How we made the most of a long weekend in Istanbul with 2y olds
It has been a long time that I wished to go and explore Istanbul, in this article I collected all my tips and advice to make the most of a long weekend in Istanbul! With the excuse that soon we will have to pay full fares for the boys, I managed to convince Mark to go on this new adventure! Liam and Santiago were 23 months and these were their 32nd and 33rd flights!
I wrote another article about “the best 4 days itineray to Istanbul with toddlers” where you can find info about how to organize your time and what is achievable when you are there with small kids.
The flight is less than 4 hours from London, it is scheduled for 3:50h but in the end it was a little shorter on the way there and 40-45 mins longer on the way back including some time in a holding pattern.
We flew with Turkish airlines, the flight crew were very nice, and before we took off handed over a little bag with a couple of wooden toys and a super cute pilot’s hat like Snoopy wears (and Biggles according to Mark, but I don’t know who that is!))
Hot Tip: we board last most of the time so the boys can run around as long as possible, and before boarding we always ask at the final boarding pass check if there are any rows free, this way we sit there directly.
On the way there we were lucky and Mark with Liam got a full row free and I got 2 seats free in another row, on the way back the plane was quite full, so Mark got 2 seats free, and Liam and I shared the same seat…not ideal because they are now really big!
This was also the first flight where Santiago on one flight, and Liam on the other, sat through take off happily on my lap for 40 mins while we were watching Coco, using earphones (very low)…I was impressed. The entertainment system together with food kept them quiet for most of the flight.
On arrival the passport control was easy and fast (maybe we were lucky as I read about long waiting times), don’t forget that many nationalities still need a VISA to enter (first time that Mark and the boys with the magical UK Passport needed a VISA and I did not!)
Outside, someone was waiting for us as we had a transfer booked with our Hotel (when you stay 3 nights or more they offer an airport transfer)
TRANSFER FROM THE AIRPORT
Here we have had our first Turkish reality encounter: how disorganised it was! As soon as we went into Arrivals we found the person with the board that was waiting for us…but also for dozens of others…so we waited…and waited…and Liam and Santiago started becoming impatient. First we waited inside the airport, then we went outside and waited there. After I complained with the man that was organising everything a car for us appeared (there were hundreds of cars/taxis there, but we were waiting for a specific one apparently).
Finally we boarded a big 8 seat car (without child car seat of course) and we moved into very heavy early evening traffic, for which I was prepared as I had read about it, but the journey was quite smooth in the end.
WHERE WE STAYED:
The hotel I picked was the Neorion Hotel. This was a good choice for us because:
–it is in the historical area, Sultanahmet. The majority of sites to visit are in this area so we could reach every place walking or with a couple of tram stops, both a really quick 10-15 minutes.
–the boys are still napping around lunch time (1:30-3:30). In the morning we would go out sightseeing and then around 1:30 we came back and put them down for their nap. They also sleep in the pram but rarely more than 45-60 min. When we are on holiday it is always difficult to have them in bed at their usual time allowing them to sleep 12 hours, so the possibility to have a good nap during the day makes the evening better because they are of course less grumpy.
–the hotel offers a meze from 2pm till 6pm so while the boys were asleep we have had time to have some food, a major bonus!
–the hotel has a spa in the basement with Sauna, Turkish bath, Jacuzzi, and Swimming Pool (They also offer Massage and Turkish scrub to be paid extra), so after the meze I went to the spa and enjoyed an hour there whilst Mark napped with the boys.
In summary it is a good hotel, it is not a design hotel but our room was big (they also provided 2 cots), comfortable, and clean. The lobby is big enough to relax in while the boys were sleeping, and breakfast was really good with great variety on offer. The Hotel staff were all lovely and really sweet with our boys, they also had high chairs we could use for breakfast.
The only issue we had was on the last day when we asked the front desk to book a taxi to the airport for us, we asked in the morning but when we arrived in the afternoon ready to leave, we discovered that the taxi wasn’t booked. Usually they can just call when needed and it is fine apart from that day when all the taxis were busy! After a quick panic, Mark went around in other streets and managed to find a free taxi and we ran to the airport.
