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Istanbul with Kids – Mysterious Markets and Busy Bazaars

When we woke up the next morning, the sky was black. But we were well armed with our umbrellas bought the day before and soon we were making our way through the alleys of  Galata.

Meeting the Blues Brothers!

Meeting the Blues Brothers!

Our first stop for the day was down near the ferry terminal at Kadikoy- we had been waiting for this moment ever since we arrived – Gulluoglu! My favourite spot in all Istanbul, Gulluoglu is an old style pastry shop –  old-fashioned golden counters, each with a man in a white coat tending his section of the counter. In my opinion this is the finest pastry shop in all Turkey  – there are about fifteen different kinds of baklava and all are a taste sensation. In addition, there are three or four kinds of borek (savory ) pastries and ice cream. Gulluoglu is a legend, and the TV screen up on the wall alternated between showing sports, and various programs from all over the world profiling this legendary store.

On our way to Gulluoglu we stumbled upon a warehouse filled with the craziest lifestyle models of pirates, gangsters, and for some reason, The Blues Brothers! We had no ideas what they were doing there, but it was a great photo op!

At Gulluoglu we ordered a selection of their best baklava and went to sit down. The baklava was simply incredible – a taste sensation that is unforgettable to anyone with a sweet tooth. In addition, the kids each got a beautiful tiny souvenir box with one piece of chocolate baklava inside – on the house. Whenever in Istanbul, we always make a beeline for Gulluoglu – other things may change, but to me Gulluoglu represents two things – one, it is something essentially Turkish and two, it remains firmly stuck in the past – a reminder of life in a different time – a time from before the huge modernization that has overtaken much of the country. It is truly one of the reasons that I am always drawn back to Istanbul.

We then made our way  to the Galata bridge – by the time we reached the bridge it was raining cats and dogs and it was still incredibly humid – almost like a tropical thunderstorm. except this was nowhere near the tropics.  The bridge has various levels – the traffic level with its constant roar of trucks and cars and incongruously, it’s tens of  fishermen sitting patiently on the side waiting for a bite. The bottom level has restaurants. Optimistic touts tried to lure us in but since it was only 10 in the morning they must have known that they were fighting against the odds.

Welcome to the Egyptian Market

Welcome to the Egyptian Market

What a great start to the day for the kids — urged to eat sweets by their parents, and then a walk in a hot thunderstorm .

Across the bridge, through a tunnel and soon we were plunging into the depths of the Egyptian bazaar. The Egyptian bazaar is a cacophony of sounds – with mainly food for sale, vendors of sweets and spices, cured meats and herbs were all urging the crowds to try their wares. And what wares – Turkish delight, teas, all kinds of herbs – you could wander around for hours without being bored. Like all seasoned salespeople, the vendors continuously wanted to know where we were from, how we liked Turkey, if we had ever tasted, tried, drank or used whatever they happen to be selling. We had a great time – the kids enjoyed tasting all the free samples and seeing things they would never see at home. Like dried jasmine flowers, which open up and seemingly blossom as soon as they get put into boiling water, or bastirma and sucuk – various spicy beef pastramis and sausages.

We must have spent about an hour in the market before exiting. On the spur of the moment we decided to walk to the Sulemaniye Mosque, one of the greatest mosques in Istanbul. It was a long uphill walk to get there, and when we arrived we saw the scaffolding and then the signs announcing a huge renovation project –  I had made one of the cardinal errors of travel – I had assumed a famous sight would be open without checking the facts – and so it was closed.  As it happened , the kids weren’t that upset – we did visit the Turbe (mausoleum) next door to the mosque which was open, and the kids really enjoyed the stories I read to them about the mosque stories so filled with Ottoman intrigue that they matched anything the kids see on TV or in the movies today for its thrill, horror, drama and mystery.

We trudged down the hill towards the covered market. It was close to lunch time and on the way we passed a small food stall selling doner kebabs  (meat sandwiches)- the stall was really busy serving local workmen and we figured that this was a sign of a great place to eat. We were right – and soon we were holding our sandwiches and sitting together with the others on little stools out on the sidewalk. They didn’t seem to think that it was unusual for a foreign family to be eating with them, and we felt quite comfortable there.

We entered the Covered Market – and immediately we had no idea where we were. The Covered Market is the largest market in the world I ‘m told – thousands of stores jam packed next to each other, it is essentially the luck of the draw where you land up inside. The only way to figure out your whereabouts is that the market is divided up into sections selling the same thing – in the gold section all the stores sell gold, same goes for rugs, leather, whatever.

The kids were most interested in soccer jerseys, and you could buy decent ripoffs of most of the major world cup teams as well as the local Istanbul and Turkish teams. I really wasn’t interested in buying anything, but Hilit had her heart set on a carpet – specifically a Sumak, which is kind of tribal kilim rug. We finally found ourselves in the store of the most famous rug dealer in the market – that of Sisko Osman. It turns out that Sisko himself no longer really runs the store, but we met his nephew who spent a good hour explaining everything there was to know about Turkish sumaks. The store is famous – excerpts from books and magazines line one wall, but it is also well-known for not allowing bargaining, and the rugs were too pricy for us – though we saw one rug that we really loved , and left the store with deep regret at not buying it. We asked them to hang on to it in case we changed our minds. The kids enjoyed themselves too – they were treated like kings and really enjoyed the apple tea that was offered. We all learned something new about rugs , that is for sure.

From the Covered Market we went to Sultanahmet – the epicenter of tourism in Turkey. There are far too many sights to see in a short time there, and we went straight to the Blue Mosque, one of the most famous symbols of Istanbul. The Mosque is beautiful and though packed with visitors, we all enjoyed ourselves.  Mosques are great places for running around and the Blue Mosque was no exception – the floor space was huge.  We found a corner to sit down and we spent our time staring at this huge building – the roof, the walls , everything. It is all on such an immense scale – from the huge columns to the massive roof to the incredible intricate decorations that are giant works of art in themselves. The kids really were awed by this massive building.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

We had thought of visiting the Hagia Sophia as well (the largest church in Byzantium, later  turned mosque and then museum) but the queues were too long and we’d seen, on a far smaller scale, a similar type of building at Kariye the day before.

This was our last day in Istanbul. We would be back later in our trip, but we were now ready for the next stage of our adventure across Turkey.

PS For more info on how I can plan a great family trip to Turkey for you, click here.