How to Get from Istanbul Airport to City Center in 2024

If you plan a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, you’ll most likely fly into the new Istanbul airport. Located around 45km from the city center and the recently opened metro line, it’s essential to know how to get to the center. Therefore, I created this detailed Istanbul Airport to city center transport guide to give you all the necessary information to smoothly get to your hotel and enjoy some fascinating Istanbul landmarks.

New Istanbul Airport (IST) is the main international airport in Istanbul after the government closed the famous Ataturk Airport for commercial flights in 2019. 

Located in the European side of Istanbul in the town and rural district of Arnavutkoy, the Airport IST is served by buses and metro line M11, which has recently opened.

If you have a layover in Istanbul and want to explore the city, I recommend reading my detailed Istanbul layover guide – it might not be worth it. On average, you need anywhere from 25 minutes to 1:30hr to get from Istanbul Airport to city center with public transportation. Depending on the traffic, it might take you longer. 

You can follow the same route when returning from the city center to Istanbul airport. However, do note to plan your departure so that you arrive at least 1:30hr early at the airport for domestic flights and 2:30hr before international flights. This means you must leave the city 3:30hr to 4:30hr before your flight.

Flying at Sabiha Gokcen Airport instead? Read my detailed transport guide from that airport


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How to get from the new Istanbul Airport to the city center

Although the airport is quite far from the Istanbul city center, there are a few options to get from the airport to the city center and vice versa. Istanbul Airport is served by newly opened metro, municipal and shuttle bus services from various Istanbul neighborhoods, as well as taxis and private transfers. 

Istanbul Airport to city center metro

The metro linking Istanbul Airport to the city center finally opened in the second half of January 2023 after being postponed several times.

At the time of writing this post, one part of the M11 metro line is open to the public – from Kagithane to Istanbul Airport, taking around 24 minutes to reach the airport.

Currently, there are only seven stops between the Kagithane-IST Airport metro line. And once fully operational, the M11 purple line will connect Gayrettepe to Istanbul Airport and then to Halkalı – one of the city’s main train stations. With 16 stations, M11 will be one of the lengthiest continued metro underpasses in the world. The travel time between the end stations will only be one hour.

IETT Municipal Public Bus

Municipal buses run on fixed routes from Istanbul Airport to city center and other neighborhoods. Currently, six lines (H-1, H-2, H-3, H-6, H-8 & H-9) operate daily at fixed times starting from 6 am until 9 pm.

Remember that these buses mainly operate to non-touristy destinations, and no public bus goes directly to the central Istanbul neighborhoods such as Taksim or Sultanahmet (home to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque).

istanbul airport to city center

To get from the new Istanbul Airport to city center using municipal buses, you’ll need to get to the nearest metro, Metrobus, or Marmaray station and then change it to the transportation that goes to your destination. The ticket costs 19.79 TL one-way. 

Here are the routes of these buses:

  • H-1 to Mahmutbey Metro
  • H-2 to Mecidiyeköy Metrobüs
  • H-3 to Halkali Train Station (Marmaray)
  • H-6 to Yunus Emre Mahallesi  
  • H-8 to Haciosman Metro
  • H-9 to Cevizlibağ 

Check the schedule and timetables here, but the English version of the website is not working properly.

IETT bus to Sultanahmet: if you need to go from Istanbul Airport to Sultanahmet, you need to get the H-9 bus number and get off at the final stop of Cevizlibag. Then you’ll need to change to the T1 tram to Eminonu or Kabatas. There are 11 stops to get to Sultanahmet.  

The bus runs daily from 6 am to 7:30 pm every 2-2:30 hrs, and the journey from the airport to the final bus stop takes around 2:30 hrs if the traffic is regular. Because it’s so infrequent, you might want a backup plan. 

The H-2 bus to Mecidiyeköy could be the best bus to Sultanahmet as it runs every 15 to 30 minutes but requires a few transfers. Reading the following paragraph might sound overwhelming, but it’s not; the public transport in Istanbul is one of the perfect systems I encountered during my travels. 

Ride the bust until the last stop and walk to Sisli station to get to the M2 metro line towards Yenikapi. Then get off at Vezneciler to walk for about five minutes to the Laleli-Universite tram stop to catch the T1 tram to Eminonu or Kabatash. From here, Sultanahmet is only three stops away. 

Even though the H-2 bus line runs 24/7, the metro and trams close at midnight, so if you arrive in the middle of the night, you might need to find another option for getting to the city center.  

IETT bus to Taksim: it’s much easier to get to Taksim from Istanbul Airport. You’ll need to get the H-2 bus number till its final stop in Mecidiyeköy, then take the M2 metro towards Yenikapi and get off at Taksim after two stops.

HAVAIST Airport Buses

HAVAIST shuttle buses are one of the best options to quickly get from the New Istanbul Airport to the city center. Similar to municipal buses, HAVAIST runs on a fixed route and at regular times to and from various parts of the city. 

