The pine-forested and car-free Princes’ Islands (Kızıl Adalar or just Adalar) provide an oasis of peace and quite, making them an excellent destination to escape the hectic city life for a day.
Out of the nine islands that lie in front of Istanbul’s coast, only four can be visited: Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada, the biggest and most popular. Look for on the Map with Tourist Attractions beyond the City Center of Istanbul.
Where the chain of nine islands in the Marmara Sea was used as a place of exile in the past, these days they are a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites alike. During the Byzantine era, princes, deposed monarchs and other royalties as well as some public figures were exiled on the islands. A faith shared by some family members of the sultans after the Ottoman fleet conquered the islands during the siege of Constantinople in 1453.
However, in the second part of the 19th century, the islands gained in popularity with the inauguration of a regular steamboat service from Istanbul. Wealthy inhabitants of Istanbul, mainly non-Muslims of Greek, Armenian and Jewish origin, started to build exquisite Victorian (summer) houses and settled on the islands.
The islands still offer a glimpse of this ethnic cultural mix, although these days, the Turkish character is prevailing. Luckily the majority of the fine, wooden Victorian cottages still exist, making a horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or hiking tour around one of the islands a pleasant pastime.
When to visit the islands?
The islands are very popular during the summer, for various reasons. Some try to escape the heat of the city, others come to enjoy the beaches or gather to have a picnic in the forests. The best time to visit the islands is during spring or autumn, provided that the sea is not too rough for the ferries. If you can’t find a way around the summer, at least try to avoid the weekends, Sunday in particular.
There are some nice hotels on the islands, but make sure to book your room upfront. Also keep in mind that some hotels are closed in winter.
How to get to the Princes’ Islands?
By boat, that’s obvious. The trick is to pick the ferry that best suits your needs. For starters, the schedule is different in summer (mid June to mid September) and winter. It also depends whether it’s a weekday or weekend. Secondly, while most of the ferries stop at each island in turn, they sometimes only focus on one or two as well. And last but not least, you have to choose whether you prefer the quick or regular ferry.
Let’s assume you are residing in either the historical part of Istanbul (Sultanahmet) or the modern part of Istanbul (Taksim/Beyoğlu). Then you can take the quick ferry from Kabataş, which is close to Taksim. If it makes a stop at all the islands, the journey will last 55 minutes, and 10 minutes less when it only docks at Heybeliada and Büyükada. Regardless of the amount of stops, the fare is TL 7, TL 5,5 if you’re using akbil.
If you prefer the regular ferry, you can jump aboard in Kabataş or Kadıköy (on the Asian side). The longest journey is just under 1½ hours; the shortest with limited stops is 50 minutes. The fare is TL 2,8 or TL 2,6 depending whether or not you use akbil.
For the latest information on departure and arrival times, please consult the timetables of IDO (Istanbul sea busses and fast ferries).