Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul (Possibly The Best Airport In The World?)

Three weeks back when we were flying to Italy, our flight was leaving from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side of the city.

On the rare occasion we’ve flown into Istanbul (we’re fond bus travellers, as you know), we’ve landed at Atatürk Airport on the European side, so our Sabiha Gökçen experience was going to be a first.

We all know that airports are not what they used to be. Gone are the days when you could just wander in, check in, wander to the bar, do a bit of shopping and enjoy the airport as part of your holiday.

At least in the airports we’ve used, anti-terrorist security measures coupled with too many planes taking off, means long queues and being searched and searched again.

By the time you get through passport control, your gate is being called. It all adds up to us avoiding airports where possible.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul - Best In The World?

Really? Let’s look inside and find out…

Enter Sabiha Gökçen Airport, the doors in Departures proudly welcoming you to the ‘World’s Best Airport.’

When we first saw this, we smiled. Market traders in Turkey are no strangers to telling the potential customer that their goods are the best in the world but the airport getting in on the act, too?

Why the ‘world’s best’ statement?

Well, you may remember that on take-off, the passenger is treated to a magnificent aerial view of Istanbul but that can’t be enough.

Let’s go pre-flight. A welcome statement like this certainly makes you take in an airport with different eyes. As we entered, we were already on a mission – and the thoughts of getting tetchy in long queues had temporarily subsided.

Architecture & Design

The airport is a prime example of modern architecture done well. Of course, that’s purely subjective; this massive hangar is a work of art and you need to stand and take it in, appreciate it for what it is and then decide if you like it.

The angular criss-crossing of the exposed metal framework against the flowing curves of the entrance facade were already a winner for us.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul

It won’t break the bank to sit and eat

And when we went inside, even better. The waves of the roof continue and the businesses and check-in desks are housed in pods in the middle of a polished, marble floor.

Everything is visible and it all makes for an experience of feeling like a very small person in a huge, open space – which, of course, is exactly what you are.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul

Check-in desks are easy to spot in the centre of the building

Facilities at Sabiha Gökçen Airport

Let’s get to the nitty gritty. If you’re familiar with the eye-watering prices for drinks and snacks at Dalaman Airport, you’ll be pleased to know that’s not Turkey-wide.

Before you go through passport control, Sabiha Gökçen has a few places to eat and drink and while the bar/restaurant is pricey, there’s a reasonably priced Simit Sarayı where you can get simits and pastries.

There are also kiosks where you can pick up a newspaper, snack, soft drink or even a can of Efes. And there are seats where you can relax while enjoying your purchases.

And we should point out, even if you don’t need to go, do visit the toilets. Marble tiled walls, black granite sink areas and teak doors – no public toilet fear here. These are much nicer than our bathroom at home!

Photography At Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul

There’s even a photography exhibition

If you’ve got a long wait for your flight, duty free and other bars and restaurants are through passport control (note: we didn’t check the prices here) or you can just mill around the entrance area.

While we were there, there was a Safranbolu photography exhibition on display and, as you can see from our photos, at least for now, this airport is not overcrowded. You really can chill out while you wait.

The Science Bit – Why Sabiha Gökçen Airport Is Truly Unique

There are no doubt hundreds of new airports around the world that can show off such pleasing architectural design, thoughtful layout and facilities – but Sabiha Gökçen stands out above those airports for another reason.

Designed by Turkish engineering company, Arup, this hangar makes Sabiha Gökçen the world’s largest earthquake-proof airport and places it in the Top 7 largest earthquake-proof buildings in the world.

The terminal sits atop rubber and steel ball-bearings which allow the structure to move back and forth, side to side, in an earthquake measuring up to 8 on the Richter Scale.

In the (sadly) inevitable event that Istanbul will suffer more earthquakes, Sabiha Gökçen Airport should withstand the quakes and therefore, become a crucial hub for the delivery of emergency supplies.

Does all of this mean Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport is the world’s best airport? Who knows, but it surely puts it up there.

