How to Spend a Day at Princes' Islands, Turkey

A wild horse in Büyükada's lush pine forest
A wild horse in Büyükada's lush pine forest | © Florian Lehmuth / Flickr

Büyükada, Istanbul’s largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands, is the perfect opportunity to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Take the ferry to this no-cars-allowed island and enjoy a whole day of good food, sightseeing, biking, hiking and swimming.

Take the ferry

In order to reach Büyükada, you’ll have to take a Mavi Marmara boat, which takes off from the Kabataş (European side) and Bostancı (Asian side) ports on a regular basis. The ride takes about 40 minutes. You can also take the normal ferry from Kabataş, which is cheaper but takes a bit longer because it first makes a stop in Bostancı, on the Asian side, on the way to the island and back.

Rent a bike and explore the sights

The first thing to do when you get off the ferry or boat in Büyükada is to rent a bike – especially if you want to explore as much of the island as possible. You’ll find plenty of bike rental places in the town’s centre and you can rent a bike for the whole day for around five Turkish lira. Apart from checking out the beautiful Ottoman-era mansions all over the island, make sure to visit the former summer house of Leon Trotsky, the historic Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage and the Wes Anderson-style, 100-year-old Splendid Palace Hotel.

A historic mansion on Büyükada | © Arzu Kayhan / Flickr

Eat breakfast at Sinek Cafe

Depending on how hungry you are, you can embark on your bike-sightseeing tour before or after breakfast, but when you do get hungry, make sure to drop by this wonderful cafe. Run by a husband and wife duo, Sinek Cafe is a little modern haunt that serves up excellent Turkish breakfast dishes, such as eggs with sucuk (Turkish fermented sausage). Behind the cafe, the couple’s beautiful modernist house also stands out with its glass exterior and beautiful garden – it’s probably one of the most beautiful houses on the island with a modern aesthetic.

Go swimming

Unlike Istanbul, the water around the island is clean and perfect for swimming and there are plenty of beaches where you can spend a few hours in the sun. Büyükada’s most popular beach is Nakibey Plaj, which charges a 50 Turkish lira fee for the day and provides sun loungers, umbrellas, showers and a restaurant with refreshments and food.

Eat lunch at Sofrada Restaurant

You might be tempted to try one of the many fish restaurants that are directly in the town’s centre by the water, but be aware that the food is not so great there. Check out Sofrada instead, where Turkish classics are prepared fresh on a daily basis and with love. The small and homey restaurant has excellent vegetable dishes stewed in olive oil as well as zucchini fritters, Turkish meatballs, stuffed eggplants and much more, depending on the day’s menu.

The famous horse-drawn carriages in Büyükada’s town centre | © Ben Husmann / Flickr

Hike up to Aya Yorgi Church

You’ll have to lock up your bikes before the somewhat steep path that leads all the way up to Aya Yorgi Church, one of the island’s underrated but most beautiful sights. Once you’ve completed the climb, check out the small but stunning church interior and take in the magnificent views all around. There is also a small cafe where you can take a break and drink a glass of Turkish tea.

The beautiful view from the top of Büyükada | © Ben Husmann / Flickr

Eat dinner at Club Mavi Restaurant

After all the biking, hiking, swimming and sightseeing, end your day on Büyükada with dinner accompanied by a beautiful view of the sea. Located on the island’s less developed side, after a beautiful ride past the island’s historic mansions and pine forests, Club Mavi offers freshly prepared meze dishes and grilled meats. If you don’t want to bike to the restaurant and all the way back to the ferry station, you can catch a ride on one of the many horse-drawn carriages, which are the island’s other popular form of transportation.

The hard-working horses on Büyükada | © Ben Husmann / Flickr

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