An Istanbul Layover: Which Side To Choose?

Europe or Asia - you can decide. Explore with guest bloggers Jesse and Quan!

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Things to Do and See Visiting Istanbul

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. Thanks to our multi-entry visa to Turkey, we were able to experience both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Remember, travellers are responsible for getting their own visa. Upon arrival, we found out you can purchase a visa but we recommend pre-purchasing an eVisa. The eVisa is for multiple entries and valid for 6 months. Having the visa beforehand enables you to bypass the visa line and go straight through customs. Definitely a time saver!

There are two major airports that service Istanbul. Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) is located on the European side and where most major international flights arrive. Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (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 of Istanbul did we like better?

The answer is “it depends.”

Our Istanbul European layover was a wonderful few hours. We enjoyed a Turkish sunset and walked around to the many iconic sites of Istanbul. Here we felt more like tourists, but we 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 it’s hard to resist the iconic monuments of Istanbul. However, we hope that some will consider the softer, gentler Asian side. We experienced a rush around town to see the most famous sites and get the best pictures, but we also enjoyed a more relaxing “day in the life” feel.  It’s up to you! Check out the other posts for details about each layover and choose the one that works best for you – or try both!


The Sherpa Team send a huge thank you to Sherpa Ambassadors Jesse and Quan for their insight into making the most of your Istanbul adventure. You can follow her adventures through their website Shabbatical, and you connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! Do you want to contribute to Sherpa? Have a blog idea we should cover? Check out our Initiatives Page and let us know – we’d love to hear from you! 

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