12 Unmissable Things To Do In Princes’ Islands + Tips For Visiting

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Written By Louisa Smith

Co-Founder of The Turkey Traveler. Globetrotter, Adventurer, and Frequent Traveler to Turkey!

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From admiring the architecture of luxurious 19th century mansions to relaxing in pine tree forests or riding around by bicycle, there are many things to do on Princes’ Islands to make it a perfect day out.

The Princes’ Islands, also known as Adalar (the name of the district these islands belong to) are a series of 9 island (four main islands) that were once used as a point of exile for the wealthy and important during the Byzantine Empire. They were also used as holiday destinations for the Ottoman Empire, and are most well known for the 19th century mansions that occupy them.

Being within close proximity to Istanbul, accessed by a ferry from the city center, they are the perfect day trip (or weekend getaway) to take from Istanbul when the crowds and stresses of honking get too much.

If you’re not sure what to do on Princes’ Islands, how to get to them, or what they are all about, then this guide is for you. We’ve listed our favorite attractions and places to visit within the island chain so you can plan the perfect day out.

Planning a trip to Istanbul last-minute?

Make sure you book your tours, places to stay, and airport transfers ahead of time to ensure availability!

Here is our recommended airport transfer in Istanbul:

  1. Airport Shuttle From Istanbul Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gocken International Airport (SAW) (Super affordable!)

Here are our recommended tours in Istanbul:

  1. Luxury Bosphorus Cruise At Sunset (A must-do In Istanbul)
  2. Whirling Dervishes Show (Unique experience!)
  3. Historical Turkish Bath Experience
  4. Istanbul Food And Culture Tour

Here are our recommended places to stay in Istanbul:

  1. Magnuara Palace Hotel (Gorgeous hotel in the historic centre!)
  2. Pera Palace Hotel
  3. Cheers Hostel (Budget hostel near the Blue Mosque!)

What Are The Princes’ Islands?

Beautiful mansion on Büyükada

The Princes’ Islands, also known as Adalar, is an archipelago of Turkish islands just off the coast of Istanbul. There are nine islands in total within the Princes’ Islands chain, but visitors tend to only visit four of them because the other five are either deserted or have nothing to see.

The largest island is Büyükada (which means “Big Island” in Turkish), and was once used as a place of exile for the Byzantine expresses, Irene, Euphrosyne, Theophano, Zeo and Anna Dalassena, who were sent to a convent here.

It was also used as an exile point for Leon Trotsky, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1929 and spent four years on the island.

Although outcasts, these exiled VIPs lived in luxury. Before being used as an exile station, the island was a holiday destination for the wealthy and elite within the ottoman empire in the nineteenth century, and so many mansions and Victorian-era cottages were built – the perfect house arrest for Istanbul’s rogue elite class.

Houses on Heybeliada

The second largest island is Heybeliada Island, which is famous for being a summer hot-spot, with numerous open-air concerts and events being held in the summer months, drawing crowds from Istanbul. During this time, you can expect to see 30,000 visitors, whereas outside the summer time there are only around 4,400 inhabitants.

It’s also composed of beautiful 19th-century mansions, though there aren’t as many as on Buyukada.

Burgazada Island is the third largest island in the group and is famous for being the former home to short-story writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık. It has many luxury mansions and 19th century cottages, a relaxing waterfront, and a pine forested hill called Bayraktepe. You can see these unique pine trees on all the islands in The Princes’ Islands, which are unique to this island cluster.

Büyükada National Park

Kınalıada Island is the smallest of the four main islands and is most well known for its beaches, which wrap around most of the island. These beaches are clean, quiet, and quite small.

Another island in the chain is Sedef Island, which is made up of 108 private homes. Since it’s mostly privately owned, the general public can only visit a beach hamlet. Yassıada Island was another island where the Byzantines sent important people to exile. Today, the island belongs to Istanbul University’s department of Marine Life and Sea Products, for lessons and research and has a scuba diving school that tourists can visit.

