Princes’ Islands Istanbul


On my last full day in Istanbul, I decided to revisit the Princes’ Islands – known as Kızıl Adalar in Turkish. The Princes’ are a chain of nine small islands in the Sea of Marmara. I first discovered them during a visit in March 2013 when I explored Büyükada Island. This time it was Heybeliada Island.

Festival of Eid-al-Fitr?

Somehow, I got the date of the festival of Eid-al-Fitr confused and incorrectly thought it was Sunday, not Monday. With everyone celebrating, Monday was hectic around Istanbul – especially on the ferries!

A trip to the islands on Eid-al-Fitr was a unique experience, but doubt I would vote for a repeat. The ferries were overcrowded with people crammed in and standing in the aisles, and it took forever to get from Eminönü’ (emmy new new) to the islands.  I saw a sign for 453 life jackets – total. There were three times that many passengers on the ferry, but maybe it was per level! Unbelievably, the ride back was even more crowded. I got stuck on a level with lots of babies. At the end of the day, they were hot, tired, hungry, and cross!

I watched frazzled parents trying to soothe and control their children, fights between siblings, and the rare mellow baby that hung through the whole ferry ride cute, cool and never making a sound. I took quite a few “people” photographs, mostly because everyone was so relaxed and festive they didn’t mind. Got a harsh stare from a Muslim woman – but since I wasn’t photographing her…. On the way back, many passengers succumbed to the heat and rocking, swaying motion of the ferry and fell sound asleep.

When we finally arrived back at Eminönü’, the Muslim family I’d been hanging with on the ferry gave me a hug. In their best English, they said “have a wonderful day” ;o) – it was very sweet. Even the naughtiest little boy I’ve ever observed peeked out from behind his mother’s skirt and waved bye, bye…

About the Princes’ Islands

“The Princes’ Islands evolved from a place of exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites to escape hectic city life for a day.”

Of the nine islands, four are open to the public:

  • Büyükada – biggest and most popular
  • Burgazada
  • Heybeliada
  • Kınalıada

Peace and Quiet on Princes’ Islands

The skyline is dotted with beautiful untouched pine-forests and wooden Victorian cottages. In addition to natural beauty, the main feature is silence! Except for ambulances, “motorized vehicles are banned, making the islands an oasis of peace and quiet. Among the sounds heard are bicycle bells and horse hoofs on the cobblestone pavement. That’s right, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation.”

You can travel to the islands via sea buses (fast ferries) or regular ferries. They depart from Eminönü or Kabataş. Depending on the number of stops, the sea bus trip takes about an hour and the regular ferry twice as long. Neither mode of transportation is expensive. The islands are popular summer spots and colorful clumps of beach umbrellas line the coast. On Heybeliada, I noticed an especially diverse population, with many Greeks and Bulgarians.

The summer sun is strong on the islands, so visitors should be prepared! If you come to Istanbul, the Prince’s Islands are a must see. For smaller crowds and a less hectic trip, I recommend visiting earlier in the day during the week.

I’m sad to leave Turkey. Next blog post will be from Cape Town!

3 thoughts on “Princes’ Islands Istanbul

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