Istanbul Airports

Istanbul is an international hub for flights that connect the East with the West.  As a result, it’s easy to find affordable flights to and from the city. At the moment, Istanbul has two airports, but a third is under construction.  Since it’s not entirely certain when this third airport will be functional and how the other two will be affected, we’ll explore the two Istanbul airports that are in use right now.

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Sabiha Gokcen Airport

Sabiha Gokcen is the international airport on the Asian side of Istanbul.  It is named after the daughter of Ataturk, who was a fighter pilot during the First World War and a national hero in her own right.  The airport is organized with plenty of signs to show you where to go, and it is equipped with all of the trappings of a modern airport.  It is a big place, so you can expect to do some walking between your gate, the visa/passport control desks, and the baggage pick-up. Also, be aware that during peak travel times throughout the year, you can expect to spend some time in the visa and passport processing lines.

Getting to the City from Sabiha Gokcen

Sabiha Gokcen (SAW) is located on the farthest reaches of the Istanbul, but it is connected to the city by private and public buses, and there’s no shortage of taxis around the airport.  The public bus will take you all the way to 4. Levent on the European side, where you can catch the main metro line through the city. Public buses require an IstanbulKart, which is the city-wide transport card that are sold at the airport and can be topped off throughout your stay in Istanbul.  The card can be used on all public buses, trams, metros, and ferries.

The fastest and most cost-effective way to travel into the city is via HavaBus, the private bus line that runs between the Istanbul airports and the city center.  From Sabiha Gokcen, you can take a HavaBus either to Kadikoy (a city transport hub on the Asian side) or to Taksim (a transport hub on the European side). From there, you’ll be connected to all the points in the city with very little hassle.  

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Ataturk International Airport

Ataturk (IST) is the international airport on the European side of Istanbul.  It is the largest airport in Istanbul at the moment. Like Sabiha Gokcen, it is well-equipped and ready to meet the needs of the modern traveler.  Also similar to the other Istanbul airport, Ataturk airport is very vast, so you will find yourself walking quite a bit to go from one step to another in the process of entering Turkey, getting your luggage, and heading through customs.  Don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a while to pass the visa and passport control!

Getting to the City from Ataturk Airport

Ataturk International Airport is very well connected to Istanbul, even though it’s pretty far from the city center.  You can easily reach the city center by metro, private bus, or taxi. The metro is the fastest and cheapest way, as it avoids the infamous Istanbul traffic.  However, you should note that the metro is open from 6am to midnight. Also, you will need an IstanbulKart, which is the city-wide transport card sold at the airport and can be topped off throughout your stay in Istanbul.  The card can be used on all public buses, trams, metros, and ferries. Ask your local friend for maps and apps to help you navigate the public transport throughout your stay.

You can also take the HavaBus, which runs later into the night than the metro.  From Ataturk, the HavaBus can take you either to Kadikoy (a city transport hub on the Asian side) or to Taksim (a transport hub on the European side).  From there, you’ll be connected to all the points in the city with very little hassle.

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Underground Ruins & Rooftops of Old Istanbul

Benoit is a rock star tour guide! Not only is he fun, sociable, postive and accomodating to your interests and needs, but he is extraordinarily knowledgable and passionate about the life and times (present and past) of Istanbul. A true scholar and professional. We couldn't have had a better guide to open us up to the mysteries and the histories of a most incredibly beautiful and complex city -- Istanbul. Thank you Benoit.