Where the Kids Roam

Turkiye, where the tapestry of history unfolds amidst vibrant bazaars, turquoise coasts, and otherworldly landscapes, a 7-day journey awaits adventurous families. As the sun sets over Istanbul, casting its golden glow upon minarets and ancient structures, the promise of an unforgettable exploration begins. From the bustling streets of Istanbul to the azure shores of Fethiye and the magical landscapes of Cappadocia, this itinerary unveils the perfect blend of culture, relaxation, and awe-inspiring wonders for families seeking a memorable escape.

Days 1-3: Istanbul - Where East Meets West

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

First, start off at the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). Entrance is free. Both men and women are allowed to visit and explore the Blue Mosque. There are separate prayer areas for men and women. Visitors are required to dress modestly. For women, this typically involves covering their hair with a scarf and wearing clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. Scarves are provided at the entrance.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I and designed by architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, construction began in 1609 and was completed in 1616. The mosque’s construction aimed to display the wealth and power of the Ottoman Empire during a period of both economic prosperity and military expansion. The mosque stirred controversy when it was built with six minarets, a number only surpassed by the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. This led to criticism, as it was perceived as an attempt to rival the holiest mosque in Islam. To resolve the issue, Sultan Ahmed I sent a gift of a seventh minaret to Mecca, thus easing tensions. If someone wanted to send me a minaret, I would not refuse. Please send me one. 

Aya Sofia

Aya Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey
Outside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkiye

Next, pay a visit to Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia), right across from the Blue Mosque. It’s a monumental testament to Istanbul’s rich and diverse history. Once a church, later a mosque, then a museum, and finally a mosque again, its colossal dome and intricate mosaics are a mesmerizing blend of Byzantine and Ottoman influences. The highlight of this most holy site was the second floor, with all the Christian mosaics and stunning views. Sadly, the second floor is now closed to the public.

Hagia Sophia from the air
Aya Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey

Initially  commissioned by Emperor Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire and completed in 537 AD. Designed by architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, it was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire, under Sultan Mehmed II, conquered Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Minarets were added, and its Christian iconography was covered or removed. Many pieces were uncovered at a later date. 

Ice Cream

Love it or hate it, it’s an experience getting an ice cream in Istanbul. Definitely something for the kids, not for impatient adults. 

Don't Forget your daily ice cream!

Archaeological Museums

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Kids outside the Istanbul archeology museum

Start at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums (The Main Archeological Museum; Museum of the Ancient Orient; and the Museum of Islamic Art): Tucked away from the bustling streets, the Archaeological Museums offer a deep dive into Turkey’s historical treasure troves. From ancient artifacts to mesmerizing sculptures, each piece tells a story of civilizations long gone. It’s a quiet refuge where the whispers of the past beckon you to unravel the mysteries within.

Istanbul museum

Here are five noteworthy artifacts that have garnered significant attention from the main Archeological Museum:

  1. Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great: This sarcophagus, dating back to the 4th century BC, is one of the museum’s most famous pieces. Although it’s not proven to be the final resting place of Alexander the Great, its intricate carvings depict scenes from the life of Alexander and showcase exceptional Hellenistic artistry.

  2. The Alexander Sarcophagus. This sarcophagus, discovered in the Royal Necropolis of Sidon (modern-day Lebanon), is celebrated for its intricate relief sculptures. Depicting scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, it stands as an exceptional example of ancient Greek artistry and storytelling on a monumental scale.

  3. The Tiled Kiosk: The Tiled Kiosk, also known as the “Museum of Islamic Art” within the complex, is a structure with impressive tiled decoration from the 15th century Ottoman period. The exquisite Iznik tiles showcase intricate geometric patterns and floral designs, highlighting the sophistication of Ottoman tilework.

  4. The Istanbul Mummy: Known as one of the museum’s intriguing exhibits, the Istanbul Mummy is the preserved body of a woman from the Roman period. The mummy provides insights into ancient burial practices and offers a tangible connection to the people of the past.

  5. The Siloam Inscription: This ancient Hebrew inscription, dating back to the 8th century BC, was discovered in Jerusalem. The inscription describes the construction of a tunnel to bring water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam and is a crucial historical document related to water engineering in ancient times.