These buses are expensive compared to municipal ones. However, they make fewer stops and take you closer to tourist destinations. Several lines run from the airport to different areas. 

For example, HVIST-16 goes to Taksim Square, HVIST-14 takes you all the way to Kadikoy – the Asian side of Istanbul, and HVIST-12 stops at the Aksaray Metro M1 red line. Click here to check the schedule, stops, and prices.  

Depending on your last stop, the journey from Istanbul Airport to the center might take from 1:15 hrs to 2 hrs. The price is also determined by your destination and can start from 100 TL. 

Since the city is rapidly developing with construction works to better the infrastructure, always check the official HAVAIST website to ensure that your destination bus stop has stayed the same. This is especially vital if you take HAVAIST bus from the city center to the airport

Istanbul Airport Taxi

Taxis make another excellent option to quickly get to the city center from the new Istanbul Airport. There are two types of taxis in Istanbul Blue and Yellow/Orange. 

Every taxi in Istanbul has a meter. The yellow taxi meter starts at 24.55 TL and 28.24 TL for the blue one. Then it costs 17.62 TL per kilometer for yellow/orange ones and 20.25 TL for the rest. 

Taxis are parked right at the arrivals hall, and it’s easy to grab one. Alternatively, you can order a cab from the BiTaxi app if you have internet. However, note that even though it shows the price for the journey, that’s an average price and might end up a bit more.

Private airport transfer

If you want to avoid all the hustle of figuring out bus routes, numbers, timetables, and whatnot, ordering a private shuttle might be the best option for you. 

They usually offer a fixed rate for a nice, clean, comfortable, and safe car. The driver will also greet you at the departure gate with your name on a piece of paper. 

Before you leave IST Airport to city center

The new airport is massive, serving around 64 million passengers in 2022, making it one of the busiest airports in Europe. The airport is so big that you need around 30-40 minutes to walk to the passport control and another 30-40 minutes to walk out of the airport. 

I can understand how overwhelming it can be to fly into IST airport, not knowing what to expect and how to navigate yourself. So this section gives all the necessary information on what to expect when landing at New Istanbul Airport.

Get a Visa for Turkey

If you are arriving in Istanbul on an international flight, you’ll need to pass through immigration and show your documents.

Turkey does require visas from certain countries to obtain from Turkish embassies or consular offices. Some nationalities are exempt, some can even travel with their national ID, and some can apply for an e-visa. There are a few nationalities who can get a visa on arrival.

The most up-to-date and reliable information is on Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Check iVisa to see what visa type you need to enter Turkey and how to apply.

Withdraw local currency (Turkish Lira) at IST Airport

After passing immigration and collecting your bags, you might want to get cash in local currency – Turkish Lira or TL at the airport. 

All ATMs in Turkey accept foreign cards; the difference is the withdrawal fees that Turkish banks charge on top of your bank’s fee and their exchange rates. Be aware that some banks don’t display withdrawal charges; I have only noticed them after looking at my transactions.

Withdrawal fee differs from bank to bank, but the most common percentage I have seen is 6-7%. Ziraat Bankasi and HSBC might not charge you a fee, but pay attention before hitting that accept button. 

Even if you are not a frequent traveler, these fees add up. Therefore, get a Wise account and their card (if you qualify) to minimize exchange rates and withdrawal charges when taking local currency from ATMs. I found that HalkBank and Turkish Bank have the lowest withdrawal charge on the Wise card

Several leading Turkish banks’ ATMs are scattered across the airport, including international and domestic arrivals and departure halls.  

Exchange money at the Istanbul Airport

If you arrive with cash and need to exchange them for Turkish Lira, there are several money exchange offices on the various floors of the airport. These exchange booths are both before and after security control. 

As in most airports, the exchange rates are not ideal compared to the city. Therefore, you should exchange it only if you have to and exchange a small bill that would be enough for transfer to your accommodation. 

Tip: I use the Airalo app, which provides local eSIMs for a more affordable internet connection when traveling. Get 3 USD with code: BAIA2592.

Get Istanbul Card at the airport

Remember to purchase Istanbul Card, the city’s public transport card, before leaving the airport if you plan on using public transport to get to your hotel or while exploring the city. No cash payments are available at Istanbul public transportation, so having an Istanbul Card is a must. 

The Istanbul Card is a reusable contactless card that you can top up with Turkish Lira and use to pay for your tickets on public transportation, including ferries and public restrooms. Unlike Tbilisi public transportation, you can’t use your foreign credit/debit cards to pay for the fare in Istanbul. 

To purchase the Istanbul Card at the airport, go to the -2 level of the arrivals hall. There you should find Istanbulkart vending machines. They are black and yellow, so it’s easier to spot. The purchase process is very straightforward, and it also has English and several other languages to guide you through it. The only downside is that you need Turkish Lira cash; you can’t buy it with your credit/debit cards

The card costs 70 TL; you must top it up using the same vending machine to pay for bus tickets. 

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