Ever wondered how many airports in Istanbul? I’ve got you covered.
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Istanbul is the biggest transportation hub in Turkey.
When you’re flying into Istanbul, there are a few airport options. How many airports are there? Which is closer to the city center? Which airport is best to fly into?
Many travelers often find this information quite confusing.
For instance, when some friends came into town recently, they ended up flying into one airport but renting a car at the other airport, way across town.
They had to take an hour-long taxi across town to pick up their rental car. I could have saved them time, money, and frustration if they had only asked.
So how many airports are there in Istanbul? The quick answer is that there are two active airports serving Istanbul: the new Istanbul Airport on the west of the city, and Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the east.
Since 2003 I have flown in and out of this giant metropolis, and know the nitty gritties of both Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gökçen Airport.
Let’s explore these hubs of transportation together!
Istanbul International Airport (IST)
The new Istanbul International Airport is located in the far northwestern corner of the city. It is the biggest airport in Europe and the seventh busiest airport in the world.
Flights from Istanbul Airport go all over the world, and the airport is a hub for Turkish Airlines.
This new airport officially took over operations from Ataturk Airport in 2019.
When I fly into IST airport, I’m always impressed by the high ceilings and sense of airy big-ness of the airport. It’s a great “welcome home” for me when I’m coming in after an international flight.
Let me walk you through some of the details of IST.
Istanbul Airport has just about everything you’ll need. Turkish pastries and coffee? Check. High-end duty-free shopping? Check. Conveyer belt sushi restaurant? Check.
For families, there are great play spaces, and for all weary travelers, there are lots of rest areas with comfortable chairs.
There’s even a museum on the International Departures floor where you can enjoy some of the ancient wonders of the city.
You can download the “Istanbul Airport” mobile app to explore some of the amenities that the airport has to offer.
Yotel Istanbul Airport is an airport hotel that is located inside IST, with both Airside and Landside entrances.
Friends of mine have had great stays at the hotel when they have had an overnight layover at the airport.
Although you pay a premium for the convenience of the location, it is worth it to arrive at your destination rested and not wasted.
As a passenger, you always feel very safe inside the Istanbul Airport.
There are security checkpoints for all vehicles entering the airport complex and a security check for everyone entering the terminal building.
(Nowadays when I enter an airport in the US without going through a security check, I feel like something’s missing!)
There are armed security guards throughout the airport, keeping an eye on everything.
In light of the extra security, you might want to be sure to get to the airport 3 hours before an international flight.
There is a security check to enter the building, then passport control, and another security check before entering the gate area.
How to get to the city from IST
Istanbul Airport is about a 40-minute drive from Taksim Square (beware: it could be up to double that time if there’s a lot of traffic).
As of January 2024, a taxi to Taksim costs about 1000 TL. Taxi rates change often, so this is a rough approximation!
If you’re coming to the city for the first time, and/or if you’re with a group of more than 2 people, I would recommend arranging for a private transfer to your hotel.
When we first visited Turkey, everything felt so foreign and it was wonderful to be met with a sign with our names on it at the exit of the arrivals area.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are easy bus and metro links to get to the city center.
The HavaIST bus provides direct transportation to stops like Taksim, Beşiktaş, and Kadıköy, and also has a bus that will take you directly to the Sabiha Gokcen Airport if you happen to have a connecting flight there.
The metro is newly opened and can take you to multiple points in the city. By metro, you can get to Taksim in 1 hour 20 minutes, with two transfers.
The metro would be awesome during rush hour traffic especially.
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW)
Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (airport code: SAW) is located on the far eastern edge of the city, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.
The airport is named after Sabiha Gökçen (pronounced GOK-chen), the world’s first female fighter pilot and one of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s adopted daughters.
You can see photos of her on the walls of the hallways when you’re walking from your plane into the arrivals hall and baggage pick up.
SAW has been in operation since 2001, and is a more regional airport with one terminal that flies to domestic and international destinations as far west as the United Kingdom and Morocco, and as far west as Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.
Here are some “must knows” for Sabiha Gokcen Airport:
SAW is a smaller airport than IST, but it has all the basics of an international hub.
You’ll find restaurants, coffee shops, duty-free and essential travel items. There are lounges where you can rest and recharge.
Souvenir shops sell Turkish delights and local crafts.
The ISG Airport Hotel is a separate building from the terminal, and is connected to the hotel via the metro passageway. It’s an easy 7-10 minute walk from the arrival hall of SAW.
Just look for the signs for the metro, and then follow the signs that say “ISG Airport Hotel Exit 2.” If you would rather not walk, the hotel also provides a free shuttle service between the airport and the hotel.
ISG Airport Hotel is a modern and comfortable hotel that is a great option if you have a middle-of-the-night flight or a long layover.
Safety is a high priority for the airports in Turkey, and Sabiha Gokcen Airport is no exception.
Like with IST, there is a security check when you enter the terminal building and then again before you enter the gate area.
