With their charming waterfront villages, fin-de-siècle architecture, wooded hills and rocky coves, the romantic Princes’ Islands have always been a favourite retreat from the mainland. Set in the Sea of Marmara between 15km and 30km southeast of the city, the islands are easily accessible by ferry from İstanbul, and can get very crowded in summer, especially at weekends. Cars are banned on the islands, so transport is either by foot, phaeton (horse-drawn carriage), hired bike or donkey. Their proximity to the city makes them an easy, enjoyable and very cheap day-trip, but accommodation is surprisingly expensive, and, on summer weekends, hard to come by.

Brief history

The copper mines of Chalkitis (Heybeliada), famed in antiquity, are long since exhausted, but they remain visible near Çam Limanı. During the Byzantine era, numerous convents and monasteries were built on the islands, which soon became luxurious prisons for banished emperors, empresses and princes (often after they had been blinded). The islands were neglected by the conquering Ottoman Turks and became a place of refuge for Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities.

In 1846 a ferry service was established and the islands grew popular with Pera’s wealthy merchants and bankers, becoming İstanbul’s favourite summer resort after the establishment of the Republic in 1923. Mosques began to appear in the villages, and hotels and apartment buildings soon followed. A Turkish naval college was established on Heybeliada and Atatürk’s private yacht was moored here as a training ship.

Sivriada, uninhabited and unvisitable, gained public notoriety in 1911 when all the stray dogs in İstanbul were rounded up, shipped out there and left to starve, while Yassıada is best known as a prison island, used for the detention of political prisoners.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Turkey features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Reconsidering Turkey: why the time to go is now

Reconsidering Turkey: why the time to go is now

Turkey is the most accessible of the Middle Eastern nations. A natural land bridge, it connects the eastern part of Europe to the Caucasus, and the viridian Bl…

09 Apr 2018 • Marco Ferrarese
Middle East and North Africa: 10 spectacular sights off the beaten track

Middle East and North Africa: 10 spectacular sights off the beaten track

The Middle East and North Africa have plenty of world-famous attractions – Petra and the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and the souks of Marrakesh, the mi…

27 Mar 2018 • Gavin Thomas
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right