The main international airport that serves Istanbul, Turkey is the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. It is the biggest airport in Turkey in terms of total number of passengers handled. Located in Yeşilköy, on the European side of the city, the airport is 24km west of Istanbul city centre. In 2013, Istanbul Ataturk Airport served more than 51 million passengers, making it the 17th busiest airport in the world by total passenger traffic, as well as the 10th busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic. It was also Europe’s fifth busiest airport in 2013.
Instanbul Ataturk Airport has four terminals: Terminal 1 for domestic flights, Terminal 2 for international flights, Terminal 3 for cargo flights, and a General Aviation Terminal. The airport has three runways; two made of concrete (17L/35R and 17R/35L) and one of grooved asphalt (05/23).
What to see & do
The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is the country’s economic, cultural, and historical centre. Istanbul is also the largest urban agglomeration in Europe and in the Middle East, with a population of approximately 14.1 million. A transcontinental city, Istanbul covers an area of 5,343km2, straddling the Bosphorus strait in north-western Turkey between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. The city was named a European Capital of Culture in 2010, and has garnered approximately 11.6 million foreign visitors in 2012, making it the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world, and a global city.
One of the most highlighted tourist destinations in Istanbul is its historic centre and partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Golden Horn in the Beyoglu district. The Golden Horn is a major urban waterway and the main inlet of the Bosphorus strait. It separates the historic centre from the rest of the city and forms a natural sheltered harbour. Across the Golden Horn is Istanbul’s cultural and entertainment hub.
Byzantine and Ottoman architecture is prevalent in Istanbul. Tourists should not miss taking a snapshot of these unique buildings reflecting the various peoples and empires that ruled the city in the past. View the Anadoluhisarı and Rumelihisarı fortresses, the obelisk built by Theodesius in the Hippodrome of Constantinople in Sultanahmet Square, the Valens Aqueduct at the western edge of the Fatih district, the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, the church-turned-mosque-turned museum Hagia Sophia, and the oldest surviving Byzantine church in Istanbul – the Monastery of Stoudios, later converted into the Imrahor Mosque.
From historic to modern, Istanbul has a vast option of shopping centres where shoppers can buy different kinds of items for souvenirs and gifts. One of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets is the Grand Bazaar, which has been operating since 1461. There are also open-air markets such as the Mahmutpasha Bazaar. Spices can be bought from the city’s major spice market, the Egyptian Bazaar, which is also one of the largest bazaars in Istanbul. Akmerkez was awarded as Europe’s best and the world’s best shopping mall by the International Council of Shopping Centers in 1995 and 1996; and one of the Europe’s largest shopping mall is Istanbul Cevahir.
Kebab is a staple Turkish cuisine, but Istanbul also boasts of its historic seafood restaurants, mainly concentrated along the shores of Bosphorus strait and the Kumkapı neighbourhood along the Sea of Marmara.
How to get around within Istanbul
Istanbul’s public transportation system comprises a network of trams, funiculars, metro lines, buses, a bus rapid transit, and ferries. The bus system includes city-run and private buses, as well as the high-speed Metrobus line. The extensive light rail system includes four underground and four aboveground lines, two funiculars (ascending/descending), two mini-lines, and the Marmaray underwater lines. The ferries traverse the Bosphorus strait.
Transportation in the city also comes in the form of yellow private dolmus minivans that follow prescribed routes. These minivans wait until the vehicle is full before leaving. This option is recommended when travelling late at night, when most public transport lines are already closed. Taxis are also a cheap and easy way to get around the city. Look only for the yellow-coloured ones and insist to use the meter. Other coloured taxis are registered under different cities and may have a different rating system.
How to get there
Istanbul Ataturk Airport serves as a hub for Atlasjet, Onus Air, and Turkish Airlines. Other airlines operating at the airport include Adria Airways, Aeroflot, Belavia, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, China Southern Airlines, EgyptAir, Emirates, Iberia, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Tunisair, and Zagros Airlines, that fly to and from key destinations around the world. Among the busiest international routes at Istanbul Ataturk are Franfurt, Amsterdam, London, Rome, and New York; while among the busiest domestic routes at the airport are Ankara, İzmir, Antalya, Adana, and Diyarbakır. Istanbul’s secondary airport is the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, located in the Anatolian side of the city.
Istanbul can also be accessed by bus, which stops at the Esenler Otogar, 10km west of the city centre; by international ferries stopping at Karakoy Port; and by car via the Bosphorus Bridge near Marmara Sea, and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge close to the Black Sea.
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Airports near Istanbul Ataturk
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