I went through the Istanbul Atatürk Airport twice this past August on my way to Rome, once with a 6-hour layover, and once with a 4-hour. Here’s a few tips to help make your stay more comfortable.
Let’s be real, we all want to know about this one first. You can get two hours of free internet, but you need to have a working phone (so I assume you need to get a Turkish SIM card or maybe European SIM cards work here). Having a United States SIM card, this wasn’t possible. In this case, go to the Starbucks in the main shopping area of the airport. Technically you do not have to buy a drink, but if you use the space, I’d buy something. At the corner of the shop is a scanner where you can scan your boarding pass, get a PIN, and get two free hours of internet. You’ll have to open a new browser window and enter your PIN. However, you should know that this internet is QUITE slow, and I found it worked better on a laptop instead of a mobile phone. Some people were streaming videos on the internet. Don’t be those people.
I believe there may be internet at some of the other restaurants/bars, but I did not explore this further.
The first layover, I made a dumb mistake of sleeping in the 300s gates. Why? I don’t know. I was tired and thought this was all there was to the airport. Don’t sleep there. The benches are hard, it’s very noisy, there are long lines to the bathrooms. Instead, go up to the 200s gates and shopping areas and find a gate that isn’t quite full yet. The seats are much more cushy and you can stretch out more comfortably on the benches or on the floor without there being too much noise.
I didn’t find any water fountains while I was here, but I also didn’t look very hard. I bought bottles of water from the Starbucks. I suggest drinking as much water as you can on the plane, filling your water bottle up there, and grabbing some of the mini water bottles (assuming you’re taking Turkish Airlines).
There are free Turkish delight samples at some of the stores! Definitely one in the 300s gates area, and more around the main shopping area.
Most of the food I saw was Italian pastries, coffee, and American (burgers, salads). I ate at a Cakes & Bakes, only because I wanted a nice seat and a view of the shops below. The drinks itself are weak and they don’t heat the sandwiches up all the way. There are some Turkish pastries at the Starbucks, and the food there is pretty much what you would expect. If you pay in Euro, you will get change back in Turkish lira.
Finally: I traveled shortly after the terrorist attack and the attempted coup, but I felt quite safe the whole time I was in the airport. Security felt heightened without being overbearing or scary, and I was in the heart of the airport where it would have been tough to get past. I didn’t leave the airport at all, and probably wouldn’t have if I had a longer layover. If you’re reading this, hopefully things in Turkey are safe and secure. Good luck on your travels!