What to do in Istanbul Airport

What to do in Istanbul Airport

Do you have a layover in Istanbul and you’re wondering what to do in Istanbul Airport or if there is a hotel in the Istanbul airport terminal?

Istanbul is located in the heart of the world, known as the city where Europe meets Asia. If you travel a lot through these continents there’s a possibility you might have a layover in Istanbul.

The city has two international airports; Istanbul Atatürk Airport on the European side and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side. Hezarfen Airport is also Istanbul’s internationally registered, first private airport.

If you choose to stay inside the airport instead of exploring the city, below are a few suggestions for what to do at Istanbul Airport.

What is a layover

A layover is when a stop or transfer occurs when traveling. Layovers are also known as stopovers. They can range from 30 minutes to 24 hours.

There are many reasons for layovers one of the most common is refueling.

Sometimes airlines can’t fly to every destination and from any destination. So they create hubs where passengers can gather and fill up a plane.

For example, a flight from Cape Town to Paris is unlikely to be very full, and therefore it is not profitable. So they will have flights to London, then smaller flights from London to Paris.

I’ve had layovers where the plane lands and some people disembark while the rest stay on. I have had layovers where we all have to get off the plane. Each layover is different. With the right travel credit card, you can access different lounges around the world with complementary services like sleeping pods, showers, and food.

While some smaller airports don’t have lounges, you can easily get bored if you have to wait for over 5 – 24 hours. Some travelers opt to leave the airport and explore the city for the day.

Can you leave the airport during a layover

Yes, you can leave the airport during a layover. This depends on how much time you have in between your flights. It’s advisable to give yourself at least 1 hour for domestic flights and three hours between international flights.

Do I need a visa for a layover in Turkey

If your nationality needs a visa for Turkey you can’t leave the airport during your Istanbul layover without one.

If you want to leave the airport during a layover in Istanbul, you must apply and get a Turkey e-visa from the Offical Turkish visa website by the government before arrival.

If you don’t do this in advance but you are eligible for an e-visa, you may obtain it from the Turkish Airlines Sales / Ticket Desks on the day you land.

I highly recommend applying and printing the visa in advance to save time.

What to do in Istanbul Airport (European side)

Things to know about Istanbul Airport (IST)

  • IST Airport is located on the European side of Istanbul.
  • The new airport opened on Monday, October 29th in 2018.
  • Previously the airport was in another location, but after it became one of the world’s busiest airports due to the massive growth of the national carrier – Turkish Airlines. Turkish officials decided to close open a new and bigger airport about 40KM from the old one.
  • Istanbul Atatürk Airport is the hub of Turkish Airlines – the flag carrier and largest airline in Turkey.
  • The new Atatürk Airport has taken on a new airport code: ISL.
  • Passenger flights have ceased at old Atatürk Airport (IST), the airport will continue to serve cargo flights.
  • The new Istanbul Atatürk Airport is over an area of 76.5 million square meters to the north of İstanbul.
  • While the old Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) had subway lines, the new Istanbul Airport (ISL) has none.
  • The new Istanbul Atatürk Airport is 35km away from the city center. You can only reach the city by taxi or bus.
  • The cost of a taxi from Istanbul Atatürk airport to the city can vary. The cost of the Havaş Airport Shuttle Bus can vary from TL 14 – 20 (USD 2.50 – 3.50) depending on which stop you disembark.


what to do in istanbul airport
Interior at New Istanbul Airport

What to buy in Istanbul airport

Shopping at the airport can be expensive, but there is usually a great variety of stores to browse. Even if you are just window shopping and decide not to buy anything, it is an interesting way to pass time.

But if you do have some money to spend, buy a gift for someone you plan on seeing during your trip. Or if you’re heading back home, buy a gift for a loved one.

Istanbul, Duty-Free area consists of 9 sections housing different concepts, including Fashion Garden, Family Palace, High Lux Hills, Style Beach. Each section welcomes passengers with concept-related selective brands.

Sleeping in Istanbul airport

YotelAir Airside is the only hotel at Istanbul airport with a convenient location inside the Duty-Free area, after security and passport control. There are actually two hotels at Istanbul Airport (IST): one on the airside and another on the landside. Guests staying landside can make use of the hotel gym, which is open 24 hours, as well as the KOMYUNITI bar and restaurant.

