There’s so much to see and do in Istanbul city centre, here are just 3 of our favourite Turkish delights: Topkapi Palace Museum, The Grand Bazaar, and a boat trip on the River Bosphorous.
1. Topkapi is tops with kids
The intoxicating fragrance of hyacinths filled the air as we stood in line to purchase tickets in the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace Museum. Around us was the sound of chattering tourists of every nationality flocking to see to one of the largest, most opulent palaces in the world, now a museum that exhibits priceless treasures spanning the 600 year dynasty of the Ottoman Sultans.
We arrived early and spent almost a whole day exploring the four courtyards and numerous pavilions, once home to: the royal household and its advisor’s, the military, the treasury, the mint, the armoury, a vast library, a school, mosques, and the imperial kitchens that could serve up to 6000 meals a day.
Our children were fascinated by the arms and armoury exhibition, in particular the vast array of man to man combat weapons such as spears, shields, swords and daggers. This provoked a lot of thought and discussion amongst them about how battle in the early days was all down to individual skill and having ‘wicked’ weapons- the unwieldy 6 foot Hungarian sword was a case in point! The respect for these was far greater than the section that displayed the earliest pistols and guns which took battle to a completely different scale and dimension.
We were overwhelmed by the treasury’s collection of royal jewels and objects that included exquisite emeralds the size of eggs, deep red rubies, and sparkling diamonds including the legendary 86 carat Spoonmaker’s diamond.
Then there was the astrolobe and ornate antique clock collection that contained bejewelled clocks and pocket watches, many of which were gifts from overseas dignitaries including the Emperors of Germany, Austria, Russia, and even a grandfather clock from Queen Victoria with an exterior made entirely of mother of pearl.
As we entered the pavilion of religious relics the mood changed to one of hushed and reverent tone. On display in the first room were objects of great religious significance to all three Abrahamic faiths, notably: the staff of Prophet Moses, the bones from the hand of John the Baptist kept in a golden case, the sword of Prophet David, a robe of Prophet Joseph, and a tray of Prophet Abraham. In the next room were the simple wooden doors, locks and keys brought back to Istanbul from the sacred Kaaba in Mecca. Whilst in the third room were relics of great importance to Muslims that included the personal belongings and the seal of Prophet Mohammed, as well as items of his companions. In the adjacent room was a man reciting the Holy Quran, this is a mark of respect and reading is done here continuously throughout the night and day.
We strolled through other impressive ceremonial areas including buildings for: petitions to the Sultans from all corners of the globe, circumcisions of royal princes, and executions.
The entrance to the Harem or royal household requires a separate ticket and is well worth the fee as you get an insight into the private chambers of successive Sultans, their children, wives and mothers as well as the royal guards made up of Eunuchs.
Topkapi Museum was tops with our kids and proved to be one of the most memorable highlights of our trip to Istanbul.
Topkapi Palace Museum’s official website: http://www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr/
Sonia’s top tip: Arrive early to avoid the crowds and take plenty of snacks and water with you to keep energised as there’s a lot of walking and few refreshments available.
2. Learn the art of haggling
The last thing most families want to do when they go on holiday is shopping. Traipsing round shops with kids in tow inevitably results in everyone’s patience wearing thin. But a trip to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (or Kapalicarsi) should not be treated as shopping, rather an introductory experience into the art of haggling and entrepreneurship.
My children had seen the Grand Bazaar as the place of the high octane motorcycle chase on rooftops in the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. My youngest asked, ‘Can we go on the roof tops?’ I replied, ‘No, but we can go under the rooftops and see one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.’
Shop keepers have been trading been here since 1455, and upon entering the Grand Bazaar you can’t help turning to people who politely call for your attention keen to show you their wares, after all, business is in their blood. With over 3000 shops selling ceramics to carpets, lamps to luggage, perfume to pearls, gold to guitars, there’s something for everyone.
We decided to fully embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of the place and gave our kids £15 each (TKL 40) and let them have a go at haggling to buy knick-knacks for family back home. They had great fun trying to knock down the initial price that shopkeepers started at, and to their great glee, managed to get a few liras off everything they bought. Can’t imagine doing that in Tesco’s!
3. Take a boat trip on the Bosphorus River
To fully appreciate the strategic position, scale and full majesty of this city that straddles two continents, a boat trip by either ferryboat or cruiser along the River Bosphorus is highly recommended.
We caught a ferry boat at the Eminonu Terminal to Eyup that traversed the Asian and European sides stopping to let passengers on and off as it crisscrossed the River several times. Many of the city’s famous landmarks could be clearly seen and identified by our children. On another occasion, we took a boat to the waterfront Dolmabahce Palace and saw Bottlenose Dolphins leaping out of the water, seemingly fearless of vessels that came up close to them.
The crystal clear blue waters of the Bosphorous Straits that join the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea are an important route for migratory fish. On the Galata Bridge and anywhere else with a pier, you will see people standing with fishing rods waiting patiently to catch something for their supper.
We visited the restaurants under the Galata Bridge to try the delicious, fresh and locally caught fish served on a sandwich known as balik ekmek.
Written by Sonia Zubri