Sivriada, Tavşan Adası and Kaşık Islands are the smallest islands in the group and are basically deserted.

What makes the Princes’ Islands unique is that motorized vehicles (other than service vehicles) are not allowed. The only way to get around is by walking, bicycle, or electric shuttle buses (they are basically golf carts). Until 2020, you could get around by horse-drawn carriage but this was shut down after concerns for the welfare of the horses.

Things To Do On The Princes Islands

Since The Princes’ Islands are made up of four main islands within the Adalar district, I’ve listed these ideas for what to do by each island. I have begun with Büyükada, which is the largest island and the most popular to visit.

After Buyukada, I have listed my favorite attractions in Heybeliada, followed by Burgazadası, and finally in Kınalıada.

I recommend you go to Büyükada first and then Heybeliada, as they are the larger islands with more to see and do, and if you have time, you can visit Burgazadası and Kınalıada after.

1. Admire the Former Mansions on Büyükada

Mizzi Mansion

The mansions on Büyükada are one of the top reasons to visit Princes’ Islands. They look as though they have been picked out of a fairytale and placed in this quiet island abode.

The island is dotted with many stunning mansions, many of which have been turned into boutique hotels or restaurants, and all tell stories of grandeur and heritage from the inception in the 19th century.

As mentioned earlier, Buyukada, along with the other islands in the Princes’ Islands chain, was used as a vacation spot for the wealthy and elite. One of the most famous mansions to see is the Mizzi Mansion, which perfectly captures what the island’s cosmopolitan past would have looked like.

It was built by architect D’Arono who collaborated with artists from Italy to build this mansion for the Sultan and other senior managers of the palace.

It was named after a famous attorney and astronomy lover, Lewis Mizzi, who used to lock himself in the tower with his telescope for hours on end.

In fact, many other astronomers used to come here to use the tower to watch the night sky. Astronomer Evgenios Andoniadis, founder of the British Astronomical Association, used to watch the craters of Mars from this tower. Before then, the craters on Mars were thought to have been valleys, so it was this building that helped scientists identify them as craters and not valleys!

Adalar Adliyesi Courthouse

Another important landmark is the Adalar Adliyesi Courthouse, which sits just a few steps away from Mizzi Mansion.

This majestic building exudes a sense of authority and history, and its imposing presence make it one of the most interesting mansions on the island.

Just walking around the island you’ll find many mansions of all sizes and styles. It’s fun to just walk around, take them all in, and see which one is your favorite!

This is my favorite, which I believe is just someone’s home…

Mansion on Buyukada

2. Hike up to St George Church (Aya Yorgi Church) on Büyükada

Outside St George Church

Located at the very top of Buyukada is St. George Church, also known as Aya Yorgi Church. This historic church is thought to date back to 963 AD, during the Byzantine era.

The inside of the church is decorated with stunning artwork and religious objects. You cannot take photos inside the church, but you should still enter to feel its tranquility and reverence – it’s one of the most beautiful churches in Istanbul!

The church gets its name from the holy icon of St George that was believed to be a gifted to the monastery that the church is part of by Empress Irene of Athens, who also renovated the nunnery on the island.

The monastery has a turbulent past. It was deserted in 1204 due to the atrocities of Christian Crusaders, who attacked the Imperial City, and in 1302, it was attacked by pirates which left much of the buildings and monastery destroyed by fires.

It’s said that when pirates attacked, the monks took the icon of St George and buried it, covering it with the Holy Alter of the monastery’s church, to attempt to stop it from being robbed. It’s believed that it’s still there, buried under the stone.

It’s important to note that the walk up to the church is only 750 meters, but it’s steep. You don’t need to be athletic to make it to the top, just take lots of breaks and go slow.

3. Get An Ice-Cream by Iskele Meydani (Büyükada)

Iskele Meydani

Iskele Meydani is a square close to the pier when you exit the ferry. It’s famous for its clock tower, which sits in the center of the square.

However, it’s not the clock tower that makes this square a vibrant hub of activity. It’s also surrounded by cafes, shops and restaurants, and is a great place to pick up a Turkish ice cream or lite bite to eat before you explore the rest of the island.

