Travels in Istanbul: Princes’ Islands

I asked a friend of mine who had visited Istanbul a few times what was her favorite thing to do, and she said we had to visit Büyükada. Büyükada is one of the Princes’ Islands (Adalar), which are nine islands in the Marmara Sea. In past times Ottoman princes would be sent if they were exiled; now, five of the islands are open to visitors, and many people go to get away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, and to swim and enjoy a day at the beach.


The public transport boat runs to four of the islands, multiple times a day; there are also other boat operators that will go there as well. So we awoke early, took the tram to the Kabataş station, used our transit pass (which is a must buy when traveling in Istanbul; it is easy to put money on at one of the many kiosks near most stations; and then can be used for the bus, train, tram, and boat) and were on our way.

Adalar here we come

Kinaliada is the smallest of the inhabited islands, and the first to be reached via the boat. As it was a Sunday, we had hoped there would be less people; but that was completely wrong, and our boat was packed. People were everywhere on this 500+ passenger travel boat. We had heard that Kinaliada was nice for relaxing, we could walk around the entire island in less than a couple hours. So we brought our bathing suits, wore sneakers for a lot of walking, and exited with a lot of other passengers. Our plan was to visit Kinaliada, then later take the boat to Büyükada.


There are numerous bars and restaurants, along with places renting beach chairs and umbrellas, and on this hot and sunny day they were packed. So we started walking along the outer road around the island and as we went, fewer and fewer people accompanied us. It is nice that there are virtually no cars on the island (expect police vehicles); most people get around on scooters or golf carts. It is very peaceful and laid back. Our first stop was to use the restroom at a seaside bar that had many chairs and umbrellas to sit out under the sun.

As it was early in our walk around the island, we decided to continue on, to get a bit more exercise in before relaxing. So we walked up and down the quiet roads, seeing locals gardening, selling water, and grandparents watching their grandchildren ride small bikes and playing in the shade. We were treated to beautiful ocean and hillside views as we traversed the winding roads around the small island.

We were building up a hunger, and found a restaurant that had seating right next to the water; they provided excellent service, and we ate grilled seabass and lightly fried sardines along with fresh Greek salad and french fries (of course) while we felt the breeze and stared out into the sea. It was my favorite meal during our time in Istanbul.

Jesse at lunch

After filling our tummies, we continued walking around the island; passing some fancier and pricier seaside resorts, even one with a crystal clear pool; but we decided against swimming, as we also wanted to see Büyükada, and the time was flying by. So we walked the entire road around the island, eventually returning to the port. We walked down quiet streets lined with bright pink flowers, where sometimes we caught glimpses of the turquoise waters.

We found the ticket office for one of the other boat companies, and after confirming that we bought tickets for Büyükada, we (thought) were heading to Büyükada. Well, sometimes you get on the wrong boat, and we did; instead of Büyükada we were heading back to mainland Istanbul. Since it is more than an hour back, it was not possible to simply take another boat back to Büyükada. Although we were disappointed, we had the next day, a Monday, open, and while the weather was supposed to be overcast and rainy, we made plans to take the boat directly to Büyükada the next day. Kinaliada was no disappointment though, and we loved spending the sunny day on the island.

Büyükada port (and “our” boat)

The next day we took the boat straight to Büyükada; and since it was a Monday it was a much more relaxed boat ride, though the sun was obscured by clouds, that became a blessing once we arrived. Büyükada is the largest of the Princes’ islands, and it is recommended to rent bikes or scooters to travel around the island. The main path runs through the center of the island, culminating at the Aya Yorgi Greek Orthodox Church, on one of the island’s highest points.

Jesse and I did not think biking up hill would be as enjoyable as just walking, so after we ate a small breakfast near the port, we started the walk uphill. We walked up more streets lined with pretty flowers, and diverged the path leftward at a colonial multi-story building that Jesse likened to a courthouse.

The path we took goes by what is though to be the largest wooden structure in Europe, which used to be a Greek orphanage. Now is now abandoned, amongst pine and fir trees, and is very creepy; protected by walls and barbed wire, hearing and seeing the children of the groundskeeper playing inside the walls added to the effect.

As the breeze continued to keep it cool on this humid day, we were thankful for the lack of sun, and we proceeded downhill, to a large open space, with a restaurant and store at the base of the hill that led to the church. We stopped for a snack, some water and fresh squeezed orange juice (that was good but nowhere near as good as in Spain, Valencia oranges are the best).

Jesse before the uphill climb to the church

It is a steep walk uphill to the Holy Monastery of Saint George (slayer of the dragon) dating back to the 10th century; and lucky enough there are benches to rest on the way up; but it was easy to feel bad for our fellow tourists who were not prepared; wearing sandals, flip flops and heels, their discomfort was readily visible on their faces. But that changed once we all reached the top. We were even lucky enough to get a nice picture of us overlooking the sea below.

What tourists can view of the Monastery is small, but still impressive. The ceilings are painted, there are many different takes on the renowned figure of St. George slaying the dragon, which can be found all over Christendom (and we saw back in our trip to Leon, Spain).

There are also multiple artworks that are painted pictures of Jesus and Mary and other Christian figures with silver overlays, which are typical of Eastern Orthodox Churches (and we saw more on our next trip, to Athens); an example (not from the Church though, as we could not take pictures inside) is below.

Jesse and found a large flat rock overlooking the Sea of Marmara, where we sat and looked out for almost an hour. Able to relax and take in the scenery, and contemplate and live this moment in time, was really special. It even started drizzling, when the sun appeared, adding to the unforgettable moment (pictured at the top of this post).

Eventually we gave up our pristine spot and went back down the hill; not before taking a picture of the Orphanage from far off.

Still creepy

Once at the base of the hill again, we planned on taking one of the minibuses that get tourists around the island; but the line was too long and the seats limited, so there was little chance we would be able to take it without waiting more than an hour. We took a different path back toward the port, first looking to see if we could catch the minibus at an earlier stop. That did not work out, but the walk back allowed us the opportunity to view the main street with all the massive colonial-looking homes that we did not see on the path up.

The entrance gates were also quite impressive, but my favorite part we saw was the outdoor marble staircase (seen above). We stopped for some ice cream as we eventually arrived back at the port; it was still hopping, and we found a cafe to drink some tea as we waited for the boat to take us back to the mainland.

This was our last boat ride in Istanbul, and it was extra special pulling into the port at Kabataş; we were on the sea level, watching the waves, as the sun set behind clouds. It was awesome and a perfect end to our trips to the Princes’ Islands. If you have a day and want to get out of the city while visiting Istanbul, do not miss a visit to the islands. You will not regret it.

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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