Last updated on January 26th, 2024
Istanbul is one of those cities in Turkey that has a few airports on different banks and a bit complex subway system. When traveling here for the first time, it may seem that Istanbul airport transfer to the city center is difficult and takes too much time. But in reality, it is pretty easy. Depending on the mode of transportation (and time of the day) it can also be very quick.
I remember how confused we were on our first visit when trying to understand all the details about the ways to get from the airport to the city and back.
But then after living in Istanbul for a while and making many trips to and from its airports while testing out every single way of transfer (on a recent short 4 day trip to Istanbul I even used a direct airport shuttle to the hotel), I figured out the most efficient routes, the best modes of transportation, and even some insider tips to navigate the bustling transportation network with ease.
And then I decided to make this mini guide with all the details on how to get from two airports in Istanbul to different parts of the city. It helps you decide what is the best airport transfer for you personally based on your itinerary, travel style, and budget.
If this is going to be your first trip to Istanbul, you also should take advantage of my Istanbul trip cost guide, tips for buying the museum card, and tips on what and where to eat in Istanbul. They will help you plan a perfect Istanbul itinerary no matter if that’s a one-day visit or much longer!
Travel Around Istanbul & Beyond With Ease
Planning to visit Istanbul soon? Check these essential resources to make travel easy:
- Check if you need a visa – quick and easy e-visa application
- Best Travel Insurance for Turkey – protection for any case
- Taxi/private transfer for Istanbul – save money on private airport transfer
- Best Istanbul Car Hire – rent a car on a budget for road tripping from Istanbul
- Istanbul Tourist Pass – free access to 100+ attractions and tours
- Leading VPN for Turkey – a reliable VPN you’ll need in Istanbul
- E-Sim for the Phone – stay connected with prepaid data on your trip
- Free Tours in Istanbul – go on free tours
Istanbul Airport Transfer If You Arrive at IST Airport
Let’s start with tips on IST airport transfer since this is the largest airport that receives the majority of international flights. Most likely you will fly here.
As with any large airport hub, Istanbul International Airport (IST) has various modes of transportation available for traveling between the airport and city center (as well as different neighborhoods) that are convenient options for the journey to and from the airport.
- metro line
- pre-arranged shuttles
- rental cars
Which one to choose in the end depends on your budget and timing but below, I am going to talk about each mode of transportation and highlight the optimal choice for the best Istanbul airport transfer to a hotel or any other accommodation in different neighborhoods of the city.
So let’s take a look…
1.) How to Get From (IST) Istanbul Airport to the City Center & Different Neighborhoods
Istanbul Airport Transfer By Bus – Easy & Cheap City Transfer
If you are wondering how to get from the main Istanbul airport to the city center or one of its neighborhoods on a budget and without waiting for too long, consider a bus.
Buses in Istanbul are modern and very clean, making you travel comfortably. The only disadvantage of using a bus is traffic since you never know how busy roads are going to be. So even though this is one of the cheapest airport transfers in Istanbul, it is not always fast.
But a good thing about the bus is that it is the only public transport available at night between midnight and 6 am.
Two bus carriers provide Istanbul airport transfer services. However, only one of them, called HAVAIST, provides bus services from the IST airport to Fatih, Taksim, Besiktas Kadikoy, and a few other parts of the city. The second carrier is IETT public buses but they don’t provide direct connections to the central parts of the city and follow more local routes.
So Havaist would be your best choice.
When you arrive, after going through customs and picking up your luggage from the belt, you’ll enter the outside hall for arrivals. From there, start following the blue signs to the bus terminal. You will have to go down the escalator to reach the lower floor where the bus terminal is.
The terminal has designated areas for buses. Each of those areas has big large signs with the name of the final destination. So you can easily find a platform, without asking anyone, from where a needed bus will depart.
Each Havaist bus has a number, depending on the route and final destination. If you look at the picture below, you’ll notice that bus HViST-14 goes to Kadikoy, HViST-15 to Besiktas, and HViST-16 to Taksim. More routes are available on the company’s website. Or once you reach the platform, you can find the needed bus based on the number or destination name.
Buses to some destinations run every 30 minutes while others every 60-70 minutes. You need to check the exact schedule on the Havaist website to see how often a bus you need leaves. But overall the wait time is very short.
It takes between 1 and 1.5 hours to get from IST to Taksim, depending on traffic. And between 1.5 and 2 hours to get to Kadikoy.
If you have been to Istanbul before and have a transport card, you can use it to pay for the ride. There are automatic refill machines near the bus stop, so topping up your card will not be a problem. Those who don’t have a card can easily pay with cash (only Turkish lira) or a credit card. Another option is to pay through the Havaist App and present a QR code.
Children under 6 years old can travel for free given the fact that they do not occupy a seat.
The ticket cost depends on the route. Tickets from IST airport to Taksim, for example, go for ₺136 (~$4.70/€4.30) per person and a trip to Kadikoy costs ₺149 (~$5.15/€4.70). This is the pricing set for the year 2024.
But Turkish Lira often depreciates and prices change, so the amount may be slightly different at the moment you read this post. This is why I recommend you double-check on the Havaist website if you need to know the exact number.
