A Day Trip to Princes' Islands: Escape the Bustle of Istanbul

Discover the secluded islands, a short ferry ride away from the Istanbul city center

Nestled in the Marmara Sea, just a short ferry ride away from the Istanbul city center, lies a hidden gem known as the Princes’ Islands. These islands, a cluster of nine small isles, offer a tranquil sanctuary away from the urban frenzy of Istanbul. Stepping onto the shores of the Princes’ Islands feels like entering a different world, where horse-drawn carriages replace the noise of cars, and the air is filled with the scent of pine trees and sea breeze.

A day trip to Princes' Islands offers a serene retreat from the chaos of Istanbul

View from the Princes' Islands towards Istanbul
View from the Princes' Islands towards Istanbul

What makes the Princes’ Islands truly special is not just their escape from the city’s chaos; it is the unique blend of history, natural beauty, and a slower pace of life that awaits those who venture to explore these enchanting isles. From the moment you step off the ferry, time seems to slow down, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rich history and captivating landscapes that make the Princes’ Islands a true haven of tranquility.

As you wander through the narrow streets of Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, you’ll be transported back in time to the days of the Ottoman Empire. The island’s charming wooden mansions, adorned with colorful flowers and intricately carved balconies, stand as a testament to its illustrious past. These architectural marvels, once the summer residences of Ottoman princes, now house boutique hotels, quaint cafes, and local shops, offering visitors a glimpse into the island’s captivating history.

Beyond its historical allure, the Princes’ Islands boast breathtaking natural beauty. As you explore the island’s verdant landscapes, you’ll encounter lush pine forests, hidden coves with crystal-clear waters, and panoramic viewpoints that offer sweeping vistas of the Marmara Sea. Whether you choose to hike, bike, or simply stroll along the island’s scenic paths, the Princes’ Islands provide a serene escape into nature, where the only soundtrack is the gentle rustling of leaves and the distant sound of waves crashing against the shore.

Moreover, the slower pace of life on the Princes’ Islands allows visitors to truly unwind and embrace a more relaxed way of living. With no cars allowed on the islands, the primary mode of transportation becomes horse-drawn carriages or bicycles, adding to the island’s charm and tranquility. As you meander through the streets, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in leisurely conversations with locals, savor delicious seafood caught fresh from the sea, and indulge in the simple pleasure of watching the world go by from a waterfront cafe.

A Brief History of the Princes' Islands: Exile for Royalty in Byzantine Times

The Princes’ Islands have a rich history that dates back to the Byzantine era. Originally known as the “Princes’ Islands” due to their function as a place of exile for royalty, these islands have witnessed the rise and fall of empires, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate visitors to this day.

During the Byzantine Empire, which ruled over Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) for centuries, the Princes’ Islands served as a secluded location for banishing members of the royal family who were deemed a threat to the ruling emperor. This practice of exile served both as a punishment and a means of containment.

The islands’ natural beauty and serene environment made them an ideal location for exiling members of the royal family. By removing these individuals from the political center of Constantinople, the emperor aimed to maintain stability within the empire while ensuring the safety of the exiles.

Ferry to the Princes' Islands
Ferry to the Princes' Islands

A Summer Getaway for the Elite during the Ottoman Era

The Princes’ Islands played a pivotal role in Istanbul’s past, particularly during the Ottoman era. As the Ottoman Empire flourished, Istanbul became a bustling metropolis, attracting wealthy merchants, diplomats, and members of the ruling elite. However, the city’s rapid growth and urbanization led to overcrowding and pollution, prompting the affluent residents to seek refuge on the Princes’ Islands during the scorching summer months.

To escape the hustle and bustle of city life, the elite built lavish summer residences, known as yalıs, on the islands. These yalıs, characterized by their ornate architecture and expansive gardens, served as private sanctuaries where the elite could relax, entertain guests, and indulge in leisurely activities.

Greek Influence and Architectural Heritage

Beyond their role as a refuge for exiled royalty and a summer getaway for Istanbul’s elite, the Princes’ Islands hold immense cultural and historical significance. One notable aspect is the islands’ strong Greek influence, which can be traced back to the Byzantine era. The Greek Orthodox Church played a vital role in shaping the islands’ culture, with numerous churches and monasteries dotting the landscape.

The islands also boast a remarkable architectural heritage, reflecting a blend of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Greek styles. The preservation of these architectural gems is a testament to the islands’ commitment to safeguarding their cultural heritage. Visitors can wander through narrow streets lined with charming wooden houses, adorned with colorful facades and intricate detailing, providing a glimpse into the past.

Moreover, the islands’ unique atmosphere, characterized by horse-drawn carriages and the absence of motorized vehicles, further enhances their historical charm. This deliberate preservation of a bygone era allows visitors to immerse themselves in a time when life moved at a slower pace, offering a rare opportunity to experience the islands’ rich history firsthand.

