Direct flights to Istanbul are common from Europe, particularly Germany and the UK, though less so from North America. Well-regarded national carrier Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com) flies direct from New York, Chicago, and, as of recently, Washington, DC. Fares are generally cheapest in winter and soar in the summer months and at Christmas, New Year, and Easter.
Istanbul Atatürk Airport
Istanbul’s main airport (www.ataturkairport.com), located in Yeşilköy near the Marmara Sea on the city’s European side, is 28 kilometres southwest of downtown. It has adjacent domestic and international terminals and a full complement of services.
Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen
This rapidly growing airport (www.sgairport.com) on the Asian side is located in Pendik, some 50 kilometres southeast of downtown. It serves many domestic flights as well as budget airlines.
Getting to the city
Havaş: This speedy, comfortable airport shuttle (www.havas.com.tr) is the all-around best way to get to and from either airport if you’re staying near Taksim Square. It runs every 30 minutes from 4am to 1am and costs 10 Turkish Liras each way to/from Atatürk and 13 liras to/from Sabiha Gökçen. The Taksim stop is on Cumhuriyet Caddesi, past the McDonald’s and near the Turkish Airlines office.
Taxi: Yellow cabs line up at both airports to pick up fares; you usually won’t have to wait long for a ride. Expect to pay at least 30-40 liras to get to Taksim or Sultanahmet from Atatürk Airport and twice that from Sabiha Gökçen. All taxis should be using meters and charging the same rate day or night, but cabbies can be unscrupulous; make sure the meter is running and ignore any talk about a geçe (night) rate.
Metro: If you’ve got plenty of time and not too much luggage, you can take the Metro from Atatürk Airport to Zeytinburnu and then transfer to the tramway, which runs through Sultanahmet and then crosses the Golden Horn to terminate at Kabataş. (A funicular leads up from there to Taksim.) The whole trip will cost around five liras.
Bus: The 96T runs between Atatürk Airport and Taksim Square. The E-3 runs between Sabiha Gökçen and the Metro station in the 4. Levent [4th Levent] neighbourhood, a short ride from Taksim. All one-way bus fares are 1.75 liras.
Car: From Atatürk Airport, follow signs to Sirkeci/Sahilyolu Caddesi. At the roundabout, take Kennedy Caddesi for destinations in Sultanahmet, Atatürk Bulvarı for Taksim. If you are thinking of renting, read my advice on Istanbul car hire.
How to get around Istanbul
Follow this link to read my advice about How to get around Istanbul.