Unless your hotel has arranged for a free airport pick-up, you will need to find transportation from the airport to your hotel. From the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, you have several options regardless the location of your hotel: Sultanahmet or Beyoğlu (Taksim/Cihangir/Galata). The following overview helps you make the correct choice based on the amount of people, pieces of luggage, your needs, and preferences. You can find Sabiha Gökçen Airport transportation options here.
- Get Turkish Liras – If you don’t have Turkish liras on you, use one of the many ATMs in the airport to withdraw some cash money. None of the transportation options mentioned below will accept credit cards, foreign currencies or big Turkish lira notes. Make sure you have some 5, 10, 20 or maximum 50 notes handy. Also, check out my Istanbul money strategy.
- Hotel Address – Make sure that you write down or print out the exact address of your hotel, together with its telephone number. Istanbul is a huge city with an uncountable amount of (small) hotels. Even locals don’t know them all by heart. So, if you need help, just hand over the piece of paper. It’s not unusual for a taxi driver to ask for directions at traffic lights or call the hotel. Don’t worry, he’ll get you there.
Taking a taxi to your hotel is the most commonly used and often the most convenient option. If you’re travelling with a party of four, it’s even as cheap or expensive as the Havbus airport shuttle service (see below). Just walk out of the airport – disregard the hustlers inside the airport trying to give you a ride – and you’ll see the official taxis nicely lined up. In about half an hour (without traffic jams) he’ll take you to Sultanahmet for about 54 TL, a ride to Taksim, Cihangir or Galata will take a few minutes more and will set you back for 67 TL. Always check this page for the latest cab fees.
Havabus Airport Shuttle Service in Istanbul
Havabus is a municipality owned reliable airport shuttle service. You can find them outside the airport terminal, in the second lane. Every half hour, between 04:00 and 01:00, one of their buses heads for Taksim. The current pick-up and drop-off point is Gezi Park metro exit/entrance, just past Taksim Square. The ride costs 15 TL per person (luggage included) and takes approximately 40 minutes depending on traffic.
The only downside is that they don’t go to Sultanahmet, so you’ll need to take a taxi or use public transportation if your hotel is located in that area. From the drop-off point you can walk through Taksim Gezi Park to Taksim Square, where you can take the F1 Taksim-Kabataş funicular, followed by the T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tramway and get off at the Sultanahmet stop. Alternatively, you can use the airport shuttle service and get off at the Aksaray stop, and take a taxi from there.
A private shuttle is a great alternative for both the taxi and the standard airport shuttle. They are much more comfortable than taxis, have a fixed rate, hence offer a much more relaxed (and safe) drive to your hotel. Unlike the Havabus Airport shuttle, private shuttles bring you to the hotel’s doorstep. They are also the best option when your party is three or more people (with a lot of luggage) or when you travel with very young children. In case of the latter, ask for a child seat.
I recently booked a shuttle with KiwiTaxi to take me and two friends from the airport to their hotel. The driver was waiting for us in the arrival hall (1 hour waiting is included), holding a plate with my name on it. He was very kind and helped us with our luggage. The car was clean and comfortable, meeting basic expectations. We had quite a bit of traffic, but that didn’t bother us since we were paying a fixed price anyway. He dropped us off nicely in front of the hotel lobby, and again was very helpful with our luggage. No need to say I gave him a nice tip.
I can really recommend KiwiTaxi. They have no less than 12 car classes, ranging from Micro for 3 passengers to Minibuses for 19 passengers. Just pick the most comfortable car for your needs. If you are traveling with children, don’t forget to order a child seat.
You can also use public transportation to reach your hotel. There is of course a reason I put this almost last in the list. Although a bit cheaper, it is rather adventurous. You’ll have to change vehicles/lines a few times, you may find yourself struggling with your luggage in crowded vehicles during rush hour, and take some stairs in case elevators or escalators are out of order. Moreover, the operating hours are only between 6 am and midnight. So only read on if you are travelling light.
Still with me? Ok, here we go. Keep in mind that every transfer I mention requires you to buy a new token or use your Istanbul Kart, on average 2,5 TL per person and per line.
First hop on the underground metro M1a in the airport in the direction of Yenikapı. If your hotel is located in Fatih, Sultanahmet, Sirkeci, Eminönü, Galata, Karaköy or Tophane, get off in Zeytinburnu and hop onto the T1 tram in the direction of Kabataş. Get off at the respective stop for your location.
If your hotel is located in Taksim, Cihangir, Nişantaşı, Şişli or Mecediyeköy, get off in Yenikapı, the very last stop. There transfer to the M2 metro line in the direction of Hacıosman. Get off in Şişhane to reach Galata, Taksim for Taksim and Cihangir, and Osmanbey for Nişantaşı.
Hotel Airport Pick-Up
Most hotels will offer (upon request) an airport pick-up. These pick-ups are rarely free of charge, and often much more expensive than the options mentioned above. Having said that, a bit of luxury and special treatment always has its price. If you want to arrive at your hotel in style, go for it.