This is part of the Been There, Done That series, where our expert globetrotters travel the world to get the insights and information you need to have a seamless travel experience.
Heading to the heart of Turkey, I recently danced through the hustle and bustle of Ankara Esenboğa Airport (ESB), a place where history and modernity perform a graceful tango.
With roots stretching back to the Battle of Ankara in 1402 and its name hailing from the nearby village of Esenboğa, it stands as a proud link between yesteryear and today. My time in Ankara is a deep dive into the fourth-busiest airport in Turkey, which served over 15 million passengers in 2017 alone!
As iVisa’s dedicated travel reporter, I’ll give you practical advice, a detailed guide on what to expect, and tips to make your trip to Ankara as smooth as possible.
Equipped with my camera and a thirst for discovery, I explored every corner of Ankara Esenboğa Airport, capturing its modern terminals and top-notch services. Let’s get started!
On my way to Ankara, Turkey!
Essential checklist: Ankara Airport edition
Before you jet off from Ankara, whether for an off-the-beaten-path city trip or an impromptu business meeting, here are some savvy tips to ensure your journey to the Turkish capital is as smooth as your planned itinerary:
Arrive early: Ankara's charm is matched by its bustling airport. Arrive with ample time to spare, ideally two hours before your flight, to navigate check-in and security with ease.
Document check: Ensure your passport, Turkey eVisa, and any other travel documents are up-to-date and within reach. Always double-check entry or transit visa requirements.
Baggage know-how: Check your airline's baggage allowance to avoid last-minute fees or frantic repacking.
iVisa tip: Mixing up a few essentials between traveling companions' luggage can be a lifesaver if one bag decides to take its own detour (like mine did at Istanbul Airport!
Online check-in: Leap over long lines by checking in online. Most airlines offer this handy option through their website or app, where you can also reserve your favorite seat (team window, for the win!).
Plan your ride: Sketch out how you'll get to and from Esenboğa Airport. Whether parking, catching a shuttle, or arranging a pick-up, having a plan sets the stage for a smooth departure. I found the Moovit app incredibly useful for this.
Ankara Airport departure terminal.
Airport code: ESB
Wi-Fi: Look for the “ESB-Free-WiFi” network.
Languages: Turkish, English
Award-Winning: In 2009, Esenboğa Airport was awarded the title of “Best Airport in Europe” by ACI Europe among airports serving 5 to 10 million passengers per year.
Arriving at Ankara Esenboğa Airport
Touching down at Ankara's Esenboğa Airport offers a bit of a unique entry experience, distinct from other international arrivals.
If you're flying internationally, you'll likely route through Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen Airport. This means you’ll get most customs, passport control, and security clearance done before you even get to Ankara, easing some usual international travel pressures.
Entry process and tips: Keep alert
When you arrive in Ankara, be aware that even if you feel like you're on a domestic journey, especially if you're transferring through Istanbul like me, you are considered an international arrival if you originated from outside Turkey.
Stay alert: Listen closely to staff announcements for guidance.
Avoid heading to the domestic arrivals' baggage claim, a mistake that is easy to make and one I've experienced firsthand.
The signage can be unclear and doesn't clearly distinguish between domestic and international areas. To find the international arrivals' baggage claim, keep an eye out for airport staff and pay attention to the announcements for guidance.
Once you're there, it's back to the usual airport carousel dance. Check the screen, find your baggage merry-go-round, and reunite with your belongings!
Ankara’s trolley system, payable in cash only.
iVisa tip: Keep a Euro coin or 20 Lira bill handy for the trolley deposit, if you are in need of one.
Checking your Turkish visa status
While your visa has likely been checked either upon departure or at your layover (Istanbul in my case), the process is usually something like this:
- For Turkish eVisa holders: Your eVisa status automatically appears on the screen when they scan your passport.
iVisa tip: Your Turkish eVisa is electronically linked to your passport, but we recommend always carrying a printed or digital copy as well– in case of any tech glitches.
- For Turkey Embassy Visa holders: The officer will verify the visa sticker in your passport, checking its validity and your travel dates.
Customs: Something to declare
Look out for signs directing you to the red channel for goods to declare, or the green channel if you have nothing to declare. Officers are on standby for inspections or queries.
At Ankara Airport, remember to declare items beyond the duty-free allowance, including:
Tobacco products: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, and 200g of tobacco for those over 18.
