Family Vacations to Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul's mix of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture inspires visitors (Photodisc)

Istanbul Family Travel Tips

  • See the magnificent Blue Mosque adorned with thousands of glittering blue tiles.
  • Ogle emerald-encrusted daggers and egg-sized jewels at the Topkapi Palace.
  • Bargain for souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar.
  • Discover Turkish contemporary art at Istanbul Modern.
  • Take a ferry ride on the Bosphorus at twilight.

Istanbul, divided by the Bosphorus Straits, is the only city in the world located on two continents. Asia lies to the east of the river and Europe to the west. This crossroads position made Istanbul a center of commerce for centuries and also a battleground for empires. First settled by Greeks, later turned into Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire in 330, then sacked by European Christian Crusaders in 1204, and conquered by Ottomans in 1453. Istanbul's Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture draws visitors from all over the world.

Sultanahmet, the Old City, houses many gems. Even kids who get antsy on historic tours are awed by the quarter's major structures: the Aya Sofya Museum, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar.

First completed in 537 and rebuilt in 563, the Ayasofya Museum, also known as the Hagia Sophia, served as the Greek Orthodox cathedral of Constantinople. When the Ottomans overtook the city in 1453, they converted the church into a mosque. A museum since 1935, the structure is known for its elaborate mosaics.

The Sultanahmet Mosque, completed in 1616, features six minarets and a series of cascading domes. It's also called the Blue Mosque for the thousands of blue Iznik tiles adorning its interior. Inside, under the 140-foot high dome, more than 10,000 people can pray as the light from 260 windows dances across the blue tiles.

Topkapi Palace reveals the enormous wealth of the Ottoman rulers. More than 1,000 servants labored in the enormous kitchen, which now showcases a collection of porcelain. The Palace Clothing Exhibition displays the sultan's gold-threaded brocades and silk robes. In the Treasury, admire a gold-plated crib, the Topkapi dagger adorned with emeralds, as well as enormous diamonds and rubies and other glittering jewels. The Harem, which requires a separate ticket, is a fascinating maze of closed-in, hard-to-reach rooms, where even sunlight appears only through latticed windows near the ceiling. The architecture reveals the restricted lives of harem women and their children.

Most kids love shopping and haggling. The Grand Bazaar with its 2,600 shops is a prime place for both if you're interested in typical Turkish tourist goods including bracelets, kilims, rugs, copper plates, leather, tiles, and pottery. The Hippodrome, where Constantine hosted feasts, celebrations, and chariot races, is now a park.

For a glimpse of modern Istanbul, visit Taksim, the business district, part of the Beyoglu area. In Karaköy the Istanbul Modern exhibits photography, paintings, and other works by contemporary Turkish artists.

What else to do? Get a ticket to one of the many concerts of the 35th Annual International Istanbul Music Festival, every June. For a great day-trip, take a 90-minute ferry ride to the no-cars-allowed Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara. On Büyükada, the largest island, enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride and the beach. To avoid summer weekend crowds, visit during the week.

Tip: At twilight, board one of the passenger ferries that zig-zag across the Bosphorus for a scenic view of the city's illuminated skyline.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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