Families seeking an ideal combination of robust history and top-notch sightseeing paired with time spent along stunning coastlines often look to familiar destinations like Greece or Italy. We recommend families cast their sights a bit farther east and consider the treasures that await in Turkey — slightly under the radar, colorful and alluring.
Turkey studs its enviable European location with warm hospitality and an air of the exotic while remaining approachable. A visit to Turkey with kids is sure to tempt with locales ranging from the mythical underground cisterns in Istanbul and otherworldly cave towns in Cappadoccia to the impressive Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus and the turquoise waters of Bodrum.
In order to truly appreciate a journey through Turkey, allow at least a week to explore all that the country has to offer. Ten days would be ideal, allowing leeway to delve into smaller towns and experiences along the way — whether your family fancies a hands-on pottery class, a traditional Turkish cooking class, an artisanal carpet-making workshop or even a visit to a hammam (famed Turkish steam baths). Hospitality reigns supreme in Turkey and adults and children alike will delight in moments that are best brought to light with experienced guides thanks to our amazing ground partner.
Where to Go on a Family Vacation to Turkey
Lying at the nexus between Europe and Asia with the Bosphorus Strait in between, Istanbul is the natural spot to kick off any Turkey itinerary. As the largest city in Turkey, with 16 million people, where you stay matters. We suggest a minimum of four nights in Istanbul; base yourself either in the central area of Sultanahmet for proximity to major cultural sites or down by the Bosphorus in the warmer months, which allows for access to the water and swimming options.
Start with this primer itinerary for Istanbul with kids and make sure to leave time to simply wander. A lot of the awe of Turkey lies in the space between the big-ticket sites, like an impromptu comedic interlude with the ice cream cart vendor or time spent wandering the myriad stalls of the Grand Bazaar (fancy a scavenger hunt)? Istanbul also has a fabulous food culture, making food tours and local restaurants — perhaps a memorable meal on the Asian side along the Bosphorus — particular highlights.
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Southeast of the capital of Ankara in the region of Anatolia lies a geologically singular area called Cappadocia. Used as the inspiration for the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars, Cappadocia is known for its unique fairy chimney structures that have formed over millions of years from eroding volcanic ash. The region is not only visually stunning, but equally impressive in its historically significance for the way families lived, worshipped and worked in the area.
Make your home base in Uchisar with at least two full days allotted for exploration — you can even stay in a luxury cave hotel! Highlights of time in Cappadocia include guided hikes, like the one up to Uchisar castle; quaint shopping in the underground villages; a visit to a village homestead and a hands-on pottery making class; and the quintessential Cappadocia highlight: a hot air balloon ride to marvel at the landscape below.
TIP: Hot air balloon flights are highly recommended but are weather-dependent, so allow a buffer for rebooking if yours can’t go ahead.
Hop a flight to Izmir and wend toward the Aegean coast, with a stop at Ephesus to see some of the most well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the world. Emblematic of Ephesus are the stunning façade of the Library of Celsus, the terraced houses (seven homes of the wealthiest residents that really bring to life what living here was like), the Odeon, the Ancient Theater and the remains of one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world. Ephesus came to its earliest notoriety as the site of the Greek Temple of Artemis, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, though only one column remains today.
Ephesus also hold Christian significance as the place where St. Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians and St. John wrote the Gospels. Nearby, but not in the archeological site, is the House of the Virgin Mary, where it is believed she spent her final years.
In the summer months, Ephesus can get quite hot and crowded. Make sure to start early in the day to avoid crowds and be prepared with water and snacks. There are also two entrances to the site. The south side, located at the top of a hill, is where many cruises and tour groups enter. The north side, or lower entrance, is less busy, but you will be walking uphill as you navigate.
TIP: Pair a full morning of touring at Ephesus with a visit to the adorable town of Sirince for lunch and shopping. Ironically, Sirince means “ugly” in Turkish — an original naming device to ward off too many visitors.
As you continue south to the coast, archaeology fans might want to choose the slower road to nip into other well-preserved ruins, such as the Temple of Athena in Priene and the Temple of Zeus in Euromos.
Bodrum is an iconic summer destination that has been likened to Turkey’s version of St. Tropez. There are lovely luxury resorts that our Family Travel Advisor team can book for you, plus plenty of water activities, resort amenities, the stunning Bodrum Castle (and its underwater archaeology museum) in the harbor, shopping and perhaps even some celebrity sightings.
If you have more time, one of Turkey’s great activities is to take a cruise on a traditional gulet, or wooden boat, through the Turquoise Coast. Get a taste for luxe Turkish coastal life with a voyage on one of these ships, which range in size and amenities and can have up to ten staterooms.
TIP: You may be surprised by Turkey’s proximity to other dreamy Mediterranean island destinations. Bodrum is a mere 15 miles from the Greek island of Kos, part of the chain of Dodecanese Islands along with Patmos and Rhodes. If you have time to spare, a trip to Turkey is easily paired with a holiday in the Greek isles or destinations farther north along the Adriatic, such as Croatia.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy except where noted.