If you need an escape from the hustle and bustle in Istanbul, then the Pinces’ Islands are the ideal place for a peaceful getaway. These tranquil islands that are known for beautiful mansions and horse-drawn carriages contrast with the loud and hectic city life in Istanbul. I headed to one of the Princes’ Islands with no plan at all and it ended up being the best way to enjoy my day trip.
The Princes’ Islands consist of nine rather small islands that are located about 20 km southeast of Istanbul. However, only the biggest four islands are actually inhabited: Büyükada, Heybeliada, Kinaliada and Burgaz. The biggest and most popular of these islands is Büyükada, which translates to ‘big island’.
Hearing the name of the islands for the first time, got me wondering. A little research then revealed that during the Byzantine and Ottoman era, members of the royal family were sent to the islands as a place of exile, if they misbehaved. At that time, the islands were considered to be far away, so that there was no way to come back. Hence, it was called the Princes’ Islands!
All motorized vehicles are banned on the islands (except for some service vehicles), which make these places so peaceful and relaxing. The locals use horse-drawn carriages as their main means of transportation. Additionally, you can rent bicycles or reach everything by foot.
One thing that you will notice when walking around the hilly island are the beautiful wooden mansions. I couldn’t take my eyes off of these dream houses and had to snap countless photos. These old villas were built in the 19th century, when the islands became a fashionable getaway for wealthy people from Istanbul. Aren’t they stunning?!
Büyükada is heavily wooded with pine trees, which contribute to the fresh air on the island. While walking through the pine forest, I stumbled across some horses, sheeps, cows and goats that were peacefully enjoying the perks of this natural paradise.
In the middle of the forest you will spot a huge, decaying (and really creepy-looking) wooden mansions, which used to be a Greek orphanage and is the largest wooden building in Europe.
What else is there to experience? Besides taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, exploring the pine forest and gazing at the lovely houses, there are a few beaches that are open during the summer. So be sure to take your swimsuit with you! Another fun summer activity is to have a picnic at a scenic spot. To have the best view over the Marmara Sea, the surrounding islands and a peak of Istanbul, go up the steep hill, where you will find a Greek monastery on top.
How to get there
The islands are easy and cheap to reach from Istanbul. There are two different ferry companies that both depart from Kabatas (on the European side), which is easily accessible by public transportation. The so-called ‘fast ferries’ operated by IDO take about one hour to an hour and a half and usually do not stop at every island. The regular ferries by Sehir Hatlari are slower due to the amount of stops they make along the way. If you want to catch a ferry from the Asian side, then you need to head to Kadiköy or Bostanci. The departure time and the frequency depend on the season and the weather conditions. If you are not staying overnight on the island, remember to check when the last ferry will take you back to Istanbul.
Over to you: Have you been to the Princes’ Islands or are you planning to go?