Little people and city breaks don’t always go together. But in Istanbul, not only do people love children: there is a wealth of activities for kids of all ages. Here are some suggestions of our favourite things to do with children in the city.
1. Experience the tiny delights of Miniaturk
The 105 scale models featured at this open-air miniature park on the Golden Horn will capture your kids’ imaginations. Spread over 60,000 square metres, the huge park not only features 1/25 size Anatolian and Ottoman structures, it also has a playground, chessboard and labyrinth.
2. Play and learn with arts and crafts
Play n Learn, near Taksim Square, is ideal for children under six. Kids can sculpt with playdough, enjoy arts and crafts, watch puppet shows, conduct child-friendly scientific experiments, play games and explore.
3. Ride in a submarine at Rahmi M Koc Museum
On the Golden Horn near Miniaturk you’ll find this 19th century factory which has now been turned into an industrial museum. Adults will appreciate the striking building - but kids will love sitting in a vintage car, pretend to fly a real plane, explore the inside of a submarine and participate in scientific experiments.
4. Explore Istanbul’s spooky subterranean cistern
From tinies to teens: children love spooky stuff. The vast Basilica Cistern is a huge underground water storage facility that was built 1500 years ago. It’s a stunning structure and kids will love the slightly creepy atmosphere, with the low lighting, dripping water, scary Medusa heads and ghostly carp drifting about in the waters.
5. Explore Istanbul’s waters on a Bosphorus tour
Who doesn’t enjoy a boat ride? Take a ferry from the European to the Asian side and back again - or join a tour up the strait, stopping off at tourist spots on the way. The whole family will enjoy seeing the rolling cityscape - and kids will be happy just to be on the water.
6. Check out the local sea life at Istanbul Aquarium
The huge aquariums at this popular tourist spot will amaze and delight the whole family. Visitors walk along a 1.2 kilometre travel route which originates in the Black Sea, allowing young and old alike to identify the many varieties of fish swimming overhead. There are also other attractions here to surprise and delight young minds, including a rainforest area.
7. Get away from it all on Princes Islands
The sparsely populated islands are a short ferry ride from Istanbul, and a great place for outdoorsy kids who love riding bikes and exploring nature. There are no cars on the islands so people get about on foot, by bicycle (which you can rent) - or on a horse and cart. A child-friendly activity the whole family will love.
8. Interact with art at Istanbul modern
While the art on show at this fantastic gallery might be a little way over your kids’ heads, the interactive section will appeal to kids between the ages of 5 and 12, who can have fun while learning about art.
9. Take a trip back in time on the tram
The old-fashioned conductor uniforms and atmospheric ding-ding-ding of the tram’s bell as it rumbles along the Istiklal Caddesi appeal to all ages, but children especially will love a ride on the nostalgic tram, watching people jump on and jump off as the restored vehicle makes its way round the city centre.
10. Experience an adrenaline rush at Vialand
This theme park on the Golden Horn is a great day out for older kids. Experience the thrill of the fast and furious rides at Game World, Legends World and Adventure World. Some rides are wet, some are a little scary, and some are fast enough to give a thrill. Parents can adopt a slightly more sedate pace and poke around in the shops and mall.
11. Take in the view from Galata Tower
The 60 metre-high Galata Tower dominates the Istanbul skyline. A trip to the top is well worthwhile if your kids are older: they’ll enjoy walking along the top balcony, which is accessed by a ride to the ninth floor. From this vantage point they’ll be able to see 360 degree views over the city and can entertain themselves by pointing out the attractions below.
12. Visit the largest dolphinarium in Europe
Istanbul Dolphinarium has much to entertain your little ones. Dolphin shows delight youngsters, who love seeing dolphins performing for the crowd, as well as walruses and small whales. Children over six can also swim with the dolphins.
13. See the city from the comfort of a sightseeing bus
Tired little feet can take a rest on the city sightseeing bus, which is one of the best ways to discover the ins and outs of the city. The hop-on, hop-off bus covers the main tourist attractions and areas and is a great way to orient yourself with the city without having to drag little ones around behind you.
14. See 4000 toys at the Toy Museum
Istanbul’s Toy Museum presents a welcome opportunity for kids to be surrounded by more than 4000 toys. Adults will also love the chance to take a nostalgic trip back to their childhood - and beyond, as there are toys dating back 200 years.
15. Lounge about at the park
Istanbul has some lovely parks, which presents the opportunity for lazing on the grass and hide and seek amongst the trees. Our favourites are Gulhane, a former Ottoman palace park, and Emirgan Park, which is a riot of colour in tulip season. Don’t forget to take some bread to feed the ducks.
16. Escape from Istrapped
Turkey’s first escape game is ideal for older kids who like to engage their brains. You are locked in a room and given an hour to escape, using the clues that have been left for you. Not for claustrophobes.
17. Get a (pretend) job at KidZania
At KidZania, a country ruled by children, kids can have a go at being archaeologists, dentists, fashion designers, chefs, singers and more. Children earn KidZania currency and choose how to spend their wages.
18. Take a treasure hunt challenge at the Grand Bazaar
Turn shopping into an exercise of exploration at the Grand Bazaar. Give children a checklist of things to discover and watch them explore. A brass teapot, a drum, a scarf from Turkey’s Galatasaray Club, a sparkly shoe - the list of intriguing items to be found at the Bazaar is endless.
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