Whether you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time or you’re a seasoned traveler, one of the first things you’ll need to figure out is how to get from the airport to the city center. Istanbul has two major airports: Sabiha Gökçen on the Asian side and New Istanbul on the European side. Each airport offers several transportation options to get you to your destination, ranging from private transfers to public buses and trains. In this article, we’ll guide you through the most popular ways to travel from both airports to the heart of Istanbul, so you can start your trip stress-free.
Flying to ISL (New Istanbul Airport)
Since the closure of Ataturk Airport, the vast majority of flights have been diverted to this airport. We have flown there twice: in 2019 with Ukraine Airlines and in 2021 with KLM.
Flying with Pegasus Airlines to SAW (Sabiha Gökçen)
Pegasus could be called the «Turkish RyanAir». Although the distance used to be a drawback, flying to Sabiha Gökçen can now be advantageous: transportation options to the center are cheaper than from ISL, and there is usually less traffic. The rate I purchased was the «Essentials,» which includes the ticket and a checked bag up to 20kg. There are other more expensive rates that also allow seat selection, food selection for the flight, or the possibility of changing tickets.
Visa and passport control
When you arrive any turkish airport, you have to go through passport control. I recommend checking this website for a list of eligible countries to obtain an e-Visa, much more conveniente since you can just obtain it online.
There are queues for tourists and others for Turkish citizens. In Sabiha Gökçen, there are booths only for those who have the E-Visa or electronic visa. At ISL, they have started with automated controls for Turkish passports. There are many more control booths than in Sabiha Gökçen, making the process more agile. However, due to its high traffic, be ready to some long waits depending on the arrival time of your flight.
Although it is never recommended to change money at the airport, last time I was there the exchange rate was practically the same as in the city center. Both at Sabiha Gökçen and ISL, you will find currency exchange offices and bank offices to withdraw or change money. I recommend changing only what is necessary to recharge the Istanbulkart and changing the rest in the city center (the best exchange is found inside the Grand Bazaar, even exceeding the official exchange), because airport commissions tend to be quite abusive.
How to get from Sabiha Gökçen Airport to the center of Istanbul
There are several options for getting from Sabiha Gökçen airport to the city center, depending on whether you’re staying in the European or Asian part.
- From 2023, The M4 metro line now reaches the airport and takes you to Kadıköy, where you can connect to Marmaray or a ferry depending on where your accommodation is located.
- Private transfer: These are minibuses or vans that pick up a group of travelers and take you directly to your hotel. They cost around 15$ and are a good option if you arrive late. The only drawback is that depending on the time, you may encounter quite a bit of traffic in the Asian area when crossing to the European side, so the journey can take longer.
- Regular bus service: The E-10 and E-11 buses will take you to the Kadıköy ferry terminal. With the Istanbulkart, which you can get from machines when you exit the airport, the journey costs 5.60 TL and can be paid with Istanbulkart.
- Havataş bus: They leave every half hour, and the ticket costs 20 TL. It will take you to the Kadıköy ferry terminal or Taksim Square. Payment is made in cash on the bus.
If your hotel is in the Sultanahmet area, the best way to get there is to cross the Bosphorus by boat once you arrive at Kadıköy (Direct line to Eminonu, 2 stops) or take the Taksim line down to Kabatas with the Tünel and connect with tram line 1.
As I just mentioned, there is a direct line to Taksim Square, so if you are staying around the square, on Istiklal Avenue or in the Galata-Karakoy area, you can take the bus directly and when you arrive, take the tram and/or Tünel if necessary.
How to get from New Istanbul Airport to Istanbul City Center
From 2023, You can now also use the M11 Metro line to Kağıthane and then take the line you need depending on where your accommodation is located.
The new Istanbul airport, located on the European side, has a massive Havaist bus terminal in the underground floor that has dozens of routes to reach practically any corner of the province. We are going to list the most used routes by tourists:
- IST-1 Yenikapi: Useful if you’re staying in the southern area of Sultanahmet. The ticket costs 18TL.
- IST-14 Kadiköy: It takes you to the Kadiköy ferry terminal. The ticket costs 38 TL.
- IST-16 Taksim: Ideal if your hotel is near Taksim Square. The station is located at the back of the square. The ticket costs 35 TL.
There is also a Havaist bus that connects IST directly with SAW if you have to catch a domestic flight from the airport you arrive at. It is the IST-13.
Tickets can be purchased at the airport bus terminal ticket counters, or you can pay directly on the bus with cash or a credit card. Remember to check the schedules carefully, as some frequencies have been reduced due to the pandemic.
You also have the option of hiring a transfer, the price is pretty much the same as the SAW one, around 15$.
I hope this information has been useful for you to get from Istanbul airports, happy travels!