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  1. My only experience of Sabiha was on a very snowy night one January on the way to join my husband for our long awaited honeymoon. I was travelling to Antalya and my flight was late in leaving London, we arrived and it was a frantic race to get my connecting flight. Fortunately or unfortunately it was delayed due to the snow.

    I didn’t get much time to view the airport as I waited at the desk but they got the flight away only half an hour late. Try doing that in the UK during some snow!!

    My favourite Airport is Shipol in Amsterdam I’ve spent a lot of time there waiting on a transfers to get home to Scotland or back to Turkey.

    Kerry 🙂

  2. Thank you very much for such a unique and objective blog post.
    Sabiha Gökçen Airport

  3. @ Kerry Arslan: There really should be some easier ways of getting between Scotland and Turkey in winter. We’ve got a few Scottish friends and they really struggle getting to Fethiye in winter.

    @ Sabiha Gökçen Airport: And thank you very much for taking the time to comment. You’re welcome. 🙂

  4. Sounds like a trip worth making alone! Too bad about security….

  5. @ Belinda: It is a pretty cool building – if you’re into architecture, that is. 🙂 Sabiha Gökçen’s layout and the fact that it isn’t overcrowded yet means you can pass through the security really easily and have time to enjoy the bars and shops.

  6. not been through that many times, but have to say that, as far as airports go, it was a positive experience.

  7. wow it sounds wonderful- but I am particularly drawn to the Schiphol airport or the Singapore Airport 🙂

    My kids have a list of their favorite airports and their least favorite airports- since airports are their second home they have their standards for what they consider important in an airport 🙂 ha ha!

  8. I haven’t had a chance to use Sabiha Gökçen Airport, only Ataturk, so I cannot compare. But everyone who did that, said that the former is way better 🙂 I guess it’s true, cause Ataturk is really too overcrowded, which takes away all the pleasure from getting ready to fly 🙂

  9. I’ve always been impressed with how quickly we get from International to domestic at this airport. There also always seems to be more staff directing passengers but these may be Pegasus employees.

  10. It’s great airport and provides an exotic visual banquet as travellers from across the Balkan, Anatolian, Caucasus and central Asia regions mingle around the highly polished halls in their ethno-religious finery. Now you don’t get that at Gatwick!

  11. I did not know about the earthquake-absorption built into the design. The photos look great as well, when I was there last it was still being renovated and not looking nearly as nice 🙂

  12. @ Alan: To be honest, we find the whole airport experience completely tedious these days – hence the bus and train travel – but we actually had a really nice couple of ours here. Glad you found the same. 🙂

  13. @ Anjuli: We’re intrigued by Schiphol now as you’re the second person to say that. Think we need a trip the the Netherlands. As for your kids, good on em. It’s time airports made more of an effort like Sabiha Gökçen. 🙂

    @ Migle: It’s the overcrowdedness and all the security checks that spoil the airport experience. Hopefully Sabiha Gökçen can withstand that as it becomes more busy.

  14. @ Back to Bodrum: We’ve never done the domestic to international transit route but it’s good that everyone gets through whether it’s airline staff or not. 🙂

    @ Jack Scott: We’d have thought you’d have seen all nationalities at Gatwick – or is it mainly us Brits off for a summer hol? 😉

  15. @ Anil: Wow, glad we’ve told you something, then. 😉 We remembered watching a documentary on TV last year and looked it up. Sabiha Gökçen might not be a bad place to be should the dreaded earthquake happen.

  16. Barış
    Biz “Sabiha Gökçen’e” biletim var. Biz sonraki uçuştan önce 8 saat beklemek zorunda.
    Bu anda ne yapabilirim?
    Gece öğlen.
    Teşekkür ederim!

  17. Hello everyone. I am traveling with Pegasus airlines from Doha Qatar to Bucharest Romania via Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen Airport). I will have also a cat with me. What are the steps from the moment I arrive at the airport until I reach the gate for the connecting flight to Bucharest.

    • Hi Andreas

      We have never travelled to or from Sabiha Gökçen Airport – or any other airport for that matter – with a pet. Maybe your airline can help you if you get in touch with them. Good luck.

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