Istanbul is one of the greatest historic cities in the world and it’s an absolute wonder to behold. Perched on the Bosphorus, a narrow, natural strait, the city straddles Europe and Asia, making it as diverse as any capital city can be. Istanbul is the main seaport and financial center of Turkey, but the city is also full of adventure for travelers booking airline tickets to Istanbul. As one of the most popular destinations in the world, cheap flights to Istanbul can always be found. Whether you plan on touring the European side or the Middle Eastern side of the city, Istanbul won’t disappoint.
The city boasts a glorious imperial history. Istanbul has been the capital city of four empires – Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman. Today, Istanbul is home to almost 15 million people, but for visitors who want to take a step back in time, visit Istanbul’s Old City and stroll through the historic area. Roman amphitheaters and artifacts decorate the streets and ancient relics from the Byzantine Empire are everywhere. Its cultural heritage practically sings from the cobbled stones of the Grand Bazaar where traders and tourists haggle over treasures; in the Aya Sofya (also known as Hagia Sophia, its Greek name), and in the magnificent Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), which was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years.
It would be a waste to take cheap flights to Istanbul and not visit a traditional hamam (bathhouse) or take a ferry trip between Eminönü (Europe) and Anadolu Kavagi (Asia).
A European capital of culture in 2010, Istanbul has caught the public imagination. It is an increasingly popular destination for anyone with an appetite for the out of ordinary. Starting with the Blue Mosque, probably the city’s best-known landmark, through the bazaars including the Grand Kapali Carsi and spice, and the nearby Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Istanbul is no ordinary city. Cap it off with a night cruise of the Bosphorus to see the city from another perspective.
One of the best ways to experience Istanbul is through the mouth-watering Turkish cuisine. Specialties include mam bayildi (an eggplant and tomato dish, mam bayildi (translates as “the priest wept” such is its deliciousness), mercimek corbasii (red lentil soup), kofte (meatballs), testi kebab, borek (a pastry that has hundreds of varieties) and sweet, sticky, syrupy baklava.
Whether you’re heading to the city for business or pleasure, there’s much to do and see. Here are some tips to help you plan and enjoy the smoothest possible trip. And, if you happen to get a window seat on your flight to Istanbul, you may catch a view of the skyline from 35,000 feet – it’s one of the most breathtaking views of the city’s domed cathedrals and Islamic mosques.
Winters in Istanbul, though very snowy, aren’t as chilly as one would assume. The temperatures average in the 40’s (Fahrenheit). Summertime in Istanbul is steamy and humid, with average high temperatures in the 70’s, driving the inhabitants out of the city to beat the heat.
With snowy, scenic winters and sultry summers, Istanbul is a desirable destination for every season. Here are some details on when the best time to fly to this beautiful city is, and what periods you may want to avoid if you can.
The main tourist season runs from April to the end of October, with the busiest period being July and August. Flights to Istanbul are most expensive and accommodations busiest during these peak months so it’s best to book as early as you can to ensure availability and save money. The sunshine of summertime may have Istanbul residents heading out of town and to the waterfront, but it’s also the most popular time for tourists to visit the city. If you travel in June or July, you might catch the International Music Festival which is held in the city. It showcases classical music, opera, ballet and traditional music performances. Flights and accommodations around festival dates can also be pricey and hard to find so again, it’s wise to book in advance.
Flights to Istanbul from November through the end of February are far less crowded than the planes landing at Ataturk or Sabiha during the summertime. The winter tends to be very wet and cold so tourism is at a low. That being said you’ll find cheap flights to Istanbul and get good hotel deals too. Just be aware that potentially cold and blustery weather conditions might wreak havoc on your ideal travel plans.
The shoulder seasons of late March/April through May and September through October have mild weather, fewer tourists, and slightly lower hotel and flight prices. It is also when the Tulip Festival takes place. Although tulips are widely associated with Holland, they are also an important symbol in Turkish and Ottoman history and can be seen on tiles in mosques, literature and on royal clothing. The Tulip Era also signifies an Ottoman Empire period in history. To celebrate it, Istanbul parks are filled with different colored tulips, for about 10-15 days during either March or April. This coincides with art exhibitions, photo contests and other events in Sultanahmet and Taksim Square. Another event which takes place during this period is The International Istanbul Film Festival which offers movie buffs the chance to view Turkish movies with English subtitles. Starting late March and lasting two weeks, this festival is definitely for those travelers who are looking for something slightly different. Flights to Istanbul will vary around these events so book earlier on in the year to save money on your flight tickets.
To find the cheapest flights to Istanbul, try to book as early as 8 weeks before you wish to travel. Sometimes you might get a deal on flight tickets 2 weeks before departure, although generally 6-8 weeks is the sweet spot. After this the prices will rise the closer it gets to the day of travel. If you don’t have a specific date you want to travel, then you can shop around for your flight tickets to grab the best prices. January and February offer the cheapest flights to Istanbul so if you book at least a few weeks before you should be able to save money. Sitting on the left side of the plane gives you the best views as you approach Istanbul, although this is dependable on the wind and air traffic congestion.