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What to do in Istanbul airport (Asian side)

Things to know about Istanbul Airport (SAW)

  • Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is located on the Anatolian (Asian) side of Istanbul. About 63KM from the new Atatürk Airport.
  • Sabiha Gökçen (1913–2001) was the first woman in her country to earn a pilot’s license and is believed to be the world’s first female combat pilot.
  • After the death of her parents, she was adopted by Atatürk in 1925.
  • SAW Airport opened on 31 October 2009, a year ahead of schedule.
  • This airport is the hub for most domestic flights in Turkey.
  • SAW is not only home to Turkish Airlines but also Pegasus Airlines – a Turkish low-cost airline.
  • The cost of a taxi from Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport to the city can vary due to the time, traffic and day, but expect to pay between USD 20-30. The cost of the Havaş Airport Shuttle Bus can vary from TL 18 – 25 (USD 2.50 – 3.50) depending on which stop you disembark.

What to buy in Istanbul airport

Some of the brand names you can find at duty-free shopping Istanbul Airport are:

  • Anne Klein
  • Burberry
  • Calvin Klein
  • Dior
  • Emporio Armani
  • Ermenegildo Zegna
  • Marc Ecko
  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • Turkish Delight

Sleeping in Istanbul airport

ISG Airport Hotel consists of 4 storeys and 128 rooms. It’s the only place for sleeping in Istanbul airport and has separate entries from the ground and air. The hotel is located near the passenger terminal, a 3-minute walking distance after leaving the terminal arrival floor.

This hotel offers modern rooms on the site of Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport. It provides a luggage transfer service, and guests can do online check-in to their flights at the hotel front desk.

The soundproofed rooms of ISG Airport Hotel feature contemporary furnishings, air-conditioning, and flat-screen TVs with satellite broadcast. Connecting rooms are available at the property. Housekeeping and room service are offered 24 hours per day.

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If you choose to not stay at the airport during your layover in Istanbul, you can easily explore Istanbul in 24 hours or less. A city like Istanbul could take a lifetime to explore – so you might as well begin with a quick visit into the city center on your Istanbul Airport layover.

Provided you have a minimum of ten hours, I would certainly recommend hopping on the city’s public transit system to explore one or two key areas of the city. With neighborhoods well suited to every interest and taste, you’re sure to find something that will inevitably lure you back to the city on a return visit.

what to do in istanbul airport

Turkish Airlines Istanbul Tour

If you have a connecting international flight in Istanbul with a layover between 6-24 hours, you can make use of the Turkish Airlines free Touristanbul service to discover Istanbul.

Turkish Airlines Istanbul Tour starts from 08:30 AM till 9:30 PM. There are different slots and they can vary from 2 hours to 5 hours long Istanbul free tours.

Touristanbul is all free service provided by Turkish Airlines. There is no advance payment pre, during, or after the tour.

How to go on on a Turkish Airlines Istanbul Tour

  1. Book a flight with Turkish Airlines.
  2. Have a layover in Istanbul (minimum 6 – 24 hours). Please note: Istanbul free tours are only available from Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
  3. When you arrive at Istanbul Airport (IST), you can sign up for Touristanbul at the Hotel Desk in the International Arrivals Terminal of Istanbul Airport.
  4. If your nationality needs a visa for Turkey, make sure you apply and get a Turkey e-visa in advance from the Offical Turkish visa website by the Government. Alternatively, If you are eligible for an e-visa you may obtain it from the Turkish Airlines Sales / Ticket Desks before or on the day of your departure.
  5. After you register at the Help Desk, Touristanbul service will be provided to you free of charge. After landing at Istanbul Airport, you will be picked up by a vehicle and left at the airport again at the end of the tour.

Istanbul day tours from Airport


Travel Insurance for Turkey

Use travel insurance while visiting Istanbul so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of beautiful places to visit in Turkey, and it’s best to have peace of mind while driving, hiking, and trying some of the best food in the world.


Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a booking after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!

What to do in Istanbul Airport
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