The largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands, Büyükada as it’s currently called in Turkish or Prigkipos as it has been called in Greek, is a charming place with lots of history and many delights for travellers in winter or summer to discover.
Because Büyükada is so large and because cars are absolutely forbidden on the island -except for those public service vehicles and come to think of it, motorized bikes, and I’m not sure how those were allowed -there are a few ways we would highly recommend getting around the island:
By bicycle: Charming and practical with the bonus of allowing you to choose where you go at high speeds.
By foot: Now this takes a while, but I know you like to walk. You will not just walk, you will hike Büyükada’s steep hills and forests if you choose this. Wear good shoes.
By fayton: Perfectly acceptable if you don’t want to sweat. Even locals will take faytons often to short distances when they have heavy things to carry.
Fortunately Büyükada’s central square, which you will see immediately after you step off the ferry, is the place for bicycle rentals and hiring a fayton. Start at the large clock tower, which has long been the center of the island’s commercial activities. If you want to see the old Istanbul town, you can book this tour package, Istanbul tour without accommodation. To your left you will see the main grocery stores, water front eateries, and various bakeries. I highly recommend picking up some of the “çekirdek simit” (wholewheat simit with sunflower seeds). In the square around the back left corner is the booth and queue for the faytons. Get in line and negotiate the price for a short or long journey. The long journey, despite its cost is what I would recommend. To the back right corner of the square you’ll see a small clothing boutique. The bicycle rental shops are there. I’ll take you on the tour from this point forward as if you are walking or biking with me and leave those who have opted for the horse and buggy to the guidance of the map.
Stand at the clock tower and take the road which is parallel to the sea on your right. Follow it to view the famous Hotel Splendid Palace and even further to peek at the gardens of the Cercle d’Orient Club from the outside. Unfortunately this illustrious club is members only. From the outside of the Club, continue on the steep path of Kadıyoran Caddesi. The landscape change quickly. The wooden mansions for which the island is famous in between smaller concrete multi-storey apartments will begin to disappear into the oncoming forest. Construction fever has not hit the island just yet, thank God. Your first stop after this, catch your breath, is a former Greek Orthodox Monastery. Once inhabited by priests and monastics, the property is now taken care of by the Patriarchate of Istanbul. By the way, you can look at this amazing Istanbul trip: Istanbul City Tour.
Continue further on your hike to the famous Monastery of St. George. You will notice that climb to this building is the worst on the island. For this there is a “lazy” solution: Leave your bike and pay to take a donkey ride to the top. Look at the ribbons and rags tied to the branches of the trees and shrubs as you climb. Each year on St. George’s Day, Turks climb up this hill and tie wish ribbons to the trees in the belief that the power of the monastery and the saint will help their hopes come true. When you arrive to the top, you’ll see a very modest but majestic church. Enjoy the full view of the island from this promontory and then come back down when you can handle it.
Further away is the monastery of St. Nicholas and the Greek Orthodox Cemetery of the island. The monastery church’s current building is a reconstruction from 1860, after it suffered harsh damage from a fire in 1853. The narthex, however, was built in 1873. At this point you’ll be tired. Luckily the Museum of the Princes’ Island (the St. Nicholas Hangar Museum site, closed on Mondays) is not too far away. Take a rest outside of the building before exploring the history of the Princes’ Islands.
Now that you’ve come so far and have tired yourself, walk or bike to the ferry port find a nice pastry shop around the clock tower to sit at, have a cup of tea or coffee and sweet, or sit down at one of the seaside restaurants for a whole meal. Alternatively, if you miss the height of St. George, go inside the ferry station building and find the stairs at the back right corner before the turnstiles. Walk up the steps to access the Beltur Cafe to people watch in the grand tradition of “Istanbullu” hobbies.