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An archipelago of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara just off the Asian coast of Istanbul, the Princes' Islands (Turkish: Prens Adaları, also İstanbul Adaları, Kızıl Adalar or just Adalar, "the Islands of Istanbul", "the Red Islands", and "the Islands" respectively) are a perfect escape whenever the frantic crowds of Istanbul start to overwhelm you.


Typical street scene on the Princes' Islands hasn't changed much within the last couple centuries or so, except the horse-drawn carriages were replaced by electric minibuses in 2020.

Named after the dynasty members who were exiled here after falling out of favour during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the Princes' Islands were back then desolate and remote, despite being within the eyesight of Constantinople (a fact which should have made exile here even more painful), and sailing to them was more of an expedition until the mid-19th century, when regular steamer transportation was introduced to the Sea of Marmara. Before then, only a handful of hermits seeking seclusion had voluntarily lived on these islands; this is how their Ottoman Turkish name, Keşiş Adaları, "the Monks' Islands", derived.

The lost island

Not so long ago, say a thousand years, the Princes' Islands had a tenth member, recorded in the Byzantine chronicles as Vordonos or Vordonisi. It was large enough to support a monastery.

In one of the Marmara earthquakes, frequent throughout the history and often heavily destructive, it sank underwater together with the monastery on it.

Today it appears as a low-lying rock at low tide, marked by a beacon as a shipping hazard off Bostancı. Its outline is often visible at aerial shots. Generations of fishermen have known it as a good spot for crabbing.

The Princes’ Islands consist of four major and five minor islands. Ordered west to east (also smallest to largest), the major ones are Kınalıada, Burgaz, Heybeliada, and Büyükada. Apart from these, the only other island of the archipelago with residents is Sedef east of Büyükada. The other minor islands are Tavşan south of Büyükada, Kaşık between Burgaz and Heybeliada, and the duo of Yassıada and Sivriada further out in the sea southwest of Kınalıada; these are all uninhabited, sort-of except Yassıada which was developed as an overbuilt exclusive resort in the 21st century. This article will focus on the four major ones, as public transport to the uninhabited islands is virtually non-existent, and Sedef and Yassıada are mostly private property with limited access.

The islands are an interesting anomaly because they allow for a very rare, albeit incomplete, insight into a multicultural society in modern Turkey, possibly alike to the multicultural society once existed during the Ottoman Empire in places such as nearby Istanbul/Constantinople. Prior to the 1950s, each of the inhabited islands had significant communities of the Turkish ethnic minorities, which still is the case to a much smaller extent. Since the vast majority of the residents and visitors are Turkish, today their legacy is of cultural rather than of demographic importance: Kınalıada ("henna island" due to its reddish soil; Greek: Proti, "first", implying its position on the approach from Constantinople) has been the summer retreat of the Armenian community of Istanbul, Burgaz (from Greek pyrgos, "fort tower"; Greek: Antigoni, after Antigonus I Monophthalmus, one of the successors of Alexander the Great and who had that tower built here) was a sleepy Greek village living off fishing, Heybeliada ("saddlebag island", from its geographical form; Greek: Halki, "copper" from its ore mined in antiquity) was the main Turkish settlement of the island group, while Büyükada ("big island", sufficiently descriptive; Greek: Prinkipos, "prince" or "foremost", also descriptive in itself) was mostly favored by local Jews and European residents of Istanbul, although members of all Ottoman / Turkish ethnicities could be encountered on Büyükada. This is partially responsible for the different characters of the islands that lie so close to each other.

These islands prove to be a good day-trip especially when you've had enough of the crowd, noise, and traffic of Istanbul. Quite a shock is what many travellers experience upon their return to the city, when full-blast car horns are still as prevalent as when they departed early in the morning.

