Airports of Istanbul at night

I transited and flew from both airports a couple of times and this blog explains more about how to get to each of the airports of Istanbul and how they are different when transiting. 

Istanbul Airport (IST) is located on the European side of Istanbul and Sabiha Gokcen (SAW) is on the Anatolian side of Istanbul (Asia).

The 2 airports of Istanbul:

1. Istanbul Airport (IST)

Istanbul Airport is the newest and largest airport in Istanbul. It is located 35 kilometres northwest of the city centre and is the main hub for Turkish Airlines. Istanbul Airport is also served by many other airlines, including Emirates, Lufthansa, and British Airways. 

The airport has two terminals, with Terminal 1 serving domestic flights and Terminal 2 serving international flights.

Istanbul Airport is considered a great airport for several reasons:

  • Modern Facilities: Istanbul Airport is a newly constructed airport with modern facilities, including duty-free shops, lounges, restaurants, and cafes, making it a great place to spend time during layovers or delays.
  • Efficient Operations: Istanbul Airport is designed to handle large volumes of passengers and planes, making it a very efficient airport. It has advanced technologies and state-of-the-art equipment that helps to streamline operations, reduce wait times, and improve the overall passenger experience.
  • Connectivity: Istanbul Airport has an extensive network of airlines and destinations, with more than 300 destinations served by over 100 airlines. This means that passengers can easily connect to various locations around the world. The airport is also well connected to the city center by public transport, taxi, and bus.
  • Award-winning: Istanbul Airport has won several awards since its opening in 2019, including “Best Airport in Southern Europe” and “World’s Best New Airport” at the Skytrax World Airport Awards in 2020. These awards recognise the airport’s high-quality services, amenities, and facilities.
Istanbul IST Airport Gates M
The new Istanbul Airport IST – Istanbul Airport Departures

The biggest downfall of Istanbul airport?

Istanbul Airport is huge! So getting to your gate can take some time. Make sure you allow a lot of time if you are transiting or catching a flight from here. We almost missed our flight to Eritrea as we had to run across the entire airport to different gates.

The other thing that I don’t like about this airport is its free wifi. It’s complicated!

You can either access the wifi via SMS message, or you have to go to one of the kiosks to verify your passport and log in that way.

Either way, you only get 1 hour of free wifi! It just makes no sense why a new airport would have a time limit for wifi. 

To avoid all that, consider buying an eSIM for Turkey to stay connected in the country. Download a data plan and get connected right away! It’s affordable, easy, and convenient.

Getting to Istanbul Airport by Public Transport:

The Istanbul Airport is well connected to the city centre by public transport. The easiest way to get to the airport is by taking the metro. 

The M11 metro line connects Istanbul airport to the city centre, with trains running every 6 minutes during peak hours. The journey takes around 30 minutes, and the fare is 18 Turkish Lira (TRY) which is less than 1 USD or 1 Euro.

Another option is to take the Havaist bus service. This is a direct bus service that connects Istanbul Airport to various locations in the city centre, including Taksim Square and Kadıköy. The buses run every 20 minutes and the fare is 30 TRY.

Getting to/from Istanbul Airport by Taxi:

Taxis are available from all parts of the city to Istanbul Airport. The journey time from the city centre to the airport is around 40 minutes, depending on traffic.

The fare is around 300 TRY (around $20). Alternatively, you could pre-book a private car transfer from airport to your hotel. A private transfer is approximately $45 for your group (up to 7 people).

It’s very convenient in such a busy airport to have a representative waiting for you with a sign upon arrival at exit gate 9 (just after luggage claim area). You will then be delivered your to your pre-booked hotel in Istanbul.

Airports of Istanbul on the map IST vs SAW on the map
Airports of Istanbul on the map IST vs SAW on the map with Istanbul airports names

2. Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW)

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, around 40 kilometres southeast of the city centre. 

It is the second largest airport in Istanbul and is served by many airlines, including Pegasus Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Qatar Airways. 

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport has one terminal, which serves both domestic and international flights. 

The majority of the low-cost flights use Sabiha Gökçen airport. 

airports of Istanbul
Airports in Istanbul – Sabiha Airport SAW

Is Sabiha airport a good airport? 

The problem with Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul is that it simply serves too many flights, so it can feel very overcrowded.

You can still get cheap food or drinks and even Turkish bakeries’ goods such as simit for a quick snack. But everywhere you look are crowds of people and when you get to the gates there is nowhere to sit for the people departing on each flight.

As soon as the boarding starts, passengers are whisked away on the bus to the plane. It feels more like a busy bus station at times than an airport.

Also, passport control can have long lines, so be prepared.

Airports of Istanbul SAW Fly pegasus
Sabiha Airport in Istanbul has many low-cost flights – Airports of Istanbul

Getting to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport by Public Transport:

The easiest way to get to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport by public transport is to take the Havabus shuttle service

This is a direct bus service that connects the airport to Taksim Square and Kadıköy. The buses run every 30 minutes and the fare is 18 TRY. It will take about 100 minutes (1,5 hours) to get to the airport.

Another option is to take the E10 city bus from Kadıköy. The bus stops at the airport and the journey takes around 90 minutes. The fare is 5 TRY.

Getting to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport by Taxi:

Taxis are available from all parts of the city to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. The journey time from the city centre to the airport is around 60-90 minutes, depending on traffic. The fare is around 300 TRY or $20.

Getting From SAW International Airport to your Hotel by Private Transfer:

I highly recommend this transfer option from SAW international airport to your hotel in Istanbul.

Private minivan transfer – Avoid the stress of public transport, and pre-book a private minivan transfer, prices start from $29. The transfer is very affordable and works especially well if you’re arriving late, are two people or more or just arriving in Turkey from a long international flight. 

Which airport is better in Istanbul? Istanbul Airport IST or Sabiha SAW Airport?

It doesn’t matter which one you really fly to or from, but one might be more convenient to reach than the other airport.

The main Istanbul airport IST is connected by metro so it makes it easy to get to the city centre as long as you are staying near the metro stations.

If you are staying in Taksim, you might prefer to fly to Sabiha Airport SAW as you will be closer and can get the bus easily enough.

As for departing for both airports in Istanbul, allow time for traffic if you are taking a taxi and passport control can be busy at both airports.

Sabiha is small and you can reach your gate within a few minutes (as the bus takes you to the plane), while the new Istanbul airport is huge and it can take up to 30 minutes to reach your gate.

airports of Istanbul The beautiful Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
The beautiful Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Atatürk Airport is no longer used for commercial flights.

Atatürk Airport was the main international airport in Istanbul until the opening of Istanbul Airport. It is located 24 kilometres west of the city centre and is now used only for cargo. 

And that’s it for everything you need to know about the two airports of Istanbul. Safe Travels.

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