Istanbul With Kids: 35 Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey
It is often said that you can't be in two places at once. But when you visit Istanbul, Turkey, you can be on two continents at once. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a sprawling city, spanning both Asia and Europe. It is both majestic and exotic. You can smell the history—and the delicious cuisine—wafting through the air. The Turkish people are warm and welcoming, and there are so many fun things to do in Istanbul with kids. At restaurants we were met with open arms, with some places offering coloring books, playgrounds, and more to keep the kids entertained.
Here are 35 things to do in Istanbul, Turkey with kids, including the best places to visit, foods to try, and day trips to take. Check out the Mommy Poppins European Travel Guide for more ideas for international travel, as well as our Family Travel Guide for domestic travel tips.
The Hagia Sophia is a must-visit in Istanbul, Turkey.
Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey With Kids
1. Hagia Sophia
The spectacular Hagia Sophia is at the top of our list for a family visit when traveling to Istanbul. Recently converted back into a mosque, this enormous structure was previously a Greek Orthodox church, an Ottoman-era mosque, and a museum. Visiting the mosque today is free. Make sure to check out the website before visiting to read about proper tourist etiquette.
The Blue Mosque simply stunning. Photo courtesy of the Blue Mosque
2. Blue Mosque
Directly across the grand courtyard and fountains from the Hagia Sophia, you'll find the stunning Blue Mosque. It's known for its unique number of minarets: six. While it's possible to visit both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in a day, you'll want to plan ahead to make sure you have time because they are both worth a visit.
3. Cross the Bosphorus on a Ferry
One of the absolute best things to do in Istanbul with kids is to hop on a local ferry and take in all the beautiful, historical sights from the Bosphorus Strait. You'll need to purchase an IstanbulKart public transportation card in order to buy tickets. If you prefer a more guided tour of the strait, take a Bosphorus Tour with the family. Since the Bosphorus separates the city into two continents, you'll be able to brag to others that you've been in both Europe and Asia at once...all while riding a ferry!
4. Princes' Islands
Speaking of the ferries, one of the most popular rides (and most crowded in summer months) is the one- to two-hour ferry trip to the famous Princes' Islands. This group of nine islands offers an exotic escape from the bustling, international metropolis of the mainland. Four islands are open to the public, and we recommend visiting Büyükada (Big Island) first. The horse-drawn carriages have been retired, but the island is still fuel-car-free, with bike rentals being a popular way to tour. Enjoy the unique architecture and sea breezes before boarding your ferry ride back to the city.
Explore the underground Basilica Cistern. Photo by Yerebatan Serg
This is one of our family's favorite places to visit—it's unlike anything we've ever seen. Basilica Cistern is an underground reservoir that today serves as a museum and contains a small amount of water surrounding majestic columns. Walk the boardwalks all the way to the back to view the two Medusa-head columns.
Topkapi Palace was the center of power in the Ottoman Empire and was built in the 15th century by Sultan Mehmed II.
You'll want to block off a full day to visit the Topkapi Palace and Harem, a large and magnificent Istanbul museum. Marvel at the gardens and jewels, and make sure to check out the Spoonmaker's Diamond—the most precious exhibit at the palace.
If Istanbul—which has a population of 15 million people—feels a bit too large, make a stop at Miniatürk miniature park. The kids will definitely enjoy all of the miniature models of famous Turkish structures, and you'll feel a bit bigger in the "City on Seven Hills."
See a whopping 17,000 sea creatures at the Istanbul Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium
See the sea up close at the Istanbul Aquarium. Mirroring the size of the cross-continental city, this aquarium has a gigantic amount of land and sea creatures to observe—17,000! You can never go wrong with a visit to an aquarium when vacationing with kids.
You could probably spend every day of your Istanbul family vacation at this indoor "city of children." There are 67 different activities to explore, including an archaeology museum, a climbing wall, a biscuit factory, a gas station, and a botanical garden. KidZania Istanbul is a kid-sized city of exploration, imagination, and creative play that will foster a love of learning and create lasting memories on your family vacation.
Istanbul loves its cats!
Fun Free Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey With Kids
10. Feed the Cats
Did you know that Istanbul is casually nicknamed "Catstanbul?" And for good reason. Street cats (and dogs) are part of the local scene and are well-loved by the Turkish people. Grab a small bag of cat food from the local store and you'll make furry friends instantly.
11. Wander through the Grand Bazaar
Be careful not to get lost in this winding labyrinth of shops that welcomes up to 400,000 visitors each day. It's one of the world's largest covered markets. You'll find everything you need here to bring home souvenirs and gifts for friends and family.
The Galata Tower makes for the perfect photo op. Photo courtesy the Kulesi Museum
12. Walk around the Galata Tower
There's a small ticket price to enter the actual tower, one of the oldest in the world. But, exploring the neighborhood around this iconic Istanbul landmark is free and a perfect option when traveling with kids. Skip the tourist lines and take a family photo in the shade of the Galata Tower.
13. Catch the sunset from Moda
Moda is a cool neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. Hop aboard the local streetcar and hop off just before sunset to catch a stunning view of the sunset over the Bosphorus.
14. Check out the cruise ships at Galataport
Galataport Istanbul was recently named "Port of the Year" at the Seatrade Cruise Awards. Grab an afternoon snack at a charming cafe and watch the larger-than-life cruise ships dock right in front of you.
