If someone asked me what is the one thing travelers should definitely do in Istanbul, I would advise them to go to the Prince Islands, simply known as Adalar (islands from Turkish). The islands in the Sea of Marmara are famous for being a place of exile for Byzantine nobles, members of Ottoman sultans’ families, and even for one Soviet politician Leon Trotsky. Of course, all these people were used to some specific standards of living, so it is obvious they did not spend their lives in shacks and hovels. No, they lived in magnificent mansions with amazing views.
The most famous island of the archipelago is Büyükada (big island from Turkish): it gets the biggest number of locals and tourists, and it is the one that we visited. But before I go to describing our trip, here is some practical information.
How to get to the Prince Islands
There are several companies that operate routes from Istanbul to the Islands. We took the ferry of Dentur Avrasya from the Kabataş pier: you can check their timetable and prices here. Another company is Şehir Hatları, more info on routes and prices is here.
How to get around the Prince Islands
Vehicles are prohibited on Büyükada, so there are no cars, no buses, no taxis. Tourists and locals walk, rent bikes or horse carriages. The distances are huge, so if you are not sure you can manage it, better rent a bike.
When it comes to horse carriages, it is problematic: you will notice that the horses are not always treated well, so you will have to make a hard decision here. In any case, if you choose to get a horse carriage, there are two tours popular among tourists: short and long tour. The long one takes you around the whole island, and the short one takes you from the pier to the Lunapark Square (from where you can go up to Aya Yorgi monastery) and back to the pier.
I couldn’t find a website in English with prices for 2017, so here is one in Turkish: the price for the short tour is 67 TRY, and for the long one is 79 TRY in summer. Keep in mind that the prices are fixed by the municipality, and are per carriage not per passenger. Also they mention that you would have to pay additional 5 TRY for every 15 minutes of wait.
What to do on the Prince Islands
So, let’s get back to the story. As I mentioned already we took the ferry from Kabataş. Make sure to come at least 20-25 minutes earlier, especially in high season, to get yourself a nice seat: the Prince Islands are very popular among locals, so usually it is very crowded. We did not know that, and even when the ferry arrived to the pier, we did not hurry to get in and had to sit in the middle row. A tip: on your way to the Prince Islands try to get yourself a seat at the board on the side that will face the Asian part of Istanbul: the views are just gorgeous! You will see the bridges, the Dolmabahce Palace, the Maiden’s Tower, etc.
When we finally took our seats, we were really surprised to see that almost all the passengers were locals, so avoid going to the islands on weekends.
Depending on the route, the ferry will stop at other piers, but our destination was Büyükada, where all the passengers get off. Being totally unprepared, because we did not really research the places of interest, we had no idea where to go! So here comes another wise tip: follow the crowd! It took us to a nice street with cafes and food stalls, so if you are hungry, stop here for a bite 🙂 Their ice cream is yummy!
We spent several minutes there before heading to probably the main street on Büyükada – Çankaya Caddesi where we saw the horse carriages. We did not take one, we decided to walk, as it is the best way to admire the nature and mansions of the island. I have to say it was a great idea, especially in my case because I like to photograph everything 🙂
Our plan was to get up the hill to Aya Yorgi monastery, so we headed to the Lunapark square along Çankaya Caddesi. It was very hot, so that ice cream stall on the way was really helpful. If you think our walk was boring, just take a look at these gorgeous mansions we passed by:
It took us about an hour to get to the foot hill, and we were really tired. It wasn’t because of the distance we covered, no, it was the heat. And can you imagine the looks on our faces when we understood that we had to yet take a long and steep road up to get to the monastery? I was ready to turn back, but it was not the time to give up, so we began our ascent. I thought that the hill had no top, and that the road led to nowhere, I cursed the moment I decided to come there because the heat became unbearable. Shades were rare, no benches to have rest. But there was one moment that somehow cheered up everyone. Just in front of us there were 3 girls, who obviously were extremely tired as well. I guess one of them couldn’t bear it anymore and yelled: ‘Where is that f…ing monastery?’. Let me tell you that everyone on that road could relate to this cry from the heart!
But when we finally arrived to the top, I understood that the view from above was worth every effort and every curse. If you ask me, I would do that walk again in a heartbeat!
The church itself is quite small, but there is a wish box inside: you have to write your wish on a piece of paper and throw it into the box (bring your own pen and paper). Another way to make a wish is to tie a band to a tree on the top.
On the adjacent hill there are the remains of the Greek orphanage or Rum Yetimhanesi.
Initially it was to become a hotel and casino, but sultan Abdul Hamid II was against that idea, and the building was bought by a Greek banker’s wife who placed it in the Patriarchate of Constantinople service. The latter opened an orphanage there. Now it is in decay, but is still considered the biggest wooden building in Europe. We saw it only from the hill, we had no idea what it was, and decided it was not worth our attention.
How to get back to the pier
On our way back to the pier we took Oltaci street from the square and walked along the road with magnificent pine trees.
It leads to another amazing street – Yılmaz Türk – with beautiful mansions. If you are afraid that you might get lost, follow the carriages: this road is part of their short tour. Somewhere on our way to the pier we turned to a side street and walked to the shore.
Closer to the pier we passed by the fish restaurants, but they were too expensive for our budget, so we headed to the ferry. I have to say that we arrived just in time: the pier was crowded, so we quickly bought tickets and boarded. The ferry departed around 5 PM, and I am glad we took it because we saw the most amazing sunset on our way!
And here is my another tip: if you think that you might see the sunset, this time get yourself a seat on the side that faces the sea and not the Asian part of Istanbul. This way you will enjoy a great view.
And something else: there are beaches on Büyükada, but they charge entrance fee. One of them – Aya Nicola beach – is on the above mentioned Yılmaz Türk street. If you want to have bath time, take Adalar instead of Oltaci street (it will be on your right when you descend from the hill).
And my conclusion: Büyükada is spectacular! The lush greenery, colorful flowers, cute houses, blue sea make the archipelago a perfect place to live. My final thought when we were leaving the island was: ‘This is the place I would like to live when I retire’ 🙂
Do you have any tips on places to see on the island or things to do?
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