The Princes' Islands are composed of nine islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. There are regular passenger ferries and fast passenger ferries (sea bus) to the four of the islands from different piers of the city; from Sirkeci, from Kabatas, and from Bostanci districts. Motor vehicles are not permitted on the islands except the ones belonging to local municipality for public works, so people walk or rent a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage, even a donkey. These are nice little islands where local people have their summer homes or go there for small beaches and for picnicking, or just to wonder around at the weekends.
These four islands are known as Adalar (Islands) in general in Turkish and their names are Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada. There is also Sedefadasi which is not very popular as the other ones and very small settlement on it. There are no settlements on Hayirsizada and Sivriada; and Kasikada is a private island. There is also Yassiada, or named as "Demokrasi ve Ozgurlukler adasi" (Democracy and Freedom island) since 2013, holds a tragic moment in our recent history because one of our former premiers, Mr. Adnan Menderes, was sentenced to death penalty and he spent his last days of life in a prison on this island. Today, the old military and tribunal buildings on Yassiada are renovated and opened to visitors in May 2020 as a museum, including a convention center and a hotel.
The name of the islands come from the Byzantine period, when princes and empresses were exiled there. But during the Ottoman period, especially around 19th century with the use of steamboats, these islands became a popular resorts for Istanbul's rich people, building their wooden houses. Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities were a large part of the inhabitants of the islands. Today, the islands are popular tourist destinations for daily excursions especially during summer months. There are many monasteries and historic buildings on the islands, besides Victorian style old wooden mansions.
Important Note: Since the end of 2019 horse carriages are not permitted anymore on the islands!
Buyukada is the largest and the most famous of this Islands chain. There are several small hotels where people stay for the weekend. Some of the historical buildings are Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery from 6th century, Ayios Dimitrios Church, Hristos Church and Monastery, and Hamidiye Mosque built by ottoman sultan Abdulhamit II. A long route or a short route can be chosen to visit the island when you rent a horse drawn carriage. Unlike the calm and forested southern part, the northern part of Buyukada is a heavy residential area being close to the pier, therefore most of the private yachts anchor on the southern tip. Dil promontory is a favorite spot for picnickers, and Yoruk Ali beach is open to the public for swimmers. There are many restaurants, cafeterias and shops situated around the pier. There is also a small museum on the island.
In the past, the island had its copper mines which are shut down today. There are some interesting buildings on Heybeliada; one is the Naval Academy from 1838 and other one is the Halki Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary from 1844. The theological school is a large building up on a hill in the middle of pine trees, but it's closed today. Halki Palace is a well-known hotel built in 1862 for the parents of the Greek high School, it was destroyed by a fire and then restored as a hotel in 1995. A small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary stands in the courtyard of the Naval Academy. Degirmen is a nice picnic area on the side facing to Kasik island. There are also a public beach set in a nice cove and a water sports club on this side of Heybeli. One can enjoy many restaurants and cafeterias around the pier to try local dishes and fresh fish. The island is also busy during winter months because of many schools and the sanatorium, there are also many trekking and hiking trails over the hills and through the pine groves.
The Burgazada island is famous for the house of Sait Faik Abasiyanik, famous Turkish story writer from the beginning of 20th century, who lived here. His house is now converted into a museum, and in Kalpazan Kaya, a place he used to visit often, there is now a cafeteria offering great views of the sunset. There is a nice sailing and water sports club and many rocky beaches, but the island doesn't offer much places to overnight unfortunately.
Kinaliada has beautiful summer homes which people rent it for the season, and a large Armenian community prefers this island for their summer vacations. Its nice beaches attract many people from the city, Ayazma beach is one of them. Water Sports Club has an Olympic pool as well. Hristos Monastery is located up on a hill and was built by the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV (Diogenes) while he was exiled here and where he was buried. The monastery is open to the public only on Fridays. There are several restaurants and cafeterias along the pier, where there is a very modern mosque to the left. There aren't much alternatives to overnight on the island.