Traveling on a budget between Europe and Asia, chances are you will have a layover at Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST), which operates as the hub for Turkish Airlines. Depending on where you are flying to and where you are coming from, you could be in for a long layover though (I was there for 11 hours), so a few tips at the end of this post might help you enjoy your stay a little more.
Landing at IST was like landing at any airport. No real excitement as it was only for a layover before flying onwards. The first impression when stepping off the plane was that I could have been at any major airport. Nothing special really.
When arriving to the main lounge of the airport, Turkey did decide to turn up a little with a Turkish ice-cream vendors and a makeshift bazaar, but apart from that, the only thing that reminded you where you are were the massive Turkish flags on the walls of every shop and cafe in support of the Turkish people’s victory over the attempted coup.
If you are landing to IST for a long layover, be prepared with some entertainment of your own and something you can do offline. The airport offers only limited wi-fi and chances are the connection just doesn’t work. One of the cafes near the Terrace (food court) offers unlimited wi-fi for 1 euro, which was a nice surprise when eventually found.
For food, the airport offers quite many choices, but again quite a limited number of options if you would like to eat something local. In this case you are limited to pretty much one place (luckily the same that offers 1 euro wi-fi).
- Turkish Ice Cream: Chances are you have seen the prankster ice cream vendor on your travels before but it was quite refreshing to have local fresh ice cream available on arrival.
- FREE City Tours: For longer layovers, it is possible to book a day tour of Istanbul (if you fly with Turkish Airlines). I did not (unfortunately) test this but just the possibility of escaping the airport for a moment deserves a mention.
- Connections to around 150 countries. This is pretty amazing overall especially if you are flying to Africa, Asia or the Middle East as the connections from IST are close to endless.
- Lack of character. As already mentioned, the airport could have much more Turkey put into it. No need to go over the top about it, but somehow the feeling is missing at IST. Small touches could make all the difference (see HEL for an example)
- Poor wi-fi and relaxation areas. Knowing that you are likely to have quite the layover here, you would want to sit down and relax while there. Chances are though that you will not find a comfy bench or quite corner anywhere. The airport has very little space for relaxing. Wi-fi as mentioned is mostly not existing. So bring a book.
- Possibly long layovers. Especially if you are traveling between Europe and Asia, you can be here for a while and as flights depart and arrive 24/7, there is a good chance you will be here in the middle of the night. I arrived at 4 am (on the way to Europe) and departed 2:30 am (on the way to Asia).
Oh and get some Turkish coffee when you are here. You will need it to keep awake during your layover.