Istanbul has two major tourist attractions that will take almost a full day out of your holiday: a visit to one or more of the Princes’ Islands and a boat tour on the Bosphorus. People rightfully ask me if it’s worth sacrificing one or two days of their often already short stay in Istanbul?
That is a tough question to answer, and completely based on personal preferences. So let me explain what you can expect from a daytrip to the Princes’ Island, and how to best go about.
What Are the Princes’ Islands of Istanbul
The Princes’ Islands (Kızıl Adalar or just Adalar) are a chain of nine rather small islands in the Sea of Marmara. They evolved from a place of exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites alike to escape the hectic city life for a day. Of those nine islands, only four of them are open to the public: Büyükada, the biggest and most popular, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada.
Princes’ Islands Features
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.
But that’s not the only feature that makes the Princes’ Islands unique. You’ll find yourself walking or riding through narrow streets flanked by either untouched pine-forests or fine, wooden Victorian cottages. How is that for a unique fin-de-siècle flash back?
How to Get to the Princes’ Islands … and Back!
By boat, that goes without saying. But there are different ferries to choose from. Luckily, all are operated by IDO – the official ferry and sea bus company of Istanbul. There are the sea buses (fast ferries), and the regular ferries. The sea buses depart from Kabataş — easily accessible from Taksim with the funicular or from Sultanahmet via the tramway. If it stops at all the islands, the trip will last for 55 minutes maximum and sets you back for 8 TL per person — one way.
The regular ferries also depart from Kabataş, but they 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 4 TL per person) and make more runs back and forth.
Take my advice! If you plan to visit the islands, make sure you get on the very first sea bus (fast ferry) to the islands on any given day. You’ll beat the (local) crowd to the islands — and check upon arrival when the last ferry (fast or conventional) departs back to Istanbul! Although some islands have nice hotels, you don’t want to miss the last ferry. Then, spend as much time as you want on (one of) the Princes’ Islands, and return to Istanbul with whichever ferry you prefer.
The IDO timetables change according to the winter or summer season, so make sure to check the exact departure dates of the sea buses (fast ferries) or the conventional ferries. (Look for Adalar or Island)