The Princes Islands are a chain of nine small islands in the Sea of Marmara. They evolved from a place of exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites alike to escape the hectic city life for a day. Of those nine islands, only four of them are open to the public: Büyükada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada.
Büyükada is the largest and most popular Island. There are little treasures on every street – from quaint shops, restaurants and street stalls. This island is also home to the famous Russian politician: Leon Trotsky.
Heybeliada is the second largest island and probably the most natural, in addition to its lush vegetation you will find beautiful wooden houses, a Greek Orthodox monastery on top of the island and the Halki Institute of Orthodox theology, a high education institution for theological formation of the Orthodox clergy.
Burgaz means “fortress” in Turkish and it’s the third largest island of the archipelago, it is a quiet island that was populated by Greek citizens of the Ottoman Empire.
Kinaliada means the island (Ada) henna (Kina), in reference to the color of waters that bathes the island. This is the smallest of the four islands and the least popular.
Things to do in Princes’ Islands
Climb the Hızır İlyas Hill to enjoy a perfect landscape from the top of “Adakule” (Island Tower). The hill is named after Khidr, a mystic figure in Islam who has been associated with legendary names, including Alexander the Great and Saint George.
Tour the islands by bicycle, as motorized vehicles are banned from the streets.
- Hit the beach – the water around the island is clean and perfect for swimming and there are plenty of beaches where you can spend a few hours in the sun.
- Try some amazing seafood from one of the many restaurants with an ocean view.
You can move between the islands for free by boat or the ferrys are stopping to drop people off every hour.
- Visit the Greek Orthodox Monastery Aya Yorgi (Saint George). Located atop of the highest hill of Buyukada, and offers stunning views of the archipelago and Istanbul.
How to get to Princes’ Islands from Istanbul
To travel to the Islands you can take an IDO Ferry from Kabataş, Kadıköy and Eminönü or if you are lucky enough like me you can travel by private boat. We took a 20 minute boat ride to Büyükada, the largest of the islands for lunch.
Most restaurants sell sea food but the best value is furthest along the seafront strip. The Milano, at no 20, has the nicest traditional premises, and the Yaman, no 16, is the newest and most stylish (but most expensive). Venge, at 23 Nisan Cad no 23, in front of the Splendid Hotel, looks classy and has a lovely view but unremarkable food. A cheap alternative is the cafeteria-style Yeni Façyo restaurant, at Recep Koç Cad 57.
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Spending a day at Princes Island is a must when visiting Istanbul.