A Local’s Guide to Airports of Istanbul

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Istanbul is the biggest and most popular city in Turkey.  Other than its beautiful landmarks, delicious street food, and unique location, Istanbul has more than one airport.

As is known, Istanbul welcomes many visitors every year, and sometimes, knowing what to expect may be helpful for first-timers.

Istanbul used to have three airports, but now there are two airports after Ataturk Airport (ISL, former IST) was closed. These are Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) and Istanbul Airport (IST).

Sabiha Gokcen is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, and Istanbul Airport is located on the European side of Istanbul.

Although Ataturk Airport and Istanbul Airport share the same code of ISL, they are not the same, and their locations are different.

When Ataturk Airport closed and was replaced by Istanbul Airport, Istanbul Airport became the main airport of Istanbul, and the IST Airport code started to be used by Istanbul Airport.

In this article, I will tell you all the details that you need to know about Istanbul airports, and I will answer some common questions about this topic.

If you’re ready, let’s dig in and discover these airports!

Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Code: SAW)

Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport is one of the most well-known airports and the second busiest airport in Turkey. 

Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen has both domestic and international flight routes.

In 2022, Istanbul Airport served more than 37 million passengers. When you put that into perspective, that’s over 2x the amount people that went to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, one of the top tourist destinations in the world, in 2022.

Even though some sources, like Wikipedia, state that the airport is 32 km (20 mi) southeast of Istanbul.

Yet, because Istanbul is a big metropolitan city, most locals consider Sabiha Gokcen Airport to be in the urban area of Istanbul city.

The airport is on the Asian side of Istanbul and is surrounded by residential districts. 

Check-in Area

I love this airport, because Sabiha Gokcen is very well organized and orderly.  

The other thing I like about this airport is shopping. Sabiha Gokcen Airport has a good shopping area with plenty of options, and the prices are cheaper than at Istanbul Airport.

If you forget to buy gifts from Turkey, do not worry International Departures have many shops selling from soaps to wines, plus you can find fashion shops like Victoria’s Secret, Yargıcı,  and Altınyıldız.

If you are not in the mood for shopping, you can relax at a cafe and eat delicious meals at famous restaurants.

You can find many options from Italian and Turkish cuisine as well as international chains like Mcdonald’s and Starbucks.

Lastly, Sabiha Gokcen provides CIP lounge services and restroom services. 

Kepler is a restroom service where you can book a personal resting unit and charge hourly. Here is the official website of Kepler if you wish to learn more. 

There are two lounges in Sabiha Gokcen. One is for the passengers of contracted institutions, and the other is for elite customers of Turkish Airlines. 

These lounges provide passengers with extra comfort, free food, and beverages with additional recreation activities. 

For more current information about lounges and reservations, you can click here to check the relevant page on the airport’s website.

Click on my article Where to Stay in Istanbul? A Local Answers with Map to learn the best places for accommodation options.

Havaist shuttles provide transportation services between airports and major Istanbul destinations.

How can you travel between Sabiha Gokcen and Istanbul city?

Soon, the city metro will be extended to Sabiha Gokcen airport, but it is currently under construction. 

The nearest metro station is Tavsantepe and 14 km (9 mi) away from Sabiha Gokcen. 

I usually use a taxi to reach the metro from Sabiha Gokcen to the metro and use the metro system to reach where I would like to go in Istanbul. 

I do not like the bus and taxi options to travel in Istanbul due to the high congestion during the daytime. 

The road between the airport and the metro has less traffic, and my favorite way in Istanbul is traveling by Metro.

Taksim is regarded as the city center on the European Side. Depending on the traffic, you can get to Taksim within approximately an hour by taxi. 

The distance between Taksim and Sabiha Gokcen is 41 km (25 mi). In Istanbul, a one-hour drive can actually be considered fast. 

You can also use HAVAIST airport shuttle services, which take you to many destinations on the Asian and European sides of Istanbul.

A shuttle ticket to Kadıköy will cost approximately 2 USD and to Taksim around 3 USD. You can also use the same services to travel back to Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

The cheapest option is to use city public bus lines passing through the airport. 

Many bus routes can take you to Istanbul destinations like Bostancı, Kadıköy, Taksim, and Levent. You can learn more about these routes on Sabiha Gokcen’s website.

Click to read my guide: Istanbul – What Do You Need to Know Before Visiting?

Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport opened in 2019 and is the newest airport in Istanbul. Yet, in a very short time, Istanbul Airport became the busiest airport in Europe.

In 2022, Istanbul Airport served more than 37 million passengers.

This airport is located in the Arnavutköy district on the European side of Istanbul. 

