We spent a lovely weekend on nearby Buyukada, to attend the wedding of Cagatay's friends Berke and Ipek. Buyukada is the largest island in the Princes' Islands group (no surprise it's the largest - buyuk means big and ada means island in Turkish) and visible from Istanbul on a good day.
We took the ferry on Saturday morning from the Kabatas pier; it took nearly two hours since we stopped at the other islands first, and the ferry was absolutely packed with Istanbul residents and tourists, a number in burkas or niqabs, heading to the beach for the weekend. (Though I use the word "beach" lightly - from what I've seen, Turkey has almost no sandy beaches, mostly it's just rock/cliff and then ocean. And the water is freezing!) It was so packed that we had to sit inside, and we passed the time playing Risk on our iPad.
I had no idea what Buyukada would look like and when we arrived, the first thing I saw was this huge ferry terminal covered in vibrant blue tiles. (According to Lonely Planet, it was built in 1899.) From there, you walk up the short street lined with ice cream shops to the center of "town," the squat clock tower that all the streets seem to radiate from. This area was COMPLETELY packed but once we got out of that compact circle of mayhem, the island became this charming, beflowered, lost-in-time place. (The New York Times, incidentally, ran a story about the island in the Friday paper under the headline "A Turkish Idyll Lost in Time.")
I think the "lost-in-time" bit stems from two main things: the architecture and the lack of cars. Whether by purpose or design, a lot of the gorgeous Ottoman architecture has been preserved so the island feels very historic and authentic. Cagatay says that any time they want to film a movie set in the past, they come here. Cars are also not allowed so except for the odd service vehicle, you get around by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage (called faytons).
We stayed at the Splendid Otel, a grand, domed place that has hosted Ataturk and the Shah of Iran (according to photos in the atrium) and Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII (according to the New York Times). While our room definitely could have used an update, we did have a partial sea view and the pool looked incredibly inviting. (On the left is the hotel from the pier; on the right, the view from our window.)
We didn't have much time to explore, either the pool or the island, since we were there for the wedding...but it's an easy day trip and we'll probably come back in the fall when the weather is still nice but the tourists are gone (says the tourist).