Büyükada, just off the shore of Marmara Sea, makes a great short trip for those who want to get away from the suffocating chaos of Istanbul. Büyükada is the largest of a chain of nine islands called Princes’ Islands, which were used back in Byzantine Empire as an exile location for Byzantinian royalty. Büyükada is called Prinkipos in Greek. The Turkish name means “Big Island”; the Greek means “the Prince”. Both names are unique.
Journey to Büyükada will start in a boat from either the Anatolian side district Bostancı (taking 30 – 45 minutes), or from the European side district Kabataş (90 – 120 minutes by Mavi Marmara or Sehir Vapur Hatları. In the boat, you may find yourself surrounded by sea gulls looking for their favorite traditional appetizer--- the simit.
Once the boat arrives on the pier of the island, your first steps in Büyükada will feel like a travel in time. There are no cars, motorbikes, trucks or any motored vehicles on the island. A strong smell of horses will be in the air and there will only be horse carriages “Fayton” (used as taxis) & bicycles. You will notice that most of the houses on the island are mansions and chalets with very old and wooden architectural designs and well cared gardens.
There are two good tours of the island; the longer one is 8,70 mile that gets around the whole island like drawing a circumstance, the shorter one is 4,35 mile long. For the big tour, you can choose a bicycle from a rent-a-bike shop or hire a horse carriage. Without long stops, the big tour takes 1,5 – 2 hours and it has a great view of the Marmara sea on the other side of the island. For the small tour, you may choose to walk and should plan for at least 1 hour.
A good way to start your tour (in fact any tour) is a small delicacy. In the center, between pier and the clock tower, there are many ice-creameries & lokma sellers. Lokma is a traditional fried-dough pastry, which you can dip into a delicious cinnamon syrup. If you feel like ice-cream and it is summer time, the best natural ice-cream seller, Yunus would be waiting by the right side of the tower, just in front of “Anadolu Kulup”. You should try the delicious fruit flavors: cherry, melon, and lemon.
Half way through the small tour, there is a small square called “Lunapark” with restaurants and street sellers. From this small square, there is a steep 30-45 minute climb to the top of the highest hill of the island. On top of the hill, there is the Aya Yorgi church with a great panoramic view; note that it will be extraordinarily crowded on 23rd of April & 21st of September. Next to the church, there is a café which serves delicious housewine, chips and sandwiches. Just on the opposite side of this hill is a Greek orphanage---a huge wooden building which takes 20 – 30 minutes’ of mildly steep walk to reach from the Lunapark Square. Just in the beginningofthe big tour from Lunapark square, there is a great restaurant “Club Mavi” with a chalet in jardin where the sunset is incredible. If you have time for a leisurely lunch or supper, the restaurant also has delicious meze & rakı.
In summer time, beaches are good options, most of them have entrance fee, snack bars with expensive food/drink. There are various beaches; Yörük Aliis 30 min walk away from the pier. It is located next to Dilburnu where there are so many pine trees. Prenses Beach is located just next to Yörük Ali, there is only boat way, but not as beautiful as it seems from the boat. Naki Bey, on the beach there is no sand, but sea is covered with sand. Generally sea is clean, there are no jelly fish nor moss. This is a modes place. For picnic, Dil burnu is the best place with lots of pine trees and great view looking at Heybeli island. There are wooden tables. This place has also enterance.
In the center, right & left hand sides of the pier, there are many fish restaurants. Generally the prices are touristic for foreigners and also for locals. Average meal per person is around $ 35 – $ 50. Always has to be negotiated before ordering. The recommended one is Milto has a good price/food quality ratio.
The best season to go to the island is the spring when flowers are blossoming, all trees are green and the island is not very crowded with locals & tourists. In the summer, the island is very crowded and you should expect long waiting queues for Faytons & restaurants. In the winter, Büyükada is very very quiet and empty but it still offers itself for a romantic and nostalgic walk on its cobblestone streets.