The Islands of Istanbul
Like all major cities, İstanbul is always busy.

For those who dislike the din and rush of the metropolis the ideal escape is provided by the islands of the Sea of Marmara. There are regular ferry services to all the inhabited islands. After an earthquake, a mountain range was inundated by the Sea of Marmara leaving only the highest peaks above sea level which formed a set of islands called Prince Islands. Their silhouette can be seen from many parts of İstanbul. If you are really curious about them you cannot satisfy your curiosity by watching from afar. You can access them via one of the boats departing regularly to the islands. Once you discover the peaceful life style, the quiet and calm of the islands, the clean streets and unspoilt nature there, you will find returning to the city very difficult.

The islands form a row in the Sea of Marmara. The easternmost island is the smallest, and called Sedef Adası (Mother-of-Pearl Island), then comes Büyükada (Large Island), Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island), Burgazada and Kınalıada (Henna Island). Each island has its own special charm, and their popularity is directly related to their size. Ferries drop by each of them in the following order: first Kınalıada, then Burgazada, Heybeliada, and lastly Büyükada.

The regular ferry service departs for Prince Islands from Sirkeci, Kadıköy, Kabataş, Bostancı and Kartal piers, and the sea-bus catamarans depart from Kabataş, Sirkeci and Bostancı.

Kınalıada: Kınalıada is the first stop for ferries departing from İstanbul. Generally not many disembark there, as the favoured destination is Büyükada, but there is a lot to see on this island which cannot be found in the other islands.

Although there are fewer historical buildings and fewer panoramic views, during the summer months especially the island is more tranquil than the other islands and it has more beaches. So if you enjoy the sea and sun, disembark here and explore Kınalıada.

Burgazada: Burgazada is to the west of Heybeliada and the second stop after Kınalıada. It is the third largest of the Prince Islands. The most popular place in the island is the Bayrak Tepesi (Flag Hill), which has a panoramic view. Like the other islands Burgazada is secluded and was occupied in the past by ascetics and monks. On the summit of Bayrak Tepesi is the ruin of Christos monastery from the 9th century.

The island is a preferred place for literary and art luminaries due to its unique location and magnificent natural scenery, albeit being a second to Büyükada. One of its most famous inhabitants was the Turkish writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık. The mansion house in which the author died in 1954 serves today as the Museum of Sait Faik Abasıyanık. Opposite the museum is the Ayios Ioannis (St John the Baptist) Church, which is believed to date from the Byzantine Period.

Heybeliada: Heybeliada is the third stop for ferries coming from İstanbul, and the second largest island after Büyükada. It has more greenery than the other islands, and all areas excluding the settlements are forests. That is why it is the preferred spot for picnicking. The most favoured spot is the Değirmen Point, which is frequented by picknickers. As on all the islands, you can hire bikes to travel around or take a horse and cart ride. Its beaches are quieter than those of the other islands. On the highest point of the island is a monastery, Aya Triada (Holy Trinity). Special permission is required to visit the inside, but if you climb the hill you can at least enjoy the view.

Büyükada: Büyükada is the most popular and largest island of İstanbul. Its beauty is striking once you disembark at the Büyükada Pier. The building shows features of late Ottoman architecture and its dome, arched façade decorated with tiles, and stained-glass windows make it one of the finest examples of its kind. Take some time to visit the inside of the pier building before rushing out to explore the island. It is a kind of marine museum, with documents, models, old photos related to seafaring on permanent display. There is a café on the top floor where you can enjoy the seascape with a cup of tea or a cold drink.

After leaving the pier building you follow the road straight to the tower clock located in a square which is surrounded with timber mansion houses and kiosks. You can take a horse and cart ride from here to your destination or hire a bike since there is no motor vehicle on the island. Horse carts are ideal to explore the streets of Büyükada or to tour the island. Mimosa and thousands of other species of shrubs and flowers adorn the road sides, so bike tours are also very popular.

On the main streets the mansion houses, which are currently used as bars or hotels, are adorned with flower gardens which have become symbols of the island. The best examples can be seen in the Nizam neighbourhood. Other historical buildings are monasteries and churches. The Christos Monastery is one of the most popular sites in Büyükada. The Old Greek Orphanage situated next to the monastery is one of the largest timber buildings in the world.

The most visited spot of Büyükada has also the best view at the highest point of the island. This is the Aya Yorgi Church. The steep hill is very difficult to climb, but the scenery and view improves as you ascend. According to an ancient belief, if a person climbs there barefoot, then his or her wishes will be fulfilled. Another way to achieve your wishes is to tie coloured rags to the trees lining the road, or to tie a piece of thread at one end of the slope and the other at the top – without breaking it. These methods may not appear realistic to you, but many people have brought gifts to the church as a thank you present: these are on permanent display in a glass cabinet inside the Aya Yorgi Church.

Büyükada and love are inseparable, and on the Lovers Hill you will see many couples escaping from the city, walking hand in hand.

With its many remarkable features, the island is so rejuvenating that, before you realise it, the time comes to take the return ferry. If you come on a day trip you can watch the best sunset of Büyükada at the pier or at Dilburnu during your last minutes on the island. Behind Heybeliada the city lights of İstanbul become clearly visible and the enchanting views capture your attention for hours.

Transport: Sea-bus catamarans as well as classical ferries departing from Kadıköy, Bostancı, and Kabataş piers provide regular services to the island. Some trips are direct, some stop at other islands. If you do not want to stay overnight the last boat departs to Bostancı at 00.30 hours.