Getting to the Princes' Islands

When it comes to reaching the Princes’ Islands from Istanbul, visitors are presented with a range of transportation options. The most popular and convenient choices include ferry services and private boat charters.

Ferry Services: The ferry services operating between Istanbul and the Princes’ Islands are not only reliable but also offer a unique and picturesque journey. Several ferry companies, such as Şehir Hatları and Dentur Avrasya, provide regular trips to the islands throughout the day.

Private Boat Charters: For those seeking a more personalized experience or wishing to explore the islands at their own pace, private boat charters are an excellent option. These charters offer flexibility in terms of departure time and itinerary customization, allowing visitors to tailor their trip according to their preferences.

Ferry Schedule, Journey Duration, and Ticket Prices

Ferry services are the most popular mode of transportation to the Princes’ Islands, thanks to their convenience, affordability, and frequent schedules. The ferry schedule typically starts early in the morning and continues until late evening, ensuring that visitors have ample time to explore the islands.

The journey duration varies depending on the specific island and ferry route chosen. For example, the trip to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, usually takes around 1 hour, while the journey to the smaller islands like Heybeliada and Burgazada can be completed in approximately 30-45 minutes.

Ticket prices for the ferry services are reasonably priced, making them an attractive option for budget-conscious travelers. As of the time of writing, a one-way ticket to the Princes’ Islands costs around 10-15 Turkish Lira (approximately 1.20−1.20−1.80 USD), with discounted rates available for children and seniors. It’s worth noting that prices may vary slightly depending on the ferry company and season.

Exploring Büyükada (Big Island)

Büyükada, also known as Big Island, is a hidden gem in the Sea of Marmara, just a short ferry ride away from Istanbul. This charming island offers a unique blend of history, natural beauty, and old-world charm that is sure to captivate any visitor.

Stepping into a Timeless Wonderland

The island’s unique charm and character are immediately evident as you step foot on its shores. Picture-perfect streets wind their way through the island, lined with colorful Victorian-era mansions that transport you back in time. These architectural marvels, adorned with intricate details and vibrant hues, stand as a testament to the island’s rich history and cultural heritage. Walking along these streets feels like strolling through a living museum, where every corner reveals a new story waiting to be discovered.

Landmarks that Take Your Breath Away

Büyükada is not short on attractions and landmarks that further enhance its allure. One such landmark is the Aya Yorgi Church, a historic Greek Orthodox church perched atop the island’s highest hill. The church’s stunning views of the surrounding sea and the Istanbul skyline make it a must-visit destination. As you climb the steps to reach the church, you can’t help but be in awe of the breathtaking panorama that unfolds before your eyes.

Another notable landmark on Büyükada is the Prinkipo Greek Orphanage, a grand building that holds a significant place in the island’s history. Once a sanctuary for orphans, this architectural masterpiece now stands as a hauntingly beautiful reminder of the past. Exploring its grand halls and intricate details provides a glimpse into the lives of those who once called it home.

A Nostalgic Journey on Horse-Drawn Carriages

One of the most enchanting aspects of Büyükada is the presence of horse-drawn carriages, a popular mode of transportation that adds to the island’s old-world charm. The clip-clop of hooves and the rhythmic sway of the carriage create a nostalgic ambiance as you traverse the island’s streets. I highly recommend taking a leisurely ride in one of these carriages to truly immerse yourself in the island’s atmosphere. The drivers, often adorned in traditional attire, are not only skilled navigators but also storytellers who can regale you with fascinating tales about the island’s history and legends.

Nature’s Playground

Beyond its architectural wonders and historical landmarks, Büyükada offers a plethora of activities for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The island’s pine forests provide the perfect backdrop for hiking enthusiasts, with trails that lead to hidden viewpoints and secluded beaches. As you meander through the forest, the scent of pine fills the air, and the tranquility of nature envelops you.

For those who prefer a more active exploration, biking along Büyükada’s scenic coastal paths is a fantastic option. The island’s well-maintained cycling routes offer breathtaking views of the sea, with opportunities to stop and admire the picturesque coves and bays along the way. Renting a bicycle from one of the many rental shops on the island is easy, and it allows you to cover more ground while enjoying the refreshing sea breeze.

If you’re seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, Büyükada’s crystal-clear waters beckon you for a swim. The island boasts several pristine beaches where you can bask in the sun, take a dip in the refreshing sea, or simply unwind with a good book. The calm and peaceful atmosphere of these beaches provides the perfect escape from the bustling city life of Istanbul.

Büyükada, one of the Princes' Islands
Büyükada

Discovering Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island)

Heybeliada, the second-largest island in the Princes’ Islands archipelago, is a hidden gem known for its lush forests and tranquil atmosphere. Nestled in the Marmara Sea, this island offers a perfect escape from the bustling city life of Istanbul. Let’s delve deeper into the wonders that await on Heybeliada.

