The Princes’ Islands take their name from the fact that during Byzantine and early Ottoman period, members of dynasties who fell out of favor were sent to exile there. Until late 19th century, when regular steamer transportation showed up in the seas around Istanbul, these islands were considered remote and far-away places. Apart from the exiled princes, only a handful of monks found these islands inhabitable then, a fact which gives the islands their former name in Turkish; Keşiş Adaları (“Islands of the Monks”).

Princes’ Islands consist of four major and five minor islands. Major ones are as follows (from west to east, also from smallest to biggest); Kınalıada, Burgaz, Heybeliada, and Büyükada, Apart from these, only one more island of the archipelago is inhabited, that is Sedef which lies east of Büyükada. The other, unhabited ones are Tavşan south of Büyükada, Kaşık (between Burgaz and Heybeliada), Yassıada and Sivriada (both lying further away in the sea, southwest of Kınalıada). This article will focus on the five major ones, as public transport to uninhabited islands is virtually non-existent.

The islands are an interesting anomaly because they allow for a very rare, albeit incomplete, insight into a multicultural society in modern Turkey, possibly alike to the multicultural society that once existed during the Ottoman Empire in places such as nearby Istanbul/Constantinople. Prior to the 1950’s, each of the inhabited islands had significant communities of ethnic minorities of Turkey, which still is the case to a much smaller extent. Since the vast majority of the residents and visitors are Turkish, today their legacy is of cultural rather than of demographic importance:

Kınalıada (Greek: Proti) used to be the summer retreat of the Armenian archbishop and the Armenian community of Istanbul, Burgazada (Greek: Antigoni) used to be a village inhabited by Greek fishermen. Heybeliada (Greek: Halki) was the main Turkish settlement on the Princes’ Islands, while Büyükada (Greek: Prinkipos) was mostly favored by local Jews and foreign residents of Istanbul, mostly of European descent, although all of these ethnicities could be encountered on Büyükada. This is partially responsible for the different characters of the islands that lie so close to each other.

These islands prove to be a good day-trip in the fall, especially when you are bored of the crowd, noise, and traffic of Istanbul. Quite a shock is what many travellers experience upon their return to the city, when full-blast car horns are still the way how they were when left behind early in the morning.

One of the best times to be on the islands is during spring (April-May) and during autumn (September- October). During these seasons, the air is neither that cold nor hot, the islands are not very crowded and during spring (especially in late March), the mimosa trees, which are some sort of symbol of the islands, are in full bloom of their yellow flowers. At weekends during summer (June-August), all of the islands are really crowded, and so are the ships. Avoid if you can. During winter, the exact opposite is the case. However, if you want to enjoy the islands blanketed by snow and/ or a very gloomy and almost deserd “ghost-town” experience and don’t mind the biting cold, then winter is definitely that season.

If you don’t have time to visit all of the islands, pick Büyükada: It’s undoubtedly the “queen” of the islans.

How to Get There

The only way to get to the Princes’ Islands is by sea, whether Istanbul liners or fast ferries, available at various hours every day. From the European Side of Istanbul, you can take a boat from Kabataş, while from the Asian Side, the piers with a connection to the islands are located in Kadıköy, Bostancı, Maltepe and Kartal. The most frequent departures are from Bostancı (especially in the winter season), which also has a private mid-sized boat connection to the islands in addition to liners and fast ferries.

A trip on liners typically take around an hour and a half from the European Side, and 45 minutes from the Asian Side.

Almost all ferries call at all four major islands in a row, but sometimes they first call at Büyükada, and other times at Kınalıada. Island names are not announced by voice inside the boats, so check the large signs on the quays to make sure that the island you are about to step on is the one that you want to.

Getting Around On the Islands

As the motorized vehicles (save for service vehicles like school buses or ambulances) are all banned on the islands, the most popular way of getting around is horse-drawn carriages (fayton), which can be likened to taxis, or the dolmuş, of the mainland. There is a fixed price for every location. Price is per fayton, i.e. not dependent on how many people the fayton carries.

 

 

BÜYÜKADA

Upon getting of the ferry, you’ll recognize the clock at the quare just a block up in front of you. This is the main square of Büyükada, and around it is the town centre. Most grocery stores are to your left, as well as the restaurants which also occupy the waterfront to your left when exiting the quay. From the clock, major roads of the island diverge left (east), right (west), and straight ahead (south) among some mansions (best of which are lined on the main road to the right) towards the hill, as well as narrower streets and alleys connecting these. These roads join each other again in Birlik Meydanı Square (lit. “union square”), the geograp hical centre point of the island, lying amongst pine woods between the two main hilltops. From that square, whether you take the road to left or right, you will end up in the same square, as that road encircles the southern half of the island, at a distance to the sea. The Church of St. George lies at the end of another cobbled uphill path starting from Birlik Meydanı.

