No matter what anyone says, Istanbul is one of the best cities in Turkey for families with children. Full of history, but truly a modern city, it’s a place that can turn unique once-in-a-lifetime experiences into unforgettable memories. To see Istanbul with kids is creating memories they will never forget.
There are so many things to do in Istanbul with kids. For them, this is a mystery city, full of unusual and interesting activities. Ancient sights, modern entertainment centers, theme parks, and fascinating museums are some of the best places that are a perfect addition to your family’s Istanbul itinerary.
If you are looking to travel to Istanbul with kids, don’t miss these fun things to do.
Note: I am intentionally not adding to the list the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. They are the most popular sights that I am sure you plan to visit anyway!
Best Time to Visit Istanbul With Children
Before I start to talk about things to do in Istanbul with kids, let’s quickly go through all seasons and determine what is the best time for families to go on their Turkey holidays. Istanbul is a destination that is perfect for any time of the year. Yet not every season is perfect for a visit with kids. There is no “off-season” in Istanbul as it is not a seaside city resort. There is a high season that lasts from mid-April to mid-October and a low season that runs through winter.
The best time to travel to Istanbul with kids is not in the high season and not outside it. The best time is spring and fall. To be more precise; the months of April, May, September, and October. At this time, Istanbul has fantastic weather that favors flowers blooming, many festivals, and decent prices. July and August are the hottest months with high prices, crowds, long queues, and often unbearable temperatures for exploring.
Things to Do in Istanbul With Kids
1. Spend a Day in the Miniaturk Park
There is no better place for a child to get to know Turkey and the history of the Ottoman Empire than this impressive park. It is the world’s largest miniature park with 105 models made on a 1:25 scale. Located on the coast of Golden Horn Bay, it allows visitors to go on a tour through various historic regions of Turkey and explore different eras.
The scale models tell about the history and culture of the country. There is an English-language audio guide that makes a walk in the park more informative. Among all of the miniature sights, you’ll see those that exist today and the legendary monuments that were destroyed centuries ago. The exposition includes the ancient temple of Artemis, walls of Constantinople, Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Bosphorus and Mostar bridges, Ataturk airport, and much more.
TIP: Since it is such a large park, we recommend using the Miniatürk Express train for transportation.
2. Go on a Bosphorus Cruise
For many tourists, travel to Istanbul is inextricably linked to the Bosphorus. A ferry trip through the Bosphorus Strait can be a memorable experience for the whole family, including little kids. The Bosphorus not only divides Istanbul into two parts but is also the border between the continents of Europe and Asia. Within a few minutes you can visit two parts of the world.
This is a wonderful journey that allows families to admire the city from the water, enjoy the beauty of the Strait, watch the sunset, and take a lot of Instagram-worthy photos.
There are three ways for a boat trip along the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The first and the cheapest is the public ferry that departs from different dock stations and goes in various directions. A second option includes a group excursion on a private boat with an English-speaking guide. And the third option is to rent a yacht and have it all to yourself.
With a yacht and a tour, you have an opportunity to go for the entire day, making multiple stops and shore excursions. During that trip, you will cross the border of Europe and Asia twice, see the shores of the Golden Horn and magnificent views of Istanbul’s coastline.
3. Have a Family Getaway to Princes’ Islands
The Princes’ Islands archipelago in the Sea of Marmara is made up of nine small islands. It is one of the popular holiday destinations and excursions in Istanbul. Only four of the nine islands are accessible: Büyükada, Kınalıada, Heybeliada, and Burgazada. A boat ride to the islands takes 1.5 hours, so plan accordingly if traveling with young children. Unfortunately, many families forget to add the islands to their itinerary, missing out on a relaxing getaway away from the big city.
The most popular of the Princes’ Islands is Büyükada (Big Island). It is car-free, but you can take a horse drawn carriage to explore the town. Be sure to visit the Agia Yorgi Kilesi, a church dedicated to Saint George. This is believed to be the largest wooden structure in Europe. The now abandoned building frame is a remnant of Istanbul’s multicultural past. It’s a short walk up a very steep hill but the view is magnificent.
Families will find plenty to do on the islands. They can ride bikes or rollerblade, swim, have a picnic, learn a lot of about Turkish history, and see magnificent landscapes.
If you make it to the most romantic island of all, Princes’ Islands Burgazaada, you will also have access to spectacular hiking trails and spots for an incredible sunset. The islands are perfect for a full day excursion from the city center.
4. Walk Famous Istiklal Street and Ride Historic Transportation
There are two famous attractions in Istanbul which are great and free. Well, or almost free. The first one is the Karakoy funicular (İETT Genel Müdürlüğü Karaköy), built almost 100 years ago. It is part of the Istanbul transport network, so you pay for it as you would for a regular ride. The funicular leaves from Karakoy and lifts passengers to the Galata Tower and the beginning of Istiklal.
Another popular attraction that is fairly inexpensive is the Istanbul cable car. The cable car first appeared in Istanbul in 1875. Children love a mini trip on a cable railway. There are two cable cars in Istanbul, but we recommend the Eyüp-Pierre Loti route that offers great views of the city below.
When you are finished trying these unique modes of transportation, head to Istiklal Street in the heart of the city. The street runs from Taksim Square to Galata Tower. Istiklal Street is interesting because it is the central artery of the city and full of shops, souvenirs, and colorful cafés. It also has unique old trams that run along the avenue and are fantastic attractions on their own.
