Istanbul Layover Guide (IST)

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Tours/To do | Relax/Sleep | Internet/SIM | Transport | Storage | Money

Istanbul Airport (IST) is the main international airport in Istanbul, Turkey. It is located at 43km (27 mi) from the center of Istanbul. In 2019, it took over all commercial passenger flights from the older Istanbul Atatürk Airport. It has multiple flights to destinations worldwide. Istanbul is a global city as well as Turkey’s economic, cultural and historic center. It is well known for its rich history and culture that was driven by its location at crossroads of Europe and Asia as well as its stunning scenery, markets, and magnificent structures.

Can you leave Istanbul Airport (IST) airport during a layover? Do you need a visa?
It's possible for travelers to visit Istanbul during a layover but in some certain cases, a visa will be required. (more info).

Tours, Things to do, Sightseeing

Istanbul Organized Tours

The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

See the stunning Mevlevi Sema ceremony in Istanbul that dates back 800 years. It is known for its whirling dervishes and dances. The show incorporates the idea of everything revolving from atoms to the solar system, to the blood that circulates in the body. Also, enjoy complex musical repertoire called ayin and go on a mystical journey representing man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection! The venue is the magnificent HodjaPasha Culture Center in central Istanbul. » book this tour

Hagia Sophia: Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour

Skip the line and enter the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is great architectural beauty and an important monument for both the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. This is a place entrenched in history as it was built by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. He commissioned it as a statement that exhibited the wealth and technical abilities of his Empire. It is still considered as one of the world’s largest places of worship, Enjoy a guided tour inside and see the tallest dome of the largest Christian church in the world. » book this tour

Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise from Eminonu Pier

A Bosphorus cruise is one of the best things to do in Istanbul, it is a cruise between two continents! The Bosphorus is 32km long, separates Europe from Asia and connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea. The Bosphorus is a place where millions of people pass by every day but just a few people get to enjoy the cruise as unique as this one. The cruise gives a different perspective to the cosmopolitan city while offering beautiful views of the Bosphorus Bridge, Galata Tower, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque. » book this tour

Istanbul Things to do / Sightseeing

Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)

Before a seventh minaret was gifted to Mecca, the Blue Mosque had six minarets after it was completed between 1609 and 1616. This triggered an outbreak of anger in the Muslim world. But why Blue Mosque? Thanks to the tens of thousands of Iznik tiles used for the interior decoration of the mosque, it earned this nickname. You should be here at dusk to experience the call to prayer echo from the minarets of the Blue Mosque. Not a chance to miss it!

Time required: 1 hour to tour this beautiful place of worship and its surroundings.

Airport to here: It will take 35 minutes to get here by taxi.

Topkapi Palace

It comes as no surprise that a magnificent palace as the Topkapi palace is situated beside the Bosphorus. This magnificent palace dazzling in Islamic art was where Sultans of the Ottoman empire ruled up to the 15th century over their dominions. With intricate hand-painted tile work that complements the opulent courtyards of the palace, it is indeed a sight to see.

Time required: 2 hours.

Airport to here: It usually takes 36 minutes by taxi or shuttle to get to this royalty.


The hippodrome was completed by Constantine the Great in AD 330 continuing from where Septimius Severus stopped. Even though there isn’t much left of the hippodrome to see, a small section of the gallery walls on the southern side is quite evident and is a historic site you cannot ignore.

Time required: 1 hour.

Airport to here: You can get here in 15 minutes by taxi or 53 minutes by tram.

Dolmabahçe Palace

This magnificent edifice replaced the Topkapi palace as the main residence of the sultans. If Topkapi Palace could be substituted for another palace, then you need not be told about the beauty you of the Dolmabahçe Palace. The design and appearance of the palace were explicitly influenced by European architecture. Built by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1854, it has a formal garden with blooming flower beds, fountains and ornamental basins that will keep you in awe for a moment.

Time required: 2 hours.

Airport to here: You can get here by taxi in just 10 minutes or opt for a cheaper mode of transport by bus that takes almost 2 hours.

Chora Church

The Greek word for church is “Chora”. Also known as Kariye Müzesi was originally called the Church of St. Saviour of Chora. The church which is now a museum is famous for its astonishing 14th-century mosaics, preserved such that it is intact in the two narthexes and fragmentarily in the nave. The Byzantine artistry is very much at play as they are shown in a wide range of themes here.

Time required: 1 hour.

Airport to here: It usually takes 15 minutes to get here by taxi

Galata Tower

Built-in the 14th century, the Galata tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Istanbul. A view from the balcony over the top of the city will determine exactly how this tower makes the list for a tourist site. Get ready to be wowed!

Time required: 1 hour.

Airport to here: It usually takes 17 minutes to get here by taxi.

Carpet Museum

How could you visit Istanbul and not have anything to show for it? Turkey is well known for making the finest carpets which also have incredible artistry that you’ll be convinced without being asked to get one for yourself. There are many carpet shops but the three galleries at Aya Sofya are where you can learn about the history of carpets of various designs.

Time required: 1 hour.

Airport to here: It will take about 20 minutes to get here by taxi.

Istanbul Modern

Keeping the best things for the last, Istanbul modern proves beyond all reasonable doubts that the city still comes onto the map when modernity is being discussed. A mixture of contemporary Turkish and other international art forms can be found here. This is the best place to be if you enjoy art.

Time required: 1 hour.

Airport to here: It takes 15 minutes to get here by taxi and almost 45 minutes by bus.

Things to Do in Istanbul Airport (IST)

Relaxing and Sleeping

Airport Lounges and Relaxing
The airport has several lounges in the airport. » view all lounges or buy a lounge pass or membership online

Hotel and Sleeping
There are several hotel options very close to the airport. » view all or book an airport hotel online

Rest Area and Sleeping in Airport
The new Istanbul Airport has rest areas in the International terminal, near Gate D and Gate B9.

WIFI/Internet and SIM Card

WIFI/Internet: Free WiFi is available at Istanbul Airport for one hour which is made available at wireless internet kiosks throughout the airport.

SIM Card: There are several shops within the airport that sell SIM cards. » buy a global sim card for Istanbul, Turkey that you can use for other countries as well!

Transportation to/from airport

Taxi: Taxi services run at the Istanbul Airport constantly, they can be found on the departure floor, in front of the Domestic and International Passenger exits in the Plaza section.

Train: There are no connected train networks.

Bus: There are several bus options to the city and back to the airport. (more info).

Shuttle: There are airport hotel shuttle services.

Car rentals: Multiple car rental options are available and can be booked online. » view available cars or rent a car now online

Parking: There is spacious parking available and it is possible to book a parking space in advance.

Luggage Storage & Lockers

Öztürk Luggage Storage company provides services in the International Area and the Arrivals Area. » book a luggage storage or locker at Istanbul Airport (IST) online (subject to availability).

Money Exchange and Withdrawal

- Istanbul Airport (IST) ATMs, currency exchanges and banks