NOTE: If you are staying on the European side not far from Taksim and taking the Havaist bus to the Taksim area, from there you can take the green line of the subway (M2) to go to your final destination.
How to Get From Istanbul Airport to City Center By Metro M11 Line – Cheap & Fast Way
Metro is usually a more convenient way to travel from the airport, as it runs on a clear schedule without traffic risk. However, you will need to make one transfer at Gayrettepe station if you want to reach Taksim Square.
For Sultanahmet, you need to change again at Yenıkapı. From there you can also travel to Kadikoy by the same metro line but you will need to change again, depending on where you are going. So the bus is probably a much better option to get to Kadikoy.
The new metro M11 line runs from 6:00 until midnight and will cost you ₺20 ($0.70/€0.65). Then you need to pay for each transfer separately.
You cannot, however, pay by cash or a credit card. You have to go buy the Istanbulkart from the automatic machine at the airport metro station. It costs ₺60 ($2.07/€1.92), then you need to add money on the card sufficient for your travel. You can use one card for multiple passengers, as they are not personalized.
Istanbul Airport to Hotel By Private Shuttle Transfer – Feel Like VIP
A shuttle transfer from Istanbul’s New Airport is undoubtedly the fastest and most convenient way to get anywhere in Istanbul. It is an ideal option if you have heavy luggage and want to get to the hotel as quickly as possible.
With a shuttle, you can be sure that:
- the transfer price is fixed and, unlike a regular taxi, cannot increase during the trip
- you’ll go straight to your final destination without extra transfers, buying transport cards, and finding your way out of the terminal
- the driver meets you at the exit of the arrivals area with a sign, which saves a lot of time
- you can pay for your transfer online or on the spot with a CC which eliminates the need to change money at the airport
- if needed, child seats are available too
Private transfer is much better than taking a taxi since you pay almost the same amount of money without standing in lines waiting for a cab at the airport. You do everything in advance and have a driver pick you up at the exit.
There are two types of IST airport private transfers by shuttle: individual and group transfers.
Individual shared transfer service (like this one) works great for those who travel by themselves (or in a small group) and want to get directly to the door of their chosen accommodation without overspending on taxis or private transfers. Since the fare for it is cheaper than taking a cab.
With this shuttle service, you get to share the vehicle with other people but all passengers travel to the same neighborhood and drop-offs are done in turn.
There are also completely private transfers that cost more per ride but where you get to be in a vehicle alone, like this air-conditioned airport transfer with meet & greet service.
NOTE (!): Refunds for the prepaid transfer are available only if cancelations are made no less than 24 hours before a trip. It’s also best to inform the driver (whose details you’ll get after the booking) in case the flight is delayed.
IST Airport to City Center By Taxi – Why Better to Avoid It
If you don’t want to pre-book a transfer, you can catch one of the yellow or blue taxis in Istanbul airport upon arrival. The price for the taxi is only slightly lower than what you pay for a private transfer but you need to deal with walking to the taxi area and waiting in line with other people before getting your cab.
Also in the end, there is a high chance of paying much more for the ride since taxi drivers tend to take advantage of tourists by applying extra charges on top of the main fee.
The payment also should be made in local lira, so you need to exchange money before jumping in a car. It’s possible to pay by card, but there will be an additional charge of 5-6%.
Things to remember when considering a taxi in Istanbul (IST) airport:
- payment is only in cash and in Turkish lira
- black taxi cars mean a premium class which means you will end up paying much more (!)
- yellow/blue cabs are economy-class
- the fare for a ride from IST airport to the center of Istanbul ranges between ₺1050 – 1750 (~$35.50/€33 – $60/€56). But you need to be ready if the driver tells you a higher amount since there is an extra payment for waiting in a traffic jam
From Istanbul Airport to City Center By Car – Should You Do It?
Renting a car in Istanbul airport to go to your accommodation can actually be a great idea but only in three following cases:
- If you are staying outside the Istanbul center (not just Istanbul Old Town but many other central neighborhoods), especially in the distant areas with the goal of medical tourism, visiting family/friends who live away from touristy routes.
- If you are planning day trips or weekend trips from the city. After all, there are a lot of interesting highlights near Istanbul just a short drive away.
- If you plan to drive outside Istanbul to check out other cities or possibly go on a weekend trip and only after that return to Istanbul. If you want to drive from Istanbul to Izmir, Bodrum, or Marmaris (or anywhere else), getting a car right after the flight will be a better idea than returning to pick it up later.
If you need to hire a car directly at the airport, do it through DiscoverCars, so you can pick up a vehicle directly at the terminal:
2.) How to Get From IST Airport to Sabiha Gökçen Airport
If you have a layover in Istanbul and need to reach Sabiha Gokcen Airport from IST airport within a short period of time, it is easy to travel between these two airports. And here is how.
You need to take a direct bus HViST-13 (Havaist) where the ride lasts approximately 110 minutes if there is none or light traffic. For the cost, expect to pay ₺172 (~$5.85/€5.30).