Basilica Cistern

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Next, descend into the mystical depths of the Basilica Cistern, where ancient columns rise from still waters, and the soft glow of lights reflects off the rippling surface. It’s a cinematic setting that feels straight out of a Dan Brown novel (maybe because it was in a movie from a Dan Brown novel) —a secret underworld beneath the bustling city where history and mystery intertwine.

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Cistern in Istanbul, Turkiye

The Basilica Cistern, also known as Yerebatan Sarnıcı in Turkish, is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. It was constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The cistern is supported by 336 columns, most of which were recycled from earlier structures and showcase various architectural styles. Among these columns, two are particularly famous—the Medusa heads. The Cistern featured prominently in the movies From Russia with Love, starring Sean Connery, and Inferno, starring Tom Hanks. 

Whirling Dervish

This can be a pretty magical experience if you have the time. Some restaurants will have free shows, like the one we caught here.

Take in a Whirling Dervish Show

Whirling Dervish, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace

First, start at Topkapi Palace, with its sprawling courtyards and ornate chambers. This was the seat of Ottoman power for centuries. Topkapi Palace, perched on the Seraglio Point overlooking the Golden Horn, served as the primary residence and administrative center of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years, from 1465 to 1856. The view from the outer terrace, overlooking the Bosphorus, transports you to a time when sultans ruled with grandeur and grace. 

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Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Of course you’ll walk through the Harem, where intrigue and politics played out behind closed doors. The Harem was not only the residence of the sultan’s family but also the quarters for the imperial concubines. Next, have long discussions with your kids about just what exactly a concubine is. For the uninformed, concubines were women in the service of the sultan, chosen for their – cough, cough – beauty and intellect. They played various roles, from serving in administrative capacities to providing companionship. 

The Harem was guarded by eunuchs. Next, have long discussions with your kids about just what exactly a Eunuch is. Of course, these are castrated males who were often chosen for their – cough, cough – beauty and intellect. Eunuchs held positions of power within the Harem and were responsible for maintaining order and security.

Bosphorus Cruise

A Bosphorus cruise offers a unique perspective of Istanbul, allowing you to witness the city’s iconic landmarks from the water. Cruises typically navigate the Bosphorus Strait, providing stunning views of historical sites, palaces, and modern structures on both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

Bosphorus cruise
Jellyfish in the Bosphorus, Istanbul
Bosphorus cruise
  • Bosphorus cruise prices can vary based on the type of cruise, duration, and inclusions (such as meals or guided commentary).
  • Short Bosphorus tours might start around 20-30 USD, while longer or more luxurious cruises can range from 50 USD to over 100 USD per person.

Popular cruise options:

Sehir Hatlari – the official ferry company operating in Istanbul. They offer various Bosphorus cruise options, including short tours and full-day excursions.

TurYol – TurYol is another prominent ferry company offering Bosphorus cruises with various routes and durations to choose from.

Viator – Viator is a platform that aggregates tours and activities from various operators. You can find a range of Bosphorus cruise options with different durations and prices. Expect to pay a bit more but have the trust of a reputable company. 

GetYourGuide – Similar to Viator. Just another reputable option. 

The Food

Next, explore Istanbul’s culinary scene, a haven for food enthusiasts. Lose yourself in the kaleidoscope of colors and intoxicating scents—saffron, cumin, and the earthy aroma of Turkish delight. Engage with the lively vendors, taste exotic spices, and let Istanbul weave its magic on your senses.

Fish in Istanbul

Days 4-5: Fethiye - Turquoise Gem of the Aegean

Time to relax. Fly to Dalaman from Istanbul (approx. $50-$100 per person) and transfer to Fethiye. Late spring to early autumn is perfect for enjoying the Mediterranean climate. Spend mornings at the beaches and afternoons exploring historical sites. Boat trips to the Butterfly Valley or the Twelve Islands cost around $20-$30 per person. Family-friendly accommodations in Fethiye range from $50 to $150 per night. Honestly, all we did is sit on the beach here. 

Fethiye beach
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Fethiye beach

Days 6-7: Cappadocia - A Fairy Tale Landscape

Fly to Nevşehir (the closer of the two Cappadocia airports) from Dalaman (approx. $50-$100 per person). Best time to visit Cappadocia is during the spring or fall for mild temperatures. A good cave hotel could set you back $200+ per night. Hot air balloon rides are about $150-$200 per person. The balloon rides, apparently, only operate during the early morning. Book more nights if you want a better chance at seeing the balloons go up. We struck out – four nights and no balloons. Such is life. 

