Whether it’s the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Majal or the Hagia Sophia, these majestic landmarks are to a toddler what acapella hymns are to a rock star – Bo-Ring. This doesn’t mean you have to put sightseeing on hold though. Sightseeing can be fun for both you and your toddler but you, not the Hagia Sophia, have to create the fun for your child.
Our latest trip to Turkey put our toddler Grace, and our creativity, to the test. Here we were in a country rich in ancient culture and all she wanted to do, understandably, was play in the park. While we never found the golden key to hours of leisurely exploration, we did come up with a few tricks that helped Grace enjoy each experience and, in turn, gave us the chance to absorb the wonders of Turkish antiquity. The specifics here are related to Turkey but the tips apply anywhere we’ve traveled with Grace.
Tip #1: Have a place for your toddler to rest and relax when little legs get weary.
Most of the time in Turkey this “place” was the Ergo Baby Carrier. There were too many steps throughout Istanbul and other parts of Turkey to make the stroller very practical. The vast (and mostly flat) Topkapi Palace was an exception, though the side rooms and narrow hallways make it a tossup as well. Many historical sites with crowded spaces have no-stroller signs in any case.
Tip #2: Relax your family rules about candy and other treats.
A big bag of Yummy Earth organic lollipops went with us to Turkey and helped us grab a few extra minutes in the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and many a restaurant meal. They were our trick of last resort and, since Grace rarely gets candy otherwise, they were a huge treat.
Tip #3: Take lots of outside, freedom breaks.
As much as we can we keep stretches of sight-seeing, especially indoors, limited to 1-2 hours at a time. In between sights we intersperse meal and snack breaks as well as lots of time to run and play freely. Contrary to what the Lonely Planet guidebook says, there are playgrounds and parks all over Istanbul. There’s a great one located within Gulhane Park (next to Topkapi Palace). There are walking trails and playgrounds every quarter mile or so along the Sea of Marmara. In Beyoglu there are nice playgrounds at the Metro stops at Tophane and Fendikli. The Sultanahmet Park, between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, was also a favorite. Although it doesn’t have a playground, it has a huge fountain and lots of grass plus its central location made it a place we stopped several times to let Grace run free.
If the weather is bad or a park isn’t to be found, just about everywhere you go you can find a shopping mall. Shopping malls throughout the world seem to always have a food court, open areas where kids can run or walk (find a quieter corridor), and often times they have kids play areas with kiddie rides, bouncy houses, or even ice-skating rinks. When all else fails, ice cream breaks will always perk everyone up too.
Tip #4: Keep your toddler on her regular nap schedule.
As nice as it would be to stay out and about all day like we did in our childless days, hanging out with a cranky toddler just isn’t worth it. We kept a 2-3 hour window open every afternoon to go back to our apartment, have lunch, read books and play and then let Grace nap. She’d be well-rested enough for us to get out for a few more hours before dinner and even to push her bedtime back an hour or so.
Tip #5: Find something in each site that is special and interesting for your toddler.
In the Hagia Sophia an ancient step became a dancing stage and a long ramped tunnel was incredibly exciting. In the Grand Bazaar free apple tea from a shop owner was a special treat. In the Istanbul Archeological Museum a Trojan Horse kids could climb into was a fun discovery for Grace. In the Spice Bazaar samples of Turkish Delight, dried figs and apricots made her day. We always have a small bag of special toys on hand as well. It’s stocked with finger puppets, stickers, small books, crayons and paper.
Tip #6: Accept the reality that you may not see everything you want, or for as long as you want, but in exchange you get to experience someplace incredible in the company of your child.
These are some ways we’ve found to keep Grace content so we can all enjoy ourselves, wherever we are. Do you have a tip that’s made sightseeing more toddler-friendly?