Is Büyükada the Only Princes’ Island of Istanbul I Should Visit?

Horse-drawn carriage in the blossom streets of Buyukada in Istanbul, Turkey.

by Erlend Geerts

in Sightseeing

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

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. It’s 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!

Heybeliada

The board-walk at Heybeliada in Istanbul, Turkey.

The board-walk at Heybeliada.

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 like 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.

(Photo Source)

What's Next

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jana September 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Hi!
very helpful website! :)

I would like to know if Büyükad island is enjoyable for me if I have a broken leg and I use crutches… I can jump a bit and climb stairs but of course it is very imperfect :))
We were thinking of taking a carriage (for 4 thin people?) and have ride around…. but I dont know how exactly it looks there…
thanks a lot!

Reply

Erlend Geerts September 27, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Hi Jana,

The ride itself will be enjoyable I’m sure when the weather is nice. Getting there by ferry shouldn’t cause too many troubles either, but once in Büyükada you’ll have to walk slightly uphill to the town center to reach the horse and carriage stop. This takes a healthy human being between 7 to 10 minutes.

After that, you can enjoy a nice lunch overlooking the sea and absorbing the fall sun :-)

Have fun.

Reply

Nastasha March 19, 2013 at 11:17 am

Hye, I’ll be traveling alone in April 2013. So is it safe for a lone girl to come here and just leisurely stroll around?

Reply

Erlend Geerts March 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Hi Natasha,

Sure, there is no problem whatsoever. Just use common sense as you would in any world city. Don’t walk in empty streets after dark, nor follow strangers into unknown establishments. I feel much safer in Istanbul than in many other European capitals.

Have a nice holiday,
Erlend

Reply

Sandy June 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Hi,
I’m keen to hire a bike & go round the island.
Do you also think its ok /safe by myself (female) or do I need to join some sort of group?
The coastal roads look quite isolated, or are there enough people around for it to be ok?
Appreciate advise/ feedback
Thanks

Reply

Erlend Geerts June 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Hi Sandy,

Well, I would suggest to try to find at least some company. Not that you’re likely to experience personal discomfort alone, but you never know with a bike trip. The bike could break down, you could fall (God forbid), etc. Then at least there is someone around to help.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

ignacio May 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

hello Erlend, thx for your information. I want to visit buyukada in november, but i am not sure if i can go and return from istanbul in the ship the same day. Could be sunday or saturday. ¿have you any info about it? thx a lot again.

Reply

Erlend Geerts May 28, 2013 at 7:39 am

Hi Ignacio,

Yes, you should be able to go to Büyükada and come back the same day. The winter schedules are not out yet, but be prepared to wake up early.

Erlend

Reply

ignacio May 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Ok, I will wait. And yes, just for going there I can wake up at any hour. I will be hosted in sultanameth, near topkapi. Last time i went to Bursa. But this ships are not from the same place isnt it?

Reply

Erlend Geerts May 29, 2013 at 7:34 am

No, the ships to Bursa depart from Yenikapı if I’m not mistaken.

Reply

Vitas June 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hi,
We will visit Istanbul at the end of June for a long weekend and we want to spend half a day on the beach, but not more. Are Prince’s Island the right choice for it? I find a lot of info about these islands, but not about beaches. Which island has the best beach? Is the water clean? Should we pay for the beach? Are there any public beaches? Is it possible to walk to any of those beaches from the ferry stop or should we take another private boat to bring us there?

Reply

Erlend Geerts June 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm
mary June 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Hi,
thanks its useful site, i have been to Buyukada island once, your information is so complete and can be helpful for tourists. for next trip to Istanbul surly i will get information from you site especially for Asian side.
now i have two questions:
1-I ate some thing like a starter in this island, i think it was made by tiny fish , vinegar and olive oil , do you know the name of this food or pickle?
2-there is a group of seafood restaurants in the place like a bridge in Istanbul and on the picture it seems that the prices are reasonable do you know the name of that area?

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 2, 2013 at 12:07 am

Hi Mary,

1. Well what comes to my mind first is brined anchovy or sardines. I looked up a bit just in case but couldn’t come with anything else.
2. Yes, they are the restaurants lined up on the lower deck of the Galata Bridge.

Erlend

Reply

Shazia March 4, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Hi

I’m planning to visit the princes island, at the end of March can you please advise which Island would be best as my as my father is disabled he’s in a wheel chair therefore I will need to choose a island which is easy to go about avoiding hilly area and stairs if possible. Can you also advise will it be easy to travel by tram to get to the kabatas ferry port??
Bercelo eresin topkapi hotel is in the Fatih area of istanbul what the best way to travel to the kabatas ferry port …??? Or is there a nearer ferry port???

Regards

Reply

Erlend Geerts March 6, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Hi Shazia,

Given your father’s situation, I would go for Heybeliada. To get to Kabataş, the easiest way will be the tramway I guess.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

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