This is your

4x4 Tour

Several local tour operators in Cappadocia offer 4×4 tours. You can usually just book this through your hotel. Everyone seems to know everyone in Cappadocia. Just beware, sometimes you might get told what you want to hear instead of the truth. This happened to us with the 4×4 tour. Our hotel blamed the tour operator for not showing up to pick us up for our scheduled tour. However, the tour operator told us the hotel never even called him. With our multiple visits to this country, we’ve noticed people don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. Again, just be prepared. 

Cappadocia 4x4 tour
Cappadocia 4x4 tour
Cappadocia 4x4 tour

With these trips, you’re just going to see a lot more things you wouldn’t see just by wandering around the little town of Göreme in Cappadocia. 

Cappadocia 4x4 tour
Cappadocia 4x4 tour
Cappadocia 4x4 tour

Your guide should know all the good Cappadocia fairy chimneys, panoramic viewpoints, etc. My kids’ favorite part wasn’t the landscape – it was the crazy 4-wheel driving. 

Also, you might find yourself lucky and see a gaggle (this is the official term, right?) of Instagram influencers. 

Influencer to Non-Influencer Ratio

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Göreme Open Air Museum

In Cappadocia, don’t miss the unique rock-cut churches adorned with Christian frescoes dating back to the Byzantine period. The entrance fee is currently 480 Turkish Liras (as of 2024). The ticket booth will be confusingly located well past an initial cave church with no real signage. In our experience, you will enter this first church only to be shooed away with no real explanation. But this means you’ll just keep walking and eventually hit the roughshod-looking ticket booth.  The ticket you’ll purchase is valid at Göreme national park and almost all the rock churches. An additional ticket is required for the “Dark Church.” Decent gift shop with coffee and snacks is onsite. 

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Hot Air Balloons

The quintessential Cappadocia thing to do. This is a morning thing. Doesn’t last very long. It’s the reason why everyone comes. Again, it didn’t happen for us. So, below are some shots of the terrain. Take a good look then close your eyes and picture it all with a bunch of balloons magically floating in the background. Perhaps your luck will be better than ours. 

You can watch from the ground or fly. Flying is not allowed for small kids. If you fly, I’m sure your hotel would be more than happy to schedule this as there are probably handsome kickbacks. But you can also schedule through something like GetYourGuide.

Magic Cappadocia, Turkey
Magic Cappadocia, Turkey

Uchisar Castle

Hands down our favorite experience in Cappadocia. Uchisar Castle is not a traditional castle with walls and towers but rather a natural rock formation that has been partially carved and used for both defensive and residential purposes. It’s the highest point in Cappadocia. You can see it from just about anywhere in town. It’s about 5km from Göreme. 

To get there:

  1. You can simply do a hike through Pigeon Valley and on up to the top. Sounds simple, and, well, the actual hike is. Only problem, and we had read about this beforehand, is that you might come across some wild dogs. We did. The experience was harrowing. I’ve never seen so many people be absolutely terrified of dogs. But look at the payoff. And this is the option I actually recommend if you believe it. Highlight of our trip. Be careful not to take the wrong valley path back to town (half of our crew did and it turned into an interesting 30 minutes of panic since we were separated and wild dogs were on the loose). 
  2. There is a bus every half an hour from Goreme bus station (Göreme Otobüs Terminali) to Uchisar Village. It’s roughly three Lira to get there and takes about 10 minutes. 
  3. You could also hire a driver for a couple hundred Lira for a couple of hours. 
  4. The infamous Red Tour – taking you to many of the Cappadocia highlights –  will also probably stop here. 
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Uchisar Castle, Cappadocia
Uchisar Castle, Cappadocia

“Yolun açık olsun!”

This expression is often used to wish someone a safe and prosperous journey. Translated to English, it means “May your road be open!” or “May your path be clear!” It encapsulates the idea of wishing someone a smooth and successful journey, reflecting the warmth and hospitality that are integral to Turkish culture. So, yolun açık olsun fellow travelers!