Büyükada is the prettiest island in Istanbul. We visit the city at least once a year and always go to the Princes Islands. To our amazement, Büyükada remains a bit under the radar outside of Turkey. The island is famous in the country, but most international tourists never visit. Isn’t that great?
Büyükada is the largest of the Princes’ Islands. In fact, Büyükada means big island in Turkish. However, with an area of 2.1 sq m (5.5 km2), it is not big at all. You can walk around the entire island or up to its two peaks in no time.
The archipelago is in the Sea of Marmara, some 15 miles (25 km) from the city center. You can see the Asian side of Istanbul. Büyükada’s past dates back to Byzantine times. Fortunately, most of its heritage has been preserved. We love it because it blends historic architecture with pristine nature.
Things to Do in Büyükada
Walk the Streets of Büyükada Town
Of all the things to do in Büyükada, walking around the center is mandatory. It’s absolutely beautiful. What more, the area is pedestrian. Actually, no cars are allowed inside the entire island. That’s why you can walk everywhere in peace and breath fresh air.
The boat arrives at the ottoman-looking terminal in the center. You will immediately see a clock tower on the square. Old mansions and tall trees line the center’s streets. Locals come here to socialize, have a bite, and shop. Take your time and enjoy the vibe.
Get lost in its curvy streets and check out the historic buildings. The bus station is two blocks from the clock tower. You can take an electric vehicle here. Get lost and check every street and little garden. Look for the small plaza where you can hire bikes.
Look for Historic Mansions
The first ferry from Istanbul reached Büyükada in 1846. Soon enough, the rich and famous began building mansions on the Island. They would escape the scorching city in summer and chill in Büyükada. The population at that time was diverse and included Greeks, Jews, and Armenians.
There are several mansions in the center and along the coast. Our favorite street is Çankaya Road. The street appears in several lists of the nicest in the world. We agree! It begins near the terminal, where the Armenian Church is, and continues to the east. It changes its name to Nizam at one point.
Look out for the Mizzi, Hacopolu, Fabiato, and Yalman Mansions. Our favorite is the Paşa Mansion. The remains of Trotsky’s house are one block from there. He lived in Büyükada for 5 years. Ziya Street is next to it. You have to see the Efendi Mansion, one of the oldest in Büyükada.
Visit Hamidiye Mosque
Hamidiye Mosque is in the center, some 1800 feet (600 m) from the ferry terminal. It’s the biggest mosque in the archipelago. You will immediately recognize it from its single minaret. The temple itself has three stories and an exquisite iron staircase leading to the prayer room.
The Mosque is from 1893. The name comes from the Sultan that ruled the empire at that time, Abdul Hamit II. If you think the mosque is beautiful from the outside, wait till you get inside. Elaborate tiles cover the walls. Raise your head and admire the blue dome and huge crystal chandelier.
Remember that this is a place of worship. Locals and tourists from Istanbul visit the temple to pray. Thus, be respectful. The area around the mosque is pretty interesting too. There’s a big wooden governmental building in front. Walk around admiring the gardens and mansions.
Explore Büyükada’s Churches
As mentioned, different ethnic groups lived on the island at one point or the other. That’s why the island features Greek, Armenian, and Catholic churches. The first church you will see two blocks from the ferry terminal is the Armenian one from 1858. The temple is as beautiful as the gardens around it.
The San Pacifico Latin Church is nearby. Franciscan priests built the church in the 1860s. The outside looks gothic and includes a wooden roof. Go inside and admire the original painting by Giovanni Battista. Tall trees tower above the church’s garden. Masses and concerts are held inside the church.
You have several Greek churches to discover. The first one is the tiny Rum Panaiye Church, next to the pier. Keep walking east to Saint Dimitrios Church, the biggest on the island. Continue east till you see Hesed Le Avraam Synagogue. Further down the coast, you will see the tiny Todori Chapel.
Enjoy the Best Views
Büyükada is a natural paradise that offers a lot of things to do. The best views from the island are from its two peaks. With an altitude of 663 feet (202 meters), Great Hill (Yüce Tepe) is the highest hill. The Greek Saint George’s Church crowns the hill. You can see Istanbul from there.
Hill of Jesus (İsa Tepesi) is 538 feet (164 m) tall. The biggest wooden structure in Europe crowns the hill. With an area of 250,000 sq feet (20000 m2), it’s the second largest in the world. Built in 1898 as a hotel and casino, it became an orphanage in the 1960s.
On your way up you will go through red pine forests. Though you can go at all times, we advise you to go for sunrise and sunset. Walking up the hill is easy. The trail is clear. Don’t rush and go at your own pace.
Bike along the Coast
Since no cars are allowed on the island, biking is safe and easy. There are several bike rental shops in the center. You can rent all types of bikes. The most adventurous can go up the hill. We like to take it easy and bike along the coast.
