds


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