As I had been in Turkey for almost five months, my mother decided that it was high time she came to visit and to lavish me with own particular brand of maternal over-protection. So, as any good son would, I went to meet her at the airport. There are three main options for reaching Ataturk airport from central Istanbul: Taxi, the Metro system and the Havas bus service. Each of these have their own particular advantages and disadvantages.
I will start with the most direct option, taxi. In terms of speed and cost, the benefits of taking a taxi can vary dramatically. If your flight is on a weekday during the day or the early evening, taking a cab is probably the least viable option. Firstly, the traffic in the centre of the city - particularly in areas like Taksim and Sisli - can be horrendous. This means the journey can take well over an hour and can reach upwards of 50TL. If, on the other hand, your flight is late in the evening or on a Sunday, the traffic is likely to be much less congested and the journey will be shorter and cheaper - it can be as little as 30 minutes and 30TL.
The second option is by far the most popular for those living in central Istanbul, the Havas Bus. This is a private bus service that runs from the airport to various parts of the city. There are three services to the European side and one to Asia. The most popular route is to Takism Square, which is a very reasonable 10TL. I have taken the journey on two separate occasions - neither of them peak times. At 11pm on a Sunday evening, it took 35 minutes to reach Taksim from the airport. Even at such an unsociable hour, the bus was still full to bursting with some passengers even standing in the aisle. The second occasion was to drop my mother off for her flight home on a Sunday morning. On that occasion the bus was almost empty and it took 30 minutes. On busier days, the journey can take over an hour. During the day, Havas buses run every 15 minutes. Late at night, they are every 30 minutes.
The final option for getting to the airport is to use the city's public transport system. This is the cheapest, but also by far the most long-winded option. As I had plenty of time to spare and wanted to conserve cash, I chose this option when I went to collect my mother. I work in the Sisli area of the city. From there, it cost me 6TL to reach the airport. The journey took almost two hours, much of which was spent standing. To get there, I took the subway from Sisli to Taksim, then the Funikuler - a combination of subway and ski-lift - to Kabatas. From there, I took the tramway to Zeytinburnu, before grabbing the red metro line into the airport.
The above description certainly sounds exhausting, doesn't it? It was. And, I certainly would not recommend it for its practicality. However, even though the journey by public transport is by far the longest and most drawn out, it is also hands down the most scenic. The tramway leg of the journey starts by skirting the shores of the Bosphorous before arcing round and crossing the Golden Horn via Galata Bridge. This gives a great view of both Eminonou Mosque and Galata Tower. From there it winds its way towards Sultanahmet where it provides a glimpse of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. If you have plenty of time and are looking to save some cash, it is not a bad option.