Well, now I have 2 of those, I should share my experiences of another side to Istanbul, Istanbul with babies!
Istanbul has some serious drawbacks to traveling with babies, but also some delightful bonuses. I hope to make this an informative and factual post, trying to answer the most common questions asked in travel forums. This first part is the essentials, I hope to add another post later on suggested activities.
Moving about :
Istanbul is a hilly city, a very hilly city, with windy narrow roads built naturally over the years. Pavements are narrow, sometimes non-existant, and usually very high to prevent cars from parking on them, and very little ramps. In more commercial and touristic areas the shops also spill onto the pavements with their wares, chairs, advertising, etc. There are cars parked everywhere. Most roads on hills are cobblestone. All this makes it pretty difficult to push a stroller. If your babies are small it is better to bring a baby carrier, wrap or similar or a very lightweight pushchair to negotiate the obstacles. Only flat areas in the European side can be found by the seaside, the walk along the Bosphorous between Kurucesme and Hisar (the Rumeli Fortress) passing through Arnavutkoy and Bebek is especially pleasant. In Bebek there is a very good playground with safe equipment and environment, most Istanbul playgrounds would not impress any British Health and Safety officer.
Also along the Maramara sea, just down from Sulatanahmet is a wide walkway and is flat.
The Asian side, near the sea of Marmara is much flatter, Baghdat Street has wide pavements, proper ramps, good traffic, and wonderful shops and cafes as well!! Between Suadiye and Gozetepe is the liveliest section. Along the Marmara sea, parallel to Baghdat street is a wide green strip with parks, exercise areas, which many residents enjoy regularly. Between Bostanci, all the way to Fenerbahce is great, this is a couple of kilometers, and in Fenerbahce there is a lovely park where you can watch the sunset over the minarets of Sultanahmet across the water. The Marina in Kalamis is also a great walk.
On the European side the great parks of Yildiz, Emirgan and Ulus are also very hilly, if your children can walk then they are great fun.
Taxis are ill equipped in Istanbul to say the least. There are new laws that children under a certain age should be in carseats and taxis need to comply, but even in June this year, a year after the legislation, this was not the case. Older taxis don’t always have working seatbelts at the back. There may be a seatbelt, but the attachment is usually buried in the seat and cannot be used. If they have a working seatbelt they are usually too short to wrap around the carseat. On top of this taxi drivers, and I have been in thousands of taxis, mostly drive like maniacs. They accelerate and decelerate abrubtly, even in heavy traffic, they change lanes constantly and drive very fast when they can. In Turkey I rather rent a car and on my numerous visits in the last 2.5 years with babies I’ve never put them in a taxi.
Tram is modern, not high and great with a pushchair, as is the metro. People help you all the time with the pushchairs. Buses are a bit more difficult but also a possibility. In rush hour all these modes of transport are busy but other times they are not. Ferries are fun, a bit difficult to get on to, but once you are on it I am sure the children will love them, especially if you are at the back out in the open the seagulls diving to catch the simit thrown by the passengers.
The most asked question is milk, so let’s start with that. Aptamil is the most common formula. The packaging is identical so very easy to buy, they even have a box half the size of the regular box so ideal for holiday. There is also SMA but more limited. Cows milk is available everywhere of course. But most of it is UHT (ultrahightemperature) so long life milk. Fresh milk is either called ‘taze sut’ (fresh milk) or ‘gunluk sut’ (daily milk) and not everywhere stocks this. Istanbul is very hot in summer so I choose to buy the UHT milk instead of the daily milk, where I can’t be sure about how it was kept. ‘Tam Yagli’ is full fat milk and it is green. Pinar, Sek Sut are good brands. UHT milk comes in cartons and they are not in the chiller cabinets. You don’t need to keep it refrigerated until you open it. They also sell them in individual cartons which are good when out and about, with the straws. Fresh milk comes in plastic standard packaging, but be careful not to buy Ayran, which is a yoghurt drink and confusingly comes in similar packaging.
Baby jars are not as varied in Turkey because they are not very widespread as they are expensive for most people. Turkish babies eat family meals from very early on and fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap and varied. Bebelac is a good brand for jars, baby cereals, baby rice. Milupa (who manufactures Aptamil) is another good brand. Milupa also has organic fruit juice range for babies that come in handy cartons. Danone has very tasty baby yoghurts, plain and with fruit. Dil peyniri is a great soft cheese like mozarella and is great for children as it is lower on salt.
To make formula you can bring a small travel kettle but in Turkey I buy Hayat’s special water suitable for babies, they have pink caps to differentiate from the regular water, they are small (200ml) and in a multi pack of 6 they even provide a spout you can attach to the bottles making it easy for older babies to drink water from, brilliant!
Food when out and about:
This is where Istanbul is a great city for babies. Turkish people love babies and babies and kids are seen as an integral part of society so where adults go children follow. No need to single out baby friendly restaurants as there is no such concept, they all are! With the exception of a few fine dining restaurants like Zuma, Ulus 29, etc, children are well accommodated. Most will have highchairs though some of these may not be very safe (custom made) but more and more they but Ikea highchairs which are great. There are no children’s menus but they would mostly cook whatever they want for the children. Most restaurants would have or make simple pasta dishes, grilled meat, vegetable soup, rice and most babies love the warm crusty Turkish bread. My babies eat anything from Lahmacun to shish kebap to the numerous vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil. So don’t be afraid to ask exactly what you want, but be careful to always ask them to put NO SALT as Turkish cooks are a bit heavy handed with salt.
Simit is a great street food, similar to bagels with sesame, but if you don’t want to give street food to younger children there are specialist cafes usually called ‘Simit Sarayi’ (Simit palace) and you can have delicious simit with tasty fillings or plain. My 10 month old loves simit and would chomp on one for ages. Both of mine also love mini sesame breadsticks for snacks.
Johnson is found everywhere for bath, nappy cream and other care products. ‘Prima’ nappies are Pampers and is the most widely available and you can find Huggies. Most wipes are international brands. I buy the non-scented pure wipes and I can find these in Istanbul. Local brand wipes tend to be heavily scented. I would recommend to bring your own nappy bags (they don;t sell them) and swim nappies (insanely expensive). For sterilizing, you should bring Milton cold sterilizing tablets with you.
Pharmacies only stock a small selection of baby items like formula, dummies, bottles, nappy creams, nappies, but supermarkets like Migros, Tansas, Carrefour are very good with a huge selection. However Pharmacists are great when you are in need of basic medical help, they also carry out basic first aid, they mostly speak English so I would not hesitate to consult them.
Please feel free to comment and add to my essentials list and ask me any question you want. Traveling with a baby is difficult so I hope I can help to make it a bit easier for you.