This week the wonderful Lisa Morrow of Inside Out in Istanbul is sharing the best places to visit in Istanbul with kids. This city has long been on my bucket list for places I want to explore and I hope you’ll add it to yours too!
What to Do in Istanbul with Kids
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. Here are five of the best, can’t miss, Istanbul activities for families, though the list varies based on the weather.
1. Yerebatan Basilica Cistern
Once the major water supply of Constantinople, the Yerebatan Basilica Cistern was lost to Istanbul until the 16th century when a visitor to the city heard rumours of locals fishing from their basements. Well below street level, this shadowy underground cavern delights the senses with huge pillars reflected in the water and a light and sound show adding to the somewhat spooky atmosphere. It dates from the 6th century and the mathematically minded might like to tell you how much water it once held (100,000 tons) and how many columns there are (336).
Get kids with a passion for architecture to point out which ones are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, and the whole family can go on the hunt for the two Medusa heads laying in the water. See who knows why one of them is upside down (possibly an early Christian practice of putting pagan statues upside-down to make a statement about their faith) and who’s the first to notice there’s no echo.
2. Rahmi M Koç Museum transport, History & Communications Museum
Ignore the serious sounding name of this museum and prepare yourself for fun. Kids can sit behind the wheel of vintage cars or sit in the cockpit of a plane in the Hands-On gallery. The science-minded can try real life experiments and history buffs can revel in the display of planes, trains and automobiles used in Turkey in previous decades.
Weekends are the best time to go, when you’ll have the chance to take a ride on a real steam boat, ride a train, and get to try out a Segway if you’re lucky. I mean the kids can, after you’ve had a go first!
This area offers nearly as much to see as the Grand Bazaar and is easier to manage with kids. You can visit the Spice Bazaar and taste some yummy Turkish delight, buy souvenirs, watch the famous Istanbul ferries coming into dock, walk across Galata Bridge and check out the daily catch, eat a fish sandwich on the waterfront, and have fun buying stretchy Turkish ice cream.
Located on the shores of the Golden Horn, a visit to Miniaturk lets you travel the length and breadth of Turkey in a single day. The 131 architectural models of mosques, caravanserais, railway stations, synagogues, obelisks and more, give a clear picture of the numerous cultures that have passed through and lived in the country throughout thousands of years of history.
It’s hard to pick a favourite exhibit, but mine are the fantastical peribaca, or fairy chimneys, peculiar to the Cappadocia region. Kids and adults alike will find something to love here.
5. Istanbul day trip to the Princes’ Islands
Catch a ferry across the blue waters of the Sea of Marmara and step back in time the moment you disembark on the Princes’ Islands. There are nine islands in total, and the most popular is Büyükkada (Big Island). It’s a car-free zone and you can take a tour in a horse drawn phaeton along tree-lined streets filled with pastel coloured wooden houses and other follies.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the Agia Yorgi Kilesi, a church dedicated to Saint George. It’s a short trek up a very steep hill. At the top the view through the trees is magnificent. We love to take a picnic, hire bikes, and cycle up to the old Greek Orphanage.
Believed to be the largest wooden building in Europe, this now abandoned shell harks back to Istanbul’s multicultural past. There are plenty of grassy knells to set up your picnic, enjoy the views and admire the horses grazing nearby. In summer lots of small beaches open up around the island, offering cafés, toilets, sunbeds and umbrellas, for a reasonable entry fee.
If you are looking for other things to do in Turkey, don’t miss Cappadocia with kids!
Lisa Morrow is a Sydney born sociologist, blogger, and author of three books about Istanbul and Turkey. She writes for numerous international outlets, has a monthly segment on San Francisco Turkish Radio and recently put out an audio walking tour called Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk, on Voice Map. Her website www.insideoutinistanbul.com came about from her determination to scratch away the seemingly mundane surface of ordinary Turkish life to reveal the complexities below.