Sabiha Gokcen International Airport

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Sabiha Gokcen in full flying gear. She was quite short, wasn't she?

The Sabiha Gokcen International airport has been in operation over on my side of town since 2003. It is named after Sabiha Gokçen, one of the adopted daughters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. Gokcen is famous in her own right because she was the first ever female combat pilot in the world, as well as the first ever Turkish female pilot. I’m not an advocate of war in any form, but given the times in which she lived, her achievements were pretty impressive. She was born on 21 March 1913, and enrolled in the Military Aviation Academy in Eskisehir in 1936. She was both a pilot and a teacher, was the first woman to fly the Focke Wulfe 190-A3 and completed 32 combat missions, for which she has her own entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Sabiha Gokcen International Airport is around 38km from Sultanahmet Square, the historical tourist centre of Istanbul. It’s served by a number of budget airlines, including local carrier Pegasus. With a second runway slated to open later this year and the new extension to an existing metro line opened earlier this year meaning you can easily reach Sabiha Gokcen airport by public transport, it makes sense to consider it for your destination airport the next time you book a flight to Istanbul.

Have you flown in or out from Sabiha Gokcen Airport?


There are 128 check-in and self-service check-in kiosks at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. I am a big fan of online check-in because when I get to the airport all I have to do it locate the correct baggage check-in area, get the necessary tags using the self-service machines (watched by helpful English-speaking staff should you need assistance), before putting my bags on the automated scanning belts. As soon as they’re accepted I get a message on my phone with my baggage receipt and I’m good to go.

Then it’s off to passport control. Sabiha Gokcen International Airport has 74 passport counters for incoming and outgoing passengers. If I have time I take advantage of the 9,594 square metre food court and window shop in the 3300 square metre duty free area in the departures area. Should you need it there’s a conference centre, a four-storey car park and a three-storey airport hotel with 128 rooms next to the terminal.

LOCATION – getting to and from Sabiha Gokcen International Airport

The very sleek and modern Istanbul metro system is easy to use and very afforable.


I’m a big fan of public transport and in the last few years Istanbul has seen an increase in clean, efficient and affordable metro lines linking different parts of the city. The M4 metro line is the one that links Sabiha Gokcen International Airport to Kadıköy. If your accommodation is in Kadıköy, all you have to do is buy an Istanbul Cart from the machines at the metro station and load it for as many days as you need. The instructions are available in several languages but if you’re stuck, I find most transit security personal very helpful, and many speak some English. Once you’ve bought a card, make your way to the platform and catch the next train heading for Kadıköy. The train trip takes just under an hour and trains run every 10 or so minutes from 6am to midnight.

There's always time for tea on an Istanbul ferry.

If you’re staying around Sirkeci or Sultanahmet, catch the same metro from the airport. At Kadıköy hop on a ferry to Eminönü. Once there you can walk along the waterfront to Sirkeci, or take the tram up the hill to Sultanahmet. The same goes if you’re staying around Karaköy. You get the M4 metro from the airport and then the same ferry. The ferries do a loop taking in Kadıköy, Karaköy and Eminönü.

You can even use the M4 metro if you’re staying in Taksim or around the Galata area. However instead of staying on until the last stop, get off at Ayrılıkçeşme station. Once you’ve exited through the turnstiles look for the signs to the Marmaray (another type of train). Board a train heading towards Halkalı and get out at Yenikapı. Again, once you’ve passed through the turnstiles look for signs to the M2 metro (Yenikapı – Hacıosman). Catch the one going in the direction of Hacıosman and get off at Sishane if you’re staying around Galata (check out the Istanbul Place Apartments mentioned in this post) or Beyoglu. Otherwise ride one stop further for Taksim.

Using public transport is the most affordable way to get to and from Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, especially if you’re travelling on your own and can’t share a fare. However you do need to think about how much time you’ll need if you choose to use public transport, especially when you’re travelling to the airport to catch a flight. I find the Google Maps calculations for how long I’ll need pretty accurate, but then I always make sure not to cut it fine because Sabiha Gokcen International Airport can get very busy. You don’t want to find yourself in a long queue for the immigration desks and hear the final boarding call for your plane!


There are also privately run Havabus and Havaist buses from the airport to various destinations such as Kadıköy, Taksim and Istanbul Airport. Click on each destination for more information about prices and times. They depart from an open area outside arrivals, beyond the chaos of private transfers and taxis waiting for and picking up fares. You have to queue in the open air so hopefully it won’t be raining, and payment is in lira. Getting on a bus depends on how many other people are waiting, and it can be a bit of a bunfight to get your bag loaded and get a seat.

The government owned IETT runs the number E10 bus from the airport to Kadıköy. This service is much cheaper than the private ones, so is always packed. Unless you’re at the head of the queue you’re unlikely to get a seat. It only runs every hour and the departure time may not coincide with your flight schedule. These buses take ages as they stop a lot to let people off and then of course, there’s the traffic. It can be very heavy and slow, even when there are no accidents or any rain.


Unfortunately taxi drivers in Istanbul have a tendency to see foreigners as easy marks and are notorious for going the long way, trying to charge in foreign currency or even not taking you to your stated destination. The Istanbul Municipality Council has been working to address this problem for a number of years and recently issued several thousand new taxi licences. No matter where I am, I rarely use taxis, but when I do have to use a taxi in Istanbul, I always use the Bitaksi app. This way if I have any problems there is a record of my trip, complete with driver details. I can call customer service if I need to and speak to an operator in English, and get help. In my experience, albeit limited, the drivers registered with Bitaksi are much politer and more likely to take the most direct route than the drivers I’ve used direct from the airport taxi rank. Have a look at this post on handy apps for Istanbul to see how Bitaksi works.

BE PREPARED – get the most out of your trip to Istanbul

I hope this information has been useful. If you’ve already booked your ticket and are flying into the European side of the city, here’s my handy guide to getting to and from Istanbul Airport.

If you’re still in the planning stages, here are my tips for planning your trip to Turkey

For FLIGHTS I like to use

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. Whenever I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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  1. That’s really useful Lisa. Can I ask have you ever used the food court at Sabiha Gokcen and what are the prices like? I ask because the local tourists are complaining about the prices at Dalaman Airport (prices are high in the UK, I’m not entirely sure why Brits are incessantly complaining over here).
    We’ve only ever used the food court in Dalaman when we flew early one morning. I tend to take my own food due to my cheese allergy.

    1. Glad you found it useful. Sabiha Gokcen has different options in the domestic section so you can get a reasonably priced coffee from Burger King or a more expensive one from Starbucks. The food there is priced high but there are numerous different options with a lot to choose from. Interestingly, the international section has an outlet serving traditional Turkish meals that is good value, and not madly overpriced.

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