Just off the coast of Istanbul in Turkey are the islands that are commonly referred to as the Princes’ Islands. While there are nine of the islands in total, only six are inhabited and open for visits — and only four are popular tourist destinations.
The main feature of any of the Princes’ Islands is the sound of … silence. On these islands, motorized vehicles of all kinds are banned, making the islands an oasis of peace and quiet. The only sounds you’ll hear are bicycle bells and the typical sounds of horse hoofs. To this day, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main transportation means on the islands. Beyond these similarities, each of the four inhabited islands have their own draws and charm. Depending on the kind of traveller you are and what you enjoy, with this quick overview, you’ll be able to suss out which of the islands fits your style of travelling and start planning your time there.
This island’s name literally translates to “big island” in Turkish. Compared to the other four islands, it is the biggest at 5.36 square kilometres, and it’s also the most famous. The island is stocked with sandy beaches, a calm, laidback vibe and a charmingly sweet town centre where everyone in the town gathers to socialize on the weekends. From a tourism point of view, Büyükada is likely to be at the top of your list as it has the most accommodation options, restaurants and other entertainment options and activities.
This island comes in as a close second to Büyükada. This is where the Turkish Naval Academy lives and where you can see the Haghia Triada Monastery. Just like on Büyükada, you can tour the island by horse-drawn carriage and bicycle. The latter is less popular because of the island’s twin summits that would likely take the breath out of any biker. Day-trippers to Heybeliada may prefer to take a nice stroll and explore the many shops, restaurants and patisseries.
The island is named "henna'd" after its red soil. This is the smallest of the Princes’ Islands, measuring about 1.3 square km and it’s quite easy to spot—simply look for the antenna towers. The Ottoman Greeks called the island Proti and this is where many of them built summer villas, which survive today along with several churches.
Unless you have friends who own a villa on the island, you probably won't be going there. But if you want to visit one of the Princes’ Islands where you're likely to be among the very few foreign visitors, give it a try. Your reward: the many small beaches on Kınalı are less likely to be crowded with day-trippers from the city. Otherwise, stay on the ferryboat until it reaches the larger islands of Burgaz, Heybeli and Büyükada.
Burgaz Island is a favourite getaway for many of Istanbuli’s with a proud Greek heritage. When you come to the island, the first landmark you will spot is the massive Greek Orthodox Church of St. John which sits high above the town. Beyond the church, there are mosques and a synagogue here as well, testifying to the islands' rich Ottoman mix of populations and traditions. Few tourists bother to visit Burgaz as it is only slightly larger than its neighbour Kınalı. However, if you prefer a lack of crowds and more natural space, Burgazada may be just the place for you. You will mostly interact with locals and very few tourists. If all you want from an island is a sunny cafe, a shady restaurant table, and a place to explore, Burgazada will be a superb choice.
If you decide to include island-hopping on your Turkish holiday schedule, then consider the benefits of travel insurance. If plans change or boat trips are delayed/cancelled, you have a back-up to keep your financial investments covered. Cover-More has a number of policies you can compare so you find the one that best suits your holiday’s needs.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Ben Husmann