From North America -- Turkish Airlines (tel. 800/874-8875; www.turkishairlines.com), American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com), and Delta Airlines (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) offer the only direct nonstop service to Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport (IST) from the United States. Canadians flying to Turkey can fly direct on Turkish Airlines, which instituted flights from Toronto to Istanbul in July 2009. These airlines are just the tip of the iceberg. Most major international airlines flying to Istanbul offer flights from North America either as part of their own network or in partnership with another airline. Choosing one involves a change of planes in the airline's home-country hub, but this slight inconvenience is often accompanied by cheaper, more comparable fares.
From Europe -- The only nonstop service to Istanbul out of London is provided by British Airways (tel. 0845/77-333-77; www.ba.com) and Turkish Airlines (tel. 20/7766-9300 in Turkey; www.turkishairlines.com), which also flies nonstop from Manchester (tel. 161/489-5287).
Istanbul's second airport, Sabiha Gökçen Airport, located on the outskirts of Istanbul on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, inaugurated a second terminal on October 31, 2009. From here, Turkish Airlines has added the destinations of Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, London, Moscow, and Stuttgart.
There are also budget and/or charter airline options. Onur Air, Senlikkoy Mah. Çatal Sok. 3, Florya (tel. 0212/663-9176; www.onurair.com.tr), offers service from several U.K. cities. Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct to Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen Airport from Luton and Gatwick airports.
From Australia and New Zealand -- Numerous services connect to Turkey, but the biggest challenge will be selecting your preferred connecting country. The following airlines, in partnership with Turkish Airlines, allow you to make the journey with only one plane change:
British Airways (tel. 1300/767-177 in Australia, or 0800/274-847 in NZ), Emirates Airlines (tel. 1300/303-777 in Australia, or 0508 364 728 in NZ; www.emirates.com), Etihad Airlines (tel. 1800/998-995; www.etihadairways.com), Singapore Airlines (tel. 612/9350-0100; www.singaporeair.com), and Thai Airways (tel. 1300/651-960; www.thaiair.com) will get you from Sydney and Brisbane; additionally Qantas (tel. 13-13-13 in Australia, or 64-9/357-8900 in NZ; www.qantas.com.au) flies from Brisbane. From Melbourne, single-change flights can be had on Emirates and Etihad airlines.
From Perth, Emirates Airlines flies direct to Istanbul with a stopover in Dubai, while Cathay Pacific flies in partnership with Turkish. Travel from Adelaide, Canberra, and Darwin all require two or more changes of plane.
From New Zealand, Air New Zealand (tel. 13-24-76; www.airnewzealand.com.au) and Japan Airlines (tel. 1300-525-287; www.jal.com) will both get you out of Auckland with a change in Osaka onto a Turkish Airlines flight. From Wellington and Christchurch both require two plane changes.
For the best possible comparisons, visit the popular booking sites www.zuji.com.au, www.bestflights.com.au, and www.airfaresflights.com.au, or the old workhorse www.expedia.com.au.
Getting into Town from the Airport
The majority of international flights arrive to Istanbul's international airport, Atatürk Hava Limani. Sabiha Gökçen Airport is primarily a hub for charter airlines as well as for an increasing number of domestic flights.
Most hotels in Istanbul offer free pickup at the Atatürk International Airport for stays of 3 nights or more. Check with your hotel to see if yours is one of them. Absent this little perk, hotels offer airport transfers for an additional fee of anywhere from 25€ to Sultanahmet and 35€ to Taksim. Because taxi fares into both the Old City and Taksim are still very affordable, I recommend this door-to-door option first over an official hotel transfer. A taxi into Sultanahmet from Atatürk Airport should cost around 18TL and a ride into Taksim around 26TL, depending on traffic.
Getting into town from Sabiha Gökçen Airport, 40km (25 miles) east of Taksim, can be pretty expensive (75€ and up) or infuriatingly convoluted (a combination of two or more of a taxi, bus, ferry, tramway, or funicular ride, depending on the final stop), unless you take the bus .
By Bus: If your destination from Atatürk Airport is around Taksim, the reliable and convenient Havas shuttle bus (tel. 0212/444-0487) departs every 30 minutes from just outside the international terminal airport exit (10TL; trip time 40 min.). You could also take the cheaper and rarer green municipal bus no. 97 (2TL), but because Havas is so convenient and reliable, the public bus is not an option I recommend. Havas also runs a shuttle from Sabiha Gökçen Airport to Taksim, with departures scheduled for 25 minutes after the landing of each flight. The ride costs 12TL and takes around an hour.
It's unlikely that guests heading to the deluxe hotels along the Bosphorus will be taking public transportation into town. Nevertheless, Havas also runs a shuttle from Atatürk Airport to the entrance of Akmerkez at Etiler (10TL; trip time 45 min.), where taxis regularly await passengers.
