During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled on the islands, and later members of the Ottoman sultans family were exiled there too, giving the islands their present name.
Prince Islands are an amazing archipelago off the coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. That will take almost a full day out of your holiday: a visit to one or more of the Princes’ Islands. So let me explain what you can expect from a day-trip to the Princes’ Island, and how to best go about.
The main feature of any of the Princes’ Islands is the sound of … silence. All motorized vehicles are banned, making the islands an oasis of peace and quiet. The only sounds you’ll hear are bicycle bells and the typical sounds of horse hoofs. Yep, that’s right. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main transportation means on the islands.
They are just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, with ferries departing from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side, and from Kabataş on the European side. Most ferries call in turn at the four largest of the nine islands: Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and, finally, Büyükada.
The sea buses are the fastest option. If it stops at all the islands, the trip will last for 55 minutes maximum and sets you back for approx. 2 EUR per person in one way. The regular ferries are slower and can take as much as 100 minutes, depending on the amount of stops it makes. The upside is that they are cheaper (only 1 EUR per person) and make more runs back and forth.
Nowadays you can visit only four of the nine Princes’ Islands in Istanbul: Büyükada, Heybeliada, Kınalıada and Burgazada. Unfortunately, not all islands are equally interesting or beautiful. So, which Istanbul island should you visit? It's up to you. I decided to go to the biggest of them- Büyükada.
Büyükada is Turkish for ‘big island’. Not only is it the largest of the four Istanbul islands (5,36 km²), it’s also the most popular one. Its sandy beaches, laid-back 19h century atmosphere and cozy town center attract huge crowds of locals and tourists alike from spring to fall.
Upon getting off the ferry, you’ll recognize the clock at the square just a block up in front of you. This is the main square of Büyükada, and around it is the town center. 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 east, west, and south among some mansions (best of which are lined on the main road to the right) towards the hill.
You can start out with a typical full Turkish lunch on one of the many terraces, followed by one or more of the following activities:
Take a small or big tour of the island in a horse-drawn carriage or phaeton. You can buy tickets left from the clock tower;
Rent a bicycle and make a small or big tour of the island. Bicycle rental shops are located in the side streets from the town square;
Explore the island with its leafy lanes and exquisite wooden Victorian houses on foot. As long as you see phaetons racing by, you’re on the right track;
Visit the St George’s Monastery after climbing up the steep cobblestone path on foot;
Relax on one of the many private beaches and take a dip in the sea;
Enjoy a dinner, drink or ice-cream in one of the many cafes and restaurants in the town center before hopping on the ferry back to Istanbul.
Make sure you don’t miss the last one!