Heybeliada is the second-largest island in the archipelago

Heybeliada, with its sprawling landscapes and serene ambiance, stands as the second-largest island in the Princes’ Islands archipelago. Located just a short ferry ride away from Istanbul, this island paradise is a haven of natural beauty and tranquility. Its name, which translates to “Saddlebag Island,” is derived from its unique shape resembling a saddlebag.

The natural beauty of Heybeliada

The natural beauty of Heybeliada is truly awe-inspiring. As you approach the island, you’ll be greeted by a picturesque coastline, adorned with crystal-clear turquoise waters. The island boasts numerous secluded coves, perfect for a peaceful day of sunbathing or a refreshing swim. The surrounding lush forests provide a serene backdrop, adding to the island’s charm.

For those seeking adventure, Heybeliada offers a network of hiking trails that wind through its verdant landscapes. As you explore these trails, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Marmara Sea and the neighboring islands. The trails cater to all levels of hikers, from leisurely strolls to more challenging treks, ensuring there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Hhistorical landmarks on Heybeliada

Heybeliada is not only a natural wonder but also steeped in history. One of its notable landmarks is the Halki Seminary, a Byzantine-era theological school. This magnificent institution, founded in the 19th century, holds great significance in the Orthodox Christian community. Although currently closed due to political reasons, its stunning architecture and rich history still make it a sight worth admiring.

Another historical gem on the island is the Naval High School, a prestigious institution that has trained generations of Turkish naval officers. Established in 1773, this esteemed school has played a vital role in shaping the country’s maritime heritage. Its grand buildings and well-preserved campus offer a glimpse into the past and pay homage to the island’s maritime legacy.

Activities on the Heybeliada island

To fully immerse yourself in the wonders of Heybeliada, there are a plethora of activities to indulge in. Renting a bike and pedaling along the island’s charming streets is a popular choice, allowing you to explore at your own pace. As you meander through the island’s quaint neighborhoods, you’ll stumble upon hidden gems, such as local cafes, boutique shops, and charming Ottoman-era houses.

For the nature enthusiasts, embarking on a hike to the island’s viewpoints is a must. The trails will lead you to elevated spots that offer panoramic vistas of the surrounding sea and islands. Whether you’re an avid photographer or simply seeking a moment of tranquility, these viewpoints will leave you in awe of Heybeliada’s natural splendor.

If relaxation is what you seek, why not enjoy a leisurely picnic in one of the island’s parks? Find a cozy spot under the shade of a tree, breathe in the fresh sea air, and savor a delicious meal amidst nature’s embrace. Heybeliada’s parks provide a serene setting for a laid-back afternoon, allowing you to unwind and recharge.

In conclusion, Heybeliada is a true paradise that combines natural beauty, rich history, and a tranquil atmosphere. From its lush forests and scenic coastline to its historical landmarks and recreational activities, this island offers a myriad of experiences for every visitor. Whether you’re seeking adventure or a peaceful retreat, Heybeliada is sure to captivate your heart and leave you with lasting memories.

Heybeliada

Uncovering the Hidden Gems of Kınalıada (Henna Island)

Kınalıada, the smallest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, may be lesser-known compared to its more popular siblings, Büyükada and Heybeliada, but it is precisely this smaller size and hidden status that make it a peaceful and off-the-beaten-path destination for travelers seeking a tranquil escape.

As you step foot on Kınalıada, you immediately sense the island’s peaceful atmosphere. The absence of cars and motorized vehicles creates a serene environment, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the gentle lapping of waves against the shore and the occasional chirping of birds. The island’s smaller size also means fewer tourists, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the tranquility and solitude that Kınalıada offers.

Kınalıada’s many secluded beaches

One of the island’s main draws is its secluded beaches, which offer a haven of relaxation for visitors. The pristine shores, adorned with soft golden sand, invite you to unwind and soak up the sun’s warm rays. As you stroll along the coastline, you’ll discover hidden coves and quiet spots where you can bask in the serenity of the surroundings. Whether you choose to stretch out on a beach towel and lose yourself in a good book or simply listen to the gentle rhythm of the waves, Kınalıada’s beaches provide the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

A rich historical heritage

Beyond its natural beauty, Kınalıada boasts a rich historical heritage. The Monastery of St. George, a Byzantine-era monastery perched on a hilltop, is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. Inside, you’ll be greeted by stunning frescoes that have stood the test of time, depicting scenes from religious narratives and offering a glimpse into the island’s past. The Monastery of St. George not only serves as a testament to the island’s Byzantine roots but also provides a serene and contemplative space for visitors to explore.

