The four pearls of Istanbul

Located close to Istanbul and lining the Marmara coast like a string of pearls, the Prince Islands are among the destinations most visited not only by Istanbulites, but also by tourists.

In the summer months, the residents of Istanbul head to the Prince Islands to escape the crowds and enjoy some fresh air and rest. Why are these islands collectively called the Prince Islands? Because the princes who were involved in too much intrigue during the Byzantine Empire were exiled here, thus the name was coined. The favourite islands are Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinaliada but which one is the most beautiful? Since each island has a story of its own, you should decide for yourself. Let us give you some information to help you make up your mind…

The biggest is Buyukada

As its name implies – it means Big Island – Buyukada is the largest of all and the last stop of the ferry boats that leave Istanbul. There is not a single motor vehicle on the island, which covers some six square kilometres, and the only means of transportation are horse-drawn carriages and bicycles.

Among the landmarks of Buyukada are its four mosques, the most prominent of which is the Hamidiye mosque built by Abdulahi II. At the highest point on the island lies the Church of Hagia Giorgi and its monastery.

One of the most enjoyable things to do there is have a picnic. Great places to settle down and eat al fresco include the cape of Deil Borne or Yorukali beach. Of course, swimming is an option in the summer but don’t forget that many beaches on the Prince Islands have no sand, so if you’re looking for a sandy beach, head to Hagia Nicholas. If you’re not a water baby, hiking in the woods can be just as refreshing as a cool breeze on hot summer days.

Densely wooded Heybeliada

The Pearl Islands are connected via ferries, so let’s go to the next one: Heybeliada. It was so named because it looks like a saddlebag left on the ground. With four hills and four harbours, Heybeliada has Turkey’s first sanatorium, the Heybeliada Sanatorium. When you get off the ferry at the pier and walk on to the island, you’ll see horse-drawn carriages offering either a grand tour or a mini tour. A tour around the island in one of these nostalgic carriages is a truly visual feast.

If you prefer walking, you can stroll around the whole island by following the shoreline, and you can continue to walk in the red pine woods and enjoy a picnic. Make sure you don’t miss the historic mill while walking through the woods. When you return to the seafront, there is nothing better than sitting down at one of the tea gardens and enjoying a cup of refreshing tea in the soft breeze while listening to the ships blowing their horns. It’s truly relaxing.

Romantic literary Burgazada

Burgazada will greet you with its seagulls, horse-drawn carriages, cats and dogs and this island is one of the best places to find peace and relaxation away from the crowds. The home of the late Sait Fail Agbayani (1906–1954), one of the giants of Turkish literature, is also here and has been converted into a museum. It’s not surprising that a major theme of his works was the ocean.

It wouldn’t be wrong to call this island “one of the best” given its shoreline, pine woods, and lovely restored mansions. There is a spectacular view at Kalpazankaya, the only hilltop restaurant in Burgazada, where you can choose to feast on a variety of delicious seafood or other traditional Turkish dishes. Alternatively, you can enjoy an outdoor party in the Paradise Garden (Bennet Aches in Turkish) while walking down the hill. And if you’d like to have some tea, a refreshing lemonade, a light breakfast or dessert, the place you shouldn’t miss is the Ergin Pastry Shop on the sea front. It’s famous for its strawberry and sour cherry custard slices, so make sure you don’t leave without sampling one!

Kinaliada: small but fun

If you’ve boarded on the European side, the first island the ferry will dock at is the cute Kinaliada, one of the smallest islands in Istanbul. As it’s a bit rocky, there’s not much wooded terrain here, but its peaceful atmosphere will win you over. Hiking on Kinaliada will not tire you too much as it takes only about 20 minutes to cover the entire seafront. Bear in mind though that it’s the only island without any horse-drawn carriages due to its small size and steep slopes.

Make sure you visit one of the ice cream shops when on the island, and while enjoying your delicious treat you can also watch passengers board and disembark at the ferry dock.

HOW TO GET THERE?

You can get to the Princes Islands by taking IDO’s (İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri) speedy ferries that leave from the piers at Bosanko, Kabatas and Kadikoy, or cruise there on a boat line.