Princes’ Islands Istanbul Guide & 10 Things To There

Every year, I find myself escaping to the Princes’ Islands, a much-needed respite from the months I spend in the hustle of Istanbul. Here, time seems to pause. The islands aren’t just about stillness; they are rich with historic mansions, live music, and idyllic summer houses. Perfect for a full-day getaway, they are a stark contrast to Istanbul’s bustling streets. Keep reading for my detailed guide on why these islands are the perfect escape and what you can do to make the most of your visit.

Istanbul, vibrant and dynamic, is an exhilarating mix of sights and sounds. But there comes a time when the relentless energy of the city calls for a breather. Enter the Princes’ Islands, a serene retreat from the urban rush set in the picturesque Sea of Marmara.

Reachable by şehir hatları ferries or sea buses, these islands offer a tranquil oasis, conveniently accessible from both the European and Asian sides of the city. With no cars in sight, their tranquility is a rare commodity in Istanbul.

About The Princes’ Islands

The Princes’ Islands, also known as the Adalar in Turkish, are a group of nine small islands located in the Sea of Marmara, just off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. These islands have a rich history and offer a unique escape from the bustling city life. Out of the nine islands, only four are inhabited.

Each island has its own charm and character, making them popular destinations for both locals and tourists alike. The four main islands that are open to visitors are Büyükada (the largest), Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada. These islands can be easily reached by ferry from Istanbul’s Kabataş, Beşiktaş, or Bostancı ports.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Princes’ Islands is their car-free environment. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on these islands except for some service vehicles.

This creates a peaceful atmosphere where visitors can explore on foot or by renting bicycles or horse-drawn carriages called phaetons. It’s like going back in time to when things were a whole lot simpler!

Apart from their natural beauty, the Princes’ Islands also have plenty of history to explore. In the Byzantine era, they served as places of exile for emperors and princes, hence their name. Later on, during the Ottoman period, wealthy Istanbulites built summer houses on these islands to escape the city’s heat.

Today, the Princes’ Islands offer a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Visitors can enjoy leisurely walks along scenic paths, swim in crystal-clear waters, savor delicious seafood dishes at waterfront restaurants, or relax in one of the many charming cafes.

A Brief Breakdown Of Each Island

This group of islands can be seen from mainland Istanbul on a clear day, particularly from the top of the Galata Tower. They’re around 1.5 hours away by ferry, although some fast catamaran services will get you there faster. Sitting in the middle of the Marmara Sea, they offer total peace and quiet, which, as I’ve mentioned, might be welcome after a few days of battling crowds and traffic!

Out of the 15 islands, you can visit four. The largest island, called Büyükada, is by far the most visited because it’s easier to get to (closest to the mainland) and it’s larger, so there’s more to see and do.

Despite that, you can certainly head to the other islands and check them out if you have time. Each is distinct from one another, and they all have sights to check out.

Let’s explore each one:

1. Büyükada

Büyükada is the largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands, which is known for its beautiful beaches, historic mansions, and horse-drawn carriages that serve as the main mode of transportation on the island.

During the summer months, this island can be crowded, but it’s never to the point of being too busy.

If you choose to stay overnight during the summer months, it’s a good idea to book your accommodation ahead of time, as there are only a few small hotels, guest houses, and a few Airbnbs open.

2. Heybeliada

This island is famous for its lush greenery and pine forests. It is home to several monasteries and churches that add to its serene atmosphere. Heybeliada is also known for being a favorite spot for picnics and hiking enthusiasts.

Most ferries that depart Istanbul for Büyükada also stop at Heybeliada too.

3. Burgazada

With its charming fishing village vibe, Burgazada attracts visitors with its quaint streets lined with colorful houses and seafood restaurants serving fresh catch from the sea.

The island offers stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline from various viewpoints and is also home to one of the best beaches near Istanbul.

4. Kınalıada

Known for its sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, Kınalıada is a popular destination for swimming and sunbathing during the summer months. It has a relaxed atmosphere with cozy cafes where you can enjoy a cup of Turkish tea or coffee while taking in the breathtaking views.

5-9. Sedef Island, Yassıada, Kaşık Island, Tavşan Island & Sivri Ada

Sedef Island, Yassıada, Kaşık Island, Tavşan Island & and Sivri Ada are the remaining Princes’ Islands, but these aren’t accessible to regular visitors and are uninhabited islands.

How To Get To The Princes’ Islands & Travel Between Them

There are ferry services to the Princes’ Islands all year round, although, during the winter months, you won’t find as much to see and do. The weather can also make it challenging to get around, particularly on a rainy or cold day. Remember, the weather in Istanbul in winter can be very unpredictable, so the summer or the shoulder months are better times to plan your visit to the Princes’ Islands.