Alcoholic beverages: Up to 1 liter of spirits or 2 wine bottles.
Perfumes and eau de cologne: Up to 120ml.
Gifts and personal belongings: Up to €300 value, or €150 for under 15.
Cash: Declare if carrying over US$5,000.
Enjoy duty-free shopping, keep your receipts, and adhere to limits for a smooth customs experience.
Choose your path: Go green for 'nothing to declare' or red to 'declare your goods'.
Exiting the airport: Welcome to Ankara!
From personal experience: Landing at Esenboğa requires a keen eye and a bit of patience, especially if you're navigating a tight layover through Istanbul.
As always, staying observant and asking for help when needed can make all the difference in your travel experience.
Take your pick!
As soon as I land, grabbing a local SIM card is a must, especially when juggling work across different time zones. Right after you breeze through customs, look for the little SIM card booth nestled conveniently among currency exchanges, ATMs, taxis, and car rental services.
I've found that Turk Telecom often offers some sweet deals. Pick a plan that suits your trip, flash your passport for registration, and voilà! The friendly staff will even help set up your new SIM card, ensuring you're connected and ready to go in no time.
Departing from Ankara Esenboğa Airport
My departure from Ankara's Esenboğa Airport involved a two-legged journey, first again to Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) with Pegasus Airlines and then onward to Doha with Qatar Airways.
Here's a recount of my departure experience, filled with anticipation and the hustle of navigating Ankara airport’s procedures.
Zoom through Ankara's sleek departure terminal.
Checking in: Self-service pit stop
My international trip began at the self-service kiosks, a convenient choice I made when booking with Pegasus Airlines. The kiosks were straightforward and efficient to use, allowing me to print my boarding pass and luggage tags quickly.
iVisa tip: Skipping the long check-in lines was a relief, particularly with a tight connection looming. Remember to check with your airline for self-service options!
Checkpoint quick tips: Speed through security
In Turkey's airports, always expect two security screenings: one at the entrance of the airport (this one includes the bags you’ll check in) and one after passport control. At each checkpoint, be ready to pass through metal detectors and x-ray machines.
For the screening after passport control, prepare by taking out your electronics and liquids for screening and remove any metal items. Also, take off your shoes if you are wearing boots and any smart devices (this includes watches).
iVisa tip: Security is stringent at Ankara Airport, so be prepared. Pack all liquids in a clear, sealable ziplock bag and keep it accessible at the top of your carry-on. This way, you avoid rummaging through your belongings at security.
They'll discard any liquids not correctly packed! Ensure each bottle is under 100 ml, and remember, most airports allow only one ziplock bag per passenger.
Passport control: Stamp and go
Once I got my medication after checking in, I quickly headed to my gate. And, of course, to get there, you have to pass through passport control first, just after security.
At Ankara's passport control, signs usher you to the correct line for domestic or international travel. As I joined the international queue, I noticed how officers efficiently managed the steady stream of travelers.
Despite the seemingly long line, it moved surprisingly fast — a little in-flight entertainment on the ground, courtesy of a curious young boy behind me peppering his dad with questions (it was his first time flying). A moment of light-hearted relief!
With my passport and boarding pass in hand, I approached the counter. The officer was swift, scanning my documents. With my passport stamped and in high spirits, I was one step closer to my destination.
Yes, that’s a massage chair, all to myself!
The experience at Ankara Esenboğa's passport control was orderly and relatively quick. While queues can vary depending on the time of day and season, being prepared and patient goes a long way.
Terminal navigation: Comfort and convenience at your fingertips
Ankara Esenboğa Airport comprises two main terminals: one for domestic and the other for international departures and arrivals. The terminals are connected, allowing for easy transfer, with clear signage and assistance points throughout.
Step into Ankara Airport and discover a world of traveler-centric amenities and services designed for your comfort. From dining to duty-free, everything you need is at your fingertips.
Lounges: Unwind before takeoff in Ankara Airport's cozy lounges like the Comfort Lounge and Millennium Lounge, complete with snacks, drinks, and Wi-Fi. Pop in with a membership, premium ticket, or just pay at the door. For more details, visit their website.
Restaurants and cafés: From fast food to sit-down dining, there's a variety of culinary options. Local Turkish cuisine and international food chains are available, ensuring you can find a meal or snack to suit your taste and time before departure.
