Planning to visit Istanbul with kids, but not sure what to do once you get there?
Lucky for you, Istanbul is full of family-friendly attractions and activities. In fact, this vibrant city with its rich cultural heritage is one of the best places to go in Turkey for families. From its historic mosques to bustling bazaars, Istanbul offers a variety of experiences that will feed the interests of adults and children alike.
In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Istanbul with kids. From visiting the iconic Hagia Sophia to taking a boat ride along the Bosphorus, you will find that Istanbul has no shortage of kid-friendly activities.
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Is Istanbul a kid-friendly destination?
Istanbul is a city that is not only rich in history and culture but is also incredibly kid-friendly. Turkish people are known for their hospitality and warmth, and they are especially fond of children. Traveling to Turkey with kids means you’ll receive lots of positive attention from locals offering your children sweets, patting their heads, and on occasion picking them up and kissing them! While this may be awkward at first, you and your children will get used to the attention over time. You may even find people are more friendly and helpful towards families, especially those traveling with young children. Children are loved and welcomed all over Turkey, and Istanbul is no exception!
The best time to visit Istanbul with kids
Istanbul is a year-round destination. However, there are some seasons that provide a better family travel experience.
Summers in Istanbul can be hot and crowded, but temperatures don’t become unbearable. Visiting Istanbul during the warmer months of June through August, when temperatures range from the mid-70s to mid-80s (°F), is a great time to explore the city’s urban beaches. However, summer brings large crowds and higher hotel prices.
For milder temperatures and fewer crowds, head to Istanbul during the months of April and May. Moderate temperatures in the high-50s to 60s (°F) make this time of year ideal for outdoor activities, such as a cruise along the Bosphorus, without the crowds of the high season.
Istanbul is also a great winter destination as crowds and hotel prices drop during the winter months. With many indoor activities to enjoy, colder temperatures make little difference to your sightseeing agenda. If you’re lucky, you may even get to experience snow in Istanbul!
Where to stay in Istanbul with kids
Istanbul is a mega-city that’s home to over 15 million people, making it difficult to decide where to stay. For the best experience, stay in a central location close to the tourist sights, such as Sultanahmet Square.
The Adamar Hotel by Sultanahmet Square is centrally located and within walking distance of the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and other top attractions. The hotel offers comfortable family rooms and a delicious buffet breakfast, served in their rooftop lounge with unbeatable panoramic views of Istanbul.
Adahan DeCamondo Pera, Autograph Collection is one of the hotels we stayed at most recently and we loved it. This is the perfect spot for families! With its spacious suites, amazing views of the glorious city skyline, and inspired dining options all around. We enjoyed eating at nearby Antiochia Instanbul Taksim.
Sheraton Istanbul City Center has huge rooms. Perfectly located in the heart of Istanbul, Sheraton Istanbul City Center provides all the comforts of home for both adults and children alike. It offers well-appointed guest rooms with plenty of space for everyone and an array of amenities such as an excellent onsite restaurant, an indoor swimming pool, a sauna and even a kid’s club complete with activities designed especially for little travelers.
Getting around Istanbul with kids
Traffic congestion is a major problem in Istanbul, making public transit the most affordable and fastest way to get around the city. Thankfully, Istanbul has an extensive public transit system that includes buses, trams, metros, and ferries. The city’s public transit system services most areas of the city and makes it easy for visitors to get between top tourist destinations.
Parents with young children will be pleased to know that strollers can be brought on public transit. Even on crowded buses, locals will accommodate parents traveling with children in strollers.
I highly recommend taking a tour with Istanbulite.
11 Amazing things to do in Istanbul with kids
1. Galata Tower
The Galata Tower has been a symbol of the Istanbul skyline since its erection in 500 CE. Today, a visit to the top of this former watchtower is a must when in Istanbul, and a highlight when visiting with kids. From the top of the Galata tower, you’ll be treated to some of the best views of the city. Look out at the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus, the Hagia Sophia, and more. Kids will love this bird’s eye view of Istanbul. There’s also a miniature model of Istanbul for them to enjoy. For a truly magical experience, time your visit with sunset. You’ll marvel at the beauty of Istanbul awash in an orange glow as the sun sets behind the hills.
2. Bosphorus Cruise
Taking a Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul is an unforgettable experience for both adults and kids alike. It’s a great way to gain an appreciation for the layout of the city and see why Istanbul has been labeled a crossroads of the world. The cruise will take you along the Bosphorus Strait, where you’ll see stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline and iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. If you opt for a full-day cruise you’ll have a chance to experience some of Istanbul’s unique culture, with stops at local fishing villages for traditional Turkish tea or coffee. While adults will enjoy the many historic sights found along one of the world’s most important waterways, children will get a kick out of the dozens of seagulls and shorebirds trailing the boat, waiting for their next meal.
Istanbul’s Miniaturk is a unique attraction where visitors can see Turkey’s iconic landmarks in miniature form. In fact, Miniaturk is the largest miniature park in the world with 126 models! The park features replicas of famous buildings from around Turkey, including Topkapi Palace and the Galata Tower, as well as natural landmarks such as Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys. Visiting the park is like seeing the best landmarks across Turkey, all in one place! Miniaturk also has an on-site restaurant, playground, and a life-sized maze, making it the perfect place for kids to run around, play, and enjoy themselves.
4. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern was built during the 6th century by Emperor Justinian and used to store water for the city of Constantinople (current-day Istanbul). Today, it is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist destinations and a real hit with kids. Descend underground into the basilica amidst ancient Roman columns and walk along a platform suspended over what remains of the cistern’s water. Marvel at the fact that this large, cavernous space once held 80,000 cubic meters of water. During your visit, the moody lighting regularly changes colors, adding to the mystique and allure of this ancient sight. For some added fun, have your kids hunt for the two Medusa heads which have been repurposed as column bases.
5. Grand Bazaar and Spice Market
When you think about visiting Istanbul, your mind likely conjures images of fragrant spices and bustling markets. After all, the city was an important stop along the silk road. This legacy of ancient trade is alive and well in two of Istanbul’s best markets: The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. While these markets are slightly touristy, many stalls still cater to locals. Wander beyond the trinket and tea shops to find leatherworkers, smelters, and more. The Grand Bazaar is especially fun to roam, and you and your children will enjoy tasting delicious apple tea and lokum (Turkish delight), along with watching artisans at work. The energetic atmosphere of these markets will give you a true sense of this east-meets-west city. Plus, your kids will enjoy all the sweets handed to them by shopkeepers!
6. Rahmi M Koc Museum
Istanbul’s Rahmi M Koc Museum is a must-visit for families who love learning about transportation. The museum is dedicated to the history of transportation and industry. Exhibits showcase a wide range of industrial artifacts from all over the world. While there you will learn about Turkey’s industrial heritage through numerous interactive exhibits. Highlights of the museum are the historic train engines on display in the rail transportation wing and the collection of boats, including a submarine, that visitors can board and explore.
7. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans from the 1460s until the late 1800s. Along with visiting the former rooms of the residence, a visit to this large palace complex includes multiple exhibits on life during the Ottoman Empire. The palace will fascinate kids as they walk through and gain a glimpse into the lives of the Sultans. One highlight exhibit explores the history of Turkish coffee and the ritual ceremony associated with the drink. The grounds have a lot of open, green space that’s perfect for kids to run around and explore. The palace’s colorfully tiled buildings are quite memorable and help you appreciate the grandeur of the palace. Situated atop a hill, Topkapi Palace also has commanding views of Istanbul and is the perfect spot to snap a family photo.
8. Hagia Sophia
One of the most important buildings in history, the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) was originally built as a church. Later it was converted to a mosque, then a museum, and now back to a mosque. For nearly 2,000 years the Hagia Sophia has commanded the city’s skyline, drawing worshippers and visitors from near and far. As you enter this stunning building, you’ll immediately notice the abundance of space. The dome of the Hagia Sophia was an innovative architectural invention and is said to have changed the history of architecture. This prime example of Byzantine architecture is best experienced from within. As the building is currently a mosque, it’s a comfortable place to visit with kids. They can sit on the carpet floors, marveling at the sheer size of the mosque, and may even get to meet some of the local cats that frequent the building.
9. Istanbul Aquarium
Istanbul is home to one of the largest aquariums in the world, with over 1,500 species and 17,000 animals on display. Kids can get up close to sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, and more. There are also daily fish feedings, and watching sharks and other fish swarm to eat the food before their tankmates can is an exciting spectacle. Along with seeing the animals, kids can explore interactive exhibits and learn how different species live in their natural habitats. With its incredible displays, interactive exhibits, and educational opportunities, Istanbul Aquarium is a great family activity to enjoy together.
10. Galata Bridge
The Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn, is more than a city landmark: it’s a thriving meeting place and cultural sight. Day or night, the bridge is lined with locals fishing off the side. Walking across the bridge can be a fun family activity. Peek into fishing buckets to see what’s for dinner. Most people are catching sardines, but you may see the occasional larger fish. You or your kids may even get the chance to hold a fish in your hand! If all those fish are making you hungry, head to the lower level of the bridge which is lined with restaurants. Grab a fried fish sandwich or platter of fried sardines to enjoy while watching the ferries along the Bosphorus. The Galata Bridge is a lively spot to sit back and watch as Istanbul buzzes about you.
11. Toy Museum
The Istanbul Toy Museum, located in the heart of Istanbul, houses an impressive collection of toys from around the world. The collection contains toys spanning many eras, from wooden dolls to modern action figures. The museum also has interactive exhibits that allow visitors to explore the history and evolution of toys across time and cultures. Kids will enjoy seeing toys dating back to their parents’ childhood, while parents will succumb to nostalgia over the toys of their youth. Either way, a visit to the Istanbul Toy Museum is an unforgettable experience and a great activity for families visiting Istanbul.
Final thoughts on visiting Istanbul with kids
If you’re looking for an unforgettable family vacation, Istanbul is the place for you. This bustling city offers deep culture, interesting history, and many sights and neighborhoods to explore. Families traveling to Istanbul with kids will feel welcomed by the warm and hospitable people. You’ll also have an endless supply of kid-friendly activities to choose from – from museums and mosques to bazaars and historic buildings. Visiting Istanbul is fun and easy with kids of all ages. So when planning your next family holiday destination, consider Istanbul!
Guest Author: Tamar from World by Weekend.