The largest of Istanbul’s Princes Islands; Büyükada
Büyükada, the largest of Istanbul’s Princes Islands (map), is the most-visited, and for good reason: it has the most to see and do because of its size (5.4 square km, 1334 acres).
If possible, schedule your visit for a weekday. On Saturday and Sunday in summer the ferries, the streets, the restaurants, the cafés— everything’s super-crowded (which is nothing new—see the photo from 1943 at the lower right corner of this page).
The ferry from Kabataş, or the fast “seabus” catamaran from Pendik, brings you to the ferry dock at the town center, with its sign in both Latin and Ottoman characters. As you approach the island, you can marvel at the many fine old Ottoman-Victorian houses, crowded now by more modern structures.
Walk through the historic Ottoman ferry terminal and you emerge in the bustling town center with shops, restaurants and a few hotels. There are more restaurants and shops along the market street to the left (east), as well as seafood restaurants along the shore. To the right are a few cafes, a park, and docks for private ferries and yachts.
Walk straight up the slight hill to reach Dock Square (İskele Meydanı) the main square, with Büyükada‘s landmark clock tower.
Just off Dock Square to the left is which is where you can board a horse-drawn carriage (fayton) for either the Short Tour (Küçük Tur, 20 to 25 minutes) of the town, or the Long Tour (Büyük Tur, 1 hour) of the town, the shore and the hills. Prices are fixed by the municipality, so there should be no haggling. This is the most delightful way to get around the island. In fact, it’s the only way (except for bicycles, and walking). Private motor vehicles, including taxis, are not allowed on the island.
Around Dock Square you’ll also see many places to rent bicycles, the second-best way to explore the island.
Büyükada has a few tiny beaches from which you can take a dip in the chilly water. Space on the beaches is at a premium in summer. The least-crowded time to go is probably in the morning on weekdays.
The island’s two hills are 163 meters (535 feet) and 202 meters (663 feet) in height.
Büyükada‘s restaurants, cafes and snack shops are expensive, and ripoffs are common in some: 20% “cover” charges and 15% “service fees” added to your bill, for example. (Here’s a report.) Better to bring your own picnic. (It’s a pity: restaurateurs could make a very good return just serving the hordes of visitors at moderate prices, without the ripoffs.)
Büyükada‘s few hotels can put you up for the night, but reserve well in advance in summer. My favorite is the grand old Splendid Hotel (Splandit Oteli), which doesn’t seem to have changed a bit since its Victorian heyday. A few facilities have been modernized here, but don’t expect modern comforts. Rather, come for the authentic period atmosphere and superb views from the terrace.