Princes’ Islands (Adalar in Turkish) are a total of 9 islands located in Marmara sea on the Asian side of Istanbul. The most famous ones are Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinaliada. The name of these islands come from Byzantine times’ when royals especially the princes who were disliked for something they had done were exiled to these islands. Later on, rich locals have built beautiful victorian and ottoman style villas and holiday apartments throughout the islands.
Despite the small distance, each island is different to one another due to different ethnical backgrounds of their inhabitants during the history. Büyükada for instance used to be popular among local Jews and descents from Europe, on the other hand, Greek fishermen used to favour the island of Burgazada. So if you have time, it’s worth visiting more than one of them.
We decided to visit the biggest island of these, called Büyükada. These islands are motor-vehicle free areas, so renting a bike or taking a horse carriage ride is a nice idea. The motor-freeness makes the island very calm and relaxing after many days in the busy and loud Istanbul. There are many bike rentals just next to the harbour so you can just grab a bike and go explore the whole island like we did.
Our visit to Büyükada (meaning the big island) was a fantastic experience. I was so surprised to find something so different this near Istanbul. The day we spent there was my favourite from all the days spent in Turkey. Büyükada’s most famous building is a church called Aya Yorgi which is built on top of the highest hill of the island. In order to see the church, you need to climb up to the hill, which isn’t that easy. The church used to be and still is a pilgrim destination for Christians.
We visited the islands during February but the weather was rather good. It was warmer than in the city, which was a little surprising! We were told that late March is one of the best times to visit the islands because the mimosa trees, which are the symbol of the islands, are in full bloom. The busiest time is during the summer months when everything is very crowded.
The best way to get to the island from Istanbul is taking a ferry from Kabatas harbour. The ships to Princes’ Islands take off approximately every hour so you can quite freely choose when to go and come back. The journey to the Büyükada island takes about 90 minutes. The price with Istanbulkart is only 3,5TL ( with tokens 5TL).