Istanbul is a great hub city between Europe and Central Asia. Turkish Airlines even offers some great flight deals that include a free hotel stay or a free guided tour of the city. There are two airports in Istanbul. IST is located on the European side and where most major international flights arrive. SAW is located on the Asian side and where many low cost carriers from Central Asia and the Middle East arrive. We flew into IST on our first layover and into SAW on our second layover.
So which side did we like better? The answer is “it depends.”
Our Istanbul European layover was a wonderful few hours where we enjoyed a Turkish sunset and walked around to the many iconic sites of Istanbul. Here we felt more like tourists but were rewarded with some beautiful photos for the city during the golden hour.
Our Istanbul Asian layover gave us a few hours of exploring like locals. We grabbed a nice meal, walked through the local fish market, and even made a new friend who introduced us to a delightful coffee shop.
So to answer the question of which side to explore. We believe most would choose the European side as its hard to resist the iconic monuments of Istanbul. However we hope that some will consider the softer, gentler Asian side which feels more like a relaxing “day in the life” than a rush around town to see the most famous sites and get the best pictures.