On our recent one day (one very long day trip) to Istanbul we made our way speedily around most of the main sites. Following our visit around the famous Sultan Ahmed mosque, also known as the blue mosque, we decided to visit Topkapi Palace and skip going to Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia).
Topkapi Palace, built in the 1400s is an Ottoman Palace within walking distance of the Blue mosque and was the primary residence of Ottaman Sultans for 400 years. The palace structure consists on a central courtyard with numerous buildings encasing, including a library built for the servants for their education. The views from the balconies and give stunning view of the Bosphorous. You can imagine Sultans of days gone by taking in the beautiful views for hours watching ships and boats sail by. These days Topkapi Palace is a museum and houses some amazing historical collections from Turkish history, the Prophet Muhammad PBUH and precious gold and stones (including a 86 carat diamond which I JUST could not find anywhere at all). Unfortunately photography was prohibited in most places and so I had to put my camera away and just take in the sights.
We decided to skip going to Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofia). It was originally a beautiful Greek Orthodox church which later became a mosque and is now a museum. From photos I know this is another beautiful building that is a highly recommended visit. This will be on our list to visit if ever we go back. With a 3 year old that wanted to stretch his legs we opted to go around the markets and squares instead.
There are a number of markets in Istanbul, the largest being the Grand Bazaar which boasts over 3,000 shops! It is absolutely huge and extremely easy to get lost if you suddenly get distracted by one of the very many shiny pretty things that are on sale there. Whilst we had a look we opted to go around the Egyptian Markets, much smaller at just over 150 shops(!). It has his name from being famous for selling imported spices, mostly from India and Egypt whilst selling other Turkish produced goods and a lot of delicious looking food. You could quite easily spend a whole day just wandering around the markets. We wisely opted to keep Little Z strapped in here as its pretty easily to lose your bearings and kept swept along by people behind you. Haggling is welcomed and the sellers are good natured and always up for a bit up for a bit of a price challenge. It was about now Little Z decided to have a well earned long nap for a couple of hours.
We spent the rest of our day wandering around the main squares and taking in the sights. The city is a fascinating contradiction of very laid back squares where people sit about looking really relaxed with an outer layer of speedy roads, bustling business and a very busy web like harbour. There are a lot of different boat tours you can go on to see the Bosphorous, a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. We spent about an hour on the Istanbul coast and I think that’s probably enough unless you are an avid architecture lover. The coast is packed with all the most significant buildings. Universities, historical palaces, government buildings, castles showing that at one time this particular coast was of massive political and strategic importance. Even today the sea is filled with boats and ships that all weave between each other in an intricate expert fashion without clashing into each other. I spent most of my time worrying we were going to do collide into something.
After a pretty long day we finished the day off perfectly with a very nice Turkish meal and headed back to the airport to catch our 8.30pm flight. Having checked in smoothly a lot of group commented on how Little Z was such a good little boy and had been brilliant through the day. To his credit he really had been. Unfortunately our flight looked like it was going to be delayed. 8.30 came and went and even at 9pm we were still none the wiser about what was happening. Little Z was enjoying stretching his legs by speedily running about by this point and, in a lounge with enough irate passengers to fill a whole jet, it was starting to get difficult to easily spot him running about. By 9.30pm, and still none the wiser, a lot of passengers were starting to lose their temper and an all out war of words ensued between a small group and the airport staff, all in Turkish. The rest of us kept tapping shoulders of other Turkish people asking if they could translate. It turned out the plane had been ready on time, as had the bus to take us from the terminal tot he flight. The airport staff however had tootled along pretty late, by which point the bus had gone off to his next job. We were all eventually herded onto the flight about 10pm and made it back to Antalya at midnight. By this point everyone was understandably fed up. Little Z did a sterling job of singing the entire way back though to keep spirits up. The icing on the cake that night was when our coach making the one hour trip back to our hotel didn’t check heads and left us stranded at the airport whilst we waited to pick up our stroller. We wearily crawled into a £60 taxi and collapsed into bed about 1.30am. Thankfully we got a full refund about 3 days later ad probably made it back to the to hotel a lot quicker than the other passengers did.
All in all it was an amazing day which I would split into 2 or 3 days on another visit. If you do fancy visiting with children then here are my top tips:
Top Tips when taking children to Istanbul
Istanbul is like any major city, extremely busy and bustling with people on a mission. We found it to be very child friendly.
Snacks are a plenty if you have a child in tow. Little Z was happy snacking on Simit (Circular slightly toasty bread baked with sesame seeds) or corn on the cob. There are plenty of sellers dotted about and Simit cost us 1 Lira (about 30p). There are also of numerous crisp and drinks stands.
Most of Istanbul is stroller friendly. There are some cobbled streets about and some buildings have a lot of stairs at the entrance and no ramps. We were ok though, it is best to have two adults for one stroller so you can carry it up and down.
Be careful on the subways. Like any subway they have a massive rush of people and you need to be prepared to whisk your child up and collapse your stroller quickly.
It is best to keep children strapped into strollers or in arms at the bazaars. Again, it is very busy and people are flowing in every direction.
Buy tickets in advance wherever possible. The queues are pretty long.
Be warned – the queues for Topkapi Palace are long even to see the collections. We ended up splitting up to make sure Little Z wasn’t bored for too long. Topkapi does has a very nice child friendly restaurant and is worth having a stop here if you are spending a long day sight seeing.
There are lots of squares and nice coffee shops dotted around if you need to make pit stops.