The best times to be on the islands is during spring (Apr & May) and autumn (Sep & Oct). During these seasons, the temperature is pleasantly free of the extremes, and the islands are not very crowded. During early spring (around late Mar specifically), the silver wattles are in a yellow flush of their showy bloom, quite iconic to the islands and add to their charms. On the other hand, at summer weekends (Jun to Aug), expect crowds on the islands as well as in the ships. Avoid if you can. During winter (Nov to Mar), the exact opposite is the case. However, if you want to enjoy the islands blanketed by snow and/or in a very gloomy and almost deserted “ghost-town” experience and don’t mind the biting cold, then winter is definitely that season.

If you don’t have time to visit all of the islands, pick Büyükada: it’s undoubtedly the “queen” of the islands.

Online, you may run into various incorrect spellings for the name of the archipelago including the "Prince’s Islands" or the "Princess’ Islands".



Central square of Büyükada, with the historical harbor building at the back

Upon getting off the ferry, you’ll recognize the clock at a square just a block up in front of you. This is the main square, and is the focal point of the town centre. Most grocery stores are to your left, and so are the waterfront restaurants. From here, the main roads of the island diverge left (east), right (west) and straight ahead (south) towards the hill and there is a range of narrower streets and alleys connecting these. The main roads join again at Birlik Meydanı ("union square", perhaps because the roads "unite" there), the geographical centre of the island, on a piney plateau between the two main summits. From that square, taking either direction will bring you back to the same square, as the road encircles the southern half of the island, at some distance away and over the sea. The Church of St George is at the end of another, cobbled path uphill from Birlik Meydanı.

There is a large and detailed map of the island posted to the left of the port exit.

Get in[edit]

Map of the Princes' Islands

From Istanbul[edit]

The only way to get here is by sea: whether Istanbul ferries[dead link] or fast ferries, available at various hours every day. From the European Side of Istanbul, you can take a ferry from either Beşiktaş, Kabataş or Eminönü. On the Asian Side, the piers with a connection to the islands are in Kadıköy, Bostancı, Maltepe and Kartal. The most frequent departures are from Bostancı (especially in winter), which also has private mid-sized boat connection to the islands in addition to liners and fast ferries. See the Asian Side article for an extensive detail of how to get to Bostancı from the more central parts of the city.

A trip on liners takes around 1½ hours from the European Side, and 45 minutes from the Asian Side, and costs about 25 TL one way with Istanbulkart and significantly more without it. Seabus fast ferries (deniz otobüsü) are more than twice as expensive but will get you much faster to the islands and have air conditioning. However their service quits earlier and they run less frequent.

Almost all ferries call at all four major islands in a row when departing from the European Side, so you can also use them for island-hopping. From Bostancı, Mavi Marmara ferries typically go to Büyükada and Heybeliada islands, and the second route to Kınalıada and Burgazada islands (ada = "island"). The island names are not announced by voice inside the ships, but the signs on the quays are large enough. Besides the Mavi Marmara line you find also the city line of ferries (Şehir Hatları) which are larger than the Mavi Marmara ferries which are more like large boats rather than ships.

On the islands[edit]

Due to animal welfare issues, the horse-drawn carriages (fayton), which became iconic for the islands, were banned in 2020 and replaced by custom designed electric minibuses with open sides. These are run by the metropolitan transportation authority, İETT[dead link], on fixed routes and schedules.

Other than these minibuses, and service vehicles such as ambulances or garbage trucks, any motorized traffic is prohibited on the islands.

Renting a bike is an alternative. The fare was 20 TL per day in 2018. Most renters require you to leave an official identification to be returned after the payment is made. A student ID may suffice. Some renters distribute a road map of the island free of charge, don’t forget to ask for it.

Walking the streets of the islands, past some of the country's most beautiful residential buildings surrounded by well-landscaped gardens, is also a very pleasant alternative.


One of the typical wooden mansions on Büyükada
  • Historic mansions. In the 19th century, the islands, Büyükada in particular, became a popular summer resort for the wealthy residents of Istanbul, a role they still play to a smaller degree. The architectural heritage reflects this. Both the eastern and western sides of Büyükada are full of splendid wooden mansions in eclectic styles, with varying levels of European influence, similars of which can be enjoyed only along the banks of the Bosphorus, as traditional wooden architecture elsewhere in the city was mostly usurped by concrete, drab or outright ugly apartment blocks in the face of population overgrowth and subsequent urbanization issues. The mansions clustered on the western side of the island (to the right when out of the ferry) are more elegant and ornate. Walk about 15 min from the port, as its immediate vicinity is more like a modest town centre.
  • 1 Church of Saint George (Hagios Giorgios, Aya Yorgi). The Greek Orthodox church is on the highest summit of the archipelago, Yücetepe ("great hill") at 203 m asl. Walk up from Birlik Meydanı for about 35-40 min; the cobbled incline is too steep for a bicycle. The church building is unexceptional, but the backyard has a great view of the other islands and the sea. St George's day is celebrated here annually on Apr 23, when you can expect tens of thousands attendees willing to make wishes — if you want to skip the crowds set off before 06:00 or else you will be standing for a long time until you are let inside by the police in groups of 10–15 people at once. Wishmaking rituals range from usual candle burning, to slightly more unusual climbing up to the church on bare feet, to very curious untying wool balls all along the path leading there. If you are interested to partake, you will meet lots of vendors selling candles on the streets that day, right as soon as you step out of the ferry, but it's best to have them from the church for a donation. In case you are wondering if all of Turkey's dwindled Greek Orthodox minority are there that day, or if the community is even that populous, no, most of the visitors eagerly waiting for a blessing from the priest are non-Christian Turks, but there is nothing surprising about that: this is Turkey, where the east and the west meet, and cultures truly mix. Agios Georgios Church (Q6903317) on Wikidata
  • 2 Greek Orphanage (Rum Yetimhanesi). This is a completely wooden building rising up to six storeys. It is said to be the second largest wooden construction in the world and the first in Europe. On the second highest summit of Büyükada (İsatepe, "Jesus hill", 164 m asl), it lies abandoned and dilapidated amidst the pine woods, like a picture-perfect haunted manor. It was built in the late 19th century, originally intended as a luxury hotel for the passengers of the Orient Express but never served that purpose and was put in use as an orphanage by the Greek community until it was closed down in 1964, within the context of the deteriorating Turkish-Greek relations due to the Cyprus dispute. It's dangerous, not to say forbidden, to enter the building due to the damages inflicted by decades of neglect. The title holder is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, led by Bartholomew I who wants the building restored and made a global environmental research centre (he's known as the "Green Pope" due to his efforts for environmental protection), but given the long legal disputes on titleship, not to mention the enormous funds required to bring the building to life, don't hold your breath. Büyükada Greek Orthodox Orphanage (Q5005317) on Wikidata Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage on Wikipedia
  • 3 House of Trotsky (Troçki Evi), Hamlacı Sk, Büyükada (at the dead end of an alley down towards the cliffs to the west of the pier). This is the attractive red-brick façade of a ruined mansion. From 1929, Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived here after his exile from the Soviet Union by Stalin, who viewed Trotsky and his followers as the main adversaries to his absolute control over the country. The mansion should have been luxurious at that time, and its location is very scenic, but life here was far from a bed of roses for Trotsky: he was closely monitored by the Turkish authorities, and an even bigger threat was from the pro-czar White Army officers who themselves had to flee Russia after the revolution — due in no small part to Trotsky's activities in establishing the Red Army — and settled on the island and elsewhere in Turkey. He requested asylum from many European countries, and France finally agreed to grant one in 1933, so along with his family he moved there, only to find himself under constant surveillance of the French police.


  • Great Tour (Büyük Tur, the full circumference of the island, about 15 km in Büyükada) by bike. The roads are well paved, are scenic, and there are few gradients.
  • Have a picnic in a scenic spot.



