Nestled in the Marmara Sea, just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, lie the Princes' Islands, the perfect place to avoid the summer heat. Consisting of nine idyllic islands, this enchanting archipelago offers refreshing retreats from city life and portrays snippets of Istanbul's multicultural society. Steeped in history, adorned with charming Ottoman era mansions, and surrounded by lush greenery, the Princes' Islands' history is nothing short of colourful ranging from a military coup, Alexander the Great, a Greek orphanage, and famous people.
As the ferry approaches the Princes' Islands, the first striking aspect is their unspoiled natural beauty. Each island boasts unique landscapes, blending dense pine forests with vibrant gardens and scenic hillsides to relieve refreshing summer heat. The absence of cars and motorised vehicles enhances the islands' reputation as popular resorts allowing visitors to explore on foot, by bicycle, or in traditional horse-drawn carriages, known as "faytons." Meandering pathways lined with colourful flowers, charming wooden houses, and breathtaking sea views beckon to discover the wonders that lie ahead.
About the Princes Islands in Istanbul
The Istanbul Residence in Exile
The history dates from ancient periods and perfectly portrays multicultural society through the ages. They were initially known as the "Princes' Islands" because they were used as a place of exile or as inhabited islands for Byzantine princes. The islands were a secure location for political exile during the Byzantine period.
During the Byzantine period, the Princes' Islands summer houses were a popular getaway for the Byzantine aristocracy, offering retreats from bustling Constantinople (now Istanbul). The islands' luxurious mansions and monasteries still stand today are a testament to this era. The monasteries on these islands became centres of learning and spirituality, attracting monks and scholars from all over the Byzantine Empire.
In the 19th century, as Istanbul became crowded, the Princes' Islands gained popularity as a summer resort for the Ottoman nobility and wealthy European residents. Summer houses and villas were built, blending Ottoman and European architectural styles. The inhabited islands symbolised affluence and luxury.
Before the Ottoman Empire was disbanded in the early 20th century, the islands became a notable exile place for intellectuals, political dissidents, and opponents. Today, the Princes' Islands are a popular trip, especially during summer. The island's summer houses have maintained their charm and beauty over the years, attracting tourists looking to escape the summer heat with the joy of experiencing Istanbul’s multicultural facade.
Day Trip to Buyukada Island
Buyukada Island, or Prinkipos, is the largest of nine Princes' Islands off the coast of Istanbul. Buyukada's destinations for day trips are the most popular in the Sea of Marmara. One key attraction of Buyukada is its serene and picturesque environment. Motorised vehicles are also prohibited. The island is dotted with beautiful Ottoman mansions and wooden houses, displaying architectural charm from the past. Many historic buildings have been converted into boutique hotels or restaurants, immersing visitors in the island's rich history.
Buyukada has several landmarks and museums worth exploring. One such landmark is the Buyukada Greek Orphanage, the largest wooden building in Europe. The orphanage is now in the process of being restored. Additionally, a treasure that belonged to Alexander, the Great's father, was found here. Overall, Buyukada offers serene retreats with scenic beauty, historic charm, and a relaxing atmosphere; it has become famous for locals and tourists seeking peaceful getaways. Whether it's exploring the island's historic buildings, enjoying the beautiful beaches, or indulging in delicious seafood, enjoy Buyukada.
Heybeliada, the second largest island in the Princes Islands, is the perfect destination for day trips in summer. With vibrant cultures and abundant historical attractions, the main attraction here is the Holy Trinity Church, built by British architect William Adam during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid I. This exquisite building serves as a reminder of Heybeliada's unique multicultural society - a blend of Greek and Turkish influences throughout this charming island. Strolling through Heybeliada's historic streets will bring you face-to-face with several other notable buildings.
Burgazada is the third largest island in the Princes' Islands, and it's easy to understand why it's so prevalent in summer. Not only does this picturesque island boast stunning natural beauty, but it is also full of history. In the 6th century BC, Alexander the Great made his first foray into Europe. Fast-forward two millennia, and Burgazada still has exciting stories to tell. Adnan Menderes, the former Prime Minister of Turkey, was born in Burgazada before his political career took off and a military coup forced him from office. Adnan Menderes became highly respected in later years after the military coup, further boosting his birthplace's profile. Today, people visit historic churches and stroll through cobblestone pathways lined with quaint wooden houses.
The fourth largest Island, Kinaliada, is known for its exceptional beauty and peaceful atmosphere. A favourite destination for day trippers, Kinaliada offers plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained. In addition to its stunning natural landscape, people visit the ruins of several Byzantine churches and monasteries and a 16th-century Ottoman castle. After sightseeing, relax at fish restaurants or stroll along the picturesque waterfront promenade.
The smallest Island, Sedef Ada, once nicknamed "The Jewel of the Sea" by former Greek residents, is full of surprises. Despite being home to fewer than 1,000 people, Sedef Ada has plenty of history. Explore cobblestone streets lined with charming wooden houses and sample traditional Turkish cuisine at local restaurants. With its stunning views and tranquil atmosphere, Sedef provides an ideal escape from the mainland.
Aya Yorgi Church on Buyukada
By far, the biggest attraction, Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery, also known as the Hagios Georgios Church and Monastery, is a historical and religious site in Buyukada and a favourite location for day-trippers. The hilltop church and monastery offer stunning views. The site is the most significant landmark in Buyukada and attracts tourists and religious pilgrims.