Another historical gem on Kınalıada is the Kınalıada Greek Orthodox Church. This charming place of worship showcases intricate architectural details and serves as a reminder of the island’s multicultural history. Stepping inside, you’ll be greeted by the soft glow of candlelight and the scent of incense, creating a serene atmosphere that invites reflection and introspection. Whether you’re religious or not, the Kınalıada Greek Orthodox Church offers a unique glimpse into the island’s cultural tapestry.

Restaurants on Kınalıada

When hunger strikes, Kınalıada’s waterfront restaurants beckon with their delectable seafood delicacies. Indulge in freshly caught fish, grilled to perfection and served with a side of locally sourced vegetables. The island’s culinary offerings are a testament to its coastal location, and each bite is a symphony of flavors that will leave you craving more.

Restaurant on Kınalıada

Exploring Burgazada (Fortress Island)

Burgazada, the third-largest island in the Princes’ Islands archipelago, is a hidden gem in the Sea of Marmara, just a short ferry ride away from Istanbul. Renowned for its rich history and architectural beauty, this island offers a captivating blend of Byzantine and Ottoman influences that have shaped its unique character.

The third-largest island in the Princes’ Islands

Nestled amidst the azure waters, Burgazada stands as a testament to the captivating allure of the Princes’ Islands. With its picturesque landscapes and a delightful blend of historical treasures, this island has become a haven for those seeking a tranquil escape from the bustling city life of Istanbul. As the third-largest island in the archipelago, Burgazada boasts a rich tapestry of history, architectural wonders, and breathtaking views that will leave visitors in awe.

The island’s Byzantine and Ottoman influences

Stepping foot on Burgazada is like stepping back in time, as the island’s streets are adorned with remnants of its Byzantine and Ottoman past. Historic mansions, adorned with intricate carvings and elegant facades, stand as a testament to the island’s architectural heritage. These grand structures, once the summer residences of wealthy Istanbulites, are now a window into the island’s storied past.

Among the architectural marvels, the island proudly boasts several churches that showcase the Byzantine influence. The Church of St. John the Baptist, with its ornate frescoes and intricate mosaics, is a true masterpiece that transports visitors to a bygone era. The Church of St. Nicholas, dating back to the 6th century, is another must-visit site, offering a glimpse into the island’s religious history.

However, the crown jewel of Burgazada’s historical heritage is undoubtedly the iconic Yoros Castle. Perched atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, this medieval fortress offers panoramic views that will take your breath away. Originally built in the Byzantine era and later expanded during the Ottoman period, Yoros Castle stands as a testament to the island’s strategic importance throughout history. Exploring its ancient walls and towers is a journey through time, offering visitors a glimpse into the island’s storied past.

Stunning views and a charming waterfront promenade 

Beyond its historical treasures, Burgazada captivates visitors with its stunning natural beauty. The island’s charming waterfront promenade is a haven of tranquility, offering a perfect spot to unwind and soak in the breathtaking scenery. As you stroll along the promenade, you’ll be mesmerized by the crystal-clear waters of the Sea of Marmara, shimmering under the warm Mediterranean sun. The gentle sea breeze and the sound of waves lapping against the shore create a serene ambiance that is hard to resist.

Burgazada activities

While exploring Burgazada, there are several activities that should not be missed. A visit to Yoros Castle is an absolute must, as it offers not only a glimpse into the island’s history but also unrivaled panoramic views of the Bosphorus. From the castle’s vantage point, you can marvel at the majestic waterway that has shaped the destiny of empires and witness the bustling maritime traffic that connects Europe and Asia.

To truly immerse yourself in the island’s charm, take a leisurely stroll through its narrow streets. Lined with colorful houses adorned with blooming bougainvillea, these streets exude an enchanting ambiance that is a photographer’s dream. As you wander, you’ll stumble upon hidden gems, such as quaint cafes, local artisan shops, and charming boutiques, where you can discover unique souvenirs to commemorate your visit.

No visit to Burgazada would be complete without indulging in a traditional Turkish tea by the sea. Find a cozy spot at one of the waterfront cafes, sit back, and savor the moment as you sip on the aromatic tea and watch the world go by. This simple pleasure allows you to fully immerse yourself in the island’s laid-back atmosphere and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.

Snorkeling on the Princes' Islands
Snorkeling on the Princes' Islands

Conclusion: The Unique Appeal of the Princes' Islands

The Princes’ Islands, consisting of nine islands in total, have long been cherished as a tranquil retreat for Istanbul’s residents and visitors alike. Away from the noise and chaos of the city, these islands offer a serene environment that is perfect for those seeking a break from the fast-paced urban life.

For those planning a trip to Istanbul, a visit to the Princes’ Islands should undoubtedly be included in their itinerary. The islands provide a perfect opportunity to escape the city’s chaos and immerse oneself in a serene and picturesque environment. Whether it’s a day trip or an overnight stay, the Princes’ Islands offer a unique experience that will leave a lasting impression.

Last updated in July 2024, written by Tom and published by Emily.