Istanbul Airports- Which one is better?

Istanbul Airports- Which one is better?

Istanbul Airports

We believe that Istanbul airports are one of the major items in your checklist. So, we hope we will clarify this topic with this post.

As you are already aware, Istanbul has many tourist attractions such as Hagia Sophia[1], Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque)[2], Dolmabahce Palace[3], Kadikoy[4] and more on. Moreover, there are many good info topics such as its history[5], best time to travel[6], museum pass[7], etc. However, this one is also an important topic since it is the beginning point of your trip.

Basically, Istanbul has four airports. Istanbul new airport, Sabiha Gokcen airport, Ataturk airport, and Hezarfen airport.

Finally, Istanbul has a new airport. It is one of the biggest airports in the world. As expected, the government invested a lot of money to construct this one. We tested it, we can say that it is huge at first glance.

Istanbul new airport
Istanbul Airport

We will give some info about Ataturk and Hezarfen airports. Ataturk airport is not active for commercial flights anymore. The location of the Ataturk airport was great, it is close to the center, but it was decided that the new airport should have replaced Ataturk. Another one, Hezarfen airport is being used for small size aircraft and training purposes.

For these reasons, we will be focusing on the active Istanbul airports- Istanbul new airport and Sabiha Gokcen.

Istanbul Airports’ Codes

Before getting started, let’s take a look at these abbreviations.

  • Istanbul new airport: IST
  • Sabiha Gokcen airport: SAW
  • Ataturk airport: ISL
  • Hezarfen airport: LTBW

Istanbul Airports- Istanbul New Airport

There are always pros and cons when a country opens a new airport for such a huge city. Having too many people really forced the government to pick a location out of the city. So, as expected, this airport is far away. But, the city will be expanding around the airport. So, it is a great advantage for Istanbul.

Istanbul new airport
Istanbul Airports- The new airport

We remember the first opening of Sabiha Gokcen. In the beginning, everybody was feeling that it should have been closer to the city. It was also far away, but it has many settlements around it right now. We are sure that the new one will also be expanding the city around itself. But, it is still definite that it is far away from the tourist attraction places.

Where is Istanbul new airport?

It is in the northwest of Istanbul. Basically, it is in Arnavutkoy district on the European side. The official address: Tayakadin Mah, Terminal Cad. No:1, 342883 Arnavutkoy- Istanbul/Turkey.

When you check the address, you will understand that it is not close to the city center. However, compared to Ataturk airport’s frustrating traffic jam, the time you spend to reach these airports could be equal. But, as you expect once more, the new airport will also be crowded, so the traffic jam would get crazy at some point.


Ataturk airport was running full capacity for a long time. Moreover, airport growth was not possible anymore. Unfortunately, the city really restricted the Ataturk airport’s growth. Additionally, the management did not allow anymore charter and cargo flights.

The other question can still be thought. “Why don’t they use Sabiha Gokcen rather than constructing a new one?” SAW is also operating at maximum capacity. Unexpectedly, it expanded a lot, so shifting some of the flights to SAW was not a permanent solution.

So, it was definitely necessary to have a big one. Even it was opened this year, the project has many stages and is still on-going.


The first stage of the project cost is estimated at around 7 billion $. Turkish joint venture Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa-Kalyon has won the bidding process and they started working in 2013 for the design. It can be said that after the groundbreaking ceremony in 2015, they offically started the process in 2015 [8].

The project has four stages. So, opening right now does not mean fully completion. In summary, it will go on till 2027 and it is expected a total annual 150 million passengers [8].

Istanbul Airport Inside

Departure and arrivals are on different floors. Additionally, the interior is designed very good. There is a total of seven entrances. First two of them are for domestic flights. The other five entrances are for international flights. Number 5 is the Turkish Airlines Priority Entrance. So, you can use 3-4-6-7 if you don’t use Number 5.

The new airport first floor
Istanbul Airport- First-floor view

You can check check-in boards to find out your operator check-in locations. They are mostly self- check-in, but there are always some people around helping people who have trouble.

New airport- self check-in
Istanbul Airport- Self-check-in

After completing passport control, you will see the tax-refund office, some shops, duty-free shops and restaurants, coffee shops and lounges.

New airport passport control
Istanbul Airport- Passport control

Istanbul Airport Lounges [9]

There are four lounges in total. They are Turkish Airlines Lounge Domestic, Turkish Airlines Business Lounge, Turkish Airlines Lounge Miles & Smiles and IGA Lounge.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Miles& Smiles and Lounge Domestic: Turkish Airlines Lounge Miles & Smiles is reserved for passengers with specific credentials such as elite status, premium tickets, or other access methods that are required for entry.

