Turkey is home to some of the world's most divine islands, from a car-free archipelago just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, to the likes of Gökçeada, where olive groves are lapped by the impeccably clear waters of the Aegean Sea. Here are a few of the best Turkish islands.
The Prince’s Islands
Wander car-free streets scented with magnolias and mimosas on the Prince's Islands
Despite being just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, the Prince’s Islands feel a world away from the Turkish capital. It’s an archipelago of nine that floats in the Sea of Marmara and quietly enthralls visitors with its slow pace of life. The islands are all car-free and known for their romantic horse-drawn carriages (phaetons), which enhance the feeling that you’ve been transported back in time. Explore streets scented with magnolias, mimosas, tangerine and lemon trees, and lined with wooden country mansions dripping with wisteria. Büyükada, meaning ‘big island,’ is the largest and farthest from Istanbul, from which it makes a great day trip. Here, you can visit one of the superb local fish restaurants or stock up on supplies from the main bazaar, hire bikes and head off to find a shady picnic spot beneath the pines that line the coast. The islands of Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada or the smaller Sedef Adası, Yassıada, Sivriada, Kaşık Adası and Tavşan Adası are all equally enchanting. Regular ferries depart from Istanbul, more specifically from Eminonu, Kabatas, Kadıköy or Bostanci. After a day trip to the islands, head back to Loka Suites in Kadıköy for the night.
Akdamar island, Lake Van, Turkey
Akdamar is a tiny, whimsical island in the middle of Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Aside from the naturally beautiful setting – picture a small hill rising out of the cobalt-blue lake and the snowy stratovolcano, Mount Süphan, dominating the background – the main attraction is the 10th-century Cathedral of the Holy Cross. This incredibly well-restored cathedral is a rare remnant of Lake Van’s Armenian population, with a honey-coloured exterior decorated with exquisite reliefs and an interior filled with faded frescoes. Climb up the island’s solitary, small hill for the best views of the lake ringed by mountains chequered with blooming almond trees. While you can’t stay on the island, you can base yourself right on the lake shore for a holiday at Doubletree by Hilton Van.
Bozcaada, Aegean Island, Turkey
The breezy Turkish island of Bozcaada in the Aegean Sea – Tenedos in Greek – has a split heritage. On one side lie crumbling clock towers, Greek taverns and white-washed houses. While on the other, you’ll find a mosque and elements of Ottoman architecture. The island’s cuisine is Mediterranean, bearing flavours of both cultural influences and its viticulture ever blossoming – grape vines cover almost every undulating hill. Hire a bicycle or a moped and cruise from winery to winery, and tasting fine local vintages. And be sure to buy a bottle to take down to the harbour to watch the sunset over the Aegean Sea. Just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour, you’ll find the local artisanal food market, where you can buy a fantastic Greek delicacy that’s unique to the island – tomato jam. Base yourself at the island’s highly rated Ege Hotel.
Gökçeada, Çanakkale Province, Turkey
Gökçeada is Turkey's largest island and is revered for its mountainous, arid landscape – it was even mentioned in Homer’s epic, The Iliad, as the island of Poseidon, the Sea God. Sitting in the Aegean Sea, it's another Turkish island with a palpable Greek feel. The journey there is a scenic delight; hire a car in Istanbul and drive down to the pine forest-covered Gallipoli Peninsula, from where a sun-drenched, windswept ferry ride will take you to the island. Between swimming and sunbathing in impeccably clear waters, graze on island delicacies such as ‘efibadem’ (almond cookies) and ‘cicirya’ (a Greek pastry filled with melted goat cheese, mint, and thyme). Tour the Greek villages of Tepeköy, Dereköy and Zeytinliköy for cobbled streets, historic churches and views across the entire island. Head home to Cinarli Kasri Gökçeada Town for the night.
Cobbled streets and colourful houses on the island of Cunda
Cunda Island (also known as Alibey) is part of an archipelago near the Greek island of Lesbos, just off the coast of Turkey. Visitors are drawn here for the inconspicuous beaches lapped by Aegean Sea, attractive ruins of Greek orthodox cathedrals and monasteries, and the irresistible fruity, smooth native olive oil. Hike through pine groves seeking out stellar views or walk around the cobbled streets along the coast and stop for a Turkish tea in the island’s most popular café, the family-run Tas Kahve. Spend an evening enjoying the hammam at Cunda Fora Hotel.