Another way, more convenient, but also more expensive is a taxi or private transfer. The transfer like this one price starts from €85 but includes a large group of people. A taxi can be both cheaper and more expensive, depending on the traffic situation and the honesty of the taxi driver.
Istanbul Airport Transfer If You Arrive at Sabiha Gokcen (SAW) Airport
How to Get From Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport to City Center
In the same way as IST airport, Sabiha is also well connected with Istanbul’s central neighborhoods and there are five ways of transportation to use. I am talking about them all below in detail but before I get there, you need to remember one thing.
In order to reach Karakoy, Galata Tower area, or Cihangir for example on the European side (all touristy areas), you’ll need to transfer by ferry from Kadikoy because there is no direct type of transportation unless you book a private transfer. The same comes for Arnavutkoy, Nisantasi, Balat, and anywhere in the Fatih district.
Taksim and Yeenikapi areas are the only neighborhoods on the European side that are well connected with Sabiha by direct bus from the airport.
But below are more details:
Airport Transfers From Sabiha Gokcen By Bus
The easiest way to go from Sabiha airport to Taksim has always been by bus. Havabus is the only carrier that provides bus services to Kadikoy, Taksim Square, and Yenikapi. Buses depart from the international terminal and it’s very easy to find them. To reach any other place, you need to hire a private transfer or be ready to do bus or ferry hopping.
Once you exit the terminal and cross the road, you’ll see a few different lines where people wait for their bus. Just ask someone in line which bus they are waiting for. Unfortunately, Sabiha Airport is not as modern as the new IST airport, so there is no separate area for buses and no clear signs. Yet, it is still very easy to find your bus since the airport is small and everything is close.
Havabus buses depart every half an hour from 6:30 am to midnight. But here is the official schedule (in Turkish only). Travel time from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Taksim Square on a good day with moderate traffic takes about 1.5 hours. The ticket price is ₺102.50 (~$3.50/€3.25) per person and you pay inside the bus.
Istanbul Airport Transfer From Sabiha By Train
The train is also a great and cheap option to travel from the airport as there is a straight M4 line going from the airport terminal to Kadikoy station, which is very close to the Moda neighborhood and Kadikoy Ferry Terminals.
The journey only takes about an hour, which is faster than a bus and the train also avoids traffic making this transport more reliable. The cost for the ride is only ₺15 (~$0.50/€0.45).
The downside of the metro, however, is that the train can get full of people, and traveling with large suitcases might become very inconvenient. Just for luggage handling, buses or transfers are handled more easily.
If your journey continues to Sultanahmet, you have to make another transfer to Marmaray train at Ayrılık Çeşmesi (or Marmaray Tüneli). This is one stop before Kakidoy and again, this is not the most convenient transfer for traveling with luggage as you have to walk between stations. From there it is a quick ride under the Bosphorus to Sırkecı or Yenıkapı stations, depending on where you are going.
If you need to go to Karakoy or Taksim, you could technically make another transfer to T1 or M2 lines, but at this point, it is much easier to take a direct bus there.
Another option to cross the Bosphorus is by taking a ferry to Eminönü or Yenikapı but you might be further away from your accommodation from a ferry terminal than a train station.
From Sabiha Airport to Istanbul City By Taxi
Istanbul Sabiha Airport (as well as IST airport) has a fairly large number of taxi drivers who do not work officially and try to cash in on tourists. Always be careful if taking a taxi on the spot. The cost from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Taksim Square should be around 50 euros.
Sabiha Gokcen to the City by a Shuttle Service
Another option of how to get from Sabiha to Taksim, Sultanahmet, or just your hotel in general is to arrange a private shuttle service. This luxurious one-way transfer option is now on sale and costs less than 30 euros per person.
It depends on where you are going, but most likely this will be cheaper than getting a taxi, and if you are traveling as a couple or in a small group, this is really the best price for the value of convenience and comfort.
No matter which option you choose, make sure to allocate extra time. Due to heavy traffic delays happen often. On our first visit to Istanbul, we met a few random people at the terminal and later in the airport shuttle who missed their flights because they were stuck in a traffic jam and got late.
As you can see, getting from Istanbul airport is not hard and you shouldn’t be thrown off by the city’s size. The transport is modern and well-marked. And if you ever get lost or in doubt, you shouldn’t have a problem asking somebody for help with directions.
More Travel Resources for Istanbul
Any visit to Istanbul requires thorough preparations and planning. I have a lot of posts about this city to help you make this visit special:
- Must-Visit Places in Istanbul – landmarks, mosques, beautiful streets, and more
- Unique Places to Stay in Istanbul – old homes, mansions, and Ottoman-style houses
- Romantic Places in Istanbul – how to spend quality time together
- Exploring Uskudar – most traditional district on Asian side
- Best Sunset Spots in Istanbul – great for any season
- Is Istanbul Expensive? – prices in Istanbul with tips on how to travel on a budget
- Beach Destinations to Visit From Istanbul – for a quick trip
- Burgaz Island – small but lovely Princess Island not to Miss
- Winter in Istanbul – what to know before you go
- Spring in Istanbul – one of the most beautiful seasons to go
- Antalya or Istanbul – which one is better?