John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is New York's primary aviation hub, and handles over 60 million passengers every year. Situated in the borough of Queens, it's about 20 miles east of Manhattan, so transfers won't take too long.
Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) is one of the world's newest airports, having opened its doors in early 2019. It can be found in Arnavutköy, one of Istanbul's western suburbs, and is approximately 30 miles from Taksim Square in the city center of Istanbul.
JFK and IST are about 5,000 miles apart, and flight times will be between nine hours 30 minutes and nine hours 50 minutes when services fly direct. There are three daily direct flights between the airports, and 21 per week. But if passengers are willing to include a change in their schedule, they can choose from over 60 daily departures.
Turkish Airlines is the sole provider of daily flights from New York (JFK) to Istanbul (IST), but indirect flights can be booked with numerous companies, including United Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, and many more major carriers.
The most popular time to fly to Istanbul from New York tends to be during the summer vacation season, which roughly runs from May to October. November is popular, when the Istanbul Marathon takes place, while April brings the popular Istanbul Film Festival.
JFK is well-connected to central New York via the subway, as well as the LIRR and the AirTrain, which requires a change at Jamaica Station. Bus B15 runs from Brooklyn to Terminal 5, while Q3 runs from Queens. Most flights to IST leave from Terminal 5, so extra transfers won't be needed. Services like Lyft and Uber offer rideshare options that may be more convenient. And driving is a good option. There are parking lots at all terminals, but AirTrain services run between them, so it can make sense to book the cheapest available spaces.
When travelers land, Havaist IST 19 buses run into the city center. Taxis and shuttles are also available, and should take about 50 minutes. Another option is to use car hire outlets like Goldcar, Avis, Thrifty, or Sixt, all of which can be found at the arrivals terminal.
Before boarding flights from New York to Istanbul, visitors from the United States should set their watches and phone clocks nine hours 30 minutes ahead, and prepare for a little jet lag. Upon arrival, entering Turkey should be hassle-free. but American visitors will need to secure an e-visa via the Turkish government website. US passports must also be valid up to at least six months after your scheduled departure.
Turkey uses the Turkish Lira, and as of October 2019, 1 Turkish Lira equaled around $0.20. Credit cards and mobile payments are commonly accepted at major stores and restaurants, but having some Lira is advisable.
The weather in Istanbul tends to be warm, and very hot in mid-summer. Spring sees the most pleasant weather, with temperatures tending to hover in the 60s or 70s F. January and February see the coolest weather, but winters in Turkey tend not to be that severe. So out of season breaks could make sense.
Learning some words of Turkish will help to get to know locals, who can be offended if visitors only stick to English. Just learning "hello" ("merhaba") or "coffee" ("kahve") can make a lot of difference. If they dress relatively smartly and behave respectfully, the locals are sure to welcome any visitors.
The Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya
Built by the Byzantines in the 6th century, Aya Sofya is a breathtaking domed church is surely Istanbul's finest architectural attraction. Converted into a museum in the 1930s, it contains stunning mosaics and portraits, many of them dating back well over 1,000 years. It's like stepping back to the dawn of Christianity.
Tour the Topkapi
The center of Ottoman power for centuries, the Topkapi Palace rivals the Aya Sofya for magnificence, and is just as unmissable. Be sure to join a tour, as the stories of palace intrigue, concubines, and murder are compelling, and pay extra to enter the "Harem" - the sultan's private quarters.
Witness a Dervish Dance
The "whirling dervishes" of Sufism are world-famous, and visitors can see them in all of their glory at the Galata Mevlevi Museum. Book tickets on Saturday for the Sunday afternoon rituals, or if you miss that opportunity, head to the Hodjapasha Dance Center for its equally splendid version.