Please note: Ataturk airport is now closed. Transfers from the New Istanbul Airport can be found here.
Istanbul is the top visited destination in Turkey. So imagine the millions of foreign tourists that it receives every year! There are two airports in Istanbul but Ataturk airport is the busiest and most tourists will arrive via that route. Transport from the airport to hotels or the city centre is easy, because there are five options.
Ataturk Airport Transport Services
Outside the arrivals hall, are queues of yellow taxis that all run on meters. When coming out of the airport, use the bank machines to get Turkish lira so you are sure of exactly how much you are paying. Unfortunately, the Internet is rife with traveller’s tales of how they were ripped off by Istanbul taxis.
It seems the most common stories are unnecessary detours and lack of change. It is easily done with tourists who are not familiar with Istanbul and also the currency. Know beforehand that estimate charges from Istanbul Ataturk airport to the Sultan Ahmet and Taksim districts are roughly 45 to 55 lira.
This is a private company operating bus services to and from the airport but they do not go to the Sultan Ahmet district, only Taksim square. It used to be Havas but their service has been discontinued. The route takes approximately 40 minutes and costs 11 Turkish lira. If there are four people traveling, that is nearly the same cost as a taxi. See here for the pick-up times.
Follow the signs from the arrivals hall to walk approximately 10 minutes to the Metro. To use it, purchase a jeton which costs 4 Turkish liras. The Metro has numerous stops, including the Otogar (bus station).
If you are traveling to the main touristic areas of Taksim or Sultan Ahmet (old city), swap to the tram or funicular line at Zeytinburnu or Aksaray. See here for the transport network map for the metro.
Personally, I don’t like this option. Struggling with luggage on the Metro is not fun, especially at rush hour and the journey can take an hour or more depending on the time of day.
Rent a Car
I would never drive a car in Istanbul. Ataturk airport is the busiest in Turkey and traffic congestion on the roads leading in and out, can be heavy, slow moving and manic!
If you decide to go against my advice, look in the arrival hall for the offices of all major car hire companies including Hertz. Before signing for the car, check it for signs of damage and ensure these are listed on the contract.
Private Airport Transfer
After messing around on planes and in airports, this is a good option to choose. Efendi Travel who has offices in Istanbul sells reasonable priced airport transfers with complimentary water drinks and you don’t have to send payment in advance. Just pay when you arrive.
They also have a 24 hour call centre in case your flight is delayed, your luggage goes missing or you need help as a newly arrived tourist in Istanbul. The fixed price for 1 to 4 people from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to either Sultan Ahmet or Taksim district is just 20 Euros. From Sabiha Gokcen Airport to the city centre it is 45 Euros.
There are no hidden costs that taxi journeys can often occur such as the meter ticking over in traffic jams. Compare their rates and read about their airport transfers at www.ataturkairporttransfer.net