No visit to Istanbul, Turkey is complete without tasting some local baklava.
Best Things to Eat in Istanbul, Turkey With Kids
If you're looking for a sweet treat in Turkey, this is it. Baklava is a flaky, nutty pastry that is cut into small pieces. Adults can enjoy it alongside a cup of Turkish coffee or tea.
Meet the Turkish bagel, one of the most well-known and popular street foods in Turkey. Covered in sesame seeds, this bread is a perfect snack to eat aboard one of the ferries as you cross from Europe to Asia or vice versa.
The smell of döner kebabs is enough to lure you into a local kebab shop. This popular meal consists of rotisserie meat that is normally served in a wrap or sandwich with some veggies on top.
Try some grilled corn from a local street vendor in Instanbul. Photo by the author
18. Grilled Corn
You'll see street vendors selling this popular—and cheap—Turkish street food. It's a healthy snack option to grab for the whole family as you're wandering the historic streets.
19. Turkish Delight
If you, too, grew up watching the BBC version of The Chronicles of Narnia, you definitely know about Turkish Delight. Known as "lokum," this square-shaped sweet dessert has a chewy, gel-based center and comes in many different flavors, including pistachio, orange, and rosewater.
Turkish meatballs are delicious, filling, and a great family-friendly option when dining out on your family vacation. Pair the köfte with a glass of Ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink, and everyone will go home with a full tummy.
Yearning for some comfort food? Turkish flatbread pizza, known as "pide," will hit the spot. This family-friendly food can be ordered with many different toppings, including cheese, meat, or even a baked egg.
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Lahmacum is a delicious savory treat. Photo by the author
Also resembling pizza, this thin flatbread dish is popular in many Middle Eastern countries. It's traditionally made with minced meat, vegetables, and spices. It's fun to roll up and eat with some extra toppings like parsley and tomatoes.
23. Fish, Fish, and More Fish
If you're visiting in the summer, you'll definitely want to reserve at least one night to eat fresh fish. Sea bass is a great option, especially if you're traveling with younger kids. If you're exploring other parts of Turkey, especially along the sea, you'll definitely have lots of options to enjoy.
24. Stuffed Mussels
Stuffed mussels—"midye dolma" in Turkish—are a popular treat that Turks and visitors alike can enjoy, particularly during the summer months. The mussels are cooked and stuffed with rice, herbs, and spices. This street food is fun for the whole family to eat.
25. Maraş Ice Cream
Have you ever eaten ice cream with a fork and knife? This unique type of Turkish ice cream from the southern Anatolian region is a must-try. It's thick and made with salep, or the dried flour of orchid roots.
26. Turkish Pişi
There's something so comforting about this fried, doughy breakfast food. It's like a donut, but without all of the sugary, sprinkle-y toppings. Enjoy!
The quaint seaside town of Foça is the perfect place to spend the day. Photo by the author
Great Side Trips From Istanbul, Turkey With Kids
If your family is looking for a less touristy location with a more local vibe, head to Foça. This quaint seaside town near Izmir is a perfect place to journey with kids. It's completely walkable, and once you're there, you can take a one-hour boat tour of the harbor. The boardwalk is normally packed with swimmers and beachgoers. In the evening, grab some of the local ice cream and take a stroll around Five Gates Castle.
A popular Turkish summer destination is Fethiye. This Turquoise Coast city is famous for its blue waters and ancient history. We highly recommend visiting Ölüdeniz, a nearby neighborhood, for a stunning beach excursion on the blue lagoon.
Visit this southern Mediterranean city that is famous for its turquoise water, resort hotels, and rich history. When you take a break from the beach, be sure to make time to visit Hadrian's Gate, a magnificent arch dating back to Roman times in the year 130 A.D.
Turkey is home to many amazing beach towns. Photo by the author
Bodrum is another family-friendly beach-resort city in southern Turkey, located on the Aegean coast. Here, you can take the whole family for a hike above the harbor to see the Bodrum windmills. This city is a very popular tourist destination, so make sure to book hotel and travel reservations in advance.
Alanya, Turkey is fit for a queen—Cleopatra, in fact! Explore the Turkish Riviera and swim at Cleopatra beach, where the famous Queen of Egypt herself apparently swam.
Step back in time to the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, at Ephesus.
Ever wonder if time travel is actually possible? Well, a trip to Ephesus is as close as you can get. Take a day trip from Izmir to visit this ancient Greek city that houses ruins of an ancient library, amphitheater, columns, arches, and much more.
Nearby to Ephesus, you can visit the resort town of Kușadasi. This is a fun place to watch the cruise ships come in while walking along the marina before a sunset dinner at one of the many restaurants.
Another Mediterranean destination popular for families visiting Turkey is Marmaris. After a long day of soaking in the sun on the beach, you can take the kids for a dip in the mud baths and thermal pools famous in this location.
Take a day trip to Cappadocia to see stunning rock formations and architecture. Photo courtesy of Get Your Guide
This is truly a bucket-list trip to take with your family when visiting Turkey. Hop on a once-in-a-lifetime hot-air balloon ride and capture the gorgeous views of Cappadocia, one of the world's natural wonders of rock formations and architecture.