by Kristin Kizer – Where East meets West and modern meets ancient lies Istanbul, Turkey. A city with a rich history evidenced by the monuments that remain set against glorious backdrops that feel like painted masterpieces.
It’s a must for the traveler, but it’s an even bigger must for the seasoned traveler who’s been here before. Step outside of the tour guide and try something new. Create memories that are unique to you and your family and will leave you with a deeper respect for this magnificent region of the world.
Bosphorus by Boat
Sometimes you need to stand back and take it all in. There’s no better way to do that than aboard a boat from the Bosphorus, otherwise known as the Strait of Istanbul.
Dividing the city in half, this natural strait has always been a key waterway for travel, trade and military movement. On one side you have the Istanbul that lies in Europe and on the other the Istanbul that lies in Asia. From the middle, you can see many of the great monuments as well as the palaces of Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi, the awe-inspiring Yalis or wooden houses that date from the Ottoman Empire, and as your boat tucks under the three suspension bridges you might even see dolphins playing in your wake.
There are a variety of tours available, which makes it a perfect adventure to slip between your other stops. You can do an express trip, a two-hour, non-stop boat ride which is perfect if your family isn’t ready for a long excursion. There are trips that take up most of the day with stops along the way to taste the area’s cuisine, visit some shops and take in the architecture. There are even night cruises which are a must for older travelers who will appreciate the magnificent sunset, a dining experience off the boat and then a tranquil ride down the strait as the city turns in for the night.
The Princes’ Islands
If you’ve already seen Aya Sofya, Ephesus, Mount Nemrut and all of the other tourist musts, or if you’re simply exhausted by the crowds and need a break, then The Princes’ Islands are calling your name. Of the nine islands in this chain in the Sea of Marmara, only four are open to the public, Buyukada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kinaliada. And they are all a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
You’ll instantly notice the silence as all motorized vehicles are banned. And if that isn’t enough to make you feel like you’ve been swept away to a fairy tale kingdom, the narrow streets abut charming wooden Victorian cottages and cool, thick pine forests.
One great way to get around and to view the city is to hop aboard a tram. There are two heritage trams in Istanbul, the European Taksim-Tunel Nostalgia Tramway (T2 line) and the Asian Kadikoy-Moda Nostalgia Tramway (T3 line).
T2 is especially fun because the tramcars are original Istanbul cars from the 1950’s and 1960’s and have that wonderful mid-century aesthetic. In addition, that route features a one mile stretch of historic buildings and shops with a courtyard-feel that’s simply delightful.
Kadikoy Fish Market
One of the best parts of visiting Turkey is the irresistible cuisine. Tucked between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, fresh fish is a huge part of the culinary tradition and every visitor should venture to the fish market to not only experience the market, but to taste some of the best seafood they’ll ever have.
On the Asian side of Istanbul, you’ll find Kadikoy Balik Pazari. This is not just a thriving fish market, it’s got a little farmer’s market flair too, offering a variety of different delicacies. It’s a great place to pick up some extras if you’re going hiking or on a picnic. There’s also a magnificent restaurant on site which can’t be skipped.
Speaking of picnics and hikes, after you’ve loaded up on snacks at Kadikoy, head over to the European coast of Bosphorus and spend some time enjoying one of the largest parks in Istanbul. Like much of Turkey, its history is rich and complicated while the beauty is incomparable. If your visit is in April, consider yourself very lucky as the tulip garden is breathtaking.
Book a Private city Tour
If you don’t feel comfortable traveling around this city or want a more personalized experience, Istanbul private tours are the perfect way for your family to connect with the city’s people, culture, and food, through unique experiences you may not otherwise be aware of through research.
Getting Around in Turkey
Getting from one destination to another and back to your home base is always a little stressful when you’re traveling. When the city is unfamiliar and, for many of us, public transportation is not a part of our daily lives, the stress is compounded.
In Turkey the public transportation is so easy that once you embrace it, you’ll wish it was an option in your hometown. But before you go, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the public transportation in Istanbul so you know what to expect.
Vapur. If you’re not able to take an extended cruise on the Bosphorus, then the public ferry is perfect. This abbreviated trip on the strait gives you a quick view of the city from the water and takes you to your destination. On top of that, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to travel.
Subway. The Istanbul Metro is something you’ll want to figure out pretty quickly. The good news is, that it’s fairly easy to understand and navigate. Because Istanbul is one of the most congested cities in the world, getting around is trying, but slipping underground and taking the subway instantly makes your destination more accessible.
Dolmus. In Turkey a dolmus is a popular way to travel. It’s a little bus, basically a taxi, that’s shared by up to 8 people. This can be a great tool for a family traveling as it’s an easy way to keep everyone together and it’s affordable. One thing to keep in mind is that each person pays one eighth of the fare, so the minibus will often wait until all seats are taken before setting out.
Buses. The buses are not the best way to travel in the city or on short trips, but they’re a good option for longer trips in and out of the city. If you’re headed out of town on a day trip and want to take the bus, make sure you have an Instanbulkart transit pass or you’ve purchased your bus tokens beforehand, they are not available on the bus.
Istanbul is not just a city divided, it’s a vacation divided. The most popular tourist stops are a must for any visitor. They capture the historical significance of this region and drop you into a cultural vista like none other. They leave you with a deep appreciation for the city and a strong desire to learn and experience more.
The other half of the vacation is a calmer approach with the relaxed attitude of a local. The frantic pace of racing from one destination to another slips away as a sense of peace and serenity gently opens your eyes to a different Istanbul. Spend hours relaxing in Emirgan Park, shopping in Kadikoy fish market, or watching the city sail by from a Bosphorus cruise ship.
Together, Istanbul is the perfect marriage of old and new, fast and slow, East and West.
Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her love of travel with MommyHiker.com.