Most of the restaurants on the island line the waterfront, and their incredible view tends to inflate the prices, so I recommend you head to one of the restaurants around Iskele Meydani for a cheaper price, but still a delicious meal.

4. Get Cultured at Museum the Princes’ Islands (Büyükada)

If you want to learn more about the Princes’ Islands, the early inhabitants and its uses, then you might consider visiting The Museum of the Islands, which is the first contemporary museum in Istanbul that tells the story of the Islands past.

It’s only a small museum, but it’s well curated, with hundreds of objects, photographs, films and documents. The museum actually contains 20,000 documents, but don’t worry, you don’t have to read it all!

5. Hike Around Büyükada National Park

Map of trails around Büyükada National Park

I mentioned earlier that the Princes’ Islands are famous for their landscape, which is made up of pine and wild olive trees. This landscape is unique to the chain of islands, so it wouldn’t be right to visit and not go out and see them?

Büyükada National Park covers at least half, if not most, of Büyükada. You can rent bikes from by the pier and cycle the blue route (pictured above) around the park, or you can walk around the red route which takes you along a paved road through the forest.

There are several places where you can stop and admire the views, unpack a picnic, or just enjoy the quietness of nature.

6. Relax at Askilar Nostalji Cafe (Büyükada)

Askilar Nostalji Cafe (Büyükada)
Askilar Nostalji Cafe

If you have chosen to walk around the island, you may be feeling like you need a refreshment by the time you reach Askilar Nostalji Cafe, and what a lovely place to stop for a drink!

This cute cafe is a quaint, outdoor cafe made up of mismatched outdoor furniture, swings, and lawn chairs. It’s sheltered under the canopies of the pine trees and has a lovely view looking down into the bay.

You can get cold drinks such as sodas, or a warm cup of cai or coffee.

7. See The Mermaid Sculpture by Feryal Taneri on Büyükada

Mermaid Sculpture by Feryal Taneri

Feryal Taneri is a Turkish artist and sculptor who has a career spanning more than 40 years, and has been featured in many world-renown galleries and exhibits, including Gallery Gaswerk in Germany, HLS Gallery in London and Marziart Internationale Gallery in Hamburg.

She created the mermaid statue on Buyukada in 2014 as part of the Island Art Platform event, which she then donated to the people of the island.

You can see the mermaid statue sitting on a rock along the promenade of Buyukada.

8. Check out the Theological School in Heybeliada

Theological School Entrance
Theological School Classroom

The Theological School of Halki, also known as Halki seminary, sits at the top of Hill of Hope, and has a lovely garden overlooking the Sea of Marmaris.

The school was once operated by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and was founded by Patriarch Germanos IV in October 1844, after he took over the site from the monastery that sat there before it.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which was founded by Patriarch Photius I, sat on the same site for over 1,000 years before the school took over. All the buildings, apart from the chapel, were destroyed in an earthquake in 1894 and were rebuilt in 1896.

Theological School Gardens in Heybeliada

The school, in its prime, had seven grades, and featured dormitories, an infirmary, a hospice, offices, classrooms, a school library, and of course, the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

In 1971, the Turkish government banned private higher education institutions and so it was closed down. It’s believed there were 990 graduates from the school in total, who would have gone on to become priests, bishops, archbishops and patriarchs.

Today, you can visit the school and walk around the gardens, chapel, and former classrooms. It’s free to enter, but do make sure you get there early as it closes early (opening times 9.00 AM–12.30 PM). Sadly, they were closing when I visited so I couldn’t go in the chapel, but they let me have a quick walk through the classrooms!

9. Take the Kids to the Aqua Park on Heybeliada

Aqua Park on Heybeliada

If you’re visiting Istanbul with kids, and it’s peak summer time, then you’re going to want to cool off at Cevahir Aqua Heybeliada. There’s an impressive array of waterslides, outdoor pools, and a private beach with a jellyfish net so you can swim in the ocean safely.