Be sure to arrive at the hotel 3 hours before an international flight (2 hours before a domestic flight) to leave enough time to wait in line at security checkpoints.
How to get to the city from SAW
Sabiha Gokcen Airport is about 50 minutes by car to Taksim Square (possibly double that in traffic).
There is a taxi stand right outside the arrivals hall, and the January 2024 price to get you to Taksim from SAW is about 800 TL.
Taxi rates change often, and taxis often don’t take foreign currency or credit cards. Though many are starting to cards, sometimes the old machines don’t like foreign cards. Best to have some cash on hand.
You also have options for private airport transfers, including our favorites.
We recommend a private transfer to eliminate the hassle of dealing with a taxi driver and figuring out cash when you first arrive.
There are also easy public transportation links to SAW, including the metro and city buses.
The airport metro stop is newly opened and can take you to multiple points in the city. By metros and a ferry, you can get to Taksim in 1 hour 40 minutes.
Atatürk International Airport
Ataturk International Airport, named after the founder of the Turkish Republic, was the main airport in Istanbul until 2019 when it transferred its commercial flights to Istanbul Airport.
Some people wonder if there are three airports in Istanbul, but Ataturk Airport is no longer in service for passenger flights.
Before 2019, our family used to primarily fly in and out of Atatürk Airport.
I can remember it always being overcrowded, with lots of people sitting on or lying on the floor inside the airport because there weren’t enough seats for waiting travelers.
That memory makes me glad for the huge expanses of the current Istanbul Airport (I try to remember that when I’m walking down the long halls and start to feel tired!).
Ataturk Airport is mainly only used for private flights now, and most of it is being turned into a national park. The first section of the park opened in May 2023.
Which Airport in Istanbul is Better to Fly Into?
Now that you know the details about the two international airports of Istanbul, which is the best airport to fly into?
If you’re flying from abroad, most likely you will be routed to Istanbul Airport.
The advantages of IST are that it is closer to the main touristy areas of the city on the European side of Istanbul and it is big, new, and clean.
There are both domestic and international flights to and from IST, to almost every major city in the world.
If you’re flying more regionally, or need to make a domestic flight within Turkey, Sabiha Gokcen Airport is a great option too.
It’s not as big as IST, which makes it a bit more manageable and less overwhelming.
Also if you happen to be staying on the Asian side of Istanbul, SAW airport is a much more convenient option.
FAQs on the Airports of Istanbul
Which is the main airport in Istanbul?
Istanbul International Airport (IST) is the main international airport in Istanbul. It is the larger of the two airports that have commercial flights. It is the hub for Turkish Airlines and has thousands of flights coming in and out every day.
How much is a taxi from Istanbul Airport to the city center?
As of January 2024, a taxi ride from IST to Taksim is about 800 TL. A taxi ride from IST to Kadikoy is approximately 1000 TL. Taxi rates change regularly, and traffic can also affect travel time and taxi prices. Because of this, I would recommend a transfer with a set price.
Is Uber in Istanbul?
Yes, Uber operates in Istanbul. Uber drivers are just yellow taxis that use the app in addition to being hailed by customers on the street. The app often runs deals and you can get good prices by using the app.
How many days do you need in Istanbul?
Istanbul is a major metropolis with amazing historical and cultural sites. I would suggest at least three days to see the “greatest hits” of the city. If you can spare a few more days, you can really enjoy what this city has to offer. You can also always do a tour to get a lot packed in a short time.
Which area in Istanbul is best to stay in?
The best place to stay depends on what is important to you. Sultanahmet is the best neighborhood for being close to the major tourist attractions like the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. Taksim is popular with tourists who are interested in shopping. Kadıköy is quieter than the European side but still quite easy to get across the Bosphorus and has a hip culture and delicious food.
Final thoughts on Istanbul Airports
With Istanbul Airport on the European side of the city and Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of the city, Istanbul has you covered for flying in and out of this amazing metropolis.
Both airports have shopping and restaurants to satisfy international travelers. Both have high security, an airport hotel, and easy transportation links to central Istanbul.
Istanbul Airport is a big, new facility with thousands of international flights each day. It is close to tourist centers like Taksim and Sultanahmet.
Sabiha Gokcen is a mid-sized regional airport that is convenient for those staying on the Asian side of the city and taking domestic flights from carriers like Pegasus and Anadolu Jet.
Both airports are great places to begin your journey to Turkey. What has been your experience of these airports?
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Turkey vacation basics
When I plan a trip these are the websites I use. Hope they help you plan your next adventure as well!
VISAS: You can use the free e-visa portal here but for a few extra dollars you can use iVisa and someone else will handle any issues that may come up.
E-SIM: When I traveled to SE Asia I discovered e-sims and I’m never going back. Airalo has been easy and cheap!
TRAVEL INSURANCE: I use TravelInsurance.com for my trips abroad.
CAR RENTAL: I have loved working with Discover Cars when I rent cars in country.
ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com.
CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: You can browse GetYourGuide’s website to find just the tour you’re looking for!