All you need to know about the Princes’ Islands in Istanbul.

A day trip to the Princes’ Islands is one of the most popular experiences and top things to do when visiting Istanbul. The stunning natural scenery of the islands offers the ideal setting to escape Istanbul’s hustle and bustle while enjoying the nature, beaches and fresh air of the islands to the fullest.

In this guide, you will find the most important information about the Princes’ Islands, including ferry schedules, how to get there and where to stay. Read also about things to do, top attractions and the history of the Princes’ Islands.

Let’s start with an overview of all Princes’ Islands!

What are the Princes’ Islands?

The Princes’ Islands (in Turkish called “Adalar”) are a group of islands that lie 20 km southeast of the Bosphorus in the Sea of Marmara. The archipelago off the coast of Istanbul belongs to the Istanbul Province and consists of nine islands, four of which are inhabited. The total population is around 15,000.

History of the Princes’ Islands

In antiquity, the Princes’ Islands were called Demonsia (People’s Islands). Even at that time, the Princes’ Islands were considered a summer resort and were visited by Greek, Jewish and Armenian traders from Pera, today’s Beyoğlu.

The current name “Princes’ Islands” dates back to the 6th century, when Emperor Justinian I had his nephew Justin II build a palace on the largest island. Thus, the island was popularly called the Island of the Prince or Prince Island. Later, the whole island group was called Prince Islands or Princes’ Islands, as many princes and their children were banned here.

However, not only during the Byzantine Empire, but also during the Ottoman period, princes were exiled to the islands off the coast of Istanbul. Until the reign of Sultan Mehmet III, it was common for the sultan’s sons to kill each other in order to ascend the throne. Later, the princes were sentenced to life imprisonment or exiled to the “Princes’ Islands”. The Princes Islands were also used as a monastery region.

Today, four of the nine Prince Islands are inhabited. The two largest Prince Islands, Büyükada and Heybeliada, have become very popular excursion and weekend destinations for locals and tourists alike.

See below a brief overview of all 9 Princes’ Islands:

1. Büyükada

Büyükada (“Big Island” in Turkish) is the largest of the Princes’ Island with an area of 5.4 km² and the administrative center of the Adalar district. It is also the most popular one. Its highest hill is Yücetepe with 203 meters. The population of the island is approx 7499.

2. Heybeliada

Heybeliada is with 2.34 km ² and 4158 inhabitants the second largest Princes’ Island. It is also the greenest of the inhabited Princes’ Islands. Heybeliada has become a popular alternative to the popular Büyükada.

3. Burgazada

Covering an area of 1.5 square kilometers, Burgazada or “Fortress Island” is the third largest Princes’ Island. Its highest point is at Bayraktepe at 170 meters. Around 1455 people live here.

4. Kınalıada

Kınalıada is the closest Princes’ Island to Istanbul. It is the fourth largest and the most densely populated Princes’ Island. The highest point of the forest-poor island is Çınartepe at 115 meters.

5. Sedef Ada

Sedef Ada means Mother-of-Pearl Island. Covering an area of 0.157 km², it is one of the smallest Princes’ Island. There is no settlement on Sedef Ada. The island has strict building regulations to protect the nature and environment of the Sedef Ada.

6. Yassıada

Yassiada is known as a great spot for amateur divers as well as scuba diving. The island was renamed Democracy and Freedom Island because it was the place where the late Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his companions had put on trial in the 27 May 1960 military coup. There is the 27 May Museum, a hotel, a convention center and a mosque on the island.

7. Sivriada

Sivriada (“Sharp Island”) is another one of the not inhabited Princes’ Islands. There is still some evidence of the rich past, such as a Byzantine monastery from the 9th century and remains of a Roman settlement.

8. Tavşan Ada

With an area of 40 hectares, this one is the smallest of the Princes’ Islands. Tavşan Ada, meaning Rabbit Island, is not inhabited. Ruins of a 9th century monastery can be found on the island.

9. Kaşıkada

This small island is situated between Heybeliada and Burgazada. There is no settlement on the second-smallest of the Princes’ Islands

What to do in Princes’ Islands?

The Princes’ Islands are famous for their idyllic nature and the fact that motorized cars are banned here. The only vehicles allowed on the islands are official vehicles such as police, fire brigade and ambulance as well as some electric vehicles.

That is why the Princes’ Islands offer the ideal setting for a getaway to nature and a peaceful break. Take a long walk or go hiking through the beautiful landscape and simply enjoy the silence and tranquility. You will be mesmerized by the breathtaking views that await you at almost every corner of the island.

One of the most popular things to do in the Princes’ Islands is swimming. There are many great beaches for swimming and sunbathing. Water temperatures reach 20 to 24 degrees Celsius during the months of June to September.

Since the Princes’ Islands have many sights and attractions to offer, you can do some sightseeing. Once, many wealthy Greeks, Jews and Armenians as well as Turkish intellectuals lived on the four inhabited Princes’ Islands, and their traces can still be found everywhere. Discover them along with old villas and charming churches.

Another popular activity is renting a bike. Explore the beautiful treasures of the islands while cycling along the quiet streets and trails lined with pine forests or wooden mansions. This is a great way to take in the nature and sights of the Princes’ Islands.

What to do in Büyükada?

As the largest of the Princes’ Islands, Büyükada boasts the most attractions and activities. The best way to get around the island is on foot, by bicycle or, since recently, by electric car, which has replaced horse-drawn carriages on the initiative of animal rights activists.