By Metro/Tramway: If you're on a budget and feeling like going the whole nine yards of independent travel, take advantage of the newly completed train connection between Atatürk Airport (entrance is downstairs next to the international arrivals terminal; 2TL) and the Old City all the way up to Kabatas and Taksim. This service connects the airport to Zeytinburnu, where you will need to transfer aboveground to the tramway into the historic part of the city (stops include Beyazit, Cagagoglu, Sultanahmet, Gülhane, Sirkeci, and Eminönü). The tramway continues all the way to Kabatas, with stops at Karaköy, Tophane, and Findikli; from the last stop, a funicular transports passengers up one of Istanbul's steeper hills to Taksim. If you use the Akbil, the whole trip will cost 2TL; otherwise it'll be 2TL per transfer. The trip will take a little over an hour. Remember though, you'll be hot, tired, hungry, and luggage-laden for this convoluted, albeit convenient, journey.
With global warming issues and petrol prices in the stratosphere, driving to Turkey makes bad sense. But some people just insist on the comfort of their own vehicle, so be prepared for the red tape of sorting out multiple transit visas and at least 4 days of hard driving. The two traditional routes to take are the "northern" one through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria; or the "southern" one through Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Italy with a car-ferry connection to Turkey. Drivers planning to stay longer than 3 months must have an International Driving Permit (IDP), which also comes in handy in out-of-the-way places where the local police can't decipher your national version. You'll also be required to provide proof of third-party insurance at the Turkish border.
Depending upon your starting point, train travel from Europe may require a number of connections. Direct trains depart daily from Bucharest and Budapest and take about 27 and 40 hours, respectively. Trains also depart daily to Istanbul from Pythion and Thessaloniki in Greece and from Sofia, Bulgaria. For information on the various connections available, visit www.bahn.de.
Remember that it is your responsibility to obtain visas where required (either transit or tourist, depending on your travel plans) for every border that you will cross.
Sirkeci Station (tel. 0212/527-0050) has been serving train passengers arriving (and departing) Istanbul from European cities for well over a century and has served as a model for railway stations throughout central Europe. A tram stop is immediately outside the station entrance, but don't rely on this if you're first arriving, as there is no ticket kiosk at this stop.
A new train service now connects Turkey with the Balkans and beyond. Serbian Railways' (www.serbianrailways.com) "Bulgaria Special" departs Belgrade for Sofia daily at 8:40am, connecting with a night sleeper train that arrives in Istanbul the following morning at 8:23am. Round-trip tickets cost 88€ and 132€ for second and first class respectively; upgrades to a sleeper car cost 9.40€ and 14€ extra.
No longer the hippie trail of 1960s folklore, international bus travel into and out of Istanbul still offers a heavy dose of nostalgia, if not an equal amount of exhaustion and backache. Direct daily service into (and out of) Istanbul's main otogar (www.otogaristanbul.com) is provided by a number of bus companies from cities in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Romania. The main bus companies are Metro (www.metroturizm.com.tr), Derya Tur (www.deryatur.com.tr), Drina Trans (www.drinatrans.com), Morava (www.morava.net), Öz Varol (www.ozvarolturizm.com), and Vardar Turizm (www.vardarturizm.com.tr), among others.
Options for arriving into Istanbul by sea are limited. Serving the Black Sea, Ukrferry (www.ukrferry.com) runs a weekly ferry departing Odessa, Ukraine, on Monday; arriving Istanbul on Wednesday. Istanbul's municipal ferry company, Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri (IDO; www.ido.com.tr), operates fast ferries and sea buses from Bandirma, Bursa (actually, Güzelyali), and Yalova (all on the south coast of the Marmara Sea), as well as from the Marmara and Avca islands. All of these ferries arrive into Istanbul's Yenikapi ferry terminal. The privately owned consortium now running the defunct Turkish Maritime Lines -- now Denizline (tel. 0212/444-3369; www.denizline.com.tr) -- operates two cruise-type ferries (pool, fitness room, disco, kids' club) between Izmir (Alsancak Ferry Terminal) and Istanbul (Sarayburnu docks, adjacent to Eminönü) departing four times per week at 5:30pm, arriving the following morning at 8:30am.
A number of ferries plying the Mediterranean arrive at ports in Turkey, but then it's up to you to get from the port to Istanbul. Marmara Lines (tel. 010/573-1805 in Italy; www.traghettiweb.it) operates service to Çesme (1 hr. west of Izmir, along Turkey's Aegean) from Ancona and Brindisi, in Italy, between March and November. Also in summer, ferries provide service between Sochi (www.seaport-sochi.ru) on the Russian coast of the Black Sea, and Trabzon, in Turkey. You can also take a puddle jumper from the Greek Islands of Chios (to Çesme), Kos (to Bodrum), and Rhodes (to Bodrum and Marmaris).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.