5. See the Mystical Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is an unusual and even mystical place that kids love to see since it looks like a “spooky dungeon”. After entering an inconspicuous building with the inscription ‘Yerebatan Sarnici’ and going down the stairs, they will find themselves in a huge underground reservoir of Byzantine times, “dotted” with hundreds of majestic marble columns.
The cistern dates to the 6th century and once held 100,000 tons of water. It was the major water supply of Constantinople. Nowadays it serves as a museum.
Thanks to the lighting effects, the columns are mystically reflected in the water, creating the feeling that there is another hall beneath. Classical music plays in the background, adding to the mystery of the cistern.
Walk with your kids along the pillars, find the stone Medusa heads, watch the fish swim, and don’t forget to throw a coin at the Pool of Desires.
6. Bring Your Children to the Istanbul Toy Museum
This is a charming place to visit with children any time of year. It is a small museum in the Asian side of Istanbul, but it has a fairly large (about 4000 exhibits) private collection of toys. The toy museum is one of the richest museums of this kind in the world. There are a variety of displays that teach about the history of toys and show what children played with many years ago. Children will love the toys showcasing the history of mini-transport, soldiers, and space technology. There are also dolls from different time periods and old dollhouses with furniture and dishes.
However, seeing the exhibits is not the only reason to visit the Toy Museum. There are frequent puppet shows, masterclasses, and Sunday breakfasts arranged by staff in the children’s cafe.
7. Travel Back in Time to Topkapi Palace
A key attraction of Istanbul and one of the richest museums in the world, the Topkapi Palace will be interesting for all ages. It was the main residence of the sultans until the middle of the 19th century and visitors can see how the sultans lived, what they wore, and games the sultan’s children would have played. Don’t miss the chambers with the luxurious interiors, and collections of weapons and gifts.
Topkapi Palace Museum is not just a museum. This is a huge complex with a park area where you could easily spend the whole day.
8. Don’t Miss LEGOLAND Discovery Center
LEGOLAND is always a great place for kids, and the one in Istanbul can be found in the Forum Istanbul shopping center. It is aimed at young visitors between 3 and 10 years old but older children may enjoy it as well. In the center, kids can visit several themed zones like the Lego 4D cinema or Miniland zone with miniature copies of famous Turkish and world landmarks created by LEGO.
There are also mini roller coasters and LEGO Racers zone where children can assemble their own model racing car and test it on the high-speed track.
The exhibition area with miniature LEGO figurines shows landmarks of Big Ben, the domes of the Taj Mahal, the tracery silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and of course famous streets and monuments of Istanbul.
9. Visit Istanbul Aquarium Aqua Florya
It’s no secret that children love aquariums and everything related to the water. There are two aquariums in Istanbul kids are sure to love.
The first one is Sea Life Istanbul, with an area of 8000 square meters located in the Forum shopping center. Aqua Florya Aquarium is the second aquarium for families with an area of 23,000 sq.m. located in a modern seafront mall in Bakirkoy district. Both boast a rich collection of marine life and offer an exciting opportunity to feed fish.
Florya is considered a much better aquarium as it is one of the largest oceanariums in the world. On two floors of the building, there are 64 glass displays with 17,000 types of marine and terrestrial fauna brought from different climate zones. They live in an environment that is as close to natural conditions as possible. The aquarium is equipped with modern digital equipment and visitors can read information about all its inhabitants on touch screens.
A 1.2 km-long pathway passes through the building offering underwater thematic zones and one land zone – the Amazonian rainforest. Diving is possible in the main aquarium, where sharks and rays of all varieties live.
10. Explore the Eminonu Neighborhood
This area offers nearly as much to see as the Grand Bazaar without the crowds. Here families can visit the spice market and try some yummy local dishes like Turkish delight, durum, simit, and Turkish pizza.
It’s a great place to buy souvenirs, watch the Istanbul ferries, walk across Galata Bridge and check out the daily catch. Be sure to eat a fish sandwich on the waterfront and buy some stretchy Turkish ice cream, dondurma.
11. Go See Old Cars in Ural Ataman Classic Car Museum
The last Istanbul activity for children on this list is great in the sense that it offers a chance to combine a visit to one of the most interesting museums with a visit to one of the lesser-visited Istanbul neighborhoods. Even if you do not consider yourself a fan of cars, the Ural Ataman Classic Car Museum will surely amaze you. A private collection of vintage cars is enormous and the design of the museum is pleasant. A friendly staff helps to enjoy the place from the start.
Kids will be able to see not only cars, each of which has its own unique and unrepeatable history, but also all kinds of accessories and auto parts. The museum’s collection includes 67 cars, 11 motorcycles, 18 different gas pumps, 450 wheel caps, and 76 neon signs from gas stations.
Ural Ataman Classic Car Museum has a very contemporary design. The melodies in the halls, as well as replicas of US roadside cafes, only add to the nostalgic atmosphere. It is definitely one of the coolest places to visit in Istanbul with kids on any day!
Few places in the world can boast such a beautiful setting and range of fascinating historical sites as Istanbul. There’s a wealth of things to see and do, and the city has a number of kid-friendly activities the whole family will enjoy.
About the author: This is a guest post contributed by Anya from Road is Calling. She is originally from Ukraine but lives in Istanbul for part of the year. On her blog, she enjoys sharing stories and experiences from her slow travel lifestyle around Turkey and beyond.
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