There are regular, scheduled ferry services that leave several ports in Istanbul every day, and it’s a good idea to check online before you plan to visit, as these change regularly and indeed according to season.

Kabataş, Beşiktaş, or Bostancı on the Asian side are the ports that offer scheduled services over to the Princes’ islands, and you’ll also find day tours that leave these ports. You can book your tickets online, or you can visit the port and book in person.

Outside of the summer months, you can usually book on the day with no problems, but during the summer, you might find that places have booked up. In that case, booking a day or two beforehand is a good idea.

Ferries leave regularly throughout the day and stop at all four inhabited islands. The earliest ferry usually leaves Kabataş around 6.45 am, and the last ferry back from Büyükada is around 6 pm. But as before, check times according to your visiting time as these change according to season and weekdays and weekends.

If you’re worried about exploring on your own steam, a guided tour is a good option, and that means you’ll be able to see more of the islands without being scared of missing the last ferry back. These are pretty plentiful, and you can book online before you arrive. However, the islands are pretty easy to get around, and you can walk around most of them in a few hours, even the largest island.

When thinking about how to get around, remember that there are no cars on these islands, so it’s down to cycling, walking, or horse-drawn carriage. The latter is quite expensive as it’s considered a tourist activity, but it’s a great experience all the same.

If you want to travel between the Princes’ Islands, you use the ferry service as mentioned above, as they stop at each island before heading back to Istanbul.

How Long To Stay On The Princes’ Islands

Most people visit Büyükada on a day trip visit and then head back to Istanbul, and if you choose to do that, you’ll have a wonderful experience. However, there is the option to check out several of the islands in one visit, but that does not mean you’ll need to spend more than a day there.

If you’re short on time, as most people visiting Istanbul are, then a day trip is enough. However, if you do have more time, then why not check out each island? They’re distinct in their character and feel, and they’re so beautiful that you probably won’t want to leave anyway.

However, if you choose to do this, remember to book your accommodation beforehand as it’s limited and can be booked ahead of time.

What To See & Do On The Princes’ Islands

While the islands might be small, they’re mighty in terms of natural beauty and chill-out factor. You won’t find huge waterparks and bustling nightlife, but then again, that’s not what you’re looking for when seeking peace and tranquillity, right?

Instead, you’ll get a calm, traditional experience, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy everything Mother Nature has to offer.

Here are the top 8 things to do when visiting the Princes’ Islands.

1. Take A Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride

One of the best ways to explore the Prince’s islands is by taking a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride. Enjoy the scenic views, fresh air, and charming atmosphere as you tour around the island.

As mentioned before, this isn’t the cheapest way to get around, but it’s a fun experience, nonetheless.

2. Rent A Bicycle

Remember, the islands are car-free, making them perfect for cycling enthusiasts. Rent a bicycle and pedal your way through the picturesque streets, discovering hidden gems along the way.

3. Enjoy Seafood At Waterfront Restaurants

Indulge in delicious seafood dishes at one of the many waterfront restaurants on the islands. From freshly caught fish to mouth-watering mezes (appetizers), you’ll be spoiled for choice.

4. Explore Historical Mansions

The Princes Islands are home to several well-preserved historical mansions that showcase Ottoman architecture and design. Take a guided tour or wander around these magnificent buildings to get a glimpse into their rich history.

5. Swim In Crystal-Clear Waters

With numerous beaches scattered across the islands, take some time to relax and swim in their crystal-clear waters during the summer months.

The beaches on the Princes’ Islands are all stunningly beautiful and offer plenty of space for visitors to enjoy. Remember, the largest island can get busy during the summer months, so if you want to sunbathe, it’s best to get there early, but the other islands are less crowded.

Büyükada’s best beach is called Yörükali Plajı. This is a sandy beach that offers crystal-clear waters and a peaceful atmosphere.

Heybeliada is home to Değirmenburnu Plajı. It’s known for its calm waters and picturesque surroundings. This is a good beach for families and swimming.

Burgazada is famous for its charming atmosphere and has several small secluded coves where you can relax by the sea, such as Kalpazankaya Plajı.

Finally, Kınalıada is known for its vibrant red soil and has a few small but beautiful beaches like Ayazma Plajı, which offers stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline.

6. Visit Hagia Yorgi Monastery

Located on Büyükada Island, this Greek Orthodox monastery offers stunning panoramic views from its hilltop location. Climb up its 120 steps for breathtaking views of Istanbul’s skyline and surrounding islands.

7. Try Local Delicacies At Street Food Stalls

Don’t miss out on trying local delicacies such as simit (sesame-covered bread rings) or midye dolma (stuffed mussels) from street food stalls dotted around the islands’ main streets.

8. Relax In One Of The Island’s Parks

The Princes’ Islands are known for their lush greenery and peaceful parks. Find a quiet spot, bring a book, or have a picnic and enjoy the tranquillity of nature.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like