Turkish Airlines Business Lounge: This lounge is accessible for business class passengers flying on Turkish Airlines and other Star Alliance carriers. Private sleeping rooms are available but you should have 4h to 9h layover and one of your flight should be over 8h.

IGA Lounge: You should pay €59 per person as of 2019. There are many good things in this lounge.

New Airport- IGA Lounge
Istanbul Airport- IGA Lounge

Istanbul Airports- Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW)

Sabiha Gokcen airport is one of the international airports in Istanbul. Basically, it is located on the Asian side. Its name comes from the first female fighter pilot in the world.

The consortium Limak-India’s GMR Group and Malaysia airport Holding Berhad [10] gained the contract and SAW was opened in 2009. The expectation was to host 25 million passengers by 2023, however, the airport handled 31 million passengers by 2017 [10]. It has a single run-away. So, this means that Sabiha Gokcen airport is one of the busiest airports in the world considering its capacity. Additionally, the second runaway is on the way.

It has only one terminal and handles both domestic and international flights. There are many operators using the airport, but it can be said that Pegasus and Anadolu Jet (an airline brand of Turkish Airlines) are very dominant.

SAW building
Sabiha Gokcen Airport- The building

Where is SAW?

It is in Pendik region. Additionally, the current address is Sabiha Gokcen Uluslararasi Havalimani, Sanayi Mh., 34906 Pendik/Istanbul

Sabiha Gokcen Airport Inside

Compared to the new one, Sabiha Gokcen is more modest. One terminal both handles domestic and international flights. After completing passport check-in, you will see the tax-refund office, some shops, duty-free shops and restaurants, coffee shops and lounges.

SAW inside
Sabiha Gokcen Airport- The interior

Sabiha Gokcen Airport Lounges [11]

There are six lounges in total. They are ISG Domestic CIP Lounge, Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, ISG International CIP Lounge, Turkish Airlines Lounge Sabiha Gokcen (Domestic Elite Lounge), VIP Lounge, Turkish Airlines Lounge Sabiha Gokcen (Domestic Business Lounge)

ISG Domestic and International CIP Lounges: You should pay 110 TL per person. Open buffet, Wi-Fi, smoking area are available.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, Turkish Airlines Lounge Sabiha Gokcen (Domestic Elite Lounge) and Turkish Airlines Lounge Sabiha Gokcen (Domestic Business Lounge): Turkish Airlines Lounges are reserved for passengers with specific credentials such as elite status, premium tickets, or other access methods that are required for entry.

VIP Lounge: Located in the VIP building. This lounge is available to reserve for senior public officials and businesspersons.

Istanbul Airports- Ataturk Airport

It is still being used for several purposes such as governmental flights, however, it is not active for commercial flights. The transition from Ataturk to Istanbul airport was a huge thing, however, there were some delays about the target dates. But the operation was planned very good.

Its name was Yesilkoy (yesil: green and koy: village) and it was opened in 1953. Based on 2017 data, around 64 million passengers used this airport [12].

Starting from April, new airport replaced the airport. Its location was perfect, however, the city did not allow to expand anymore. There were many operators using the airport and Turkish Airlines was the most dominant among all. Basically, there were two terminals as domestic and international. We will remember the airport with good and bad memories. We are still sad about this closure.

Where is the Ataturk airport?

It is in Bakirkoy region. The current address is Yesilkoy Mh., 34149 Bakirkoy/Istanbul

Istanbul Airports- Hezarfen Airport

The name comes from Hezarfen Celebi, flying Turk during the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. As quick info, Sultan Ahmed was the sultan of this period. He jumped from Galata tower, passed the Bosphorus and landed to Uskudar. It is near Buyukcekmece lake. Mostly, the flight schools use the airport. Additionally, there is a good restaurant, cafeteria, car parking spots, model plane club, etc. Moreover, some events were also organized like Rock’n Coke in this airport. In summary, it is being used for different purposes except for commercial flights.

Where is the Hezarfen airport?

The official address is Bahsayis Mah., Aksaray Cad. No:7, 34540 Catalca/Istanbul

Istanbul Airports- Which is better?

Ataturk :), unfortunately, it is not active. We know that was the best. Our thought is, Sabiha Gokcen looks more practical than the new one. Since the new one is huge, so you have to walk a lot to reach your gate, passport control, etc. and the taxi time is too much. We would suggest SAW first if you have this option too, but we also know that there are not many flights for SAW compared to IST. But, even we suggest SAW, you know the new one is not bad.