Your departure location will determine how long your flight to Istanbul will take, with flights from New York City lasting about fifteen to twenty hours, depending upon your layover and travel route. Flights from Chicago take twelve to fifteen hours with a stop on the way. If you’re flying from Toronto, a nonstop flight will last just shy of ten hours, and direct flights from Houston average about twelve hours in length.
Ataturk Airport is Istanbul’s main airport and welcomes millions of visitors every year from all corners of the globe. Major airlines that provide daily service to Ataturk include American Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Avianca.
Packing for your trip will depend upon the time of year you choose to visit Istanbul. Temperatures range from the mid-40’s (Fahrenheit) in the winter months of January and February to a warm 75 degrees in July, the warmest month. If your planning on a summer visit, be sure to go heavy on light cotton ensembles and bring along a pair of good walking shoes as the majority of attractions in the area require a good deal of walking.
While the days are relatively mild in the winter months of December through January, the nights can dip into the 40’s and below. Make sure to pack a heavier jacket and layer your clothing with sweaters. January is the wettest month, making bringing along an umbrella an excellent idea.
There are two international airports that serve the city of Istanbul. The busier – and larger – of the two airports is Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST), located around 12 miles from the city on the European side of Turkey. The second, and newer, airport is Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) and is located about 27 miles away from the city center on the Asian side.
The fastest way to leave Istanbul Ataturk Airport and get on your way is via taxi. There are taxis 24-hours a day outside the airport but can end up more expensive than alternative options. There are metro and bus services to the city as well. You can opt to take the metro straight from the airport, as the trams operate every fifteen minutes or so but are almost always extremely busy, meaning if you do have a lot of luggage it might not be the best option. Express airport buses are available from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to the center of Istanbul and depart every thirty minutes. It’s a great option if you have a lot of baggage, as the buses have lots of room and are fitted with air-conditioning. Another option if you have a lot of luggage is to take the metro to Aksaray and a taxi from there as it can be tricky negotiating a busy tram otherwise. Several major car rental companies have desks at Istanbul Ataturk Airport as well.
For more details on how to navigate Istanbul’s two international airports, Cheapflights has created handy airport guides for both Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW).
Once you’ve settled in to your hotel and are ready to explore the city, you’ll find that there are a lot of transportation options in Istanbul, but the best way to explore is on foot. If walking isn’t your thing, you can always get a rechargeable Akbil transit pass, which you can buy at special kiosks and offers discounted fares on the local buses, trams, metro lines and ferries. Ferries and catamarans will provide great views as you float along the Golden Horn or cruise up the Bosporus. Buses go all over the city, but are usually slow and crowded. Take note that you need to buy bus tickets from ticket stands before boarding. The metro is a good way to avoid traffic jams, and trams provide some great views of the city. Like many cities, public transportation is crowded during rush hour. Ride in comfort by hailing a dolmus (shared minibus taxi) along its route, or picking it up at a dolmus stand. These shared minibuses cost less than regular taxis. When you board you should always give the driver your destination and ask what the cost will be. If you have your hotel call for a private yellow taxi, make sure the meter is running before you leave.
With a rich history as part of the Byzantine and later Ottoman empires, Istanbul offers a wonderland of cultural and historical experiences for those who love exploring world history. From early examples of Greek and Roman architecture to delicious dining experiences for dedicated foodies, there’s something in the city and surroundings for every adventurous spirit.
From a church to a mosque and, finally, a museum, the Hagia Sophia Museum entrances visitors with its mix of religious representations, rich history and show-stopping dome. Considered by many to be a must see when they visit, the museum offers guided tours to make the most of your visit.
Visit the home of the Ottoman sultans and their famed harems with a trip to Topkapi Palace. Stroll through the courtyard gardens and take in stunning views of the Sea of Marmara. It’s a good idea to visit when the cruise ship season isn’t as heavy as Topkapi is a stop on many cruise lines’ agendas.
After the palace, take an afternoon – or a whole day in itself – to stroll the streets and shops of the Sultanahmet District. A tourist favorite, the area gives visitors the flavor of Turkish culture with a variety of markets and dining options. The rooftop restaurants offer delightful views and myriad museums let you travel back to the time of Constantinople.
The majority of airlines that offer service to Istanbul also offer return service home, or to other destinations abroad. Among these airlines are American Airlines, United, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Aegean Airlines, Olympic Air and other major carriers. With Cheapflights at your fingertips, it’s easy to plan your next stop. Visit https://www.cheapflights.co.uk for the top flight deals for routes out of Istanbul.
There are a few options for getting to Ataturk Airport in time for your flight, including train service directly to the terminals, public buses and taxi, with taxi service being rather expensive. As with any travel, remain aware of your surroundings on public transportation and keep your personal items close at hand. Plan on arriving at the terminal at least two hours before your flight to ensure you have enough time to make it through bag check and security before your flight is called for boarding.
Once you choose a destination, be sure to check out our Istanbul airport guides for more detailed travel information and helpful tips.