Istanbul has two airports, Istanbul Airport and the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Only Istanbul Airport (IST) receives international passenger flights at present so that's where you'll have your Istanbul layover. It's an ultra-modern airport, parts of which are still under construction, but that won't affect your layover as all the necessary facilities are fully operational.
The main disadvantage of having a layover at Istanbul Airport is the fifty plus kilometers between it and Istanbul city or any other visit-worthy local attractions. That said though, if you're on a short layover in Istanbul Airport there are still a few things at the airport or nearby you can do to help pass the time. If you have a long layover then you'll be able to make the trip into Istanbul itself to explore the Turkish city that's spread over two separate continents.
6 hour layover in Istanbul
A six-hour layover at Istanbul Airport won't give you time to do much at all, so try to treat it as a chill-out moment between flights. At least three hours of your layover will be consumed by getting through passport control, checking in for your next flight and going through the whole rigmarole of passport control and security all over again so basically, you'll only have three hours to fill. Leave your suitcases in a luggage locker and stretch your legs by exploring the two terminals. You'll come across a couple of photographic exhibitions to browse which will help pass the time and some restaurants where you can enjoy a relaxed meal before are open twenty-four hours, seven days of the week.
- On a very short layover, it may be better to stay close to the airport.
- Istanbul Airport has plenty of places to eat and even some art exhibitions to keep you entertained.
8 hour layover in Istanbul
Eight hours is still a short layover where Istanbul Airport is concerned, but just enough to do a little exploring before heading to the check-in for your on-going flight. You can purchase a pass for the IGA Lounge at Istanbul Airport that's valid for four hours. During that time you can use all the facilities the lounge has to offer including showers and food. There are IGA Lounges located in both domestic and international departures. Alternatively, you may be able to stash your luggage at an Istanbul suitcase storage facility and grab a cab to Arnavutkoy fifteen kilometers away. Arnavutkoy is a rural town on the edge of the Bosphorus Strait with an overdose of character. Think beautiful architecture reminiscent of the Italian Riviera, a seafront full of colorful fishing boats and more fish restaurants than you could eat in in a month. Find this place and you'll be celebrating the fact you didn't have time to get to Istanbul.
- Don't miss trying kalamar tava which is battered squid rings served with a tangy mayonnaise-style sauce while sipping a beer or glass of wine on the seafront.
- Don't leave your phone or camera in your Istanbul luggage locker, you'll regret it if you do as you'll definitely want photos of Arnavutkoy to post on your social media.
10 to 12 hour layover in Istanbul
When you have a layover in Istanbul that's ten to twelve hours long, you're in luck because that's the ideal amount of time to allow you to visit Karaburun. Karaburun is around twenty kilometers from the airport so easily and economically reached by taxi or hire car.
Take your beach things with you as this town is a quiet seaside resort on the Black Sea coast of the country with three super beaches. Don't miss visiting the local museum where there are exhibitions of traditional household objects, clothes and handcrafted articles. There are some great hiking trails in the surrounding hills too, only don't go too far or get lost or you'll not get back to the airport in time for your Istanbul connection.
- There are around twenty different car rental companies based at Istanbul Airport. You'll spot the offices when you exit arrivals. It pays to shop around or look for offers online before you land.
- It's market day on Wednesdays in Karaburun so if your Istanbul layover is in mid-week you'll be able to browse the stalls for handmade souvenirs.
- While you may not be able to go scuba diving because of your imminent flight, you can still go snorkeling in the clear waters of the Black Sea.
- If your long layover is in May it may coincide with the local food festival or in August the town's grape festival. Dates vary from year to year so check them out before you go.
It’s not a good idea to leave your bags or any valuables in a parked car so deposit them in a luggage locker before setting off for the day.
24 hour layover in Istanbul
When you're on a twenty-four hour overnight layover in Istanbul, you'll want to spend it in the city that gives the airport its name. Keep in mind the trip back to catch your connecting flight will take at least an hour and a half and you'll need to be at the check-in desk at least two hours before take-off.
There's so many impressive sights in Istanbul that you won't want to miss, so consider taking either a small group tour or a private tour that will show you the highlights in the shortest possible time. Topping your to-see list should be the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. Do those before immersing yourself in the atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar where they sell everything from cinnamon to silk to sapphires.
If you want to include a day cruise in your Istanbul layover, you can take a half-day one which will sail you down the Bosphorus Strait or wait until the late afternoon and take a luxury yacht cruise with drinks included to see the sunset. That's an evening outing that's almost incomparable.
- If you don't want to cart all your luggage with you to your accommodation in the city, just pack an overnight bag and leave the rest of your stuff in a luggage locker.
- Most daytime and private tours include collection from your hotel and return as well.
- Discover more about Istanbul's mixed European – Asian cuisine by taking a food tour or go on a nighttime walking tour with ten street food tastings included. That's much more fun than dining in a restaurant and it’ll make your Istanbul layover more memorable than ever.