Büyükada Istanbul: A Hidden Gem of the City

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Kinali Ada

Istanbul, the sprawling metropolis that spans two continents, is known for its rich history, diverse culture, and stunning architecture. But did you know that just a short ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of the city lies a group of nine small islands, known as the Princes’ Islands, that offer a completely different experience?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these islands (Büyükada), the Islands’ history, and what Büyükada has to offer for visitors.

Table of Contents

A Brief History of the Princes’ Islands

Ferry Port in Istanbul

Ferry Port in Istanbul

The Princes’ Islands are a group of nine islands located in the Sea of Marmara, just off the coast of Istanbul. The islands have a rich history that dates back to the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

During the Byzantine period, the islands were used as a place of exile for political prisoners. In the Ottoman era, the islands became a popular destination for the ruling class, who built grand summer houses and palaces there.

The four main islands that are open to visitors are Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada. Each island has its own distinct charm and attractions.

How to Get to the Princes’ Islands

Location of the Islands

Location of the Islands

The easiest way to get to the Princes’ Islands is by ferry. There are regular ferry services from several ports in Istanbul, including Kabataş, Eminönü, Besiktas, Kadiköy, and Bostancı. The journey takes 1-2 hours, depending on which island you visit.

It’s worth noting that motorized vehicles are not allowed on the islands, so be prepared to explore on foot, by bicycle, or by electric vehicles.

Exploring the Islands

Electric Minibus in büyükada

Electric Minibus

Each of the nine islands has its own unique charm, but the four largest islands – Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada – are the most popular with visitors.

Additionally, there is another island called Sedef Adası, which is smaller compared to the main islands. However, it’s worth noting that there is only one hotel on the island. If you are not a local resident and have limited time in Istanbul, I would not recommend visiting Sedef Adası as it may not offer as many amenities and attractions as the other islands.

In my opinion, the most enjoyable way to explore the island is by renting a bike. There are numerous bike rental shops available, making it easy to find one. With a bike, you can fully experience the island and its attractions.

In the past, horse carriages were also a popular means of transportation on the island. However, due to concerns about the horses’ well-being, especially during the hot summer days when they would become thirsty and tired from working all day with the influx of tourists, horse carriages have been banned.

Nowadays, alternative modes of transportation include small electric buses and the option to rent small electric cars.

What to Eat in Princes’ Islands

Adalar, with its rich culinary culture, satisfies guests with different tastes. The island’s cuisine offers a variety of options, with an emphasis on appetizers and seafood. During your stay on Princes’ Islands, you can try a wide range of jams on breakfast tables.

The Princes’ Islands is known for its diverse selection of seafood dishes. Roasted fish, lakerda (salted bonito), soy sauce marinated fish salad, fish soup, and çiroz salad are among the regional delicacies of the Islands.

You can also taste various olive oil dishes prepared with herbs and vegetables at different restaurants on the island. Vegetable-based dishes such as fried zucchini, stuffed vine leaves, spinach puree, and leek with orange are also worth trying.

Additionally, you can indulge in Italian ice cream (Roma Dondurmasi), one of the iconic desserts of Büyükada. It’s a delicious option to cool down during the summer heat and take a nostalgic journey to your childhood with the different flavors of ice cream.


Büyükada in Istanbul

Büyükada is the most popular island

Büyükada (In Turkish: Büyük: Large Ada: Island), the largest of the Princes’ Islands, is known for its picturesque streets lined with wooden houses and its stunning views of the Sea of Marmara.

If you can only visit one island, Büyükada should definitely be your top choice as it offers the most comprehensive experience among the islands in Istanbul.

What to do and see in Büyükada?

With its serene atmosphere where blue meets green, Büyükada hosts thousands of local and foreign tourists every year, making it an ideal destination for relaxation and exploration.

During your stay on the island, you can swim in the sea, discover the historical sites, or enjoy a peaceful dinner at restaurants that mainly serve seafood. Taking photographs of the unique landscapes on the island is among the enjoyable activities.

Additionally, visiting the historical buildings on the island will provide insights into its rich history and culture. Spending time in historical structures, natural areas, and beaches offers a unique experience to immerse yourself in the island’s charm.

Abandoned Greek Orphanage in Büyükada

Abandoned Greek Orphanage

Some of the places to visit in Büyükada, which captivates with its quiet and peaceful atmosphere, include:

The Greek Orphanage, one of the symbols of Büyükada, is a recommended place to see. Standing for over a century, this orphanage is one of the largest wooden structures in the world.

Aya Yorgi Church is among the most famous spots on the island. According to legend, anyone who embarks on the journey to this church will have their wishes come true. At the end of the uphill path leading to the church, an extraordinary view awaits you.