There are shallow pools for little kids and inflatables you can rent, and slides ranging from small and child friendly to adrenaline pumping!

There is a restaurant on site, but the food isn’t great, so it’s best to pack a picnic if you can!

10. Step Back In Time at Inonu House Museum (Heybeliada)

Inonu House Museum

İsmet İnönü House once belonged to former prime minister İsmet Pasha, who was prime minister during the 3rd government of Turkey.

The house was built in the 19th century, and was once called Mavromatis Mansion, and was rented by Ismet Pasha and his family in 1924, who used it as their summer residence.

In 1934, he bought the house and received a handful of donated furniture from Ataturk, the most famous president in Turkish history!

When Ismet resigned in 1937, he moved to Heybeliada where he resided for most of his life. He died on Christmas Day, 1973, and it was decided his house would be turned into a museum to document his life. It contains the original furniture and Ismet’s possessions.

11. Visit Sait Faik Abasıyanık Museum (Burgazadası)

Boat in the harbor at Burgazadası

There are not too many attractions on Burgazadasi to see. It’s mostly just a quaint island with a quiet promenade and slow pace of life.

However, there is one place on the island you should add to your Princes’ Island itinerary; Sait Faik Abasıyanık Museum.

This house museum is where writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık lived, and contains objects, photographs, letters and postcards that tell the story of the famous writer’s life. It’s one of the most visited house museums in Istanbul!

After Sait Faik’s father died, he lived in the house with his mother during winters and summers, before moving their permenantly for the last 10 years of his life. After he died, his mother wanted the house to become a museum dedicated to her son.

The museum is free to visit, but is only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 10.30am and 5.00pm.

12. Relax on the Beach at Kınalıada

Beach at Kınalıada

Kınalıada is the smallest of the four islands and is so tiny and quaint, you could walk around it in half an hour. You’ll notice as you pull in on the ferry that there is a quiet, narrow beach that sits on either side of the pier.

If you’re feeling like Istanbul is a bit overwhelming, then this is the perfect beach to retreat to with a book and a cold beverage.

There are other beaches on the island, which are a bit more remote and secluded, but the beach by the pier is my favorite on the island because it’s near to the cafes and restaurants.

Read more: The Best Beaches in Istanbul

How To Get To The Princes Islands

The Princes’ Islands are a popular destination to visit in Istanbul and so fortunately, they are very easy to get to by ferry.

You can get a ferry to any of the four main islands from either Eminonu, Kabatas or Beskitas on the European side, or Kadakoy or Moda on the Asian side.

The ferries are all connected on one route and visit each of the four main Princes’ Islands, starting from the smallest Kınalıada, and finishing at Buyukada.

A typical route would be Kabatas > Kadakoy or Moda > Kınalıada > Burgazadası > Heybeliada > Buyukada > Maltepe

The final destination is usually Maltepe, but most signs will be displayed with “Maltepe/Adalar” in the ferry terminal. You need to board through the gate marked “ADALAR”. If you get stuck, there are usually security staff at the pier who speak English and can direct you where to go.

There are fewer ferries departing from Eminou or Beskitas. If you’re staying on the Asian side, I recommend you go via Kabatas as there are frequent ferries from there.

Kabatas Pier Entrance
Kabatas Pier Entrance
Istanbulkart Machines in Kabatas

To get the ferry, you must purchase an Istanbulkart, or a single Princes’ Island ticket from the Istanbulkart machines. These machines take contactless payment card, so no need to worry about using your cash for this.

You can see the machines pictured above. There are machines like this available at every ferry pier.

As of March 2024, the price of a ticket to The Princes’ Island from Kabatas is 57,94 for a return, or 34,74 for a single. Due to the fluctuating exchange rate, this price may differ when you visit, so make sure to check the current prices by checking here.

The time table for Kabatas to Princes’ Islands are as follows:

Ferry Times from Kabatas, Eminou, and Kadikoy to Princes’ Islands

From Kabatas, it takes about 1 hour to reach Kınalıada, the smallest island in the group. To get to Buyukada, the largest island, it takes about 1 hour 45 minutes.