  • Alibaba Restaurant, Gülistan Cad. no: 18, Büyükada (in the town centre, on the left side when walking out of the ferry quay), +90 216 382-37-33, fax: +90 216 382-36-00. 10:00-01:00. Seafood restaurant in Büyükada. Reservation is advised on Saturdays. Visa, Mastercard and AmEx accepted.
  • Konak Lokantası, Recep Koçak Cad. no: 87, Büyükada, +90 216 382-54-79. Kebab and traditional Turkish cuisine. Visa and Mastercard accepted.
  • Köşem Restoran, ş.Recep Koçak Cad. No: 49, Büyükada (turn left when you get off the ferry, then see it on your right in about 200 m), +90 216 382-11-20. Very nice and cheap place, lots of locals eat here. There is both cafe-like service and self-service.


  • By Şükrü, Gülistan Caddesi #16, Büyükada, +90 216 382-12-45, +90 532-700-22-11 (for group or fixed menu pricing please call Susan). 10:00-03:00. By Şükrü is located right on the sea front with a variety of fresh seafood, kebob and vegetarian dishes. You can enjoy live music every Saturday night in the tavern, and for those of you who miss a good T-bone steak or Shrimp Scampi you may visit By Şükrü's Winehouse. Minutes from the pier, By Şükrü is easy to get to and one of the most visited restaurants on the island. Reservations are suggested for weekends. US$20.


Most of the islands' accommodation is on Büyükada close to the ferry pier. Some can also be found on Heybeliada.

Splendid Palace
  • 1 Anastasia Meziki Hotel, Malulgazi Cd 24, Büyükada (500 m SE of ferry pier), +90 216 382-34-44, . One-star with 15 rooms in a well-preserved historic mansion, which was a shooting location for the 2007–09 Turkish TV series From the Lips to the Heart. B&B doubles from €50.
  • Ascot Hotel, Madenler Mh, Çınar Cd 6, Büyükada, +90 216 382-28-88. A new boutique hotel with a pool, garden, restaurant, and bar. 22 rooms with en-suite bathrooms. B&B doubles from €60.
  • Ada Palas Hotel, Maden Mh, Çiçekli Sk 24, Büyükada, +90216 382 1444. Luxury boutique hotel with free Wi-fi. Only 300 m from the port. B&B double from €100.
  • İdeal Pansiyon, Kadıyoran Cd 4, Büyükada (100 m from ferry pier), +90 216 382-68-57. Cheap pension in a historic mansion. While the beds and linens are clean, not all rooms have en-suite bathrooms, thin walls, erratic heating. 50 TL pp at weekends in spring.
  • 2 Splendid Palace Hotel, 23 Nisan Cd 53, Büyükada (300 m west of ferry pier), +90 216 382 6950, . Perhaps the most celebrated hotel of the islands, housed since 1908 in an Art-Nouveau beauty. But that also means some modern conveniences are lacking, such as air-con. B&B doubles from €130.

Stay safe[edit]

If you are doing the great tour of Büyükada by bicycle, near the cemetery beware of dogs, which suddenly start barking at and chasing you when you are about to re-enter the built-up area in the east of the island if your tour is counter-clockwise, or after you have just entered the forested section if clockwise. The best reaction is to speed up as much as your legs and the bicycle can endure, as they give up after a certain length of chase. Be particularly careful in winter.

Don’t be fooled by the absence of private motorized vehicles: Always check the road first when crossing a road.


The telephone code for islands is (+90) 216, shared with the Asian Side. Landline calls to the European Side are "intercity" and require dialling the area code (212).

Go next[edit]

If you are not going to stay overnight in the islands, don’t forget to take a note of departure times of ships back to the city before leaving the quay building. Ships are less frequent after the night falls, especially in winter. Generally the most frequent line (and the one with the latest departure) links to Bostancı east of Kadıköy. From Bostancı, you can take dolmuşes and public buses to the European Side, from the stops north of the railway station, as well as the Marmaray suburban rail.

The sea can be rough in spring, autumn and winter, and the islands are sometimes cut off from the outside world when the ferry services are cancelled due to storms and high waves.

This district travel guide to Princes' Islands is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.