A day trip to the Princes’ Islands
There are many boat tours and trips you can take in Istanbul on the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmaris, but a trip to the Princes’ Islands has to be one of the nicest, and most inexpensive, too.
About the Princes’ Islands
This group of nine islands is located in the Sea of Marmaris, off the southern shore of the Asian part of Istanbul and belonging to the district of Adalar.
The islands got their name from the fact that, particularly during the Byzantine times, rebellious or otherwise undesirable members of the imperial family were sent there into exile. The islands can only be reached by boat and in winter, the harsh weather conditions often prevented ships from reaching the islands at all, which made it a quite ‘safe prison’ for the banished princes.
Two things make a visit to the Princes’ islands enjoyable: marvellous wooden houses, among them the biggest wooden mono bloc structure in the world, an abandoned Greek orphanage on Büyükada, and the absence of cars. With the exception of a few necessary service vehicles, means of transport on the islands are feet, bicycles, donkeys and, most attractively, horses drawn carriages. The islands are densely wooded and pine trees, which make for a lovely scent, prevail. Unfortunately, recently several forest fires have raged on the islands, but re-forestation is under way.
Büyükada, the biggest island, has another important site: a monastery perched on top of Yücetepe, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. The normal population of about 20.000 on the combined islands, balloons to about 500.000 in the summer season, between tourists and Istanbul residents who have –wooden – summer houses there or just come for a swim or a picnic.
How to get there and what to do
Ferries run four times a day from Kabatas calling on three or four islands along the way until reaching Büyükada. As they are the normal means of transport, not a tourist attraction, the fare is only TYL 6 (approx. $4) for a return ticket.
Take the streetcar #38 from Zeytinburnu to Kabatas, get off at the final stop, cross over towards the water (preferably using the underpass as the coast road is very bus), then head for a building with the sign IDO, which is the ferry company. Buy your ticket, enter through the turnstile and get in line with everybody else who for one reason or another wants to visit the islands.
The total journey takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours and you have a wonderful view of the receding skyline of Istanbul as well as several very small and uninhabited islands.
The last return ferry from Büyükada leaves at 8pm, so you better not miss it.
Of course, everybody is heading for the horse carriages, so when you disembark, don’t follow the masses, just turn left along the promenade, then right up the hill and you will find the assembly point of all the waiting horse carriages. They will happily take you out of line and you will be on your way before the rest of the passengers have gotten started.
There is what’s called a “small tour” for TYL 30 ( approx. $ 20)and a “big tour” for TYL 50 ($33), which takes you all the way up the hills and around the peaceful streets and wooden houses of the island. A nature park with many more pine trees and flowers which men and women of the island make into wreaths and sell by the wayside awaits at the top.
If you want, you can also hire a bicycle, cycle up the hill and then continue on a donkey to the monastery.
After all the climbing and lots of fresh air, you may want to have a bite to eat before you embark on your return journey. Avoid the restaurants along the water front. Tourist guides bring people there and the prices are higher. Just make your way up the hill and find one of the holes in the wall where you can easily fill your stomach on Turkish specialities for approx. TYL 20($13) including a drink per person.
All dollar prices are approximate and depend on exchange rates at the time of travel.
Photographs are authors own.