Another sight worth seeing is Adakule, located at the end of the trail leading to Aya Yorgi Church. It is possible to reach Adakule shortly after seeing the church.

Aya Yorgi Church in Büyükada

Aya Yorgi Church

During your Büyükada vacation, you can visit historical mansions such as Sabuncakis Mansion, Fabiato Mansion, and Mizzi Mansion, and capture beautiful photographs. The house where Trotsky stayed and the mansion where Reşat Nuri Güntekin lived are among the island’s significant landmarks.

Another recommended attraction to visit is the Museum of the Princes’ Islands, which houses a remarkable collection showcasing the history of the islands.

Where to eat & drink in Büyükada?

Büyükada is known for its good food. With its rich culinary culture and diverse dining options, the island offers a satisfying gastronomic experience. Büyükada’s cuisine features a variety of dishes, including appetizers, seafood specialties, olive oil-based dishes, regional delicacies, and even international cuisine.

You can find restaurants and eateries catering to different tastes and preferences, ensuring that visitors can enjoy a delicious and memorable dining experience on the island. Whether you’re a seafood lover, a fan of Turkish cuisine, or looking to try unique local flavors, Büyükada has plenty to offer in terms of food.

Best Breakfast Places

The breakfast scene in Büyükada, Istanbul, is vibrant and delightful. Numerous cafes and restaurants offer a variety of options, including traditional Turkish breakfast spreads with fresh bread, olives, cheese, eggs, and pastries.

Enjoy a leisurely morning meal while taking in the island’s scenic beauty and relaxing atmosphere. Here is two recommendations for your next trip to Büyükada:

Bahçede Sinek Kafe

Website: bahcedesinek.com

Ada Kahvalti

Website: adakahvalti.com.tr

Best Cafe

Indulge in the special experience of sipping tea or coffee on the islands. Grab a takeaway coffee and explore Büyükada at your leisure. For great coffee, I recommend visiting Maple Coffeeshop, where you can enjoy some great coffee.

Maple Coffeeshop

Best Seafood Restaurants

Büyükada is renowned for its great seafood, with a variety of restaurants serving exquisite seafood dishes and mezes. If there’s one thing you must try, it’s the seafood. Here are my recommendations for outstanding seafood dining options on the island.

Eskibağ Teras Restaurant (Best View)

Milano Restaurant

Milto RestaurantMilto RestaurantMilto RestaurantMilto RestaurantMilto Restaurant Secret Garden Restaurant (Editors Choice, at the Adapalas Hotel)

Best Ice Cream

During the summer days, visitors to Büyükada delight in indulging in Italian ice cream. I highly recommend you do the same and experience the joy of delicious ice cream.

You can find a variety of delightful flavors at Roma Dondurma (Turkish for “Rome Ice Cream”) that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Roma Dondurma

Accomodation in Büyükada?
Splendid Palace Hotel in Büyükada

Splendid Palace Hotel in Büyükada

When visiting Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in Turkey, there are a few options for accommodation depending on your preferences and budget.

Here are some popular choices:

Ada Palas Hotel: This historic hotel is a landmark on Büyükada and offers a charming atmosphere with its wooden architecture and beautiful sea views.

Buyukada Cankaya Hotel: Situated near the center of Büyükada, this hotel provides comfortable rooms and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the island.

Ascot Hotel Buyukada: Located close to the ferry pier, this boutique hotel offers cozy rooms and a peaceful garden area.

Nizam Butik Otel Büyükada: This boutique hotel is known for its warm hospitality and stylish rooms. It’s situated in a quiet area, providing a relaxing environment.

Splendid Palace Hotel: With its convenient location and seafront views, this hotel offers comfortable rooms and a spacious garden. (Editors Choice)

Remember to check availability, rates, and reviews for these accommodations before making your final decision. You can click on Hotel names to check out the Prices & Availability.


Büyükada is a hidden gem of Istanbul, offering a completely different experience from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or simply relaxing on the beach, there’s something for everyone on these beautiful islands.

So next time you’re in Istanbul, be sure to take a ferry and explore Büyükada.


How long does it take to get to the Princes’ Islands from Istanbul?

The journey takes around 1-2 hours, depending on from which port you departed.

Are motorized vehicles allowed on the islands?

No, motorized vehicles are not allowed on the islands. Visitors can explore on foot, by bicycle, or by electric vehicle.

What are some of the top things to see and do on the islands?

Some of the top things to see and do on the islands include taking a horse-drawn carriage ride, visiting historical monuments and museums, swimming at the beaches, and sampling the local food and drink.

Can you stay overnight on the islands?

Yes, there are several accommodation options on the islands, including small hotels, guesthouses, and boutique hotels.

Which island is the largest and most popular with visitors?

Büyükada is the largest of the four main islands and is the most popular with visitors, thanks to its picturesque streets and stunning views.

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