*Please note that the Atatürk Airport is currently closed
During my trip to Italy, I had the chance to get a long layover in Istanbul, as I traveled with Turkish Airlines, one of the many perks of traveling with the company is that depending on your flight schedules, you get the chance to spend few hours or even days in Istanbul to visit this amazing city!
Istanbul has always been high on my list since Turkey is definitely one of the countries I wanted to visit the most. So you can imagine how happy I was for this bonus!
We got long layovers in Istanbul twice, so during the first long layover in Istanbul we decided to take the free tour with Turkish Airline (yes there is this possibility) as we didn’t know the city, and we didn’t have room for mistakes, otherwise, if we got lost at some point, we would probably miss our flight to Rome.
But on our second long layover, we decided to visit Istanbul on our own. However, we would need to learn how to get from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet. Sultanahmet is the neighborhood where most of the important tourist points in Istanbul are located.
You may ask if it is possible to leave the Atatürk Airport during a long layover in Istanbul, or if it would be too risky. I would say that if you have at least 5 hours layover, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity as Sultanahmet is pretty close to the Atatürk Airport, plus Istanbul is a super easy city to move around and the public transport works so well.
So if you are having a long layover in Istanbul, do take this opportunity to visit the city and don’t be afraid of not finding your way through.
Long Layover in Istanbul: How to Get from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet
The main airport in the city, the Atatürk airport, is considered one of the most important airports in Europe, It doesn’t come as a surprise when you consider the fact that it is the hub of Turkish Airlines, one of the biggest air companies in the world and the one who flies to the biggest number of destinations across the world.
Generally speaking, we can consider Atatürk Airport as the one that links the two sides of the world, East and West.
Main tourist points in Istanbul
If you take a look at Istanbul’s map, you will see that the city has lots of points of interest spread across all, let’s say, three parts of the city (dividing Istanbul accordingly to the lands divided by canals).
The most tourist area is called Sultanahmet, and it is here that the famous buildings in Istanbul are located, the good thing is that they are located next to each other.
Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazar, are all in the same area and can be visited on foot.
Another point of interest is the neighborhood of Beyoglu and Karakoy, where you will find mosques and palaces and the famous Galata Tower, to get to this area though, you will need to cross the Galata Bridge. I don’t recommend going to this area if you have only one day in Istanbul, as this tour would require more time, taking into consideration the traffic and the fact you need to get to the airport some hours before your flight.
How to use public transport in Istanbul
Arriving at Ataturk airport during your long layover in Istanbul, you can enjoy the fact that you don’t have your bags with you and go straight to the metro. In case you are carrying your cabin bag, you can leave it in the luggage storage in front of the escalator, I paid 27 Turkish Lires per day when I was there (May 2018).
Taking the escalator down, follow the plates to the metro. Before passing the ticket gates there are some machines, there you will be able to buy your Istanbulkart, which is the public transport card (like Oyster in London), having the card is obligatory as it is the only way to pay for the public transport. In these machines, you will also be able to charge your card
The prices are fair and in my case, as I would use it for me and my mom I charged $20 Turkish Lires and it allowed us to take 2 metros and 2 trams each.
How to get from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet
If you are planning to visit Istanbul on your own, bear in mind the trip to Sultanahmet takes around 40 minutes to go and then, the same to come back, so calculate it before to make sure you won’t be late for your flight.
Passing the machines and the ticket gate, and following straight you will find yourself in the metro area. The Atatürk airport is the last or first stop (depends on your point of view) of the Red Line and it brings you halfway to the central area.
You should take the metro to Zeyntinbunu station, around six stations away from Atatürk airport.
Arriving in Zeytinburnu you need to get out of the metro area and in the same station change it to the Tram T1and get out in the Sultanahmet station. The tram passes every 5 minutes, so don’t worry if you miss it.
As soon as you get out of the tram, you will find yourself between Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet mosque.
To come back to the airport you just need to do the same process the other way around. Take the tram T1 to Zeytinburnu then change to the Red Line of the metro to Ataturk Airport, this is the last stop of the metro and is also called Havalimani.
Istanbul is a big yet very organized city, the public transport works so well and the most important tourist points are located super close to each other, there is no reason to miss the opportunity to visit this amazing city if you are having a long layover in Istanbul.