Or, choose the side where you want to stay. If you stay on the European side, choose the new one; if you stay on the Asian side, try to choose SAW.

Additionally, there might be some limitations if you come from overseas. You have to use the new one for these flights, mostly. So, it may not be optional.

Domestic Flights

The options below can be thought for both ways.

Izmir: You can both use SAW or IST.

Ankara: You can both use SAW or IST.

Antalya: You can both use SAW or IST.

Cappadocia: You can both fly to Nevsehir or Kayseri. But, please first try Nevsehir airport and Turkish Airlines have flights directly to Nevsehir. Moreover, Istanbul airport has more advantageous compared to Sabiha Gokcen by having more flights during the day. If you fly to Kayseri, you should go by bus since it is around 80 km or 50 miles.

You can also use a bus to Cappadocia, but it would take around 8 hours. We don’t think this is a good idea.

Sabiha Gokcen Airport- Domestic flights transfer

Istanbul Airports- Transportation Guide

How to transfer between Istanbul airports?

Are you ready for 85 kilometers (around 50 miles) in Istanbul? Fortunately, we have the third bridge that you will not get stuck in Istanbul traffic jam. By car, this may take around an hour.

By taxi

This will cost you between 200 to 250 TL. If you have not enough time between your flights, try this option.


Havaist is the operator for most of the public transportations for the new airport. Additionally, IETT is also operating a few of them. We will give detailed info about all the ways in this section for other top places. You can go up to  Pendik by paying only 30 TLs. Please note that you should have “Istanbulkart” for this option. Otherwise, you can pay by credit card on the bus. You can’t pay by cash as of now. So, the only disadvantage looks like hourly IST-8. We still believe that you can arrange your timing around it.

So, it has just 5 stops. You are lucky that one of the stops is Sabiha Gokcen airport. IST-8 is the number. It might take up to 1.5-2 hours. Still good for Istanbul. The timing depends on the traffic. You can’t trust some of these numbers for Istanbul in case of traffic jam. Just put an hour on the estimated time.

Some other options

We will really keep it short. We are still curious it is worth explaining or not. Istanbul is a complex city, so adding some other complexities can make it much more complex. Here are some examples to make you have an idea:

From SAW to new airport: You can catch Havabus from SAW to Taksim. You can catch Havaist from Taksim to the new airport. Does it really worth trying?

From the new airport to SAW: You can catch IST-1 Yenikapi- Istanbul Havalimani and get-off from the train at Yenikapi Marmaray. And then, transfer to Marmaray and go till Ayrilik Cesmesi. Right after, use E10 Kadikoy- Sabiha Gokcen airport. Do you think you prefer this challenging way with your luggage?

We can increase the options, but writing unnecessary endless things will definitely confuse you. It is good to stop here.

Istanbul New Airport

We already covered some options to transfer between the airports. However, we are aware that you are curious about other locations. Please check the official site[13] for the latest updates and for the full list. The management still tries to find the best route for most of them. Let’s start to cover the most important of all.

The taxi option is still valid. There are three taxi colors. Yellow taxi is the standard one. Turquoise taxi is more comfortable, but the price is 15% higher compared to the standard one. Black taxi is the luxury segment and the price is 2x higher compared to the standard one. For instance, from Taksim to the airport you would pay around 120 TL. We used a standard taxi from Pendik to the airport and paid 250 TL.

Uber is another option. Additionally, there is no metro line for this airport as of now. The options below are the cheapest. As of 2019, the peak price is 30 TL. These buses are mostly per 20 minutes to 40 minutes during the day.

We already covered Pendik which is above. This one also consists of SAW. Also, one of the best thing about Havaist is having two more lines for Alibeykoy and Esenler bus stations. You can use these two stations to go to other cities.

What about other locations such as Maltepe, Bostanci, Uskudar? We would choose Kadikoy bus and then take a taxi from Yeni Sahra or Kadikoy stop. If you want to use the train line from Pendik to Eskisehir or Ankara, directly choose Pendik bus from the airport.        

Airport to Sultanahmet

IST-1 S goes directly to Sultanahmet having multiple stops as Piyalepasa, Eminonu, and Sultanahmet.

Istanbul Airport to Sultanahmet
Istanbul New Airport to Sultanahmet

Airport to Kadikoy

IST- 7 goes directly to Kadikoy having multiple stops as Kadikoy, Acibadem, Uzuncayir Metrobus, Yeni Sahra, and Kavacik Bridge. They canceled Kozyatagi Metro stop.

