If you have found yourself with a layover at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, you may now be wondering what to do with your time….besides sleep! While you can expect a perfectly serviceable modern airport with plenty of amenities – you should definitely plan ahead for crowds, no matter what time you’re landing here. Here are 9 things to do on a layover at Istanbul Ataturk Airport:
1. Enjoy a meal
This international airport has a decent selection of cafes and restaurants, so start your layover with a decent meal – it makes the waiting game a lot more tolerable! Most eateries are located inside Security. A few outposts of Simit Sarayi offer Turkish sandwiches and baked goods, including the must-try simit, a bagel-like, pretzel-looking affair that’s been around for centuries. Sit down restaurants offer Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine, and the Efes Beerport pours the best-known Turkish beer. Western chains like Starbucks, KFC, and Sbarro are here, too. Several cafes and eateries stay open 24-hours.
2. Head to a lounge
An airport this non-stop busy may have you craving some quieter space. Airport lounges offering a comfortable, more relaxed vibe than the main terminals – and lucky for you, a few lounges here offer access to any traveller, no matter your airline, status, or flight class. Simply pre-purchase a lounge pass or use your lounge membership program to gain entry and you can take advantage of unlimited food and drinks, a comfortable space, WiFi, and maybe even shower facilities! See our Istanbul Ataturk Airport Guide for locations and rates.
3. Browse the shops
You’ll find a whole host of shops here, ranging from pharmacies and newsstands to local shops and higher-end boutiques, plus the ever-ubiquitous Duty Free shops. The most unique options are probably Atasay, known for using historic Turkish jewelry-making techniques, House of Cigars for a full-service, proper cigar shop, and Old Bazaar, which is modelled on the long-standing Grand Bazaar in town. To take fresh baklava onto your next destination, Delights will package it just right.
4. Take a free tour
Flying Turkish Airlines and stuck with a layover of at least 8 hours? If so, take a free tour of Istanbul, courtesy of the airline! There are different lengths and tour themes, but it’s easy to book at the Hotel Desk in the International Terminal. For times and details, see our Istanbul Ataturk Airport Guide and our article on Airports Offering Free Layovers.
5. Go sightseeing
If you don’t qualify for the Turkish Airlines free tour, we’re sorry. But! You can take yourself out and about and see the sites on your own. Again, you’ll want at least 8 hours between flights. Before heading out on your adventure, you can store any bags you don’t want to tote at the luggage storage, located in Arrivals of both terminals. Ready to go? You’ve got options for reaching the city center! The public Havatas Airport bus is the easiest way to get from the airport to Taksim Square, the modern heart of the city. These leave regularly, and the ride takes about 30-40 minutes, depending on traffic. The Metro subway system connects to the airport at the Ataturk Havalimani station, but this takes longer and offers less of a view than the bus. For direct service, taxis are available outside either terminal. The sprawling city has a lot to offer, so your best bet is to pick 1 or 2 sites that pique your interest, since you’re limited on time. If you’re arriving at Taksim Square, stroll down the pedestrian-only Istiklal Cadesi, a main boulevard of shops, cafes, and winding alleyways that are worth exploring. You’ll pass Galata Tower and wind up in the Karakoy neighborhood, with mosques, boats, and bridges coming into view. Continue your walk across Galata Bridge, pass local fisherman. Docked boats sell cheap fresh-fish sandwiches. The Galata neighborhood is the historic center, where you can visit markets. Of course, don’t miss the crowning jewels of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque! You may be tempted to stay out a bit longer, but remember that traffic back to the airport and busy crowds at Security mean it can take a long time to reach that next flight
6. Hit the spa
Parisli Cemil and Spa Express & Hairdresser both offer beauty and hairdressing services, if you’re inclined for pampering between flights.
7. Get a massage
If a makeover isn’t calling your name, maybe a massage is. Massage & Oxygen Bar, located in the International Terminal, offer express and full service massages plus oxygen if you’re feeling a little deflated after the last flight. The in-airport hotel also offers massage services.
Stay connected to friends and family, update your social media accounts or surf the internet courtesy of the airport’s free WiFi. You’ll want to use your time wisely though, as there is currently a 2-hour time limit restriction. Boo! To connect, you’ll need a mobile phone that can receive texts in Turkey. When your time limit expires, you’ll have to pay up for internet or use Starbucks’, which is free for customers. Visit our Istanbul Ataturk Airport Guide for more details.
Your layover might be precious time spent catching up on sleep. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t have any problem catching Z’s from the airport staff – your real problem will be finding somewhere to spread out. This airport is so busy that seats are rarely unoccupied. Most benches are equipped with armrests, but if you find one without some, snag it! Head to Gates 201-204 for cushioned seats or Baggage Claim 10, outside Security, for armrest-free benches. Starbucks might let you nap overnight, but do purchase something as a token of appreciation. Wherever you land, the airport is chilly and noisy, so come prepared. Rather shell out for a true hotel? One airport hotel is accessible both pre- and inside Security, offering rooms in 3-hour blocks, full overnights, and even 24-hour stays. Other hotels are within a few minutes’ drive, with shuttles available. See our Istanbul Ataturk Airport Guide for locations.
These are just a few things to do on a layover at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Visit our Istanbul Ataturk Airport Guide for more information about more services and facilities available, such as food, WiFi, mobile charging, luggage storage, nearby airport hotels, and much more.