Parents’ Travel Guide: What to Do in Istanbul
Discover what to do and see with kids on a family holiday in Turkey.
Istanbul is a historic, urban city perched on banks of the Bosphorus Strait. The largest city in Turkey, it is the heart of the country’s rich Byzantine heritage.
Kids love the exotic colours, aromas and sights, and especially shopping at the Grand Bazaar. We even learned about how the local artisans make their beautiful Turkish quartz pottery.
- The locale. Ancient and alluring with its hammams and minarets, Istanbul is an ideal choice if you’re looking for an exotic family-friendly destination that will please everyone.
- Destination. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus is situated on the water. Luxurious facilities, two pools and a breathtaking location, make for a splendid family holiday spot. (There’s also Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet.)
- Culture. Istanbul melds two worlds: East and West. The opportunity to glimpse a multitude of cultures provides a particularly rich experience for kids.
- Unique shopping. While other European cities have many of the same global brands, Istanbul is home to one-of-a-kind finds from all over the world.
- Cuisine. The Mediterranean diet is often touted as one of the healthiest in the world and it’s easy to see why. Fresh fish, plenty of vegetables, chopped salads, nuts, olives and red wine graced most all the menus we saw. Kids will love the Turkish take on pizza: flat pita bread covered with minced meat and tomatoes.
What the kids will love
- Historic sights. The Basilica Cistern, or Sunken Palace, as it is called, is an elaborate underground water storage facility built in 532. Kids will enjoy walking through the maze under the vaulted ceilings, where they can imagine a whole underground world.
- The view. Right on the Bosporus, the kids will wake up in the morning in your stylish
Four Seasons suite and watch boats float by. The Hotel’s proximity to the water almost makes it feel as if you’re on board an elegant ship.
- Pools and fitness room. After exploring the city, a dip in the Hotel’s indoor pool and hot tub is the ultimate relaxation. In the spring and summer, splashing in the outdoor pool is a family favourite.
- Making pancakes with the chef. The griddle is in the centre of Aqua’s decadent breakfast display. So the kids had a chance to make pancakes with the restaurant chef.
- The Koç museum. At the Koc museum, kids can explore the history of transport and communications. Located on the Golden Horn (the ancient harbor during the Byzantine and Ottoman times), it is an especially nice stop in the summer months since you can arrive by ferry.
What you will love
- The Grand Bazaar. More than 5,000 stalls of everything you can imagine line the halls of this world famous open-air market. Here, bargaining is encouraged. You’re sure to come home with goods such as a lovely hand-knotted Turkish tapestry.
- Textiles. Gorgeous pillows, towels, napkins, bathrobes—all woven of fine cotton—can be found around the city.
- A traditional Turkish hammam. Be sure to slip out for a traditional Turkish bath (hammam). Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was built in 1580 and has recently been renovated. After an exfoliating scrub, relax and gaze up at tiny cutouts stars in the ancient dome. Kids are welcome here, just like in ancient Ottoman times when families would enjoy hammams together.
- The Blue Mosque. The mosaics in the Blue Mosque are staggeringly beautiful. An active place of worship, you’ll hear the call to prayer throughout the day.
Dolphins in the Bosphorus. These playful creatures can be spotted leaping through waves between ships cruising through the harbor.
- At the Hotel, Aqua boasts a kids’ menu that offers traditional Turkish food. Kids can try the chicken kabobs (“lahmacun”) and also the Turkish “borek,” phyllo stuffed with white cheese. Also on the menu is local fish, and the pan-roasted sea bass with tomatoes, capers and olives was out of this world.
- Be sure to sample the quintessential Turkish Delight. The Hotel’s front desk has a scrumptious plate of different Turkish jelly candies every day.
- In-room dining. An easy option when travelling with the family, especially little ones, you can order off both Aqua’s and kids’ menus. Pizza is always a popular choice.
- If you pass a table of pomegranates while exploring the city, order a fresh juice and the vendor will squeeze a refreshing glass right in front of you.
- Close to the Hotel, Hanedan in Besiktas is a great spot for a family dinner. Go to the second floor where they serve meat only. You can walk or take a taxi. If you arrive early, you can get an outdoor table. Munch on delicious lamb skewers as you watch boats pass through the water.
- Pandeli, situated right above the Spice Market, is a delicious option for a Turkish lunch in a charming atmosphere. Try the tasty jumbo shrimp, which are enormous. Be sure to also sample the hummus.
5 family to-dos
1. Boat ride. A boat ride on the Bosphorus Strait is a must. You and the family can hop on a guided tour boat in the harbor, or take a local commuter ferry and cross over to the Asian side of Turkey.
2. The Spice Market. A dazzling array of colours, exotic aromas and lively salesmen make the traditional Spice Market a great family stroll. Free samples of nuts, candy and baklava are sure to delight everyone’s sweet tooth.
3. The Arasta Bazaar. A less crowded choice than the Grand Bazaar, this market is a treasure trove of Turkish goodies. Explore the mellow atmosphere this small market, located in the Sultanahmet district.
4. Hagia Sophia. The largest church in the world, these domes are dazzling—a marvel of architecture. The tiny pieces of mosaics are also incredible. No longer a place of worship, Hagia Sophia is now a museum.
5. Learn about the local crafts. Check out how the artisans make traditional handmade Turkish pottery at Firça Ceramics. And if it’s not too crowded, they may even let the kids have a go at it.