See below some of Büyükada’s highlights not to be missed.

  • Aya Yorgi Church & Yücetepe: Don’t miss the Greek Orthodox Aya Yorgi (St. George/Hagios Georgios) Church with magnificent and icons on the top of Yücetepe, which is 203 meter high, and offers stunning views of the Sea of Marmara and Istanbul’s Asian side.
  • Wooden mansions: Büyükada is scattered with Victorian-era mansions, which are still well preserved and dominate the islands’ cityscape. You can find one of the most beautiful one at the main street, Çanjaya Street.
  • Old Center: Stroll through the old center and stone streets lined with bougenvilla. Discover the island square, an early 20th century clock tower, many shops and more.
  • Merkez Ezcanesi: This old pharmacy dating back to 1870, called Merkez Ezcanesi, is one of the main attractions.
  • Trotsky House: One of the most famous sights is the ruins of Trotsky’s old villa at Hamlacı Street 4. The Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky lived in exile on the island from 1929 to 1933.
  • Greek Orthodox Orphanage: The former Greek Orphanage Prinkipo, built in 1898, is the largest wooden structure in Europe and the second largest in the world. Although it is one of the top sights of Büyükada, it is currently in danger of collapse.
  • Churches: There are many beautiful churches on the island, such as the Greek Orthodox Churches of Agios Dimitrios and Panagia, the Greek Orthodox Hristos Monastery, the Roman Catholic Church of San Pacifico and the Armenian Catholic Church of Surp Asdvadzadzin.
  • Hamidiye Mosque: This mosque with its unique architecture was built at the end of the 19th century. It features Turkish elements combined with dominant neo-classical and empire style ornaments.
  • Museums: The Adalar Müzesi is a child friendly museum dedicated to the history of the Princes’ Islands.
  • Beaches: The many public beaches (halk plajı) as well as beach clubs of Büyükada are the ideal place for swimming. Popular spots are Yorukali and Naki Bey beaches.
  • Nature: Relax in the pristine nature of the island. There are also two nature parks, Büyükada and Dilburnu. A great spot for hiking is the path up to Yücetepe hill with Aya Yorgi Church.
  • Restaurants: Before returning to the ferry dock, stop at one of the fish restaurants at the harbor for a delicious meal.

Büyükada is quite popular all year around but during the summer months it can get quite crowded. If you are looking for a quieter time, the next island could be the one for you.

What to do in Heybeliada?

This Princes’ Island, known as the island of the Greek and Turkish upper class of Constantinople, captivates with its quiet, green and lush nature. Like its neighboring island, there are no cars here.

Below you will find the top sights of Heybeliada:

  • Aya Triada Monastery: Nested between two hills, Aya Triada served as a monastery, a convent, a girls’ school, an orphanage, and a theological college.
  • Churches: Discover the island’s lovely churches, such as the Greek Orthodox Church of Aya Nikola from 1857 or the last church built by the Byzantines, the Panagia Kamariotissa Church dating back to 1341.
  • Places of worship: Bet Yaakov Synagogue and Heybeliada Mosque are other places of worship worth seeing.
  • Halki Institute: Another popular attraction is the Halki Institute of Orthodox Theology built in the11th century.
  • Nature: Being the greenest inhabited island, Heybeliada is packed with serene spots to enjoy the beauty of nature. Pine forests and the Değirmenburnu Nature Park invite for a peaceful nature walk.
  • Wooden residences: You can find many stylish 19-th century villas that line the streets.
  • Beach: Heybeliada has wonderful beaches surrounded by forests, such as Değirmenburnu beach or Aqua Gren Beach Club. You can choose between public beaches and beach clubs.
  • Museum: Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar Museum is dedicated to Turkish novelist Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar.
  • Restaurants & Cafés: Dine at one of the many restaurants along the harbor or relax in a café.
  • Bike Tour: One of the top things to do is renting a bicycle and embarking on a sightseeing tour by bike.

How to get to the Princes’ Islands and back to Istanbul?

The 4 inhabited Princes’ Islands are relatively easy to reach as there are boats to Princes’ Islands that approach them daily from the European and Asian side.

Departure Point: Ferries depart from Kabataş, Eminönü, Beşiktaş as well as Kadıköy and Bostancı. One of the best departure points for tourists is the conveniently located Kabataş pier. From here, it takes between 75 and 90 minutes to get to Büyükada.

You can choose between following ferries and boats:

  • Public Ferry: The public ferries that depart regularly to the Princes’ Islands are operated by Şehir Hatları. They are the cheapest option and offer the most commutes. Since this type of ferry is part of public transport, you can pay with Istanbulkart. You can find the ferry schedule and ferry price of Şehir Hatları on the official website.
  • Sea Bus: Sea Buses, catamaran-type ferries, are another option. They are operated by IDO and also depart from Kabataş. Sea Buses are faster than public ferries but run at irregular times. For the up-to-date ferry timetable and prices of the Sea Buses, please check the official website of IDO.
  • Private Boat: Our partner Istanbul Welcome Card offers round-trip tickets to Princes’ Islands with fast track entry on boat. The ticket also includes an- Bosphorus audio guide in 10 languages which will entertain you during your 75-minute scenic cruise. The boats feature an open air deck and a kiosk with refreshments. Departure point is Dentur Kabataş Pier. Check the official Istanbul Welcome Card shop to see departure times, price and other details, and secure your seat on the boat now.