Go west along Nizam Street admiring the mansions. As soon as you exit the urban area, you will see Dilburnu Nature Park. It’s a beautiful park next to the sea. People picnic here and, there’s also a coffee house. There’s a beach next door and a sailing club.
The southern part of Büyükada is empty, except for a couple of beaches. The longest is Halik Koyu on the western coast. Viranbağ further south is an organized beach with sunbeds and umbrellas. The Martir’s forest is on the eastern coast. Continue north past Tesileri and Nicola beaches and you’ll be back in town.
Visit the Adalar Museum
The Adalar Museum is on the eastern coast, approximately 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the ferry terminal. You can walk there in half an hour. The museum has two distinct areas: the Cinar open-air museum and the covered one in a hangar. It’s not that big though.
The museum opened in 2010. It exhibits objects relating to the archipelago. There are countless pictures and interactive exhibits. The 400 million-year-old skeleton of a fish is quite impressive. You should see everything in an hour. There’s a coffee house if you need a drink.
The area around the museums is interesting too. The Monastery of Saint Nicholas is to the south. The original monastery from the 17th Century didn’t survive the Greek War of Independence and a fire. The one we can see today is from the 1860s. Walk south, and you’ll reach the Orthodox Cemetery.
Go on a Day Trip to another Island
Going to another Princes’ Island is what to do in Büyükada if you have more time. Though Büyükada is our favorite island, the other ones are absolutely worth your time. Besides, the trip around the islands is an attraction in itself so be sure to grab a window seat.
You can only go to Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and Büyükada. Tourists can’t enter the other 5 Princess Island. Check out this post we wrote about Princes’ Islands. Ferries from and to the islands leave from the ferry terminal. The closest island to Büyükada is Heybeliada. From there you can go to the others.
Another great idea is to go to the Asian side of Istanbul, directly in front of Büyükada. Ferries leave from the terminal and go to Bostancı in half an hour. You won’t find many foreign tourists in this area. Thus, it’s a great way to see a different side of Istanbul.
Stay in a Historic Hotel
Fortunately, Büyükada doesn’t have many hotels. That’s why spending at least a night is such a pleasure. Most tourists visit for the day and leave in the afternoon, so you’ll have the island all to yourself. Since Büyükada is super safe, you can walk at all times.
The Splendid Palace is the best hotel in Büyükada. You will see its two red domes from the ferry. The building is over 100 years old, but it’s in perfect shape. Book a superior room with a balcony on the top floors to enjoy epic views. The hotel has a lovely garden with a pool.
Another great option is the Ada Palas Hotel. The luxurious old mansion is a short walk from the ferry terminal. Everything in the house is original and authentic. However, the plush rooms have modern-day conveniences. You can have your delicious complimentary breakfast in its lovely garden.
Try Delicious Turkish Food
Büyükada has all types of restaurants serving local and international food. Milano Restaurant next to the ferry terminal is the best directly on the coast. The seafood is good, and the views are epic. However, our favorite restaurant in the center is Kervan, a block from the coast.
For coffee and people watching head to Fruitfrozen next to the clock tower. It’s a simple place favored by locals. Our favorite coffee shop in Büyükada is behind. Maple Coffee Shop has cakes and all types of coffee. The best coffee shop with sea views is Liman Café, next to the marina.
We usually eat in Luna Park Restaurant, in the middle of both hills. It’s got a lovely garden and fabulous views. They serve traditional Turkish food. Club Mavi is 5 minutes’ walking east. It’s a small restaurant set in a garden with views of the east of Büyükada.
How to Get to Büyükada
To go from Istanbul to Büyükada, you have to take a ferry. The boats depart from Kabataş in central Istanbul. IDO operates the fastest ones that take an hour to reach Büyükada. The slower ones by Şehir Hatları take 1.5 hours. You can also take this tour directly to the islands.
From Sultanahmet hop on the tram to Kabataş. Then cross to the ferry station. Another option is to take the boat from Eminönü to Kabataş. If you are staying around Taksim, go to Kabataş on the funicular. You have to take another funicular from Galata to Karaköy.
From Karaköy take the tram to Kabataş. Take note that the boats stop in Kadiköy and Bostancı. Both places are on Istanbul’s Asian side. We advise you to come back from Büyükada in the late afternoon. You will never forget the views of Istanbul at night from the boat.
Moving around Büyükada
Due to its size, moving around Büyükada is easy. The best way of doing so is walking. We never stop walking when we visit the island. To be honest, we don’t like cars much, so we love walking around the island smelling the pine trees, and listening to the birds.
Biking is another great option. Several shops rent both conventional and electric bikes by the hour or day. Once again, you won’t be scared of cars! If you get tired or don’t feel like walking, you can take the electric buses that tour the entire island.
The small train-like buses leave from Araba Meydani next to the pier every half an hour. Bus A1 goes directly first to the Christ Greek Monastery. From there you have to walk up a bit to the top of both hills. You can hail the bus at any of the stops along the way.