by Diya Luke
Istanbul has been our family’s home for one month. On first blush, Istanbul didn’t strike us as being child-friendly. In fact, Istanbullus argue that there aren’t enough child-oriented things to do in the city. Our neighborhood of Beyoglu has a vibrant arts scene and variety of restaurants, cafes and boutiques. However, like most ‘hip’ locations, there aren’t too many things geared toward children here. While there may not be many playgrounds or green space as such, it is surprisingly easy to get around and enjoy the area with young children.
My husband and I are traveling around the world, visiting ten countries in ten months with our two-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. Our stay in Istanbul comes midway through our journey and we have surprisingly found the city to be the most child-friendly so far. One of the main reasons for this is the Turkish love for children. Other countries have welcomed our children, but Turkey has embraced them. Whether we are on a tram, in a restaurant or just walking down the street, Turkish people everywhere want to entertain and help us care for our kids.
The fact that we have support wherever we go in the city has made it one of the easiest to explore with little kids. Here are a few things we particularly enjoyed in the area around Beyoglu:
Riding the tram. The tram system is easy to navigate and clean. The routes are above ground so there is plenty to distract the kids. Riders always volunteer to hold children and take it upon themselves to entertain the kids for the journey.
Tip for family fun: There is a small playground just outside the Findikli stop. Kids can swing in Europe while overlooking the water to Asia. Parents can sip cay at the adjacent cafe. No other city in the world offers that combination.
Walking along Istiklal. The crowds on this pedestrian-only street can be overwhelming, but it’s worth navigating them to people-watch and expose children to a variety of street performers. The nostalgic tram, a one-carriage heritage tram that runs the length of Istiklal is a fun ride with kids.
Tip for family fun: Balik Pazari, an open-air market off Nevizade Street, sells everything from fish to exotic fruits and vegetables. In addition to the seafood restaurants there are a variety of stalls offering snacks such as fried oysters. A family can meander the colorful corners of the market, learning about and sampling ingredients like honey in the comb and smoked salmon.
People-watching at Galata Tower. The area at the base of the Galata Tower is a great substitute for a playground. It’s a large open space without any traffic. Street performers provide good background music and there is always a plethora of kids, providing for instant play dates. A regular popcorn cart offers a good snack.
Tip for family fun: While the kids play, parents can keep a watchful eye from one of the many cafes along the perimeter of the tower.
Exploring side streets. The cobblestone streets around Beyoglu are lined with character, be it in the form of old buildings, new establishments, or people. It’s best to stay on the sidewalks, where they exist, as drivers can hurtle around corners unannounced.
Tip for family fun: Don’t be shy about visiting any of the restaurants, cafes and little boutiques. Every single one we have been to, even those that look fancy, has welcomed the kids. Some restaurants brought out balloons to keep the kids happy; stores offer free chocolate; and boutiques love the company of little children (just don’t break anything!).
We encourage families with young children to visit Istanbul. The people will welcome your kids literally with open arms. The best part about the city is that it is possible to do things that adults enjoy while also making it fun for kids.
About Diya: By the time she graduated college, Diya had visited 28 countries, 5 which she called home. She met her nomadic match in Chicago; they moved soon after to New York City, got married in India, and talked about travel incessantly. Years passed. Fast-paced finance careers, an MBA, two children and a dog put extended travel on the back burner. A recent wave of good luck and health gave the family the courage to take a career break and travel around the world. Diya, Sandeep and their two children (Ava, age 3, and Kayan, age 1) aim to hit at least 10 countries in 10 months. Diya is recounting more family travel tales at www.minordiversion.com