Turkey’s famously kid-friendly, plus it boasts around 300 days of sunshine a year, historic sites and dazzling beaches. Here are 15 things to do in Turkey that nobody in the family will ever forget. If you’re looking for an affordable adventure with sun, sea and lots to do, put the Turkish Riviera at the top of your 2018 must-visit list. Home to hundreds of luxurious family hotels, waterparks, restaurants and attractions, your only worry will be how to squeeze everything on to one postcard. For extra inspiration, check out these ideas for what your family could be doing next summer.
#1/ Experience all the fun of the fair at Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort & Spa
It’s hard to say who’ll be most excited on arrival at the Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort & Spa. Will it be the kids, greeted with the sight of a whole waterpark with water slides, indoor and outdoor playgrounds plus a funfair with dodgems, a carousel and a train? Or mum and dad, offered the choice of nine à la carte restaurants plus a babysitting service? British writer Ashley Pearson has a home in Antalya, yet still heads here for a week with her husband and two children: “It feels like a true vacation for all of us. It has enough luxurious touches to keep me and my husband happy, but for the kids, it’s like Disneyland on the Turquoise Coast.”
#2/ Go on safari in Marmaris
Giddy up for a horseback ride through Marmaris’ scented frankincense forests and stunning natural cascades. Suitable for almost all ages (children aged three to six can ride on a parent’s horse) and any level of experience, a Pinar Horse Safari begins with familiarisation training at their ranch in Çamlı. Each rider is then matched with a trusty steed to set off on a guided journey of just over an hour. Take in some of the area’s most stunning scenery and take home memories to treasure. Just don’t forget your sugar lumps.
#3/ Meet the turtles at Iztuzu Beach, Dalyan
Take your little ones to meet some even tinier ones at Iztuzu Beach, which is a breeding ground for the endangered loggerhead turtle. Catch a water taxi, local bus or join an organised tour (early morning is best if you want to avoid the crowds) and you’ll find a beach with a couple of cafés and, at the southern end, a turtle sanctuary. The centre has rescued numerous turtles injured by fishing hooks and boat propellers and treats them all here; a sight guaranteed to melt anyone’s heart.
#4/ Up your sandcastle game at Sandland, Antalya
Still proudly presenting an upturned bucket of sand topped with a flag on the beach? Then prepare to have your horizons broadened at Sandland, where 10,000 tonnes of the stuff has been turned into some seriously awe-inspiring sculptures. How impressive? Think scale models of the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower, plus dozens of new additions inspired by a different theme every year. Visit at sunset and you can see the collection both in natural light and illuminated by stunning LED light displays.
#5/ Make a splash at Oludeniz Water World Aquapark
“Recently opened Water World is bright, well run and modern, with lots of slides, shoots, pools and activities to keep all ages entertained,” says Samantha Ozer, who blogs about family life in Turkey at growinguptwo.com. While parents flop on sun loungers, children race to high-octane slides. A kids’ play area and toddler pool are ideal for younger children. Samantha particularly likes the cashless payment system: “You top up a card on arrival, lock away valuables in your allotted locker and flash the card to pay for drinks and snacks; it couldn’t be easier.”
#6/ Get fast and furious on the go-kart track
Let the kids play at being Lewis Hamilton for the day at one of the two go-karting tracks in the busy resort town of Hisarönü. Ex-pat blogger and mum Samantha says both tracks are popular: “But the central one has an adult and kids’ course with modern karts and a café on site to entertain onlookers and those waiting to have their turn. Helmets are provided and the staff are helpful and friendly. It’s great, affordable family fun.”
#7/ Walk on water at the Blue Lagoon, Olu Deniz Beach
No trip to Turkey would be complete without a visit to Olu Deniz and the dreamy turquoise waters of one of its most famous national parks. “The inner lagoon is a great place to take young kids as the majority of the waters are exceptionally shallow, so much so that in some places you appear to be walking on water!” says Samantha. Hire a pedalo or kayak to enjoy the scenery from a different vantage point or head to one of the private beaches that run along the back of the lagoon to escape the crowds. “All have cafés and bars on site and access to the famed waters.”
#8/ Go bananas at Gumbet Beach
Just a 15-minute bus ride from Bodrum centre you’ll find this kilometre of golden sand curving around Gumbet Bay. One of the most popular beaches in the area, it offers thrill-seekers a wide array of water sports, including jet-skiing, windsurfing, parasailing and scuba-diving. Get a slice of the action by joining a banana boat ride or being pulled along on a ringo behind a boat. The fun doesn’t need to stop when you pack up your beach bag either. The streets of Gumbet are packed with lively cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy the best of Turkish nightlife.
#9/ Scream for ice cream in Bitez, near Bodrum
The queue that snakes out of the door of Bitez Dondurma (Bitez Ice Cream) suggests that this is ice cream worth waiting for. Described as “paradise for ice cream lovers” and “a Bodrum ice cream institution” by fans on TripAdvisor, this is the flagship store of a small Turkish chain renowned for its wide array of fresh, fruity flavours. Overwhelmed by choice? Aficionados recommend the sour cherry, honey and almond, and mandarin varieties, although one customer recommends that “You should probably just try to eat them all.”
#10/ Throw snowballs in Antalya
First, wow the kids by taking them to see the sharks, tropical fish and pirate wrecks of Antalya Aquarium, which, at 131m, is the longest tunnel aquarium in the world. Then completely blow their minds by heading into the aquarium’s Snow World Ice Museum, where it snows every day. While the outside temperature might be up to 40°C, inside it’s always −5°C. Snuggle up in the cosy snowsuits provided on entry and tour a 1,500sqm frozen wonderland of igloos, ice sculptures and tobogganing. Super cool.
#11/ Step back in time at Bodrum Castle
Built in the 15th century by the Knights of St John, this site offers a fascinating glimpse into Turkey’s rich history, as well as stunning views over Bodrum’s harbour and marina. Get the kids to spot Henry IV’s coats of arms among the hundreds painted on the walls above the gates. Adults should look out for remnants of the Tomb of Mausolus; one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The castle also houses Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, with artefacts recovered from local shipwrecks.
#12/ Enjoy a bird’s-eye view in Izmir
If you’re in need of a breather from the heat, head to the Balçova district of Izmir where the Izmir Teleferik (cable car) has been ferrying people up and down for more than 40 years. After an ascent of around 1,000m, you’ll find incredible views of Izmir Bay to one side, and forest and mountains on the other. A cluster of cafés and restaurants offer refreshment, or make like a local and pick up barbeque supplies from the little supermarket perched up there. Staff will even lend you a barbeque for the afternoon.
Have you ever been to Turkey with the family before? Is there anything you’d recommend to do that I’ve missed off the list? Let me know in the comments below!