In the town of Büyükada, once you get off the ferry, you’re immediately in the thick of the action. There are restaurants, cafés, and hotels located in beautiful Ottoman buildings. The fayton station is just a short walk uphill, along with several bike rental outlets.
In summer and weekends, the queue for the faytons could take up to an hour or more. This is one reason why it’s important to get on the early ferry. If you choose to rent a bike, ask for a map of the island to find points of interest.
In the town itself, you’ll find several beautifully restored (and unrestored) Ottoman homes. Some of them have been turned into boutique hotels and restaurants, such as the Pembe Köşk.
Mixed into the neighborhood is the St. Dimitrios Greek Orthodox Church. Many of Istanbul’s Greeks live on Büyükada, which they call Prinkipo (Πρίγκηπο). There’s also a small Jewish population on the island. Unfortunately, their synagogue is behind a huge security fence.
As you make your way out of town, some of the most impressive homes are located on the outskirts. The main road followed by the faytons will take you past most of these homes.
In the center of the island there’s a square called Birlik Meydanı. From there, there are two paths up different hills. One path leads to Aya Yorgi, or the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, a popular pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims.
The road up the other hill, İsa Tepesi, leads to two more important sites of Greek heritage. The first one you come to is the dilapidated yet impressive Greek Orthodox Orphanage. It happens to be the second biggest wooden building in the world and the biggest in Europe. It was built in 1898 originally as a hotel and casino, but Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamit II refused to issue a permit for its use.
The building was bought by the wife of a Greek banker in 1903, donated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and converted into an orphanage. It was shut down in 1964 and seized by the Turkish government. The property was returned to the Patriarchate in 2010, but it’s in a terrible state of disrepair. Still, it’s a very impressive building that can be admired from near and far.
A bit further up the hill is the Christos Monastery, originally built in 1597. It’s a beautiful wooden building and church behind a barbed wire fence. There’s also a small cemetery on the premises.
Walking along the road past the monastery, you’ll find some breathtaking views of the Greek Orthodox Orphanage and Dilburnu, a small cape that juts out from the island.
If you return to Birlik Meydanı and head to the south side of the island, you’ll be surrounded with nothing but a forest, some amazing scenery, and peace and quiet. You won’t encounter too many other people or faytons coming from either direction.
At the very south end of the island is a memorial to Turkish soldiers and police officers who fell as victims to terrorism. There are small plaques for each soldier with their name, photo, rank, and date and location of death.
Heading back to town, on the east side of the island are a few more points of interest. The first one you will come to is a Greek cemetery. It’s only open on Tuesdays, but from the road you can see the grave of one of the most famous members of the Greek minority of Turkey, Lefter Küçükandonyadis (Λευτέρης Αντωνιάδης). Born on Büyükada, he was one of the greatest Turkish footballers of all time, starring for Fenerbahçe and the Turkish national team. When he died in 2012, his funeral filled up Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. A statue of Lefter was erected outside the stadium in 2009.
A bit further up from the cemetery is the St. Nicholas Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery dating from the 16th century. It’s located in a large white building. You’ll also pass the Adalar Müzesi, a small museum about the Princes’ Islands.
Reaching the outskirts of town once again, two buildings will catch your eye. The first is the home of Reşat Nuri Güntekin. He was a famous Turkish playwright and novelist.
The second is the Sabuncakis Köşkü, a Masonic Temple. Built in 1904 by Yorgi Sabuncakis, it’s commonly known as the Gözlü Ev (House with Eyes). It was restored in 2010.