The 6th-century Aya Yorgi Church is dedicated to Saint George, the patron saint of Buyukada. It is renowned for its Byzantine architecture and houses several exquisite religious artefacts. The church features a traditional cross-in-square design with a central dome and four arms forming a cross shape. Adjacent to the historical building, the Aya Yorgi Monastery provides peaceful retreats. The monastery complex includes living quarters, a chapel, a library, and a courtyard. The serene atmosphere and beautiful surroundings make the building popular for those seeking solitude and spiritual reflection.
One significant tradition associated with the Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery is the Aya Yorgi Festival, which takes place on April 23rd each year. Devout Christians and local residents climb the hill as part of a pilgrimage. It is believed that walking to the top and making a wish brings good luck and fulfils desires. Visitors to the Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery enjoy panoramic views from the hilltop and experience the surrounding nature. The site offers glimpses into the rich religious and cultural heritage and reminds everyone of Istanbul's Byzantine past.
Summer Retreat for Ottoman Royalty
For several reasons, the Princes Islands served as a popular summer retreat for Ottoman royalty. The Princes Islands offered cooler climates compared to Istanbul's hot and humid summers. The islands, surrounded by the sea, prompted refreshing sea breezes and cooler environments. With limited motor vehicles, the absence of noise and pollution also created tranquil settings for Ottoman royalty to relax and unwind.
The islands offered secure environments for Ottoman royalty. Access was restricted, and only authorised individuals were allowed entry, ensuring privacy and safety. The Ottoman royalty could enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, surrounded by beautiful gardens and forests. The island's various recreational activities included horseback riding, cycling, and walking. Ottoman royalty could engage in these activities to relax and keep fit while enjoying the scenic beauty.
The islands featured luxurious mansions and palaces custom-built for Ottoman royalty. These grand properties offered lavish accommodations and amenities, ensuring luxurious retreats for the royal family. Many of the buildings still stand today.
Ottoman Architecture and Summer Homes on the Princes Islands
The Princes Islands have several examples of Ottoman architecture that showcase the grandeur and beauty of summer home traditions in Istanbul. These houses typically feature wooden frames, traditional Ottoman-style windows, and decorative details like wooden shutters and balconies. Preserving and protecting these architectural gems is crucial to maintaining the historical and cultural identity and providing future generations with tangible links. Hence there has been a strict building code since around the mid-20th century.
Given the profile and history, owners have summer homes and escape the summer heat these days. Although notable people have lived there all year round. So, how much do summer homes on the Princes Islands cost? Given their historical status and unique profile, summer homes are not on the budget side. The high demand but low supply further makes these summer homes iconic real estate in Turkey.
How to get to the Princes Islands
Regular ferry services depart from both Istanbul and Bursa, with journey times ranging from 1 - 2 hours depending. The ferry docks are located along the coast of Istanbul, including Kabatas, Eminonu, and Bostanci. These terminals are well-connected to public transportation networks, including metro, tram, and bus lines.
Several ferry companies operate services, including IDO (Istanbul Sea Buses), Turyol, and Dentur Avrasya. Check their websites or visit the ferry terminals for information on departure times and fares.
The Princes' Islands consist of multiple islands, with the most popular ones being Buyukada, Heybeliada, and Burgazada. Decide which island(s) to visit and check the ferry schedules to ensure there are departures to your desired destination. Buyukada is usually the most frequented and has more frequent ferry services.
Once you have chosen the ferry services company and the island, head to ticket booths at the ferry terminals. Arrive early during peak tourist seasons to avoid delays or potential queues. Comfortable ferries are equipped with seating areas, outdoor decks, and sometimes refreshments. Enjoy the scenic journey across the Marmara Sea as you approach the Princes' Islands. After disembarking the ferry services at your chosen destination, start your exploration.
Getting Around on Service Vehicles
In previous decades, the Princes islands were criticised because of horse-driven carriages. Since motor vehicles were banned, day-trippers used to get around via horse-driven carriages, but animal rights activities campaigned to stop this. Since 2020, electric cars have been used instead. People hop onboard the service vehicles at various points, and many agree that electric cars are much better than horse-driven carriages.
Can you Visit the Princes Islands in Winter?
People sometimes ask us if it is worth visiting in winter. While the ferries and service vehicles operate all year round, it is worth remembering that Istanbul's winters get cold. On occasions, there is even snow. So, while you can visit in winter, the Princes Islands are best experienced from Spring to Autumn.
More Reading About Istanbul
Istanbul Area Guide: We are Property Turkey, and our Istanbul agents have expert, local knowledge and experience of the Istanbul area. They have put the most critical information into this area guide that will be useful for house hunters who want to get to know the city better.
Bosphorus Mansions: Although summer homes on the Princes islands of Istanbul are expensive, there is one place where house prices are even higher: the Bosphorus. The iconic waterway dividing Istanbul into the European and Asian sides and the Ottoman mansions lining the shores are Turkey's most expensive real estate market.
The Marmara Sea: The Princes Islands sit in the Marmara Sea, which also fronts the mainland city of Istanbul. As you embark on the ferry to head to the Princes Islands, this is the sea you will cross, so here are some interesting facts and figures about this sea in Istanbul.
With panoramic views heading out across the sea and natural surroundings of Koyunbaba, these stone-built villas are found in Gumusluk area of Bodrum and are just a few minutes away from daily amenities.
These luxury-designed villas are for sale in Yalikavak area of Bodrum and are just five minutes away from the famous Marina for sailing opportunities – ideal for families and living in Turkey all year round.
Belview Istanbul available at bargain prices not to miss out on, these designer apartments can be purchased in sizes ranging from one – three bedrooms with duplexes and normal floor residences to choose from on the Anatolian side in Dragos.
State of the art project located at the seafront in Yalikavak just minutes away from a private beach area and five minutes away from Yalikavak Marina – this is arguably the best complex currently available in Bodrum.