Each of the Prince Islands has a history of at least twenty centuries and they are like rare stones in a necklace on Istanbul. There are nine islands, distances of which to the city range between 2.3 and 15.5 kilometres; Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kınalıada, Sedefadası, Yassıada, Kaşıkadası, Sivriada and Tavşanadası. But the closest to Istanbul and the most popular of these are Büyükada, Kınalıada, Burgazada and Heybeliada.
The islands, where aristocrats lived in the Roman and Byzantine eras, are also called "The Princes’ Islands". The emperors, princes, aristocrats, and even queens were sent into exile and jailed on these islands when they were punished and removed from the administration. After the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, they were inactive for a while and were never used.
After the beginning of steamship journeys between Kadıköy - Adalar, these islands generated interest as both residential and vacation areas. In time, Armenias moved to Kınalıada, Rums to Burgazada, Jewish to Büyükada and Turks to Heybeliada. At present, the population of the island has become more cosmopolitan like Istanbul.
Today, the islands face an intense movement of domestic tourism especially during summer. The population of the district increase in summer almost 10 times more than winter. At the weekends, this rate increases more. Residents of the islands work in Istanbul and they commute by steamship every day. Most of the houses are the second houses of the families that live in Istanbul but come to the islands in summer.
Now let’s have a closer look at the islands:
The area of the island is 5,4 km and Büyükada is the largest of the islands on the Marmara Sea.
The island was once the exile for Trocki. On the highest hill of the island is the Aya Yorgi Church. On the way to the church, you may notice many ropes tied to trees. A pilgrimage point for Christians, this church is haunted by many people from all religions, who believe that their wishes could be realized, every year especially on 23 April and 24 September.
According to the belief, you must climb the hill to the church without a word, take a bell or a key from the church and make your wish. If your wish comes true, you must return the bell or the key to the church.
As you go to the Aya Yorgi, don’t forget to enjoy the picturesque sight of the island at length. You can also enjoy the view from the restaurant while eating your meal. We advise you to go there at sunset.
Another activity you may enjoy on the island is riding a phaeton. You can have either long or short trip by phaeton; you may see all around the island during your trip. Another way to see around the island is “renting a bicycle.”
You can find many fish restaurants if you walk to your right from the steamship pier. They are ideal if you want to eat appetizers of seafood and fresh fish.
If your choice is meat, then there are many “cook it yourself” restaurants in various parts of the island.
To swim, you may use the facilities of the Büyükada Water Sports Club or other beaches daily with a small charge.
By the way, don’t forget to taste a special “crackle” taste of the island called “palmiye" from many pastries and bakeries.
Kınalıada is the smallest of the islands on the Marmara Sea. It is known mostly for the Monastery of Hıristo. The founder of the monastery is the Byzantine Emperor Roman Diogenes IV, whose life became a historical example as he was betrayed by his friends.
Diogenes moved to stop the Seljuk from entering to the Anatolia in 1071, but he lost the war. Plans were made to dethrone him when he was on pilgrimage in Jerusalem. He was captured in Izmir after his return and his eyes were taken out. Then he was jailed in his own monastery in Kınalıada.
After discovering this monastery on the highest hill of the island, you will notice the Ayazma Beach on the back side. This is the place to enjoy swimming on the island.
Called “Antigone” in history, the island is named after Antigonus, the former commander of Alexander the Great. Demetrius Poliorcete named the island after his father Antigonus when he sailed to the Marmara Sea to conquer the empire and to free the Bosporus in 298 BC. After the conquest of Istanbul, the island was named “Pyrgos” in Greek. And in time this name changed to Burgaz. In the 19th century, the island became a summer resort for native Rums and other foreigners in Istanbul.
You can hear Spanish and Hebrew spoken on the streets of Burgazada. The Great Orthodox Sanctuary; the Aya Yorgi Karipi Church, famous with its three bells; and the monastery named same with the church are among the main works you must see on the island.
The only museum on the island is the house of famous Turkish author Sait Faik Abasıyanık. He wrote his books and lived the last ten years of his life here in Burgazada. The house was protected as it was and was transformed into a museum.
Another place you should visit on the island is a recreation area called Kalpazankaya and the restaurant here. It is possible to reach here with 30-minutes walk, phaeton, or boat. This restaurant has a magnificent sight, and it is surrounded with forest on one side and sea on the other. It is a great shame if you leave the island without tasting the delicious appetizers and the meat cooked in tandoor, and watching the sunset.
By the way, the Barbara Yani by the pier is among the recommended restaurants on the island. Formerly Rum, Yani runs the restaurant and presents delicious dishes of Rum cuisine.
Another important recreation area is Bayraktepe. The area takes its name from the flag carved on wood somewhere on the island. You can see the flag from front side of the island. It has a unique sight. There is also a camping area.
Founded in 1963, Adalar Water Sports Club serves in Burgazada as an institution, training sport person for almost every sport, including swimming, water polo, sailing and subaqueous sports. Burgazada Sea Club is the second club on the island.
This is the second largest island after Büyükada. Compared to other islands, Heybeliada is more active in winter. The reason is the existence of the naval schools and houses, the clerical school, sanatorium, churches and the high school on the island.
In the area, mining, the commerce school, churches, monasteries and wine-selling were more important in the daily life in the Byzantine era. In the Ottoman era, the island was used as a resort due to the abundance of pine woods, fish, and hotels.
Again, in the Ottoman era, The Patriarchate of Fener and Jerusalem was on Heybeliada. Therefore, the island hosts many graves and remembrances of many patriarch metropolitan and other clergies especially of Orthodox.
Another important place on the island is the Heybeliada Beach in Değirmenburnu on the north of the island. The Halki Palas is an ideal place to spend the night.