Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents – Europe and Asia – and the Bosphorous river doesn’t just separate the regions, it splits two entirely different cultures.
The streets are bustling with imperial splendor. And though the Ottoman mosques, historic hammams, buzzing souks and pristine palaces will take your breath away, it’s not just the scenery that makes it magnificent for families traveling with children
Here are seven unexpected wonders and kid-specific tricks to keep up your sleeve when staying in Istanbul with family.
Cruise the Bosphorus
You can’t come to Istanbul and not take to the water in some way. Some of the most common ways are to:
- Catch a public ferry (a cheap option) with the company Şehir Hatları
- Book one of three Bosphorous tours: Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise, Full Bosphorus Cruise and the Full Bosphorus Cruise by Night (only available in summer).
- Try a child friendly water taxi from Emirgan to Kanlica, famous for its yoghurt and beautiful views from the Mihrabat Grove.
All options are great for families, and if you’re lucky, you might spot dolphins leaping through your wake.
Take the tram
The Istanbul Nostalgic Tramway is a wonderful way for children to ride through time in a early 20th-century tram. The interiors have been restored to show old wooden panels, seats and lights in their full glory, and conductors wear period costumes.
There are two different tramlines on each side of the city – the T2 is on the European side and the T3 on the Asian. Each travels at a relatively slow pace so children can gaze out windows, absorb the sights and sounds, and love every clatter and clunk of the rails.
The trams are inexpensive and the you can use IstanbulKart, a public transport card, to pay.
It’s so tiny! Imagine 134 Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques and Roman ruins—shrunken down to kids’ size. Miniaturk offers intricate 1/25-scale models of buildings constructed by the Ancient Greeks, the Seljuks and the Ottomans. These “small models of a great country” are a wonderfully immersive way to experience Turkey through the ages.
Seeing replicas of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace can be a nice stepping stone for a visit to the real things, without the additional travel.
The Princes’ Islands
There are no cars on the Princes’ Islands so all transport is by foot, bicycle or horse and carriage. Though there are Nine islands in this little archipelago, only four are inhabited. Most day trippers head for the largest, Büyükada (meaning Big Island)—which involves a family-friendly ferry stop to a small island along the way.
Floating in the Sea of Marmara, the islands have pine forests, old wooden cottages, leafy streets, harbour-side fish restaurants and ice-cream parlours. There are small pebbly beaches near the ferry on Büyükada, and the pay-per-day Naki Bey, is only a 15-minute walk from town .
Plan a full day for this worthwhile excursion.
Navigate across the oceans via a 1.2km walkway. The Istanbul Aquarium moves you from the Black Sea, through the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean until you reach the Antarctic. There are 1,500 species of sea creatures to view, ranging from strange & unusual to the ever-popular clown fish.
The aquarium is the perfect place for families to cool down in a Zen-like way. With interactive maps, multi-language touch screens, ships to explore and a 5D movie theatre – there’s a nice emphasis on learning as well as gazing.
There are three cafes and a restaurant in the two-story building, which only needs half a day to explore.
In the heart of the Old Town, the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. It’s huge! And it has more than 5,000 stalls with areas dedicated to jewelry, carpets, textiles, ceramics and slippers.
Children love the maze-like alleyways hung with jeweled lanterns. It’s a great place to trust them with some pocket money to buy inexpensive souvenirs.
After the Grand Bazaar, head to the nearby spice market, Misir Çarsisi. Inhale the aromas of the herbs and spices and try the free samples of nuts, sweets and baklava.
If you think a smaller market might be a better introduction, try Arasta Bazaar. There are far fewer stalls and the atmosphere is much more mellow.
In spite of being only a short walk from Istanbul’s Old City, Gülhane Park isn’t well known amongst visitors. But it really is a lovely, relaxing place for families to take a break in between sightseeing.
Once the outer grounds of the Topkapi Palace, it was designed to be a large rose garden. And it offers views across the Bosphorus Strait, the Sea of Marmara and Princes’ Islands from its northeastern edge. There’s a children’s playground, a tea garden and coffee shops—and the pathways are lined with shady plane trees. The lawns are often dotted with families having a picnic, which is a great addition to any trip.