Once An Exile Ground Of The Ottoman Empire, Istanbul’s Adalar Islands Is A Car-Free Haven

These car-free islands are accessible from Istanbul in about an hour

by Tejashee Kashyap
Once An Exile Ground Of The Ottoman Empire, Istanbul’s Adalar Islands Is A Car-Free Haven

Istanbul is often synonymous with its bustling streets, traffic-laden roads, and the constant hum of urban life. Yet, nestled within the Marmara Sea, lies a serene sanctuary that stands in stark contrast to the city’s frenetic pace: Adalar Island. Also, these car-free islands, which are accessible from Istanbul in about an hour by public ferry, provide a green diversion from the biggest city in Europe as well as a window into the city’s diverse past.

Istanbul’s Adalar Island

Adalar, meaning islands in Turkish, is a cluster of nine islands, each with its unique charm, but it’s Büyükada, the largest of them, that captures the imagination of travellers seeking respite from the city’s clamour. Adalar, sometimes called the “Princes’ Islands” in English, was the exiled location of troublesome princes and political opponents sent into exile by Byzantine and Ottoman sultans. For the Greek and Armenian populations of the Ottoman Empire, this served as their final haven as well. The Princes’ Islands have a very dark history. In previous ages, a boat excursion to the archipelago that is exhilarating now would have likely been painful. Even after the Ottomans captured Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1453, the islands maintained their strong Byzantine character.

The restaurants, hotels, and cafes in Adalar are painted in the Greek colours of blue and white, adding to the feeling that the islands are trapped in a time warp. Charming cafes tucked away in leafy courtyards beckon passersby with the promise of freshly brewed Turkish coffee and delectable pastries. Artisanal shops offer unique handicrafts, from intricately woven textiles to hand-painted ceramics. One of the island’s most iconic landmarks is the Büyükada Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, perched atop a hill overlooking the town. Its striking red dome and whitewashed walls stand in stark contrast to the azure sky.

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But, How Do You Travel Here?

Many ports in Istanbul, including Eminönü and Kabataş on the European side and Bostanci (the shortest crossing) on the Asian side, are the departure points for ferries to Adalar. With IstanbulKart, ferry costs are 45 Turkish Lira for each trip. The IstanbulKart, a preloaded travel card, is required in Adalar to pay for electric buses and taxis. One or two islands can be explored in a single day, but if you have the time, spend a few nights at a hotel in Büyükada and do a tour of the archipelago via island hopping.

Locals use golf buggies and electric scooters to move around because the islands are car-free. Even, tourists can rent bicycles, take the electric bus or hike. There’s a sense of nostalgia in traversing Büyükada’s streets, reminiscent of a bygone era when life moved at a slower pace.

Cover image credits: Canva