Before I travelled to Istanbul in December, I spent some time trying to research how to get the train from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet where we would be staying. Unfortunately I only found a few websites from searching on Google and none of them were remotely helpful – way too much pointless information on them. I also found a lot of websites saying just to book a private transfer but this is an expensive option compared to the cheap and affordable public transport that Istanbul has to offer. So to try and help anyone else who wants to do this journey, I took photos every step of the way to write a blog post to show how easy and simple this journey is.
The Atatürk Havalimani Metro Station is located underneath the international terminal at the airport. To reach the station you will need to turn right after exiting baggage reclaim and customs and follow the signs to the far end of the terminal where you can take an escalator or elevator down to the basement level where the station is.
If you are staying in Istanbul for a few days as we were, the best thing you can do is purchase an Istanbulkart at the airport which can be used on nearly all modes of public transport once there. There is a kiosk at the entrance to the station where you can buy your Istanbulkart and the lady explained to us everything we needed to know about them as well as giving us a map of Istanbul. We paid 20TL each for an Istanbulkart (6TL card fee and 14TL worth of fare) which roughly works out to £4.70/$6.80 and you can top the cards easily up as and when you need during your stay using the machines at metro stations and tram stops. You can return the cards at the end of your stay if you wish but we have both kept ours in case we return to Istanbul – I have many of these cards from different cities all over the world which makes it so easy when travelling and returning to the same place.
The total cost of the journey from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet using an Istanbulkart is 3.60TL (2.15TL initial fare then 1.45TL for the first transfer) which works out to roughly £0.80/$1.20.
If you do not wish to buy an Istanbulkart then you can also buy Jetons (tokens) from the machines which cost 4TL each and you will need to purchase two per person when travelling from the airport to Sultanahmet. If you are also travelling back to the airport on the Metro/Tram then it really does make sense to buy an Istanbulkart as you will save over 8TL in total for the return journey which is more than the card fee for an Istanbulkart – it really is a no brainer.
You will need to tap your Istanbulkart at the turnstile or use a Jeton to enter the station and reach the platforms.
As Atatürk Havalimani Station is at the end of the line then it is completely impossible to get on the wrong train when leaving the airport – all trains travel in the direction of Yenikapi on the M1 line. There is a sign with an arrow to indicate which side of the platform it will be for the next train and there will not be a long wait for the next train if you only just miss one.
The main and best advantage of boarding the train at the end of the line is that you will have no problem in getting a seat. There is no luggage space on the Metro so just keep your bags with you and your other belongings close as you would do anywhere else in the world – common sense really.
After six stops, you will need to get off the train at Zeytinburnu to change to the T1 tram line which is located just outside the station.
You will need to tap your Istanbulkart again or use your second Jeton at the turnstiles when leaving the Metro platform and walking down the ramp to the tram platforms.
To get to Sultanahmet, you will need to take the T1 tram in the direction of Kabataş – the platforms are clearly signed which makes boarding the wrong tram very difficult. If you miss a tram, it is usually only a few minutes wait until the next one.
Sultanahmet is a total of sixteen stops from Zeytinburnu and there are announcements on the tram for each stop. The whole journey from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet takes just over fifty minutes.
There are signs at the exit of Sultanahmet tram stop showing you the directions to the nearby attractions including the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. Our hotel was two blocks behind the Blue Mosque so we only had a five minute walk to get there once disembarking the tram.
If travelling to other destinations in Istanbul then you can also use the T1 tram and get off at the following stops:
Grand Bazaar – Beyazit-Kapaliçarşi
Spice Bazaar / Yeni Cami (New Mosque) – Eminönü
Galata Tower / Tünel – Karaköy
Taksim Square – Kabatas and then take the Funicular to Taksim
To get back to Atatürk Airport from Sultanahmet, take the T1 tram in the opposite direction marked Bağcılar back to Zeytinburnu. Here you will need to change back to the M1 Metro and take the train in the direction of Havalimanı to reach the airport which is the last stop. Once again, there are plenty of signs to help you along the way.
So there you go – it really is that easy to do this journey and there definitely is no need to spend money on an expensive private transfer. Have a great time and enjoy yourself in the amazing city of Istanbul!