As I mentioned in a previous post, 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, and when? The purpose of this post is to introduce all four of the Princes’ islands and list what they have to offer.
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. Especially in the weekends, with a peak on Sunday — a day to avoid.
From a tourist point of view, Büyükada must be at the top of your island visit list. Most people start out with a typical full Turkish breakfast 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 (Saat Meydanı).
- 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 or by hiring a donkey to do the legwork for you.
- 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!
This island firmly occupies second spot in my Princes’ Island ranking. It’s home to the Turkish Naval Academy and the Haghia Triada Monastery – a closed-down Greek Orthodox theological school. Just as on Büyükada, you can tour the island by horse-drawn carriage and bicycle. The latter is less popular because of the island’s twin summits. Day-trippers prefer to take a nice stroll and explore the many shops, restaurants and patisseries.
Kınalıada and Burgazada
These are the two smallest islands of the group. Kınalıada mostly attracts Istanbul’s Armenian population, while Burgazada is home to Istanbulites of Greek origin.