WEEKEND GETAWAYS

Weekend Getaway: Istanbul

Born and bred in London, Alara Hindle studied Islamic Art and Archaeology at Oxford, and was then sent to work in the magnificent Topkapi Palace in Turkey. Once there,  she met and fell in love with her husband, and has been living in Istanbul ever since! Two daughters (eight and three-years-old) and a beloved art space/shop/café for children (called LOLA) later, they are now contemplating moving back to the UK to set out on some new adventures as a family in the British countryside! Alana kindly offered to share her insider tips for Istanbul and I just got really excited to receive them. Istanbul just hopped up many notches on our list of places we want to visit. It sounds so wonderfully kid-friendly, cultural… and delicious! Here is Alara’s guide:


A family-friendly guide to Istanbul:

Istanbul is a bridge between East and West, literally and culturally. I have lived here for 17 years now and it pulls you in daily with all its contradictions, with its noises and smells, its traffic and the beautiful Bosphorus, its modern shopping malls and Ottoman mosques, its exciting nightlife and historical hamams. Since having children, it has also shown another face: the kindness people always show to little ones, their hospitality, the wonderful fresh food, the cultural and artistic options, the four seasons (from snow storms in January to scorching heat in August!).
It is an easy short plane ride from most European cities, and a long weekend is enough to get the feel of this special place… Late Spring, when the weather is still mild, yet skies are sparkling blue and the Judas trees and magnolias blossom along the Bosphorus, is my favourite time, and there are fewer tourists around. Here are my tips:


DO:

  • For me, with a background in the History of Art, Istanbul offers some fabulous historical sites to visit with the kids, from Hagia Sophia to the Topkapi Palace, from the Blue Mosque to Rumeli Castle. Some of our favourites though are lesser-known, smaller places which are much more accessible for children and less overwhelming. Chora, an old Byzantine Greek Church, has some stunning frescoes and mosaics, and my little girls never cease to enjoy looking up at the gilded painted ceilings and making up stories about the golden characters around them! The Basilica Cistern, a big underground water reservoir built for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, is just stunning, and the hauntingly romantic watery construction filled with marble columns has both children and adults alike mesmerized! Don’t forget to check out the Medusa’s head.
  • Istanbul also has some great museums. One of our favourites is definitely Istanbul Modern, situated in the cool area of Karakoy. Right on the Bosphorus and with stupendous views of the old city, it’s a perfect example of the juxtaposition of Modern and Ancient in Istanbul. With great programmes for children, a fantastic restaurant, and a brilliant ceiling of hanging books on the lower floor, we are regulars! Another of our haunts is Sakip Sabanci Museum, located in a less central area of the city, a neighbourhood where many expats and families with children live. This old ‘Yali’ surrounded by beautiful gardens, has hosted exhibitions from Picasso to Anish Kapoor, from Miro to Monet (check their site for information on current exhibitions).
  • Istanbul has some wonderful old districts which are fun to walk around with children. Cukurcuma is one of our favourites, with a host of galleries, small designer shops and antique stores, as well as cafes and bars. We love Ayse Orberk, a tastefully cluttered antique shop (as soon as you walk in you feel like you have walked into someone’s (very) elegant and tasteful home!), and Muz, which sells beautiful little terrariums and plants, woven wall hangings and other special little objects. Our favorite café here is Cuma, which has a fantastic menu to please all, as well as a little room with toys and books to entertain the kids! Balat is also a new and upcoming old area which is being fast gentrified… It is lovely to walk around its narrow streets and look at all the beautiful old buildings, as well as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and High School (keep in mind this is also close to Chora). We love to have Turkish pizza or ‘Lahmacun’ at Forno, and coffee and cake at the fabulous Coffee Department.
  • With the Bosphorus playing such an essential part in the story of this beautiful city, a must do is to take some sort of boat tour along its shores. We love the little boat from Emirgan to Kanlica where we eat traditional Turkish yogurt sprinkled with lashings of sugar. As well as being the location of the above-mentioned Sabanci Museum, Emirgan also has a nice park, one of the larger ones in the city, with great play spaces for kids, as well as a fantastic pizza restaurant on the shore called Pizza Emirgan. It is also nice to take a small ferry from Bebek, another pretty little area with a small park, great restaurants and cafes, and some fantastic boutiques. (Mangerie is a lovely little restaurant with great food and a lovely view.  Midnight Express has a wonderful collection of designer clothes such as Masscob and Gul Hurgel, jewellery from Kismet and home wares from Santimetre Studio).
  • The Princes islands are also a lovely day out, just a ferry away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Buyukada is our favourite, a place I used to visit every summer as a kid! Children love the fact that there are no cars and you go everywhere by horse and carriage, and the calls of the ‘dondurmaci’ (ice cream man who moves around the island in the afternoons calling out to the local children). I would recommend a visit to the Splendid hotel for tea for the adults!





