Istanbul International (IST)
Sixth Time’s a Charm
I don’t know why it took me five or six stops through Istanbul‘s new airport to really stop and appreciate it.
Actually, I do know: My first few trips through the gigantic, city-like hub-to-practically-the-entire-world had all been pretty rushed. If I wasn’t running to my next gate to catch a tight connection, I was sprinting through immigration and out the door to get into town and enjoy a traditional meal. This last April, I finally took the time to stop and actually enjoy the airport, and man, is it just incredible in so many ways!
>>> RELATED: My Trip to The Asian Side of Istanbul
It’s Not The Size…
First, its size. At 76.5 million square meters, it’s one of the world’s biggest airports, and certainly the largest I’ve ever been to. Just reaching the exit can take forty minutes, not counting any immigration or baggage wait time. It’s simply enormous. But let’s breakdown what I really love about the new Istanbul Airport:
1. Turkish Lounge: It’s huge and has so many amenities. My favorite: free lockers to store your luggage – this is perfect for when you have enough time to leave for a trip into the city. Just head to the lounge, lock your bag up and go! They also have multiple food stations with chefs cooking up fresh, hot plates. There’s multiple spaces and lots to do.
2. Get a massage: The Ambassador Spa and Beauty Salon is right on-site. I enjoyed a 90-minute massage during my last layover. What a way to relax after a long flight! They have many options and treatments. You can book ahead or gamble with a walk-in.
3. Stay the night! Istanbul Airport is one of the few airports with a hotel inside the airport, past security, right there at the gates. A handful of airports have hotels connected to the terminal, but almost always outside of security. A hotel at the gates, means that if you have an early flight, you can literally roll right out of bed and onto your plane – you don’t have to mess around with security, immigration, etc. The YOTELAIR has a hotel both “airside” and “landside.” Pick the “airside” version if you want to a room right there at the gates!
RAMBLIN’ TIP: Book your room, inside the airport, at the YOTELAIR here.
4. Shopping and Eating: The airport is like one giant mall, with just so many shopping and dining options. You can get some great exercise just wandering the corridors and checking out all the stores and restaurants.
5. Geography Lesson: If you’re a geography super-nerd like me, just enjoy the fact that you’re in a place where, literally, the world comes together. Take a second to look around: at the people, their faces, their passports! Listen to them speak. It’s a real-life UN meeting, with people from all over the world coming together in one place. I’ve often wondered just how many countries at one time have citizens transferring through IST. I bet it’s definitely over 100 at any given moment, maybe more. I don’t think there is another place in the world with such a mix of people from all over the world.
When I have extra time, I like walking over to the gates of super exotic destinations (like Iraq, Libya, etc) just to see the people there and the respective plane(s). There’s something about seeing a big Iraqi Airways or Libyan Wings jet. I love that!
There are a couple drawbacks.
Far Out, Man
First, this airport is far from the city! Much farther than the old airport, which was just a stone’s throw away from downtown Istanbul and accessible via train. Super easy! Nope, the new airport is about 28 miles from town. During rush hour, it could take 90 minutes-plus! Weekends are a lot easier and faster to get into town. Either way, if you’re planning on running into the city on a connection, it’s not to be taken lightly. Do you research and make sure you have enough time.
>>> RELATED: Check out both of my runs into town from IST on my Extreme Layovers page!
This may be a rad airport, but it gets a Ramblin’ Randy Thumbs Down for its WiFi. Getting WiFi access in general is a pain in the arse here: You must wait in line and then swipe your passport at a kiosk for a receipt with a username and password…and then that’s only good for one measly hour of WiFi. What’s fun about that? I will die on this hill: Every airport should have free, unlimited and easy-to-connect-to WiFi. It’s 2022, it’s not that hard!
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