Spice of life

With family-friendly shorelines and bustling bazaars to explore, Tina Walsh discovers what Turkish delights await families this summer

Just the name itself – Istanbul – conjured up images of sultans, labyrinthine bazaars and exotic belly dancers. On my first visit with family, it didn’t disappoint. There is so much to see and do in this fabled Turkish city that the only problem we had was fitting everything into our five-day break.

Turkey istanbul

I remember walking round Topkapi Palace, a sprawling complex of pavilions, courtyards and gardens that was once home to the Ottoman sultans, my teenage niece and nephew “oohing and aahing” at the exhibits – a diamond as big as a fist, giant cooking pots and the serpentine twists and turns of the harem.

In the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world with more than 60 streets and 4,000 stores, we shopped for hand-made silver jewellery inlaid with intricate patterns, and spices, piled high in cloth sacks, a riot of ochre, bright yellow and vermillion.

We saved one of our best experiences until last: a boat ride up the Bosphorus Strait, the waterway that runs from the Sea of Marmara in the south to the Black Sea in the north and splits Istanbul between Europe and Asia. Its pine-clad shores are lined with picturesque villages – Ortaköy, Arnavutköy and Bebek being a few of my favourites – with their lovely Ottoman era wooden houses restored in pale pastels and waterfront cafes.

As we sailed along in the warm spring sunshine, Istanbul’s famous seagulls came out to play, dipping and swooping at the side of the boat while my delighted niece and nephew threw them scraps of sesame encrusted bread.

Turkish delights

With 3.8 million British visitors in 2023 and numbers forecast to grow, Turkey is perennially popular with families.

“Turkey not only provides educational experiences via its ancient ruins and historical sites, but it also has plenty of activities to offer, from beaches to mountains and geological formations, not to mention the vibrant culture and amazing hospitality,” says Hazel McGuire, UK General Manager at Intrepid Travel.

When it comes to alternative family destinations to Spain, Turkey is nudging ahead, partly due to the current financial climate, she says. “Families are seeking unique experiences while still being budget-conscious and Turkey generally offers better value for money compared to other popular European countries. Opting to travel in small groups can also save money as the costs, including local guides, accommodation, transport are shared.”

Turkey capaca
Cappadocia

Cultural heritage and sustainable travel are two major focuses in 2024 for the Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) in Istanbul, with a number of initiatives being set up around the country, from cycling routes across resort towns to the redevelopment of archaeological attractions such as the Göreme Archaeopark in Cappadocia.

“Families in particular enjoy Türkiye’s resort hotels on the Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines, not only because of the beautiful landscape, pristine seas and high-quality service, but also because all these hotels are in close proximity to many ancient historical sites,” says Ismail Bütün, General Manager of the TGA.

Turkey Itizu
Iztuzu beach, Mugla, Turkey


Şirince, about 30km north of the resort of Kuşadası, was listed as one of the Best Tourism Villages of 2023 by the UNWTO and continues to attract families.

There were 720 new excavation projects in 2023 and restoration works are continuing on ancient sites such as Ephesus, Hierapolis and Lmyra, bringing the number of Turkey’s World Heritage sites to 21.

Family-friendly experiences

Small but perfectly formed: A huge open-air museum showcasing Turkey’s significant historical sites and landmarks, Miniaturk in Istanbul is a fascinating collection of 137 model buildings and landmarks, all at 1:25 scale. Marvel at mosques, caravanserais and palaces, as well as the “cotton wool” rock formations of Pamukkale, two wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district, the most recent exhibit at just a year old. The site also has a children’s playground, a cafe, ferryboats, a labyrinth and a simulated helicopter tour. miniaturk.com.tr/en/ 

Pottery throwdown: Learn how to make pottery at an interactive workshop in the town of Avanos in Cappadocia, founded by the Hittites thousands of years ago. They used the area’s distinctive red clay to make remarkable artwork as early as the second millennium BC. Or don protective headgear for a visit to an apiary just outside Cappadocia, where a knowledgeable beekeeper guides visitors round the hives and demonstrates how honey is produced. Both experiences can be booked as part of Audley Travel’s eight-day Istanbul and Cappadocia trip. audleytravel.com/turkey 

The wide blue yonder: Take to the Mediterranean sea in a gulet, a masted wooden sailing boat. Vessels are fully crewed and all meals freshly prepared on board. There are plenty of stops for swimming and snorkelling, as well as disembarking at lesser-known ports to sample the local cuisine and visit ancient sites. A popular stop is the sunken city of Kekova near the resort of Kaş, where you can kayak above the preserved ruins. discerningcollection.com

Cook like a local: Explore the stunning scenery and ancient ruins around Fethiye, Xanthos and Letoon while learning about the history of the Lycian people, on Intrepid’s Turkey Family Holiday with Teenagers. The coastal waters are some of the clearest in the Mediterranean and spotting loggerhead turtles is a regular occurrence. Learn about turtle rehabilitation efforts with local research organisation Dekamer. Afterwards, join a cookery class to make Turkish cuisine such as gözleme, a savoury snack stuffed with beef or lamb. intrepidtravel.com

What’s new

Turkey beachhouse
Bijal beach house

Accommodation

New for summer 2024 is the luxurious Anda Barut Collection near Didim, on the Aegean coast. With a beachfront location, the hotel is an assortment of modern villas with separate family and adults-only areas. There are five pools, basketball and tennis courts, bars and restaurants, a gym and spa and an aqua park, kids’ club and adventure playground. jet2holidays.com 

Liberty Hotels & Resorts is set to add two new hotels to its portfolio of premium beachfront locations on the Turkish Riviera. The Liberty Signa will open to guests this May, with a second hotel due to be completed in April 2025. With 16 swimming pools, eight restaurants, 13 bars and a spa spanning three floors, Liberty Signa will be the business’s flagship property. libertyhotels.com

All-villa resort BIJAL Resorts has opened in the Antalya Province of Turkey. The 19-villa resort offers painting and pottery workshops, zumba, sleeping under the stars, cooking classes, aqua-gym, games nights, cycling and events, such as Family Challenge and Murder Mystery. bijal.com

Flights

Sun Express entered the UK market in 2022 with services from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. Bristol and Newcastle were introduced last summer and Leeds Bradford and Stansted have been added for summer 2024. Of the 136 weekly flights from the UK, 80 are to Antalya, 39 to Dalaman, 15 to Izmir, plus weekly flights to Adana and Gaziantep.

Low-cost new airline Ajet, a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines, has direct flights to Istanbul from London Stansted this summer.
ajet.com, sunexpress.com

Where to book it

KUONI
Seven nights’ FB in a superior family room (based on two adults and two children under 12) at the five-star Hillside Beach Club, near Fethiye, starts from £10,299, including return easyJet flights from London Gatwick. Departures until August 21. kuoni.co.uk