Istanbul Airport to Kadikoy
Istanbul New Airport to Kadikoy

Airport to Besiktas/Dolmabahce Palace

IST- 5 goes directly to Besiktas having multiple stops as Besiktas pier, Zincirlikuyu Metrobus, 4th Levent.

Airport to Taksim

IST- 9 was canceled. You can still use IST-19 to go to Taksim.

Airport to Yenikapi

There are multiple stops as Yenikapi Coast, Marmaray, Aksaray, and Ulubatli. As you know you can move to many districts by Marmaray from Yenikapi station.

Sabiha Gokcen Airport

Havabus has two options. One of them is Taksim and the other one is Kadikoy. It is 30 minutes during the day and between 1 a.m. to 3.30 a.m., there is no bus for both ways. Havabus is more comfortable and faster than IETT buses.

There is no metro line for this airport as of now. IETT is operating for multiple locations. Check this official site for more info.

  • E-3 is SAW to 4th Levent.
  • E-9 is SAW to Bostanci Pier.
  • E-10 is SAW to Kurtkoy/Kadikoy. This one uses D-100 which means there are many stops.
  • E-11 is SAW to Kadikoy. This one goes from E-80 freeway, but after passing thru many districts, it goes along D-100 from Goztepe.
  • 16S is SAW to Uzuncayir Metrobus. This goes along D-100.
  • SG-1 SAW to Kadikoy. This one is more direct and uses E-80 freeway which means there are not many stops.
  • 122H is SAW to Yenisehir/4th Levent.
  • SG-2 SAW to Taksim
  • 132H SAW to Pendik Train Station.

So, in summary, let’s look at some locations.

SAW transportation
Sabiha Gokcen Airport- Havabus and IETT

Sabiha Gokcen airport to Sultanahmet

We would go Taksim by Havabus or SG-2 and then catch a taxi.

Sabiha Gokcen airport to Taksim

Havabus or SG-2

Sabiha Gokcen airport to Kadikoy

The fastest ones are Havabus and SG-1.

Sabiha Gokcen airport to Besiktas/Dolmabahce Palace

We would go to Taksim first and then catch a taxi from there.

Ataturk Airport

We don’t think this is needed. But here are the options in case you need it or in order to take a look back in history :).

Taxi option was great for Ataturk since the airport is close to the tourist attraction places.

Havatas was operating from Taksim to Ataturk.

There is a metro line M1A Yenikapi-Ataturk airport is operating, so that was definitely good to have a line for the airport. By having a line, you could go from Kadikoy, Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Uskudar and more on by transferring from other lines. Additionally, these lines have good connections with metro buses.

Istanbul Airport Hotels

Istanbul new airport

YotelAir is the only one inside the airport. Park Inn by Radisson Istanbul Airport Odayeri is also good where you can find an airport shuttle. Istanbul Airport Durusu Club Hotel is also close to the airport and a good option.

Sabiha Gokcen airport

There are good hotels around the airport. ISG is the airport hotel, however, Crowne Plaza, Radisson Blue, and Hampton by Hilton are all good. They are very close (max 5 km or 3 miles) to the airport.

Ataturk Airport

There are good hotels around the airport. Tempo Suites, Hotel Hyatt Regency, Hotel Elite World Business and Crowne Plaza can be picked. They are very close (max 5 km or 3 miles) to the airport.

Istanbul Airports- Currency Exchange

You know the rates are not good at the airports. Just exchange a small amount (100-200 TL would be enough to reach your destination) and you can find good rates in the city center.

Istanbul airports- currency
Istanbul New Airport- Currency Exchange


We believe that we covered everything you need about Istanbul new airport and Sabiha Gokcen airport. One of them is located on the European side and the other one is located on the Anatolian side.

We feel that Sabiha Gokcen is more compact compared to the new one. The new one is huge and time-consuming, even it is not close to the center. But you wouldn’t have an option for overseas flights.

Our recommendation depends on your accommodation. If you stay on the European side, try to choose the new one, otherwise, you can simply choose Sabiha Gokcen.

Another important parameter is your connected flight. For instance, if you plan to go to Cappadocia, the new one is simply better.

Please also note that most of the tourist attraction places are on the European side. So, choosing the new airport and a hotel on this side make more sense.

Unless you choose the better one for you, you will not regret it. Both of them are not bad about transportation. It can still be improved, however, don’t forget this city is too complex 🙂



Istanbul Fantasy