The ferry is huge and has both indoor and outdoor seating. Many people like to sit outside to admire the views, but note that it gets very windy and cold, so you may want to wrap up warm and be sure to keep an eye on your kids.

The ferry also has a cafe selling hot drinks, chocolate bars and other snacks. You may also see someone walking around selling simmit and other street food snacks.

Ferry to Princes’ Islands

When returning back to Istanbul city center, be sure to check the direction carefully as you don’t want to go to Maltepe!

A ferry back to Istanbul usually departs every 30 minutes or so. It will either go straight to Moda or Kadakoy (usually Kadakoy) before arriving at Beskitas or Kabatas (they are 5 minutes walk from each other, so I recommend you get onboard either of them), OR if you are departing from Buyukada, it might go back to all the other Princes’ Islands before returning to Kadakoy and Kabatas.

It usually takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get back to Istanbul, so do factor this in when you plan your day.

Tips for Visiting The Princes Islands

To make the most of your trip, here are some words of advice about visiting The Princes’ Islands. These are things we wish we knew before we went, so we hope you find these tips useful…

  • AVOID WEEKENDS. Oh my word, I have never seen crowds anywhere in Istanbul as large as the ones at the ferry to Princes’ Islands on a Saturday. If you can, try to avoid Fridays and Saturdays (Friday is the Holy day in Istanbul, not Sunday).
The weekend crowds boarding the boat to Princes’ Islands at 11.00am
  • Get up early. If you want to see more than one island on a day trip, you’re going to want to get up early and catch the ferry at 9.00am at the latest, as this will give you enough time to explore 2-3 islands. This is especially the case if you visit Istanbul on Fridays and Saturdays, as this way you can try to avoid the crowds which tend to show up around 11.00am.
  • Don’t try to visit every island in one day. It takes about 1 hour to reach the first island in the Princes’ Islands from the city center of Istanbul, and the ferry times between islands are roughly every 30 minutes, so you might find that you’re standing around waiting for ferries all day. Realistically, visiting two islands should be enough.
  • Data signal is poor on the islands. You might want to download Google Maps or MapsMe before you go, as data is poor on the islands and frequently cut out. I found that the maps weren’t working for me on Heybeliada. Fortunately, it’s a small island so you’re unlikely to get lost.
  • Wear comfy walking shoes. The best way to get around the islands is by walking or by hiring a bicycle. There are shuttle buses (electric golf carts) that take you around, but you will find walking much easier than standing around waiting for these shuttles to come.
Jellyfish spotted from the pier
  • Be wary of jellyfish. If you want to visit one of the beaches on the Princes’ Islands, then be aware there may be jellyfish. In recent years, jellyfish have become a bit of a nuisance in the Bosphorus, and they come close to land in the Princes’ Island. You can see them from the ferry as you pull into the pier!
  • Carry cash. There are shops, supermarkets, restaurants and cafes on the Princes’ Islands and most of them accept card, however, ATMs are few and far between, so it’s a good idea to bring some cash just in case you need it.
  • Get to the ferry pier early! Istanbul’s public transport is efficient, and the ferries will leave on time and they will not wait for you!

Map Of These Princes’ Islands Attractions

To help you plan your visit, here is a map of these attractions and their locations on the islands to you can get from A to B.

Before You Go

So there you have it, those are the Princes’ Islands! As you can see, there is a lot to see and do on the four main islands, and will be an action-packed day trip!

Before you go, I just have one last tip. If you have time, I do recommend you split up visiting these islands over two days. You could easily explore Buyukada and Heybeliada in one day, stay on Heybeliada, and then visit Büyükada and Kınalıada on the second day.

This would be the perfect way to see these islands as you can spread out the attractions, take it more leisurely, and experience what these islands are best known for – calmness.

I hope this guide helped you plan your trip and gave you some inspiration for what to do! They really are some of the most beautiful places in Istanbul to explore.

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