The Princes’ Islands are a group of nine stunning islands located in the Sea of Marmara, just off Istanbul. Easily accessible by boat, they make a great day trip if you’re visiting Turkey’s second city!
You can catch a ‘sea bus‘ (the quickest option) or a ferry (less quick) to the Princes’ Islands from a number of places on the European and Asian sides of Istanbul including Eminönü, Beşiktaş or Kabataş. (Staying in Beyoğlu I chose the latter).
Most people visit the largest of the islands: Büyükada (which helpfully means ‘big island’) but many of the ferries also call at neighbouring Heybeliada too. If you want to visit some of the smaller islands you’ll need to choose your ferries wisely.
I too chose to go to Büyükada (on what seemed to be an especially busy day). Before you’ve even disembarked from the boat you can tell this island is very different to Istanbul, the architecture, in particular, is incredibly distinctive.
Part of this distinct identity comes from the fact the Princes’ Islands used to be inhabited by large numbers of Greeks, Jews and Armenians. These minorities had their own styles and traditions which you can clearly see walking around Büyükada.
Something else which makes these islands unusual is their tranquility. On Büyükada there are very few cars, many locals opting for bicycles or speedy little electric scooters. The lack of many vehicles gives such a pleasant ambience to the place and makes wandering around such a relaxing experience.
Tourists are also offered rides in horse-drawn carriages which seem really picturesque however the animal rights record on the island is pretty dire and many of these horses have very short arduous lives – one to avoid.
The main attractions are definitely the buildings. Büyükada’s attractive pier terminal was designed by Armenian architect Mihran Azaryan, there’s also the Agia Yorgi Greek church set high on a hilltop, the modest Armenian church, the derelict Greek Orthodox Orphanage (apparently the largest wooden building in Europe) and a bright yellow synagogue.
Many houses are also incredibly elaborate and attractions in themselves. Some have domed rooves, latticed balconies, ornate carvings and even look-out towers. The people who built these houses were wealthy people and you can definitely see this from the size and quality of these impressive buildings.
Not spending a full day on Büyükada I didn’t manage to see everything. I had a good wander amongst the tranquil streets, stumbled upon a number of the Christian churches and had a few sigara böreği (long cheese-filled pastries) at a colourful restaurant where a cat decided to fall asleep with its head resting on my knee (a personal highlight).
I would definitely consider returning to see more, but maybe out of season when the boats and streets would be less crowded. I think there’s a really interesting culture to explore here and it would be great to find out more about the Greeks, Jews and Armenians who used to live here.
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with my latest adventures!