With over 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul is the biggest city in Turkey and one of the most popular Turkish cities for foreign travelers. Previously, visitors to the city were able to arrive at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which was formerly known as one of the busiest airports in the world with over 70 million annual passengers.
Atatürk airport officially closed its doors for good in April 2019, but this doesn’t mean that Istanbul has been left without an airport. In October 2019, the first flight took off from the mega-Istanbul airport, a new facility commissioned by the Turkish government, that has cost an estimated 12 million US Dollars to construct.
The new airport in Istanbul (IST) has been implemented in part as a response to the massive growth of Turkish Airlines and will include a wealth of luxury services for travelers to enjoy upon arrival in Turkey or when transiting through the country.
In order to travel to Turkey and arrive at Istanbul airport, the majority of foreign citizens are first required to obtain a Turkey e Visa before departure from their home country. Eligible citizens are able to complete the simple Turkey visa application online in order to receive an approved visa valid for a total stay of 90 days, for purposes of tourism, business, or transit.
Is Istanbul the Biggest Airport in the World?
Istanbul is the new main airport in Turkey, and covers approximately 76 million square meters, making it one of the biggest airports in the world. It currently has the capacity to admit 90 million yearly passengers. Although parts of the complex are still under construction, the airport is expected to be able to handle around 200 million passengers a year when the project is completely finished. This capacity will make it the world’s biggest airport for passenger traffic, second only to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, USA, which sees 107 million passengers a year go through it.
At the moment, three of the runways are operational, but 2 more runways are expected to be completed by the projected end of the construction project in 2028. Once fully operational, Istanbul airport will become a global travel hub catering to over 100 airlines and 300 destinations around the world.
If you look at a current map of Istanbul airport, you will see that the first phase of construction, which includes around 15 million square feet of terminal space, is already completed. This includes a huge area of Duty-Free shops (around 180,000 square meters) whose design is inspired by the Bosphorus, a famous waterway in Turkey. The massive Duty-Free area comprises 7 themed sections selling related brands, such as a ‘Family Place’ and ‘Fashion Garden’.
Other completed features include huge arrivals and departure lounges, a 451-room boutique hotel with both landside and airside access, and an elegant air traffic control tower shaped like a tulip, a popular symbolic flower in Turkey. Istanbul airport is also considered a very safe airport to travel to, as strict security checks have been implemented at both the main entrance to the airport and behind the arrival/departure gates, and an extensive system of security cameras has been installed.
Can I Leave Istanbul Airport During Transit?
Those who transit through Istanbul airport on the way to an onward destination will be able to enjoy all of the luxury facilities on offer, including the vast Duty-Free Mall, which is located within the transit area. However, travelers who wish to leave the airport and explore Istanbul during a transit stay will be required to apply for a Turkey transit visa before departure from their home country in order to do so.
Those eligible to apply for an eVisa for Turkey are able to obtain a visa for transit through the online application form. As it can take up to 24 hours to receive approval for a Turkish online visa, applicants are advised to submit a form at least 48 hours before departure to allow sufficient time for the transit visa to be issued.
Once approved, the online visa will be electronically linked to the traveler’s passport, although applicants should also print a paper copy of the eVisa to present at border control in Istanbul airport to guarantee entry to Turkey and allow the traveler to visit the country’s biggest city during their stay.
Getting to Istanbul from the Airport
Those who choose to travel to Istanbul from the airport will have a number of transport options available:
- By Bus: There are a number of public ‘H’ class bus services operating from the airport to different districts in Istanbul, which run daily between 6 am and 1 am. It is incredibly cheap to take the bus (between 1-4 USD) and there will usually be plenty of space to store your luggage.
- By Rental Car: The arrivals hall in Istanbul airport has a wealth of both major and minor Car Rental companies to choose from.
- By Taxi: There is a large number of taxis available outside Istanbul airport at all times.
- By Metro: Although currently under construction, a new metro line will eventually directly connect Istanbul airport to the city.