Many people think that traveling to Istanbul with kids is not the best idea. They imagine a bustling metropolis with heavy traffic, crowded streets, oriental bazaars at each corner with vociferous sellers and crowds of locals, and then tourists everywhere who are always in a hurry.
But then the same people happen to come to Istanbul and find a completely different picture. The largest city of Turkey actually warmly opens its gates to little travelers, offering them a huge selection of places to visit. These places are historical sights, countless museums, modern entertainment centers, and many different interesting activities that leave only the warmest memories of this fabulous city.
A family trip to Istanbul may well be successful if you plan it correctly – choose the right time for travel, book a comfortable hotel, create an itinerary, think of excursions and entertainment ahead of time, and know how much things in Istanbul cost. I would love to give you my tips for this amazing city to make sure you enjoy your holiday.
4 Tips to Know When Traveling to Istanbul With Kids
1. Is Istanbul an Interesting City for Kids?
No matter what many people who have never been to Istanbul say, this city is a wonderful destination for families with children. Imbued with history but at the same time keeping pace with modernity, Istanbul can give an unforgettable amount of memories and positive emotions.
For children in particular, Istanbul holds a lot of mystery and hundreds of interesting things to do. Children of school age, preschoolers, and toddlers will enjoy many places in Istanbul that I mention below in this post.
Families traveling to Istanbul with toddlers should remember that Turkish people love children very much and put them in the center of the universe. Strangers always show extra care to parents and their little ones, offer treats, help, and all those details that make a trip more pleasant. So while Istanbul can seem really big and noisy, it is also a comfortable city for kids of different ages.
2. Best Time of the Year to Travel to Istanbul With Children
Istanbul welcomes tourists at any time of the year. You can come at any month and find tons of things to do. Yet, there are a few timeframes when it is better to avoid visiting Istanbul when traveling with kids. They are in winter between January and February and in summer between July and August.
While I am absolutely convinced that traveling to Istanbul in winter is some of the best seasons, I will never recommend it for families with kids. Winter in Istanbul is not particularly cold but it is almost always wet and damp. Yes, you can definitely visit all city’s museums and all the main sights during this time of the year However, it can be not so pleasant for kids to get from one place to another and enjoy this city in full. And winter walks can easily get hindered by rains and cold wind.
July and August can be unbearably hot, stuffy, always too crowded, and more expensive.
Thus, the best time to go to Istanbul with a child is from late April to early June. This is the time when there is no tiring heat and the air is fresh and warm enough for long walks. Another wonderful season to travel is in the second half of September – October, during the velvet season.
3. Best Airport to Fly to
Istanbul has two international airports where you can possibly fly. Most international flights arrive at Istanbul International Airport (Istanbul New Airport or IST) in the Arnavutköy area of the European part of the city. Another airport, Sabiha Gokcen Airport is located on the Asian side in the east. It serves domestic flights, some charter flights, and flights of low-cost European airlines.
Sabiha airport, although old and small, is located closer to the city and it takes less time to get from it to any part of Istanbul. IST is a new large modern airport where transfers are more organized, although more time-consuming. Getting from both of them is quite easy. You can find more details about how to get to different parts of the city in my Istanbul airport transfer guide.
4. Best Way to Get Around
The public transport system in Istanbul seems to be complex and confusing but this is only at first glance. There are many different types of transportation and you can use buses, dolmush (shared) taxis, trams, metrobuses, metro, electric trains, and ferries. Among all of them, I recommend avoiding buses and dolmushes since they often get stuck in traffic jams.
The most comfortable and convenient way to get around Istanbul with kids would be by metro, tram, or ferry. Ferry, in particular, will be like an attraction itself.
Transport in Istanbul runs often from 6:00 until 24:00. Children under 6 years old are entitled to travel for free if they have a document confirming their age.
4 Tips For Things to Do in Istanbul With Kids On Any Visit
1. Go On One of Many Educational Trips Around Istanbul
The best way to turn any day in Istanbul into one educational activity that will be interesting for both kids and parents alike is to go on the excursion. And there are a few ways to do that – by a double-decker sightseeing bus, by tram (the most popular one is tram #T1 which runs through the historical part of the city in Sultanahmet), on a self-guided walk, or on a ferry across the Bosphorus.
A ferry ride, in particular, is something that any child will surely like. Being on the water while passing by the beautiful palaces and mosques, while feeding the seagulls, seeing Maiden’s Tower on an islet in the middle of the strait, and while drinking hot Turkish tea is an experience that none of your family will forget. There are public ferries that connect the Asian side with the European and work great for those who want to see the city in a more relaxing and budget way. Private cruises suit better travelers who are looking for more privacy and a unique route.
One more educational trip that is great for the entire family is to go to Miniaturk Park. It houses smaller copies of the country’s most famous landmarks, from Topkapi Palace to the snow-white terraces of Pamukkale, and provides the opportunity to see entire Turkey during one day. In addition, the park has a playground and a green labyrinth where kids can play.
NOTE: If you are planning a tour of the Bosphorus with a toddler, choose the short tour, which lasts about 2 hours. With a teenager, you can go on a cruise for up to 6 hours. Longer tours make stops in several ports and are usually very interesting to older kids.
2. Spend Time in Fresh Air in One of the Most Beautiful Parks
City hotels, unlike resorts in the south, do not have large green areas where you can go for a walk with a child. For this type of outdoor activity, the best option is to head to one of Istanbul’s parks. There are so many of them around the city.
In the very center of Sultanahmet neighborhood, next to the Topkapi Palace, there is a very beautiful huge Gulhane Park. In April, it gets decorated with hundreds of thousands of tulips, planted especially for the Tulip Festival which takes place in Istanbul every year. Emirgan Park gets decorated for the festival in the same way. It is far from the center and takes some time to get there. But it sees fewer people and offers many playgrounds and a lake with swans.
Other incredibly beautiful green areas for spending time in the fresh air in Istanbul with kids are Geztepe and Fenerbahce parks. If you wish, you could also completely leave the city for one day and enjoy the serenity of the Princes’ Islands. The archipelago in the Sea of Marmara is a wonderful place to spend time with children, hit the beach, and even swim. The sea is very clean there and the water warms up to at least + 21-22°C in summer.
3. Visit Famous Istanbul Museums
Among other things to do in Istanbul with children should be a visit to at least one museum. As with parks, there are also dozens of museums in Istanbul that will be interesting to the child.
The Rahmi M. Koç Museum will appeal to kids who love to ask a variety of questions “why?” There, they will be able to penetrate into the essence of physical phenomena, learn about the principles of a steam engine or telephone, understand why trams move and planes fly.
If your child is interested in the history of inventions, I recommend visiting the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam.
The Maritime Museum surprises with a precisely adjusted combination of severity and romance. With naval nodes, navigational instruments, naval artillery, small and full-size replicas of ships – your kids can wander through the halls of this museum for hours.
The Istanbul Military Museum will interest boys who know (or want to learn) a lot about weapons. The most famous exhibit is a golden chain that prevented the fleet of Sultan Mehmed in 1453 from entering the Golden Horn Bay.
Toy Museum is another interesting museum for a visit. It is a magical place where wonderful toys from different countries live. On weekends, it hosts puppet shows for children of all ages.
4. Explore Ancient Architectural Landmarks
Palaces, mosques, fortresses – what fun places to visit on your Istanbul family holiday? If you are traveling with a child, take the opportunity to see the most beautiful architectural landmarks that are hundreds of years old. Some options for showing your child are:
- Topkapi Palace. Its territory used to be a whole city where 5,000 people once lived. Nowadays, the palace has become a museum with exhibitions of ancient weapons, jewellry, expensive clothes, and porcelain. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (the one I mentioned above) is located nearby.
- Hagia Sophia. One of the most beautiful Christian churches in the world which was recently turned into a mosque holds priceless medieval mosaics inside the cathedral.
- Blue Mosque. One of the grandest mosques in Istanbul that leaves an incredible impression on every visitor. Since this is a working religious building, men must take off their shoes at the entrance and women must cover their heads.
- Basilica Cistern. The underground reservoir built in the 4th century with a goal to supply water to the Great Palace and the city. During your excursion into the dungeon, try to find the columns with the head of Medusa the Gorgon at the base.