Best Istanbul neighborhoods for traveling with a baby
Istanbul is a wonderful place to travel with children, as Turkish people are some of the most baby-friendly in the world. My daughter Vera was born in Istanbul and spent most of her first year here (when we weren’t traveling elsewhere!), so we have lots of experience with navigating the city formerly known as Constantinople (if you think you’re clever for singing that song, you’re about the millionth person to think you’re the first to make the joke). When choosing a neighborhood to stay in Istanbul, travelers with babies have special considerations. I normally recommend Beyoglu to travelers: the district including Taksim square, Istiklal Caddessi, and the city’s best nightlife, but parents might find it loud or too hectic (though I’ve included Cihangir below). I do not recommend the Old City/Sultanahmet as a rule, as it becomes crowded with tour buses and carpet touts in high season, but you may choose to stay there if you are in town for a short time and want to be right near all the main sights like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Since I started traveling with a baby, I’ve been booking more apartments than hotel rooms, due to increased space, laundry, and kitchen facilities. Even for a short stay, it’s nice to have somewhere to relax when the baby goes to sleep, be able to wash clothes and pack less, and prepare meals that aren’t out of a mini-bar. While big sites like AirBnB are great for finding apartments, I recommend Way to Stay and Cross Pollinate for a well-curated listing of apartments and excellent service.
Nişantaşı - It was our home from pre-baby to her first birthday, and Istanbul’s fashion district (pronounced NEE-shan-tah-shuh) is our top pick of areas to stay with a baby. It’s a quick metro or taxi ride to Taksim or a (relatively) easy downhill walk to the Bosphorus, and loaded with cafes, but you won’t hear much noise late at night other than the call-to-prayer or occasional honking of horns (often when a young man is going into military, which happens pretty much year round). If you’ve read any of Turkish Nobel Laurete Orhan Pamuk’s books, you’ll recognize many of the historic pre-war buildings, it was Pamuk’s childhood home.
Parent-friendly finds: I have too many recommendations to fit in this space, so check out this Google Map of my favorite places in Nişantaşı, from baby clothing and supplies at Mothercare, to Kirinti cafe with high-chairs, a (rare) changing table, and cooing waiters.
Baby beware: Along with the country’s most expensive retail space, hotel and food prices aren’t the lowest in town, but good values can be found on the side streets of Teşvikiye or up the hill and across the busy Halaskargazi street in Osmanbey.
Cihangir – Another hip area in the “new city,” Cihangir (pronounced JEE-hahn-gear) is affectionately called Yabanci-koy (literally foreigner village) for the many young expats who live there. It’s another favorite place of Orhan Pamuk and home to the new and unusual Museum of Innocence (read the book first and get free admission with the ticket inside). Rent a flat with a fabulous roof deck and spend your days wandering the winding streets and people-watching at a cafe, and don’t be surprised when the young Turkish hipsters greet your baby with glee instead of disdain.
Parent-friendly finds: Cihangir has a few cute playgrounds, with the added amenity of a water view. Try Cihangir Park around the corner from Susam Sok, or the Roma garden on Sanatkarlar, which occasionally hosts the small artists’ PAZART market. For a more adult playground, the White Mill is one of the best cafes when you are with kids. Ask a waiter to take your stroller through the kitchen and climb the stairs up and out to the back garden for cocktails and a sophisticated food menu.
Baby beware: The downside of Cihangir’s charming hilly streets is going up them. I’ve done it with a stroller more than a few times, and it’s a challenge to get up to Taksim, but pleasant if you aren’t in a hurry. Factor in some cheap cab rides or use a carrier so you can take the stairs down to the tram line.
Kadiköy/Moda - While not as packed with historic must-sees as the European side, you’ll find a slightly more peaceful pace and less tourists over in Asia. The market streets of Kadiköy and the waterfront promenade at Moda are ideal for an experienced Istanbul visitor who wants a more residential experience; think of it as the Hoboken of Istanbul.
Parent-friendly finds: Everyone and their anne (mother) hops the ferry for lunch at Ciya, which is delicious but one of the few spots you might find packed with tourists. See if Istanbul Eats is doing a cross-continent food walk and discover some of the hidden culinary delights of Anatolia. We did one in our last month in Istanbul with another family with baby and got extra helpings of everything, including cheek-pinching. If the weather is good and the baby is napping, stop off for excellent (and surprisingly cheap) wine at Viktor Levi, or even one of the art galleries-cum-bars on “Bar street.”
Baby beware: Hope you like riding the ferry, because you’ll spend a lot of time crossing the water to visit the museums in the Old City or the restaurants in Beyoglu. The newly-opened Kadiköy metro station is handy for getting to Bostanci for shopping along Bagdat Caddesi or strolling along the water (one of the few places you’ll actually see joggers), but the long-delayed underwater connection to Europe is still a few years off. If you can structure your day with a few hours in the morning over in Europe, you’ll have more ferry options and can relax after dark.
Ortaköy – A favorite of many local families on weekends, this former fishing village is a good choice if you want to be right on the water and close to the other Bosphorus neighborhoods like Bebek (yes, there is a neighborhood called “baby” and it has one of the most beautiful Starbucks in the world), but not too far from the center. Browse the market on Saturdays for homemade trinkets, get stuffed with a stuffed kumpir potato, and enjoy an ice cream under the Bosphorus Bridge when it’s lit up at night.
Parent-friendly finds: The House Hotel and cafe may seem imposingly chic, but like most of Turkey, it’s quite baby-friendly. If you stay the night, ask about baby amenities like a high chair, baby food, and even a baby sitter if you want to visit one of the nightclubs nearby. A little inland from the main pier, the Ulus Thursday market is wonderful for cheap produce and baby clothes, as well as gozleme pancakes likely to please even fussy eaters.
Baby beware: If the weather is good, traffic is bad. If the weather is bad, traffic is bad. The small stretch of road between Bestiktas and Ortakoy is almost always stop-and-go, so figure in a 20-minute walk to skip it, past a few luxury hotels and many, many photos of Ataturk (yet curiously, no water views).
Visited Istanbul with a baby? Where did you stay? We’d love to hear from other visitors!