For more than ten years, author Jess Lee has been trekking along the coast, visiting the nation’s islands. Whether you’re looking for a summer getaway, an island with a unique history, or a stunning view of the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean, Turkey has something for everyone. Some of these islands are destination islands in and of themselves, and they’re major summer vacation destinations. Others are great for sightseeing or a day trip while you’re on vacation. Even
Istanbul, the sprawling metropolis, has a group of islands that’s only a ferry ride away, perfect for a quick break from the hustle and bustle of city life. To help you decide which islands to include in your travel itinerary, we’ve compiled a list of the top islands in Turkey. 10 Top-Rated Islands in Turkey
For Turkish city-dwellers seeking high-class, elegant beach holidays, this idyllic Aegean island is a tranquil paradise. Originally known as Tenedos in Greek, the island was incorporated into the modern Turkish state in 1923. Although Bozcaada was not included in the 1920s Turkey-Greek population exchange, intercommunal violence in the 1960s and 1970s forced the majority of the island’s Greek inhabitants to emigrate. The island’s Ottoman Greek heritage can still be seen in the well-preserved Bozcaada town. According to Aeneid, the Greeks hid in Tenedos, pretending to have gone home, while deceiving the Trojans to allow the Trojan Horse inside the walls of Troy.
Situated just west of the coastal plain of Gallipoli in the Sea of Aegean, the town only comes alive during the peak summer months. Outside of peak season, it’s one of the island’s best-kept secrets if you’re an island lover looking for nature and a peaceful beach break. Like Bozcatada, the town was originally settled by Ottoman Greeks and was originally known as Imbros in Greek. The 1960s persecution of the Greek population forced most of them to leave the area, and now the stone cut architecture and cobbled streets of the barren, falling into ruin villages dotting the hilly interior of the island are a reminder of its turbulent modern history and ancient Greek culture. In summer, visitors spend most of their time lounging on the beaches of the south coast, with windsurfers mostly flocking to the beach at Aydurcık. During the winter and spring, the town is also home to the famous pink flamingoes.
Cunda is also known as Alibey Island. It is located just off the shore of the Ayvalık town on the north Aegean coast and can be easily reached by a causeway from the mainland. Cunda’s Ottoman Greek inhabitants were included in the 1920s Turkey-Greece population exchange, as part of the peace agreement between the two countries. Ethnic Muslims from Crete, who were forced to move to Greece, were also included in the exchange. The historical old town of Cunda is full of Ottoman Greek architecture, and is a prime walking area. The best building in the old town is the GOC (Greek Orthodox Church of the archangels), which is now a museum. Many people come to Cunda just for the excellent dining experience. Many of the atmospheric cafes and restaurants (most of which are concentrated around the old town port) serve Aegean style cuisine, combining elements of both traditional Greek and Turkish dishes.
4. Heybeliada (Princes’ Islands)
If you’re staying in Istanbul but want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a few days, do like the locals and take a ferry to one of the Princes’ islands. Heybeliada, the second largest island in the group, is located on the sea’s edge. During the weekends between May and October, half the city seems to disappear for a day, so it’s best to book your visit on a weekday. You’re not allowed to drive on this island, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore by foot or by bicycle (there are plenty of bike rental options available). One of the best things to do as a tourist is simply stroll down the narrow streets lined with impressive wooden villas and make your way to the lookout points with stunning views over the sea.
5. Kızkalesi Island
Situated on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast, the beach town of Kizilay is a popular tourist destination. Just a few meters from the beach is the tiny island from which the town is named. On Kizilay Island lies the remains of the Byzantine castle (“Maiden’s Castle” in the local language). The castle’s rampart and towers still stand tall atop the rocky shoreline. Although the interior of the castle is in ruins and the castle’s most impressive feature are the fortified walls, regular boat trips take visitors to and from the island. Since the island is 300 meters from shore, visitors can also swim to and from the castle. 10 Top-Rated Islands in Turkey