Most visitors to Istanbul who travel with children will be quick to realise that the city is, despite first appearances, one of the most child-friendly destinations to visit. Seasoned travellers will know that a city’s attitude towards young children is just as meaningful as its infrastructure when it comes to providing a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere for your little ones. And, as far as cultural attitude goes, it would be difficult to find a people more baby-crazy than the Turks: expect your children to be spoiled, praised, and doted on.
Although getting around the city might be a challenge with young ones in tow, Istanbulites will often go out of their way to help. And, as far as eating out, you’ll find that the local culture takes a very relaxed view in terms of kids in restaurants. It would be difficult to find a venue at which your children are not welcome, so don’t expect annoyed looks or impatient staff if a little food is dropped or a baby becomes cranky. Indeed, it’s fairly common for friendly waitstaff to take a young child off the parents’ hands for several minutes, leaving you to enjoy your meal in peace.
With such a child-friendly tradition, it should come as no surprise that Istanbul also has a wealth of activities that your children, regardless of age, will love and enjoy. From interactive museums to large playgrounds where they can let loose, here are several options to try in the city:
Rahmi M. Koç Museum
This museum, dedicated to the history of transportation in Istanbul, is a must-see for kids. The museum’s hands-on centre for children is sure to be a hit: your little ones can sit in the cockpit of a real plane, observe the engine and gearbox in a cutaway car, and conduct scientific experiments. The museum also has the added perk of being just as appealing to an adult audience as it is to children.
Rahmi M. Koç Museum
Because you can easily customise the length and route of the cruises available in Istanbul, this is a convenient and relaxing way to see some sites you may otherwise have missed. Most visitors to Istanbul will choose to stay in the city centre: Sultanahmet and the Taksim area, after all, are the hearts of ancient and modern Istanbul, respectively. Many won’t see parts of the northern Bosphorus or the Asian side at all; they’re relatively difficult to get to, particularly with young children.
On a cruise, however, you and your family will be able to sit and enjoy the view as the boat takes you past the Ottoman villas lining the water in Arnavutkoy, the Kuleli Naval Academy, the Asian-side fortress named Andalou Hisari, and Khedive Palace, the residence of an Ottoman viceroy at the turn of the twentieth century.
Bosphorus Tours © Şehir Hatları
Şehir Hatları is Istanbul’s official ferry company. It offers three great Bosphorus tours: Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise, Full Bosphorus Cruise and the night cruise. At all costs keep well away from the private Bosphorus tours offered by smaller fleets at the docks of the Eminönü. The tours are overpriced (double or more), far shorter than official cruises and often held on boats that barely seaworthy. The best trip that goes right to edge of the black sea is the ‘Full Bosphorus Cruise’ and stops at all the beauty spots including the Rumelihisari fortress.
Play Area at Zorlu Center
Nice playgrounds may be a bit hard to find in the city, but the relatively new play area at the Zorlu Center can’t be beaten. It caters to children of all ages: from a low-key area with sloping hills and hammocks for younger toddlers, to giant slides and an entire system of tunnels for older ones, it’s the perfect place to take your children if they need to blow off some steam after a day of sightseeing. The playground is also surrounded by restaurants: Tom’s Kitchen, Cantinery, Eataly, and Jamie’s Italian are all nearby.
© Zorlu Center
Kadıköy Fish Market
Bustling and colourful, there’s always something to see, hear, and do at the Kadıköy Fish Market. Located a short walk from the ferry terminal, it’s a fun way to take kids to another continent altogether, you’ll be on the Asian side of Istanbul! and also to experience a bazaar that is much more local and less overwhelming than the Grand Bazaar. Perks for kids include the ferry ride over, a large selection of restaurants to choose from (try Çiya Sofrası for a fun and authentic experience), and a walk down the wide Bağdat Avenue, only a short cab ride away.
Kadıköy Fish Market
If you have older children, this giant fortress will capture their imagination with its sheer size and magnificence. With a beautiful view of the water and plenty of grass and hills on which to run, it’s a great place to stop for an hour or two. Normally free of the crowds that gather at many other tourist sites, the fortress also offers a wealth of fantastic eating options at its foot; convenient for fuelling up or recharging after a steep climb.
Just be cautious: many of the steep and crumbling steps of the fortress lack guardrails, so it would be wise to restrict any running around to the grassy hills or amphitheatre, and save the ramparts themselves for much older children.
Istanbul Toy Museum
Housed in an old toy factory that has since shut down, Istanbul’s museum of toys is a tribute to toys throughout the ages. A large collection encompassing both Turkish toys as well as toys from around the world, it’s appealing to adults as well as children. Adults will enjoy the trip throughout history that the museum provides: the collection is marked by eras, and the relationship between toys and momentous historical occurrences are particularly interesting. Children will enjoy the colourful displays and the sense of whimsy that pervades the museum.