At times, life in a large city like Istanbul can become overwhelming. Between the crowds of people and the never-ending traffic, it can be hard to find a quiet respite from all of the noise. Thankfully, the peaceful Prince’s Islands, a group of nine islands located 20 km southeast of Istanbul, are only a 45-minute ferry ride away.
For my trip to the islands, I visited Kınalıada, the first stop off of the ferry. The ride over was an adventure in itself, with an ever-present breeze of fresh sea air and amazing panoramic views of Istanbul. It was quite crowded though, perhaps because people wanted to take advantage of what could turn out to be one of the last beautiful fall days. After nearly an hour of sitting, I was ready to disembark and start exploring the island. As my cousin excitedly read off of her iPhone, “the islands have remained untouched by the hands of time.” Meaning, walking around the island’s narrow streets feels like you have been transported back into the past, into the 19th century. There are no cars or private motors allowed on the islands, only charming horse drawn carriages and bikes. The islands have not always been such a charming place, however.
During the Byzantine Empire, unseated emperors, empresses, and other royalty were exiled here with their families. The unprotected islands were devastated by Arab invasions during the seventh and eighth centuries, as well as in 1453 when the Ottomans captured the Byzantine capital. Things stabilized during the Ottoman rule, and wealthy Jewish and Turkish families settled in large numbers on the islands. Today, Turkish residents make up the majority of the population.
Our first priority upon exiting the ferry was finding food. There are a string of good-looking restaurants on the first street, offering views of the water and a lot of fish entrees. They are relatively expensive though, and a little too touristy for my liking. We walked down the next street, and found a small place where the owner let us cook our own meat on the grill. We dined on delicious köfte while the restaurant’s cat took a nap next to us. Kınalıada, the smallest of the four main islands, is composed of three hills, a well-preserved 19th century Armenian Church, a series of beaches, both free and with an entrance fee, and a series of fantastic homes that stretch up the hilly street behind the waterfront. We walked up this hill and were able to enjoy fantastic views of the green island, as well as the glimmering Sea of Marmara. In this moment, the chaos of Istanbul seemed so far away, and we were able to just breathe, a sense of inner calm settling upon us.
For those who wish to indulge in the tranquility of the islands, ferries leave daily from the Kabataş dock and cost around 8 lira for a one-way ticket. The ferry stops at the four main islands, including Büyükada (the biggest island), Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada. For a complete list of departure times, see the following website: