Prince Islands: Paradise begins 20 kilometres south of the Bosporus
On weekends, thousands of the locals in Istanbul make their way to the nine Prince Islands.
This makes it one of the most popular excursion destinations in the city.
After all, they are one of the few opportunities to enjoy nature, parks and beautiful sandy beaches on the Marmara Sea near the 15 million inhabitants.
In this blog post, I tell you about my ferry trip from the Bosporus to the Prince Islands.
With a ferry from Istanbul to the Prince Island of Büyükada:
Sandy beaches, horse-drawn carriages and a Greek monastery …
You can get to the Prince Islands by ferries from the Bosporus. On the European side, they moor at the Kabatas landing point (final stop T1 tram).
On the Asian side, the ferries coming from Kabatas dock next to the Haydarpasa train station. From there, it goes straight to the first Prince Island.
The ships can accommodate a little more than 1,000 passengers on three decks. You can pay for your ticket with the Istanbul Kart.
Be there at least 15 minutes before the ferries depart. Otherwise you will no longer find a seat.
I just managed to get a seat on the top right. From there, you have a perfect view of the Dolmabahce Palace, the Galata Bridge, the Topkapi Palace and many other interesting places in Istanbul.
The ferries only really fill up on the Asian side. In Kadiköy they moor again at the Haydarpasa train station. If you get on there, you will at most find a place to sit on the floor or on a staircase.
After the Haydarpasa train station, the ferry sails straight out of the Bosporus into the Sea of Marmara. From this point on, seagulls accompany the ferries. They only fly 2-3 meters above the upper deck. Sometimes they get so close that you can reach out your hand to them.
By the way, the seagulls’ trust is because of the locals. They like to buy a Simit (“The Turkish Pretzel”) on the ships to feed the birds. The seagulls are pretty good at playing along. Thrown pieces of bread are usually caught in mid-air.
Kinali is the first island you can reach from the Bosporus. It is one of the smaller Prince Islands. Its coast is characterised by white beach villas and narrow sandy beaches in the harbour.
I think the houses next to the harbour are particularly beautiful. From the beach of Kinali you can still see sights such as Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. Nevertheless, away from the hustle and bustle in the city centre, you can lie comfortably on a beach lounger in the sun.
From Kinali, the ferries head for two other islands: Heybeliada and Burgazada.
Arrival in Büyükada: restaurants at the harbour, horse-drawn carriages and a Greek monastery on the peninsula
The journey from Istanbul-Kabatas to the port of Büyükada takes a total of 90 minutes. The journey time goes by quickly because of the great views and entertainment on the ferries, such as the seagulls and musicians. Once in a while, however, I checked my watch.
The trip to Büyükada pays off completely. As soon as you see the white wooden houses in the harbour, the restaurants and beaches, the travel time on the ferries is completely forgotten.
You can stay in some of the old wooden villas. Prices correspond with their exclusivity. Many of the beach villas on Büyükada have been bought up by Istanbul’s High Society.
I made my way directly from the port to the Greek monastery on the tip of the island.
It’s easy to find the monastery. Look towards Istanbul from the port. From there you can see a hill with a tower at the end of the island. That is where you have to go.
You can also just follow the horse-drawn carriages and cyclists from the port. They all drive towards the monastery.
By the way, cars are banned on Büyükada with the exception of emergency vehicles.
I decided to walk to the monastery myself. This takes 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your speed.
The first half hour, the path leads pleasantly to the foot of the hill where the monastery stands.
The road takes you past old beach villas and wooden houses. Then it leads you along the coast, the beaches and through a forest to your final destination.
Along the way, there is a typical Turkish park with barbecue facilities. This shouldn’t be lacking for any weekend getaway destination. For many Turks, an excursion is not complete without a barbecue.
The Greek monastery is located at the highest point of the Prince Island of Buyukada.
The end of the street from the harbour is a place with souvenir shops, a restaurant and the final stop for the carriages. The rest of the way is too steep for the horses.
This is the only point from which you can get lost. You have to go up the steep path behind the restaurant on the hill with the tower. Do not take the winding road in the direction you came from!
The last few meters up to the top of the hill are quite steep. Fortunately, there are always comfortable park benches to take a break. You should definitely take a water bottle with you on hot days.
The monastery itself can only be seen at the very end of the path. It is not on the top of the hill with the tower, but on a hill behind.
It consists of a church with a small museum, residential building and the associated restaurant with a unique panoramic terrace.
You can visit the monastery museum for free. Inside, you will find the typical interior of a Greek Orthodox Church. In addition, there are glass showcases with liturgical objects and some pictures. In total, you can spend 15 to 30 minutes doing this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos. That is expressly forbidden.
The view from the guest garden of Istanbul, the sea and the surrounding islands
If it were only because of the church alone, I would not recommend a trip to the Princes’ Islands. The monastery restaurant is more interesting.
The outdoor dining area of the restaurant extends around the entire tip of the island. For me, it’s the best part of the hike to the monastery. The view of the Sea of Marmara, the Princes’ Islands and Istanbul is simply great from above.
The prices in the restaurant also do not correspond to the usual tourist attractions in Istanbul. The little things to eat are also quite cheap.
You won’t see a lot of tourists in the outdoor dining area. Most of the guests are from Istanbul. Despite being marketed by Istanbul’s tour operators, the Princes’ Islands are still mostly owned by the locals. I think that it’s a good thing.
Be sure to take the last ferry back and take the opportunity of see the Asian side of Istanbul in the evening. Simply breath-taking.
The way back to the port is easy. You just have to go downhill. You can, of course, also rent a carriage from the stopping point below the monastery.
Incidentally, most of the ferries only go to the nearest landing point on the Asian side of Istanbul in the evening. So you should find out which ships will take you directly back to the Bosporus.
Otherwise, this is a great opportunity to explore the Asian side of Istanbul in the evening. The ferries stop near the Bagdat Cadessi. This is the liveliest shopping street on the Asian side.
You will find many bars and clubs along the road, which is more than 10 kilometres long. The most exciting time to be there is after and during a home game of the Fenerbahce Istanbul football club.
If you want to go back to the European side, just take one of the yellow Dolmus buses down the Bagdat Cadessi to the Haydarpasa train station. From there, the ferries will bring you regularly to the Galata Bridge.
Tips for a trip to the Prince Islands
The easiest way to get to the Princes’ Islands is by ferry from Kabatas (Europe) and Kadiköy (Asia).
Be at the ferry landing points as early as possible to grab a seat on the upper deck.
Pay attention to the departure times of the last ferries in the evening. Sometimes so many people want to go back to Istanbul that not all of them have a place. Therefore, to be on the safe side, take the penultimate ferry back to town.
As always, you should have Turkish lira with you to pay.
If you want to see several Prince Islands in one day, excursions by ferry are not ideal. It is better to have your own tours with speedboats. Get your guide offers combined day trips from Istanbul with hotel pick-up and visits to three islands, swimming stops and a horse-drawn carriage ride at a low price.
Reader’s question: Have you ever visited the Prince Islands? How did you like them?