EAT:

Turkey is a wonderful place for fresh, healthy vegetable-based dishes, but also dishes that children love! From fresh fish to ‘Borek’ pastry dishes, from street ‘Simit’ (a sort of sesame bagel) in the afternoon to Manti (Turkish ravioli with yogurt) and Meze, there is far too much choice, and we seem to spend most of our time eating!!

  • Fish restaurants are a culture in themselves in Istanbul and there are many to choose from, but our favourites are Kiyi, and Rumeli Hisar Iskelesi. The latter is right on the shore of the Bosphorus and the children watch the boats sail by as they munch on their meze, salad and fresh grilled fish. It is always nice to have something sweet after your fish and we absolutely love Girandola ice cream shops! (You can find one close to each of these fish restaurants.).
  • Turkish/Anatolian modern fusion has become a fabulous new cuisine and there are some great options in Istanbul. The best (and completely un-child friendly, but maybe good for a date night!) is Mikla, owned by chef Mehmet Gurs. We also love Kantin in the bustling shopping neighbourhood of Nisantasi, and Amanda Bravo, situated close to Emirgan Park. Right next to Amanda is the newly opened Misk, a café-cum-flower shop with amazing blueberry pancakes, banana bread and avocado toast, when you want something a little bit less Turkish!
  • For a night out, Kilimanjaro is a great option. Set in the old Bomonti Beer Factory, and part of the Babylon Music group, it has a great menu, but also a good outdoor space for the kids to scooter around in. There are also concerts, mini markets and exhibitions happening regularly in this Babylon location, so check out their site for updated info.


SHOP:

  • The most famous and historical of Istanbul’s shopping options would have to be the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi), an absolute treasure trove of goodies and an Aladdin’s cave for kids! Try to go early in the morning before the crowds, and pick up some fabulous Hamam towels, beautiful Ikat bowls and fabrics, and carpets coming out of your ears!
  • On the weekends we also sometimes love to pop into Minoa bookstore (between Besiktas and Nisantasi) and browse the beautiful books for both adults and kids, and then have a little coffee in their café. Simple Life in Bebek is great for beautiful home wares to take back as souvenirs, and Maezae in Karakoy is a quirky boutique with a bit of everything, and workshops too!
  • For children Kidslivingetc has just opened up a little boutique on the Asian side, selling all sorts of Scandinavian decoration pieces, toys and some great Turkish labels including Minimom and Figg Official.

STAY:

  • As I’ve already mentioned, in Istanbul it is nice to be close to the water! The Four Seasons at the Bosphorus is a good top-dollar hotel with all the amenities, and friends with kids have been happy here. But we also love the more boutique option of Sumahan on the Water with its grassy area in front of Bosphorus, perfect for kids to play on!
  • In the old city Soho House is spectacular, housed in a 19th century Palazzo, and close to many tourist attractions and nightlife. The Vault, part of the wonderful House Hotel group is in Karakoy, a great location to be based in, and close to Istanbul Modern, the tram, and once again, the Bosphorus!!
  • Hotel Momscierge is a great service in the city for families who come to visit, with babysitting options, equipment rental and tips on what to do and where to go. The Guide Istanbul is also a lovely and useful magazine and online source for all up-to-date information on what’s going on in Istanbul right now!

 

Thank you so much, Alara, for sharing with us.  And thank you to Ceren Semerci for the beautiful photos.


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