We believe the best islands in Turkey are highly underrated and deserve more praise. Whilst some are remote and feature little or no signs of habitation, others boast of historical sites, mountain biking trails, ottoman wooden villas, hills covered with olive trees and stunning beaches.
Reached by sea bus ferries, regular boat trips or multi-day yacht tours, each Turkish Island is worth getting to know. Some are perfect for relaxing days out. Others boast island villas offering seclusion and luxury living, selling for millions of pounds. From the lesser known Bodrum Orak island, or Izmir Kalem Island, exploring them all would take many years. So, this article outlines the best Turkish islands to visit first and what to expect when you get there.
11 of The Best Islands in Turkey
Avsa Island - Island of Sun, Sea, and Sand
Avsa island, in the Southern Marmara Sea, covers roughly 14 square kilometres and was used to exile people during the Byzantine era. Officially belonging to the Balikesir province of north-western Turkey, Avsa's small population of roughly 2000 people enjoy quiet winters. However, Avsa comes alive in summer, as many locals from Istanbul flock here for weekend trips.
Domestic tourism has significantly boosted the Island's profile, yet very few foreigners head in this direction. Avsa sits south of the larger Marmara Island and west of Pasalimanli Island, which, despite being Turkey's fourth largest Island, only has roughly 1000 people living there. These three islands all belong to the Marmara Archipelago group.
Bozcaada Island - Wine and Culture in Turkey
In the Northeast Aegean Sea, Bozcaada officially belongs to the Canakkale province. Covering 15 square miles, Bozcaada is Turkey's third-largest Island. Roughly 3000 people live there, but once again, tourists dramatically raise local population counts during summer. Bozcaada earns fame for three main reasons. First, the fishing industry has led to many seaside restaurants serving catch of the day and seafood dishes like squid or prawns.
Wine production is also big business; many tourists sign up for wine-tasting sessions or vineyard tours. Lastly, it is a popular weekend getaway for locals of Istanbul. Sitting at the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait, many empires have taken control of Bozcaada over the centuries. No villages exist here. Just one main town centre. Still, Bozcaada maintains that exclusive and idyllic getaway status.
Cunda Island in The Aegean Sea of Turkey
Cunda Island, also called Alibey Island, was once known as Moschonisia, the Island of the Musk. The Island was an important centre for the Orthodox Church and olive oil and soap production. The economy was based on agriculture, fishing, and trade, but today mainly revolves around tourism. The nearest airport, Izmir, is about 3 hours away. If coming from Istanbul, fly to Izmir or head to Ayvalik, the nearest town, to catch the ferry.
The old town's narrow streets, whitewashed houses, and colourful bougainvillaea eventually lead to Taksiyarhis Church. Another popular attraction is sandy Ayazma Beach, surrounded by pine trees with stunning island views. For more beaches, head to either Sarimsakli or Kaplica. Must-try dishes include grilled octopus, stuffed mussels, and the famous Cunda breakfast, which consists of local cheeses, olives, honey, and bread. Stay in the Island's old town to be close to attractions and immerse yourself in local culture. Cunda International Music Festival, held every year in July, attracts musicians and artists and features several music genres, from classical to jazz and rock. Another famous festival is the Olive Harvest Festival, every November, to celebrate the rich olive oil production.
Marmara Island Near Istanbul - Turkey
Balikesir Marmara Island is the largest archipelago island, covering 117 square kilometres. The rugged coastline, with steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings, gives way to crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches. While the Mediterranean climate gives way to hot summers during which strong winds attract windsurfers and kiteboarders.
Marmara Island offers several activities, from relaxing on beaches to exploring local attractions. Beautiful beaches include Sazli Beach, Kumsal Beach, and Yalı Beach. In addition, Marmara Island features several hiking trails through lush forests and past stunning vistas. Marmara Island Nature Park Trail is a popular trail that offers spectacular sea and island views.
Sedir Island in Southwest Turkey
Urban legends say Mark Anthony gifted Sedir island to his lover, Queen Cleopatra, to symbolise their love. They often met there, and Cleopatra also imported sand from Egypt for Antony. Apart from its association with Queen Cleopatra, Sedir Island dates back to the Carian civilisation, which flourished around 2000 BC.
Sedir in the Gulf of Gokova, off the coast of the Mugla province, is roughly 18 kilometres from Marmaris town and can be reached by boat. The soft and powdery sand is believed to have therapeutic properties. Sedir is unique in many ways, but two features set it apart from other destinations in Turkey: Cleopatra's Beach and the historic ruins of Cedrai. The ruins provide fascinating glimpses into ancient Carian civilisations.
Kekova Island: Peaceful Getaways in the Mediterranean Sea
Kekova island, on the southern coast of Turkey, sits opposite the nearby harbour village of Simena and is famous for the underwater wonderland sunken city of the same name. Once home to the Lycian people, Kekova island was also strategic for many empires, including the Romans and Byzantines. Unfortunately, the Sunken city ruins beneath the water were destroyed by 2nd-century earthquakes, causing the city to sink into the sea.
