Now that my son, Eren, is a toddler, we are able to experience the city in a new way, with his enjoyment in mind. Here are his top 10 İstanbul favorites, from his toddler viewpoint.
1) Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı). As I wrote last week, we took the ferry over from Kadıköy and spent a great two hours exploring the Spice Bazaar and the area surrounding it. Lots of sights, sounds and smells for a toddler to enjoy. Highlights include tasting lokum and cheeses as well as feeding pigeons by the New Mosque. The only drawbacks are that it can be crowded, and strollers might be difficult to use in this district. This area is also temporarily closed until May 6 while filming the latest James Bond movie. Once filming wraps up, head over with your little one!
2) Ferry. Take a ride together on one of İstanbul’s historic ferries. A ride from Beşiktaş to Kadıköy takes around 15-20 minutes, perfect for a toddler’s attention span. Load up on simit or bread to throw to the seagulls from the upper deck. If you are lucky (my son loved this) the captain might even blow the horn. For a longer trip, take a cruise up the Bosporus to Anadolu Kavağı, a fortress at the far end of the Bosporus. If you are feeling even more adventurous, disembark there and hike through the ruins. Depending on your child’s limits, you can make a ferry trip an excursion of 15 minutes to three hours. Check out www.sehirhatlari.com.tr for ferry timetables and more information.
3) Caddebostan to Bostancı seaside. Especially during the week, this part of the city is great for families. If you have a bike, this is a great place to ride it, and it is great for strollers, too. There are playgrounds with cafés nearby, so you can grab some tea or a sandwich while your child plays. There are lots of grassy areas to spread a blanket out and have a picnic. The only drawback is that it gets really crowded during the weekend. If you do go during the weekend, go early to stake out your spot.
4) IKEA and shopping center play areas. Great for those rainy days! My son is too young to be left in the IKEA kids’ play zone, but he really enjoys playing in the store itself. They have toys and things set up in the café, and he can spend a lot of time there playing, as well as in the children’s department. The area is kept very clean, despite how crowded the space can get. We also enjoy play areas at the mall. For an hourly rate, Eren can climb and play to his heart’s content. The only drawbacks to all of these places are after 4 p.m. and on weekends they get crowded with older kids.
5) İstanbul Aquarium. This new aquarium in Florya, near the airport, is one of our favorite spots. We like to go during the week when it is not very crowded. We spend hours wandering the place; Eren’s favorite spot is where he can touch various shellfish on display. The only drawback is ticket price. They do offer seasonal passes worth purchasing if you intend on going more than twice a year.
6) Büyükada. Take a ferry over to Büyükada, one of the islands off the coast of İstanbul. There are no cars on the island -- only bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. You can rent a carriage for a short tour of the island (about a half hour) that also includes a 10-minute break near a small park. The price is steep, about TL 60 for the tour, but worth it at least once. Renting a bike with a baby seat to ride around the island is more affordable, but be sure to bring you and your child’s bike helmets as I did not see those for rent in the bike shops. Even if you do not rent a bike or take a carriage ride, it can still be a fun trip just strolling the streets and eating ice cream. Ferry timetables can be found here: www.mavimarmara.net.
7) Emirgan Korusu. This park has lots of playgrounds and picnic tables spread throughout, with a fantastic Bosporus view. We like feeding the ducks and birds near the pond. There are also some beautiful Ottoman mansions, like Beyaz Köşk (http://www.beltur.com.tr/beyaz-kosk.asp) in the park that have nice tea gardens if you need to grab a quick bite to eat. The only drawback is that it is pretty hilly, and some areas are not very stroller-friendly.
8) Florya Traffic Park. Yes, sitting in traffic is an unfortunate part of daily life in İstanbul, so why not make it fun? In Florya, near the İBB Sosyal Tesisleri, is a small park with miniature streets, street signs and lights. Bring your tot’s tricycle or bike and have them ride around here and learn to follow the signs and stop and go at the traffic lights. I could not find a direct website for this spot, so am posting the link to the İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi café instead: http://tesislerimiz.ibb.gov.tr/Florya.aspx. The park is located very close to this restaurant. The seaside here is also a nice place to walk, and the park has many green and shady places for a picnic lunch.
9) Belgrade Forest. We love to hike along the paths through this forest. We have a pretty hardy stroller that can take the bumpy paths, so Eren can ride when he tires out. We spend lots of time looking at birds and collecting leaves, twigs and whatever else my toddler finds fascinating. www.belgradormani.com
10) Jurassic Land. My son loves dinosaurs, so absolutely adores this theme park located inside the Forum İstanbul shopping center in Bayrampaşa. However, it can be scary for some children, so be forewarned. We opted not to watch the 4D cinema show included in the tour, which I would not recommend for most kids under the age of 5. This place is not suitable for every toddler, but for those who love dinosaurs like my son, it is great. The entrance price is steep and you have to go through the place with a tour, which are the only drawbacks. There is a ton of staff on hand to help with your every need. The place is still expanding, and we are looking forward to exploring the new additions. www.jurassicland.com.tr
With summer just around the corner it is not too early to research places to go and explore with your child. The first years after Eren was born I didn’t feel comfortable going too far from home. However, now he is old enough to enjoy so many different things this city has to offer. Some are pricey and not things we do often, while others cost just the price of a ferry ticket and a simit or two. There are many more places not on this list; the above 10 are merely our current favorites. Feel free to share your own recommendations.
*Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer, and mother living in Istanbul. Reach her at email@example.com for comments or questions.