Domestic and international flights are also available at Istanbul Airport. 

Istanbul airport is designed as a massive transit hub and serves as a connection point for intercontinental flights.

For this reason, Istanbul Airport is a massive complex with many amenities to make you enjoy your time between flights.

Istanbul Airport has lounge areas where you can enjoy not just free food but services like showers, massages, a library, and more. 

Some lounges also have children’s areas where they can play. If you wish to know more, you can read about them on the Istanbul Airport website.

İstanbul Airport Duty-Free Area

You can find many quality restaurants and food options, including Asian, Japanese, Italian, and Turkish cuisines.

Istanbul airport also provides free wi-fi for all passengers.

Lastly, Istanbul Airport offers mall-like shopping options where you can find stores of Gucci, Prada, Yves Rocher, Swarovski, and many more International and Turkish Brands. 

You can click here to see all the shops that Istanbul Airport offers on the Istanbul Airport website.

Check my guide on 21 Fun and Unique Things To Do in Istanbul (A Local’s Guide)

How can you travel between Istanbul Airport and Istanbul city?

Soon, the city metro will be extended to Istanbul airport, and the planned metro line will open in November 2022.

By Taxi, depending on the traffic, you can get to Taksim (which is regarded as the city center) in an hour and a half.

Taksim and Istanbul Airport distance is 40 km (25 mi). Taxi is the best and most comfortable option until the metro opens.

HAVAIST shuttles are also worth considering. They transfer you between many major destinations in Istanbul and Istanbul Airport. 

The HAVAIST ticket prices differ depending on your destination, but they are around 3 to 5 USD per person. 

You can learn more about HAVAIST and book a ticket on their official website.

Additionally, city buses are the cheapest transportation option that you may consider. Two bus tickets currently cost less than 1 USD. 

If you wish to learn about bus routes, you can check them here.

Boarding Area of Istanbul Airport

Which airport is best in Istanbul?

As mentioned, in Istanbul, there are two airports. One of them is Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, and the other is Istanbul Airport. 

I think Sabiha Gokcen is better than Ataturk airport. I usually fly domestic routes and prefer Sabiha Gokcen, because Sabiha Gokcen Airport has easier access to Istanbul. 

Istanbul Airport is my favorite for international routes because you have more shops and cafes to enjoy before or between your flights. Service quality is definitely higher than Sabiha Gokcen. 

Additionally,  if they manage to connect Istanbul Airport with the Istanbul subway, it can definitely beat Sabiha Gokcen in all aspects.

Istanbul airport is the biggest and main airport of Istanbul. Istanbul airport’s mega complex also helps you enjoy diverse amenities, while Sabiha Gokcen is smaller and has less to offer.

Another disadvantage of Istanbul Airport is its size. Traveling between terminals of Istanbul Airport and plane’s taxi period of planes may be longer. On the other hand, Sabiha Gokcen is very compact and fast.

Just a side note, I find that Sabiha Gokcen Airport is cheaper than Istanbul Airport in terms of flight tickets, food, and other services.

Turkish Airlines uses both Sabiha Gokcen and Istanbul Airport. 

Which Airport is Closer to Istanbul Center? 

Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gokcen Airport are both of them are equally close to the Istanbul Center and both airlines soon have subway access. Yet, they are located on different sides of Istanbul.

Istanbul Airport is on the European side of Istanbul, whereas Sabiha Gokcen Airport is on the Asian side of Istanbul.

If you use a taxi, it will take approximately one hour for you to get to Taksim Square which is regarded as the center of Istanbul. Yet, the duration can significantly differ depending on the time of the day and traffic congestion.

Is Istanbul Airport the same as Ataturk Airport?

This question is one of the most common ones that come to mind.

Ataturk Airport and Istanbul Airport share the same code of ISL, but they are not the same, and their locations are different.

Ataturk Airport was located in Yeşilköy on the shores of the Marmara Sea, whereas Istanbul Airport is located on the shores of Black Sea in the north.

In 2019, Istanbul Airport was opened, and all flight routes and equipment were transferred to Istanbul Airport.

When Ataturk Airport closed, IST Airport code started to be used by Istanbul Airport.

To sum up, Atatürk Airport  closed and has been replaced by Istanbul Airport, but not in the same location.

Who is Sabiha Gokcen? Why did they name an Airport after Her?

Sabiha Gokcen is the adoptive daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and also the first female fighter pilot in the world. 

Sabiha Gokcen Airport carries her name because she is a leading figure in Turkish aviation.

Suggested Reading: Why and How Turkish Women are different?

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