As soon as the ferry pushes away from Kabataş ferry terminal on Istanbul's European side, you can feel the frenetic pace of the city slipping away. Sipping a coffee on the ship's bow, the beautiful scenery and azure Bosphorus waters enchant as the boat makes stops on the Asian side, then on to each of the five Prince Islands (Adalar), just around an hour's journey away from the city.
Büyükada is the largest of the five islands. With no cars on this idyllic and relaxed isle, horse-drawn carriage and bicycles remain the main modes of transportation -- both of which can be hired at the ferry terminal upon arrival. An afternoon's cycle can cover the whole island, and caters to stopping at the stunning scenic bluffs, hidden beaches, and clifftop cafes along the route at your own pace.
In town, mansions boast swaths of bougainvillea and visitors dine al fresco at restaurants serving fresh seafood. Tasty ice cream can be bought near the ferry for the journey home. Go on a weekday to miss the weekending Istanbul crowd, to whom the island's charm is no secret.
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Island by Way of Horse
When exploring Istanbul, the Prince Islands should be visited for many reasons. Escaping the buzz of the city, Büyükada "Big Island" provides Ottoman mansions, a Byzantine monastery and quality fish restaurants among streets without cars. Hiring a horse-drawn carriage is the best way to see the island in a traditional way, or renting bikes for the modern way. There are a few hotels for people wishing to stay overnight, but day trips are easy. Ferries depart daily from Kabataş and Beşiktaş on the European side or Kadıköy and Bostancı, on the Asian side.
Büyükada is the largest of the Princes' Islands which are technically a part of Istanbul. In the Byzantine era, exiled monarchs, princes, and other royals were banished to or executed on these islands. During medieval times, these islands were home to remote monasteries, far removed from the hustle and bustle of life in Istanbul. Then, during the Ottoman era, wealthy Greek, Jewish, and Armenian families built Victorian summer mansions along the narrow streets. Likewise, nowadays, Istanbulites take the ferry to Büyükada to get away from the busy city. In Büyükada you'll find old, dilapidated homes like the one in this picture, adjacent to more modern ones. It reflects Istanbul's balancing act of the old and new.