HOT TIP: if you want the Hotel to book you a taxi, ask them the day before (we didn’t know) and ensure it is properly booked or they may just try to find one on the spot
WHERE TO EAT:
There are thousands of restaurant and street food options on every corner, with great variety for all tastes. When we travel I always try to make some advance research on restaurants, first because I don’t eat everything, but also from when I moved London I discovered that food can be a great pleasure and make great memories of the trip. My research for Istanbul lead us to these three restaurants:
we went to Neolokal. This is a beautiful place, well designed with a lovely atmosphere and nice views in the SALT Galata.
Not all of the staff spoke fluent English but they were helpful and attentive regardless, they had only 1 high chair, but we were prepared and brought with us a folding seat. There is a public lift to the floor below but not up into the Restaurant, however the staff were lovely and took Mark through the Kitchen and up in a Staff lift with the pram, the boys even got some dried fruit each as they passed through!
Unfortunately the food was not at the same level as the place, it was certainly enjoyable but not as memorable as expected from my research.
we went to Mikla. Another restaurant in the modern part of Istanbul on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera Hotel. The restaurant is beautiful and the view from the terrace breath-taking. When we arrived, all the waiters were really nice, but definitely not used to having small kids there as shown by the absence of highchairs and the well hidden look of terror on the Maitre d’s face! We got a few disapproving looks from other diners, but never mind we attached the foldable seats, gave the boys some bread and some videos to watch and ordered.
HOT TIP: if you like to eat out, then these foldable seats will be really handy! They look like little briefcases when folded up, so when the boys like to carry them they look like little businessmen!
There was a moment when I felt bad thinking that we bring the kids to places not really suitable for them, and then Mark told me something that almost made me cry. He said that we have dedicated our lives to our boys because we love them, so it isn’t wrong if occasionally we do something for us which means they need to be chilled and maybe watch the iPad for 90 minutes.
The food at Mikla was delicious, we had the three course menu and everything was well presented and really tasty. We had 2 amuse bouche and we probably would have had petit four if it wasn’t that we understood the boys had had enough and it was time to leave.
Throughout the evening, every member of staff was delightful with the boys, and by the end quite a few of the other diners had a little chat with them too, including a really lovely couple from New York who showed us pictures of their own very handsome Triplet Boys. This couple were looking very fresh and healthy too so it gives hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train!
we went to Hamdi. This is a more typical kebab restaurant, it is quite touristic but there were also a lot of locals eating there. The place is really family friendly, they have high chairs, and also brought the boys a colouring book and crayon.
The food was really tasty, in the menu there were several cold and hot appetisers and over 10 different types of kebab. We ordered too much but finished everything because it was super good.
HOT TIP: the restaurant is developed on several floors, if it is good weather try to book on the terrace as you will have a lovely view of the Bridge and the Galata tower.
HOW WE MOVED AROUND
As we were staying in the Sultanahmet area we walked a lot, but as soon as we arrived we also bought a Instanbul kart to travel on public transport. Istanbul kart costs 7 Turkish Lira and you can add 20 TL to charge it at any station. The public transport is really good, and we were able to use the Istanbul Kart on Tram, Funicular and Boat. 1 card can be used for more than 1 person.
HOT TIP: Tram #1 is really useful to move around the Sultanahmet area, it covers the major sites and you can also cross the bridge where you can get the Funicular to Taksim square.
Tram and Funicular were accessible without issue with our pram, boat access is fine too, but there are steps once you are on the boat. Tram is often really busy so if you have a side by side double pram then you could have difficulties sometimes to get in and out.
Istanbul was a lovely break, perfect for a long week end or to start a longer trip exploring beautiful Turkey. I always felt safe and we met lovely people in general really happy to help.
I hope this article it is inspiring you to visit Istanbul, let me know with your comment.