Located just south of the mainland, Princes Islands offer some of the best cycling routes in Istanbul. Private motor vehicles are not allowed on the islands, this limits the traffic to a few government vehicles (such as garbage trucks and police cars), horse drawn carriages, pedestrians and bicycles. Moreover, most of the islands are covered by pine trees, offering spectacular sights of green and blue.
Princess Islands consist of 9 islands in total, but only 4 of them (Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgaz Adası and Kınalı Ada) can be visited. Büyükada is the largest and has most to offer, therefore it is the focus of this article.
Islands (Adalar) can be reached by either ferries departing from Bostancı and Kabataş operated by Şehir Hatları İşletmesi or motorboats run by privately held Mavi Marmara Lines. Passenger tickets cost 5TL, bicycles can be carried free of charge on ferries, but Mavi Marmara charges another 5TL for bikes. So, carrying your bicycle is not a big deal.
If you don’t have your bicycle with you, it is possible to rent a bicycle on the island. Unfortunately, rental bicycles are mostly entry level mountain bikes or hybrids, and some of them are not well maintained. If you fancy renting a bicycle, make sure that the gears and brakes are working properly.
A full lap around the Büyükada offers 11km of rolling terrain through residential areas and forests. It is also popular to go around the island on foot or by horse carriage.
There is also an orphanage there. This Greek Orphanage is the largest wooden building in Europe. It is closed and in derelict condition, but it is still worth a visit. The orphanage can be reached from the north as well, but the road from the south is much better as it is not as steep and goes though woods (and not houses).
The next stop is the Hagia Yorgi monastery that sits on the highest point of the islands and offers a challenging climb to you. There are actually two paths, a longer (less steep) dirt road and a very steep cobbled road. With average gradient of 13%, the cobbled climb offers a taste of Flemmish bergs, however It is not advisable to ride on the cobbled road when there is any pedestrian traffic, as the road is narrow.
When you feel tired and hungry because of the little stubborn climbs, it is time to visit the Northern shore of Büyükada. It is filled with Cafes and Turkish style seafood restaurants. Taking an early ferry to Büyükada, riding until lunch time and finishing the ride with fish and cold beer is highly recommended. There are also numerous beaches and picknick spots along the Büyüktur route. It means that you can have an amazing view while you are eating.
Who wants his little holiday to be spoiled by cold weather or huge crowd? During the summer months, the islands are very popular among the local population and can be too crowded, especially on weekends. Therefore, the best time to visit the islands is weekday mornings on May thru September. It should be noted that late autumn and winter (November thru March) is particularly rainy in İstanbul. Winter population of the smaller islands (Burgaz and Kınalı) are very low, and can give the feeling of a ghost town.
Although slightly smaller, Heybeliada offers a similar experience. However, the other two islands are simply too small to make the trouble of taking your bicycle there worthwhile. On the other hand, Kınalı Ada has arguably better seafood restaurants and Kalpazankaya Restaurant on Burgaz is one of the best spots in Istanbul to watch the sun set.
By the way there are some things that you should keep in mind. Drivers of horse buggies can be unaware of passing cyclists; therefore, you need to be careful. In addition, there are numerous blind corners throughout the island and many road users (including cyclists) ignore rules such as keeping the right side of the road.
by Murat Bilsel