Today, visitors take boat tours to explore underwater ruins, which include ancient streets, houses, and public buildings. Get there by boat trips which depart from nearby towns like Kas or Demre. Ideally visited anytime from April to October, Kekova island is not home to any major hotels or resorts, so look to nearby towns like Kas or Demre, which offer more hotels and apartments. More reasons to visit Kekova and Simena.
Princes’ Islands in Turkey
Nestled in the Marmara Sea lies nine islands called the Princes Islands. Once famous for the Ottoman Empire's elite and wealthy, the Island's charm and tranquillity attract many tourists. Each Island has a unique character, from verdant forests and horse-drawn carriages of Buyukada to the quiet beaches and the unspoiled nature of Burgazada. The history dates from Byzantine rule when political prisoners were exiled here.
Later, during Ottoman times, wealthy and elite people lived here. The Ottoman sultans and their families-built summer residences, and the islands symbolised wealth and luxury. During the 20th century, Istanbul's middle class started heading here. Ferries head to the islands from several points in Istanbul, including Kabatas, Besiktas, and Kadikoy. The ferry ride takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours. Otherwise, sign up for private boat tours through tour companies in Istanbul or directly with local boat owners.
Buyukada, the largest and most popular Island, boasts historic mansions, picturesque streets, and horse-drawn carriages. Also, visit the Byzantine-era Monastery of St. George. Heybeliada is the second largest Island covered in pine forests and has several beaches, including the famous Kumsal beach. Burgazada, the third largest Island, features the 6th-century Byzantine-era Church of St. John the Baptist, one of Istanbul's oldest churches. Finally, Kinaliada features the historic Greek Orthodox Transfiguration Church.
Akdamar Island in Turkey
Although a small island, Akdamar in Lake Van in Eastern Turkey earns fame for the Holy Cross Church. The Island, called initially Aghtamar, which means " fish island " in Armenian, was inhabited by Armenians for centuries. Armenian King Gagik I built the 10th-century Holy Cross Church to symbolise the Armenian people's devotion to Christianity.
Decorated with intricate carvings and stone reliefs that depict scenes from the Bible and Armenian history, the church's architecture also symbolises Armenian history. The church, constructed of volcanic tuff stone, features a unique cross-shaped floor plan.
The frescoes, painted by the Armenian artist Manuel, are fine examples of Armenian art. The church also features a 16-rib dome, which symbolises the apostles of Christ. Access the Island by boat from nearby Gevas town, 20 kilometres away. The best visiting time is during summer for warm weather. Still, in winter, blankets of snow fall over the picturesque Island.
Nicholas Island in the Mediterranean Sea
Nicholas Island also known as Gemiler Island is fascinating. Nicholas Island is named after the famous bishop who inspired the legend of Santa Claus. The Island features stunning Byzantine ruins, including a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. According to legend, St. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara and spent his childhood here.
The 4th century AD church is dedicated to St. Nicholas. The island is near the popular tourist destination of Fethiye, making them easily accessible for anyone looking to explore Turkey's rich history and breath-taking scenery. One main attraction of Gemiler Island is the St. Nicholas church, a monastery, and a cemetery. Read more about this delightful island in Turkey.
Pigeon Island in Kusadasi
Welcome to the stunning Pigeon Island in Kusadasi. Pigeon Island boasts breathtaking panoramic views of surrounding turquoise waters and the town's picturesque harbour. Also called bird island or Guvercin Adasi in Turkish, history dates from Byzantine times when they monitored and protected the harbour from here. Later, during Ottoman rule, bird island was a quarantine station for ships arriving from distant lands.
The Ottomans later restored the 6th-century castle built by the Byzantines. The Island's ancient castle ruins and charming lighthouse can be explored year-round, making it an ideal spot for history buffs and photography enthusiasts. Kusadasi also features nearby attractions, including Ephesus, the Virgin Mary's House and Adaland Aquapark. More about Kusadasi in Turkey.
Luxury Living on Sovalye Island
Sovalye Island in Fethiye reflects what life off the grid should look like. With no cars or roads, this quiet, peaceful spot in Mediterranean Turkey attracts tourists looking for a daily retreat and house hunters who want exclusivity. Although near Fethiye Town, Sovalye might as well be another world entirely.
Walking from end to end takes less than an hour while canoeing around the Island takes an hour. Given the small amount of land and exclusive ambience, villas on Sovalye sell for top money. And it is understandable when you have fantastic sea views on your doorstep. You can reach Sovalye from Fethiye via water taxis that travel daily during summer. The final return trip is at 7 p.m.
Near the drop-off point, the main beach has a few sun beds and shaded areas with a small fee to pay. Other beaches are accessible but more minor and stonier and don't have facilities. As a result, Sovalye has become a haven for Fethiye property buyers seeking privacy and seafront homes in Fethiye. It's not difficult to see why. Just minutes from Fethiye Town, the Island is the ultimate private getaway. More about Sovalye island in Turkey.
We are Property Turkey, and with offices all over the country including Istanbul, Bodrum, Antalya and Fethiye, we enjoy spreading the word to future travellers and house hunters. Turkey is a marvellous country, in which many foreigners have purchased holiday homes, or live here permanently. Find out more by reading our blog about Turkey, so you have more places to see after exploring the best islands.
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