Istanbul's international Atatürk Airport is around 25km (15 miles) west of the city centre in Yeşilköy. The compact international terminal (Dış Hatlar) has several shops, restaurants, bars, a massage parlour, post office, 24-hour banking, exchange bureaux, car hire, a tourist office and hotel reservation desk. From landing to clearing customs usually takes 20 minutes. Security checks can delay check-in, so arrive at least 90 minutes before your flight.
A second international airport, Sabiha Gökçen, in Kurtköy on the Asian side was intended to handle three million travellers a year, but is woefully underused.
Atatürk International Airport (Atatürk Hava Limanı Yolu)
(24-hr English flight info 0212 465 3000/www.ataturkairport.com).
In addition to the following, Istanbul is served by many international carriers:
Istanbul 0212 317 6600/UK 08708 509850/www.britishairways.com.
Turkish Airlines (THY)
Istanbul 0212 444 0849/UK 020 7766 9300/www.thy.com.
There are three options for getting from the airport to the city centre: bus, light rail/underground or taxi. The choice depends on where you're staying and how much time you've got.
Havaş operates the reliable express airport bus service, which leaves for four different destinations from a signposted stop outside the arrivals hall. The only one of use to visitors is the Taksim service – fine if you're staying in Beyoğlu or Taksim – which runs at 5am, 6am, then half-hourly until 11pm, stopping en route at the Bakırköy Sea Bus Terminal, Aksaray and Tepebaşı (just short of Taksim). The fare is around YTL8.50 (plus a 25 per cent surcharge between midnight and 6am), collected by a conductor on board.
By light metro
The underground, or 'light metro', takes you to Aksaray in half an hour and costs just YTL1.30; from here, you can get a bus to Taksim or a tram to Sultanahmet. Services run 6.15am-midnight Mon-Sat, 6.30am-midnight Sun.
The simplest option is to take a taxi from the rank outside the arrivals hall. Fares are metered. Journeys to the centre of Sultanahmet should be around YTL15-YTL18 (half as much again at night). The ride takes about 20 minutes but can stretch to 45 minutes if the traffic's bad. To Taksim, it costs around YTL23 and takes anywhere between 20-50 minutes.
The days of the Orient Express are long gone; rail travel from Europe to Istanbul is now the preserve of backpackers and the lower-income end of Turkey's Balkan diaspora.
Trains from Greece & Europe
The only direct route to Istanbul from Greece is from Thessaloniki, with a daily 7.25am departure taking around 15 hours to cover the 850km (510 miles). The other direct service from Europe is the daily Bosphorus Express, departing Bucharest at 2.05pm and pulling into Istanbul at 8.27am the following morning.
Trains from Europe arrive at Sirkeci Station (gar), beside the Golden Horn in Eminönü. From here, it's a short walk or tram ride up the hill to Sultanahmet. A taxi to Taksim costs YTL4-YTL5.
Trains from the south & east
Trains from destinations to the south and east terminate at Haydarpaşa Station on the Asian Shore. International arrivals include the Trans-Asya, which departs from Tehran every Thursday at 8.15pm and limps into Istanbul some 69 hours later. From Syria, you could board the Toros Express in Damascus at 5.13am on Tuesday and be in Istanbul around 6pm the following evening.
Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa stations are connected by ferries, though there is also a tunnel link on the drawing board. Information lines serve Sirkeci (0212 527 0051) and Haydarpaşa (0216 348 8020 ext 336) between 7am-midnight daily, but are in Turkish only. Timetables for international and national services are posted on the state railway (TCDD) website (www.tcdd.gov.tr); the English-language version of the site is refreshingly good.
Istasyon Caddesi, Eminönü (0212 520 6575 ext 417, for reservations 6am-6pm daily).
Haydarpaşa Istasyon Caddesi, Kadıköy (0216 336 4470, for reservations 6am-6pm daily).
Turkish coach companies (such as Ulusoy and Varan) run regular services from many European cities. Be prepared for lengthy waits at border crossings – particularly with Bulgaria, where it can take up to three hours to clear customs.
Travellers arriving by coach disembark at the international and inter-city bus terminal (otogar) in Esenler, about ten kilometres (six miles) from the city centre. There are courtesy minibuses to Taksim and Sultanahmet. The underground 'light metro' connects the terminal to Aksaray, where you can trudge to the Taksim bus stop across the road, or take a tram to Sultanahmet.
Esenler bus terminal (Uluslararası Istanbul Otogarı)
Büyük Istanbul Otogarı, Bayrampaşa (0212 658 0505/www.otogaristanbul.com). Open 24hrs daily.
Inönü Caddesi 59, Gümüşsuyu (0212 244 6375/International journeys 0212 658 3006/www.ulusoy.com.tr). Open 24hrs daily. Credit AmEx, MC, V.
Twice-weekly buses to and from Greece (Thessaloniki, 12hrs, YTL88; Athens, 21hrs, YTL135), Germany (Münich, 48hrs, YTL195; Frankfurt, 55hrs, YTL230) and Italy (Ancona via Munich YTL195). Bookings can be made through the website.
Inönü Caddesi 29/A, Gümüşsuyu (0212 251 7475-76/www.varan.com.tr). Open 24hrs daily. Credit MC, V.
Weekly buses to and from Greece (Thessaloniki, 12hrs, YTL88; Athens, 21hrs, YTL135) and Austria (Vienna, 33hrs, Salzburg, 37hrs, Linz, 39hrs, YTL190 flat fare).
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.
Getting around Istanbul
When to go to Istanbul
Istanbul fast facts A-Z