Some of my favorites include Simit Sarayı, offering a variety of Turkish bagels (simit), Street Foods by Mehmet, offering quick and delicious Turkish street food options, and Caffe Nero, a familiar name for coffee enthusiasts, offering a reliable cuppa along with a selection of snacks and pastries.
Shopping: Duty-free shops are abundant in the international terminal, offering products from luxury brands to local souvenirs. There are also bookstores, travel essentials, and clothing shops to pick up some last-minute necessities.
Children’s play areas: Traveling with little ones? Ankara Airport has got you covered with fun play areas scattered across the terminals, even past security, where kids can stretch, play, and burn off some preflight energy!
Quiet zones: The airport provides designated quiet zones and rest areas for passengers seeking a peaceful spot to relax or work (or nap!).
Wi-Fi: Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport to keep you connected. Signage and information desks can guide you on how to access it.
Prayer rooms: Reflecting cultural needs, there are separate prayer rooms available for both men and women.
Medical services: Medical facilities and pharmacies are available in case of any health-related needs.
Getting to and from Ankara Esenboğa Airport
Setting off from Ankara Esenboğa Airport to the city center or the other way around? Here are some recommendations to make the 28 km (ca. 17 miles) easy and quick:
The Havas Shuttle is your trusty steed here. For just 11 TL, it's a smooth 50-minute ride to the ASTI Bus Terminal. It's so convenient that once, I barely noticed the time pass as I was lost in the scenic views of Özal Boulevard!
This time, I breezed to the bus stop right outside the arrivals terminal, consulting my trusty Moovit app to navigate the various bus lines. This time it was a two-bus adventure to our hotel, and that's where the plot thickened.
The first leg from the airport was smooth sailing — card payments were welcomed aboard! But once in the city, our next intended bus was a no-show, leading us to decode the bus stop signs for an alternative route. Just as we hopped on, our cards decided to take a break, leaving us cashless and a bit flustered.
Enter our hero: the incredibly accommodating bus driver, who navigated the language barrier and got us to our destination, all while I juggled to sort out the payment snafu.
*iVisa tip: Keep some cash Turkish Lira handy. In the world of buses and tech glitches, it's your trusty backup!
Prefer to travel like a local? Bus 442 is your best bet. It's economical and you can catch it right outside the arrivals area. Plus, there's something charming about mingling with the locals as you journey into the city.
For a direct and comfy ride, hop into one of the taxis lined up outside the arrivals terminal. They're a bit pricier at around 90 TL to the center, but the convenience might just be worth it after a long flight.
About using ride-sharing or taxi apps in Ankara
Uber is available, but is somewhat more expensive than regular taxis.
Navigating ride-sharing in Turkey comes with its unique twists. Here, the driver enters the fare into the app based on the taxi meter's total at the journey's end. But beware, some savvy drivers might try to game the system.
Here's a lesson I learned the hard way: once, a driver concealed his meter with a card, claiming the app would automatically calculate the correct fare. Spoiler alert: it didn't. Unlike some services, Uber provides a price range rather than a fixed rate, and drivers might use this to their advantage.
iVisa tip: To keep your taxi, Uber, or ride-share fair and square, always ensure the taxi meter is visible, reset, and active as soon as you hop in. This vigilance helps you avoid any inflated charges, as some drivers might punch in the app's maximum allowed fare, ignoring the actual meter cost.
So, keep an eye out and enjoy the ride!
Only use the official yellow vehicles with the “Taksi” sign if using a traditional taxi.
Private transfer or car rentals
If you like planning ahead, book a private transfer. It's like having a friend in Ankara waiting to pick you up - smooth, personalized, and hassle-free. I’ve never used it before, but 3M Tourism comes highly recommended on Tripadvisor.
Fancy a road trip? Rental desks are right at the airport, ready to hand over the keys to your adventure. You’ll be zipping through the city streets, feeling like a local, in no time! Just remember that you may need an international driver’s license.
Transport between terminals
The different terminals are within walking distance of each other, there are moving walkways, and clear signage makes navigating through the airport straightforward. Assistance is available for those who require it, including passengers with reduced mobility.
More airport guides for Turkey
Embark on a memorable journey through Turkey! Be sure to check out all detailed Turkey airport guides from our travel reporter for additional travel tips and information: