We absolutely adored our first time in Istanbul and would love to return. If you’re wondering what is worth visiting in Istanbul for kids then read on for what our tips are. We didn’t manage to go everywhere of course!
Things to do in Istanbul for kids
Istanbul and Turkey are great for kids, the people just love children and are so pleasant and accommodating. Having two older kids meant that they didn’t get quite so much attention, but we still got stopped and spoken to by the locals because of the kids.
Marcus and Alex are really quite easy to drag around sights and are happy wandering round looking at architecture as much as more fun things. I thought I’d document out of all the things to do in istanbul with kids, the things that we liked and what we thought wasn’t worth the time and money. As always we try and get a guidebook beforehand to help us know where to spend our time and to see what the best attractions might be in Istanbul for kids.
The best kids attractions in Istanbul
Istanbul has these in spades! We actually only visited inside two, the Blue Mosque and a smaller one behind the Blue Mosque called the little Hagia Sophia (I think), but I loved the architecture and the peace inside. So beautiful. A great lesson to the kids in the respect of others religions as well due to having to take shoes off and cover hair. We talked lots about pointing towards Mecca and thankfully there were loads of information boards in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque since my knowledge of Islam is pretty small.
Blink and you miss it – the Million Stone is what remains of an archway from the Roman Byzantine Empire and was the place that all distances to roman empire cities were measured from. Alongside the stone is a sign displaying distances to places all over the world and there’s also a wooden walkway with more cities and distances written on them. For some reason, perhaps because she is into classical history, Alex really loved the Million stone and cited it as one of her favourites out of the many kids attractions in Istanbul. Free, takes 10 minutes to visit, but makes a lasting impression!
Add scenes from a James Bond movie, underground water and giant medusa heads and you get a weird and wonderful attraction. The Basilica cistern was a must see due to the James Bond connection and although not much to do down there, it was a pretty cool place to go and see. Really atmospheric and weird to be underneath the city! The kids loved this place and Alex got a kick out of seeing the Medusa heads. Cheap too and only 10TL each to go in.
Waterfront by Galata Bridge
On of the bridges across the Golden Horn is the Galata bridge and it was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The first time we got there via the Spice Bazaar (see below) and it was incredibly busy. It also smelled highly of fish due to the abundance of fishermen who line both sides of the bridge and who seems to spend hours from dawn until dusk hoping for a catch. It was incredibly busy, but I loved it there. It was full of life, full of locals, full of touts, but just very real. If you want to cross the road either head for the underpasses (but when it’s busy it’s very busy) or go to the overpass which was my favourite route! The roads are really busy!
Taking a trip on the Bosphorous especially over to a new continent is a pretty cool thing to do and we decided we had to do this. I’m going to blog separately about the trip, but we had a fab time. We always enjoy trips on water and this was a good value trip. It cost 25TL each so about £7 each for a trip all the way up the Bosphorous to almost the mouth of the Black sea, a few hours on the asian side and a trip back. You can do other trips, but this is the main cruise. You can do sunset, non landing or just go on the ferries that the locals take. We wanted to actually reach Asia since James and the kids had never been 🙂
Meh – What’s not so good!
Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
I was really looking forward to seeing the Grand Bazaar and was expecting it to be huge, overwhelming and busy. It was big, but I think we arrived a bit too early and it was really quiet. It felt like a bit of an anti climax really. Since it was so quiet we felt a bit conspicuous and since we weren’t really wanting to buy anything didn’t want the attention. Marcus and Alex aren’t especially keen on lots of attention anyway, they definitely like to be observers of situations rather than participants!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we headed to the Spice Bazaar at around 3pm and it was absolutely heaving. And I mean really busy, so much so that I thought I’d lose James and Marcus at one point. I held onto Alex and we just made our way through not really wanting to stop for fear of getting split up. I think we’d just hit upon a really busy time! It was enough to make us decide we didn’t really want to head back any time soon!
You cannot miss the Hagia Sofia if you’re in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. It lies just opposite the Blue Mosque as if they are in a stand off as to which one is the most magnificent.
Hagia Sofia used to be a church and was converted to a mosque at a later date. Now it’s a museum. I actually really loved the building and I’m glad we got to see inside. As I said, my two are quite happy to go round these places without a grump but for the price, which was 100TL for the 4 of us, I felt it was quite expensive for the time we were in there. I kind of didn’t want to go without seeing it which is why we decided, but if we were on a more budget trip like we normally are I’d have struck this one off and just admired it from the outside.
It’s beautiful inside, although slightly marred while we were there by huge amounts of scaffolding. Putting it in the ‘bad’ category is probably a bit harsh, (actually I’ve upgraded it to meh) I think my two just didn’t get much out of it and my knowledge of Byzantine times and was probably a bit lacking to make it better!
The bad – what I’d not bother with!
Galata Tower looks really intriguing from the shores of the old town. It rises up on top of a hill and looks a little out of place in the world of mosques that normally punctuate the skyline. We’d not visited that side of Istanbul and figured we’d take a walk and try and visit the tower. I’d read in my guidebook it was 10TL to get to the top and figured it wasn’t too bad.
As we arrived, having walked up an incredibly steep hill, Marcus was in a bit of a strop about having to wait in the huge queue that was present. I figured since we’d made it that far we should give it a go. So we waited in the queue. After about a 20 minute wait, with us all getting a bit snappy, we got to the front and realised that it wasn’t 10TL each, but 19TL each. So a grand total of 76TL or about £20 for the four of us. Since we’d invested so much time we stayed and went up the lift to the top. Well, not quite the top, you have to go past a cafe and restaurant to get to the top. At the top there is a walkway that you go round. Except it was sunset, so people on the other side of the tower weren’t moving and we were stuck as it is so narrow you can’t get past people.
And that really was it for the Galata tower, there isn’t much to it at all. I know we were slightly grumpy being there as we were tired, but I think the price was quite high for what was there really.
Didn’t get chance to:
I *really* wanted to try out a turkish hammam. When I visited Morocco as a young adult I visited the baths there, but for some reason I can’t remember much of it! The kids were a little bit shy about the thought of people washing you (understandably) so we decided against it. Another time though!
Overall, as I said at the beginning, we really adored Istanbul. The food is lovely and cheap, the people are amazing and there are many attractions that kids will enjoy. It’s a great place for a family holiday, whether for a few days or a little longer!
Where to stay in Istanbul with kids
If you want to be right in the heart of Istanbul then I recommend a family hotel in the Sultanahmet area which has the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and many other sights right there on your doorstep.
We stayed at a small hotel called Yazar Hotel which was a great hotel with a room that our whole family could sleep in. I’d recommend it as a great budget hotel in Istanbul. They also picked us up from the airport which meant we didn’t need to negotiate the streets of the city while tired. Click here for the latest prices.
If your budget can stretch a bit higher then The President Hotel has family rooms as well as amazing views of the city from its roof terrace, a pool and comes highly recommended. Check out the latest prices here.