There is a large and detailed map of the island posted at the left of exit of ferry quay.

Sightseeing on Büyükada

  • Hagios Giorgios Church (Saint George/Aya Yorgi) is located on one of two summits of Büyükada. You should climb a steep cobblestoned path on foot to get there. İt takes about 35-40 minutes. Although the church building itself is unexceptional with nothing really fascinating, the back-yard of the church offers some very beautiful sights of the other islands and the sea. On April 23rd every year, which is St George’s holy day, a crowd of seemingly tens of thousands attend the church to make wishes at the church. The church dates back from the Byzantine era and today only the south wing of the building still exists.
  • On the other summit of Büyükada, amidst the pine woods lies the abandoned and dilapidated Greek Orphanage (Rum Yetimhanesi), looking like a haunted manor. Originally built as a hotel in late I9th century, this completely wooden, four story building is the second largest wooden construction in whole world (the largest in Europe). It’s dangerous to enter the building itself and also forbidden.
  • Both the eastern and western side of Büyükada is full of wooden Victorian-style mansions dating back to late I9th, early 20th century, similars of which have been bulldozed in the rest of İstanbul (with the exception of neighborhoods on Bosphorus banks) to make way for concrete, multi-story apartment buildings. The ones on the western side seem more splendid.
  • Accomodation

  • Ascot Hotel, Madenler Mahallesi, Çınar Caddesi 6, Büyükada, +90 216 382-28-88, A new boutique hotel with a pool, garden, restaurant, and bar. 22 rooms with en-suite bathrooms.
  • Hotel Selvi, Maden Mah. Çiçekli Sokak No: 14 Büyükada – İstanbul, +90216 382 1 484. Luxury boutique hotel with free WI-FI. Only 300 metres from the port.
  • İdeal Pansiyon, Kadıyoran Caddesi 4. +90 216 382-68-57. One of the cheapest places to stay while in Büyükada, İdeal Pansiyon is housed in a historical wooden mansion.
  • Mimoza Pansiyon, Büyükada, +90 216 382-74-35 (mimozapansiyon@ hotmail.com). Guesthouse offering rooms with Central heating, aircondi-tioner, hot water, and wireless internet.
  • Splendid Palace Hotel, 23 Nisan Cad. no: 53, Büyükada, +90 216 382-6775 (info@splendidhotel.net). Located in an Art-Nouveau building which dates back to 1908.
  • Anastasia Meziki Hotel, Malulgazi Cad.No:24 Büyükada, +90 216 38234-44. Meziki Hotel has 15 rooms promising you a journey through the history which are decorated preserving their historic textures.
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    HEYBELİADA

    Where to Eat in Heybeliada

  • Heyamola Restaurant is great for all meals including breakfast.
  • Halki Restaurant is a good choice for having dinner.
  • Mavi Restaurant is anot-her Heybeliada classic. You can have fresh fish here.
  • Where to Stay in Heybeliada

  • Merit Halki Palace Hotel +90 216 351 00 25
  • L’isola Guesthouse Heybeliada +90 0216 351 98 04
  • Sightseeing

  • The Naval Museum
  • Haghia Yorgi Monastery
  • The Halki Seminary
  • Haghia Triada and Nicola Greek Orthodox churches
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    KINALIADA

    Where to Eat in Kınalıada

  • Sarıyer Börekçisi is a good choice for breakfast.
  • Bahar Pastanesi is another good place for breakfast.
  • Cafe Pari has delicious vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil.
  • Kınalıada Sofrası is a greatfish restaurant.
  • Mimoza Restaurant is a great restaurant with live music in the summers.
  • Where to Stay in Kınalıada

  • Kınalı Boutique Hotel +90 216 381 42 91
  • Sightseeing

  • Hıristo Monastery
  • Kınalıada Mosque
  • Historical Siraykan Houses
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    BURGAZADA

    Where to Eat in Burgazada

  • Burgaz Cafe
  • Ergün Patisseria & Cafeteria
  • Fincan Cafe Restaurant
  • Kalpazankaya
  • Barba Yani
  • Where to Stay?

  • Villa Andrea Boutique Hotel +90 216 381 23 25) n Pyrgos Hotel & Restaurant +90 216 38112 10)
  • Mehtap 45 Boutique Hotel +90 216 381 26 60
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    SEDEFADA

    SEDEF ISLAND IS RIGHT ACROSS BÜYÜKADA. YOU CAN TAKE A MOTORBOAT FROM KARTAL AND THERE ARE ALSO FERRIES THAT STOP THERE AFTER BÜYÜKADA. ON THE ISLAND THERE ARE ONLY THREE SHOPS. YOU CAN DINE AT ELIO SEDEF OR CLUB SEDEF AND ALSO SWIM THERE.