Istanbul is often imagined as an exotic and hectic destination best suited to adults.
In fact Turkish culture is very child-centred and your youngest family members will be appreciated and entertained at every turn!
If you’re keen to see the famous sights, public transport options are near, numerous and very efficient – logistics are really no problem. If you choose not to go far from the neighbourhood even the smallest of happenings on the street will fascinate. Restaurants, cafés and grocery shops are incredibly welcoming to children of all ages and everyone will usually go out of their way to help.
We host many delighted families who love the ease of their spacious and homely apartment together with the welcoming local culture and abundant adventures just on the doorstep. Istanbul makes a perfect culture-rich city break for all ages.
Here are 5 examples of easily accessible activities guaranteed to please your young* child.
We’re sure that you’ll soon be adding plenty more of your own to the list!
* A future post will give some ideas for older children and teens.
1) Find an ice cream magician on Istiklal Avenue
10 minutes interesting walk away
These guys really know how to tease! They make theatre of the stretchy nature of Turkish ice cream, traditionally made from powdered orchid root, and may take your delicious-looking cone back again as soon as it’s been given.
Once they see that you’re enjoying their performance it can last a very long time before you actually get a lick of your ice cream. Children are favourite stars of the show and often draw a crowd. Your child will, eventually! really appreciate the treat that required so much patience to finally call their own.
There are several of these ice-cream stalls along Istiklal Caddesi, an interesting short walk up the hill from your apartment in Galata. You could try a treasure hunt to find one, any time day or evening.
2) Jump on a ferry to Asia
10 minutes walk to the ferry stop, 25 minutes boat ride to Asia
Head downhill from your apartment to Karaköy ferry stop, an interesting walk through the streets of Galata. From here there’s a frequent ferry service over to Kadıköy and Haydarpaşa on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The journey takes less than half an hour and you’ll be able to jump off to ‘explore Asia’ or stay on for a return trip. On the ferry you can choose to sit outside or inside, sip a çay or ayran (salted yoghurt drink that many children love) as seagulls fly alongside and the sights and shores of Istanbul slip past as if in a movie.
Your apartment keys will include an Istanbulkart key-ring which you can charge up at the start of your stay and use for many forms of public transport, including this one, for just a couple of Euros per trip.
3) Conduct, as if an orchestra, the calls to prayer from your own roof terrace
2 minutes walk upstairs
This is an easy one if you’re staying in one of our apartments in the Petraki building. In this case you’ll be given your own key for the roof terrace and you can head up there any time you like. Feel free to take snacks, drinks and/or activities with you. The views across the Golden Horn are truly fabulous, reaching as far as the Bosphorus, so your child will get a real sense of the geography of the city. Behind you’ll see the top of Galata Tower and realise that your private view is ‘very almost just as good’ plus you didn’t need a ticket or have to queue.
Be there for ‘call to prayer’ time as the mosque minarets across the city join in unison, for an experience that you’ll never forget. Your child can conduct them all or sing along as desired, from your private space.
Please note that the barrier rail is strong but children, like the rest of us, will need to be responsible or well-tended up there.
Find out more about Petraki Place Apartments.
4) Find the upside-down Medusa’s Head in the Basilica Cistern
20 minutes plus queue away
Sultanahmet district, across the Golden Horn, is full of treasure but this hunt is particularly atmospheric. The 6th Century Yerebatan Sarayı is a cathedral-sized underground cistern: flood lit, slightly spooky and still watery after all the years. It echoes well and there are fish to be spotted as you walk the wooden boardwalks between ancient columns. It’s a great lesson in re-cycling and classical civilizations, as much of the carved stone used had previous purpose. The two huge, finely carved Roman Medusa’s Heads are now handy column supports: just the right size for the job.
Sultanahmet is 4 short tram stops from your apartment. The Istanbulkart with your apartment keys will work for trams too. Tickets for the Basilica Cistern can be bought on the door and there may be queues at peak times, so it’s best to get there early.
5) Choose your favourite jewel at the Topkapı Palace Treasury
20 minutes walk and tram, plus queue away
Topkapı Palace Museum, also in Sultanahmet, deserves a few hours at least of your schedule. A collection of architecturally fascinating 15th century buildings surrounded by high walls, it contains the royal living quarters – including the beautifully tiled harem – of the court of the early Ottoman Empire.
There are gardens for wandering, cafes for resting and gift shops for rewarding, adding up to a relaxed experience with children who can stretch their imaginations and legs at the same time. One of the highlights is the Imperial Treasury where the collection of well-displayed, completely stunning jewels has appeal across ages and genders. Choosing your favourite jewel from so many amazing ones can be tricky, for princes and princesses alike.
Do you have questions?
We raised our own son in Istanbul, full-time for the first few years, then more recently balancing family life in Istanbul with England too.
Feel free to ask us any questions you may have in the comments section below.