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Travel Istanbul Day Trip to the Princes Islands


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The Princes’ Islands are a chain of nine small islands that lie off the coast of Istanbul. They have been used since Byzantine times as a place of exile for politicians, revolutionaries and royalty. Besides their dark past, the Islands are unique as no private motorized vehicles are allowed, getting around is done by horse drawn carriage, bicycle or on your own two feet. The Islands peaceful setting, lack of traffic and laid back atmosphere make them an excellent day trip from Istanbul.

Who were the Princes?

During the Byzantine era and the Ottoman Empire, troublesome princes were exiled to these Islands to be blinded or even executed, lending the islands their present name. During the 19th century, with the introduction of a ferry service, the islands became a popular summer resort for Istanbul's wealthy. Victorian era wooden cottages and houses are preserved on the largest of the islands.

Getting There

Most ferries call in turn at the four largest of the nine islands: Kinali Ada, Burgaz Ada, Heybeli Ada and finally Buyuk Ada. In the summer months, ferries make the 90 minute journey six to ten times a day from Kabatas, the last stop on the Tramway line, (look for the jetty labeled ‘Adalar'). All islands have interesting points, but Buyuk Ada is the most popular with visitors. The water is clean and it's possible to swim at all the islands during the summer months.

In spring and autumn the islands are quieter and more pleasant, although the sea can be rough in late autumn and winter.

Kinali Ada

Kinali Ada (meaning “Henna Island") is the nearest island to the European side of Istanbul (about an hour by ferry from Kabatas). This was the island most used as a place of exile in Byzantine times. This is one of the least forested islands, and the land has a reddish color, (hence the name), from the iron and copper that has been mined here.

Burgaz Ada

Burgaz Ada is the third largest of the Islands, a single hill 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) across. Demetrius I of Macedon, one of the successors of Alexander the Great, built a fort here. Today the island is generally known by the Turks simply as “Burgaz" (Turkish for “fort"). In 2003 Burgaz suffered a forest fire, losing 4 square kilometers (2.5 square miles) of woodland.

Heybeli Ada

Heybeli Ada is the second largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara. The large Naval Cadet School overlooks the jetty to the left as you get off the ferry. There are two interesting pieces of architecture on the grounds of the school. One is Kamariotissa, the only remaining Byzantine church on the island and the last church to be built before the conquest of Constantinople. The other is the grave of the second English Ambassador to be sent to Constantinople by Elizabeth I of England, Edward Barton, who chose to live on Heybeli to escape the bustle of the city.

To the right of the jetty lies the town with its bars and cafes, a hotel that stays open all year round, and many lovely wooden houses. At the top of the central mountain is an 11th-century Greek Orthodox monastery. It housed the main Greek Orthodox seminary in Turkey and Theological Seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The monastery attracts visitors from all over Greece and Turkey.

The winter population of the island is around 3,000, but in the summer, the owners of the summer houses return and the population swells to 10,000 people.

Buyuk Ada

Buyuk Ada (Big Island) is the largest of the nine islands. The monastery on Buyuk Ada was the place of exile for three Byzantine empresses - Irene, Theophano, and Zoe. After his deportation from the Soviet Union in February 1929, Leon Trotsky also stayed for four years on Buyuk Ada, his first station in exile.

To the Left of the jetty you'll find bars, cafes, hotels and seafood restaurants. Beware of the prices here! Ask carefully about prices before you order and insist on paying before they scoop your ice cream. Better yet, pack a picnic lunch and stroll along the shore where some of the most charming wooden houses are located.

There are several historical buildings on Buyuk Ada, such as the Ayia Yorgi Church and Monastery dating back to the 6th century, the Ayios Dimitrios Church, and the Hamidiye Mosque.

Visitors can tour the island by horse and buggy. The buggy will take you near the top of Ayia Yorgi. It's an easy climb to Ayia Yorgi Church and Monastery. The Greek Style church features a few relics and some lovely icon paintings. The cafe on the grounds is a lovely place to enjoy a tea or coffee while looking out over the Marmara Sea at the other Islands.

Go to for more holiday ideas, inside tips, and time and money-saving strategies! We specialize in personalized getaways to Turkey and Greece with options to fit everyone's budget. Contact us and together we'll create a tailor-made itinerary that fits your family's interests, pace and pocketbook!


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