Avsa Island (updated 13 Aug 2022)

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Avsa Island waterfront in August 2020

Welcome to the first in my new series of posts about side trips you can make from Istanbul. The aim is to provide those of you living in Istanbul with suggestions of places you can reach without a car for when you want a break from the lovely but hectic world that is life in modern Istanbul. If you’re a tourist they’ll give you an idea of how you can extend your trip to Istanbul.

In August 2020 I went to Avşa Island, at the western end of the Sea of Marmara for a seaside break with my husband. We took an IDO fast ferry from Yenikapi and the journey took three hours. It was at the height of COVID in Turkey so we had to get to the wharf earlier than normal to have our temperatures taken and IDs checked. Once on board there were repeated public announcements on video and loudspeaker reminding people to wear masks (something I still do on public transport and in crowded places). Unfortunately not everyone wore their masks all the time and the only person to report this to was a man running the kiosk. I tweeted about this to IDO, and they responded very professionally, explaining all the ventilation and other measures they have implemented, as well as assuring me my complaint will be taken up internally. Other than that it was a comfortable trip.

Looking along the sand at Karadut beach.

Now to the island itself. It’s had different names over the centuries, reflecting the changing population. According to archaeological finds, it was first settled in the Neolithic Age but it was the Greeks who had a major impact on the island’s economy and infrastructure. They grew olives and made wine and in the 17th century exiled priests lived in a monastery named for St George. It was adorned with frescoes and famous for its library of handwritten books but all that remains now is a pile of stones that once made up a marble courtyard.

At the time the island was named Pnagia after another monastery, this one dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Two centuries later the name changed to Aosia, but changed again to Afissia at the beginning of the 20th century. After Turkish born Greeks known as Rum were forced to go to Greece as part of the 1923 population exchange, Turkish residents cleared a lot of the land and then sold it for development. Apparently artefacts such as stele, amphora and fragments of inscriptions disappeared into the foundations and garden walls of houses on the island. Today, although the island is officially named Türkeli, everyone knows is as Avşa, the Turkish version of Aosia.

Where to stay
At the height of the summer season Avşa centre, where the ferry docks, is mental. It simply heaves with people. There are wall-to-wall hotels along the waterfront and apart hotels and pensions occupying the streets leading towards a light industrial area set back from the water.

People out and about enjoying a balmy summer night in Yiğitler

I stayed in Yiğitler on the east coast of the island. It’s much quieter, albeit a little rundown. Interestingly, between 672-678 when the Arab armies besieged Istanbul, the Arab fleet moored in Yiğitler and many Arabs settled here. As a result Yiğitler is also called Araplar, a name briefly given to the whole island. It has a small marina for local fishing boats only. Monday is market day but it’s tiny. You’ll only find the basics such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber and limited fruits in season. The nearby Başak Pastanesi and Firin sells ordinary white or brown bread plus a few other types. There are a couple of supermarkets, an A101 and a Şok as well as several manav (greengrocers). They didn’t display their prices but when I asked in Turkish they were very friendly and the prices reasonable.

You can book a hotel room or stay in an apart hotel and do your own catering. From past experiences of the latter we knew to bring our own ground coffee and expresso pot, cooking oil, a tea towel, dishwashing liquid, a sharp cutting knife and so on.

Where to swim
Unfortunately, although there are a lot of beaches on Avşa, when we went many of them were strewn with litter despite having bins everywhere. The local council could help by starting a keep Avşa clean campaign as well as fix the disgusting (I do not use words like this lightly) public toilets on the Yiğitler beachfront. That said I made it to five of the island’s beaches and here’s what I found.

Yiğitler beachfront - sadly the water is clean, the sand less so.

Altınkum is the island’s most popular beach. The shallow flat sands are good for people who don’t know how to swim and like a beach covered in sun loungers and umbrellas. I thought it looked ramshackle.

Avşa Halk Plajı in Avşa Merkezi just next to the IDO wharf is extremely busy. I was always told not to swim next to working boats but if you have time to kill before a ferry and want to cool off, it’s there.

The beach at Çınar Koyu has plenty of cafes, restaurants and hotels. The water is very clear and clean but the beach has dirty looking sand, and is packed bumper to bumper with sun loungers.

Make sure you visit Tavşanlı beach for a swim and light lunch.

Tavşanlı beach, one of my two favourites, has quiet, shallow peaceful waters, soft sand and is good for snorkelling. The Tavşanlı Icir Alti restaurant set in a grove of trees is lovely. It has a very basic menu but nice food and fair prices. Sun loungers and umbrellas are available for rent but there’s space to set up independently too.

My other favourite, Karadut beach, is also quiet with only two restaurants and can be reached by council minibus. It takes its name from the mulberry trees growing there. There’s a mix of sun loungers and sandy stretches perfect for putting up your own umbrella and chairs. We ate lamb şiş at Karadut Kır Lokantası and it was heaven, ‘lokum gibi’ as Turks say. Our accommodation host rang the owner the night before we went, to order the lamb for us in advance. The meat comes from their own herd. They also served mackerel, chicken, köfte, toasted sandwiches and so on. You can order beer and they make really nice clean tasting Turkish tea.

You can catch minibuses from Yigitler to all of the above.

Other beaches not visited
Incir Koyu – meant to be very quiet but I couldn’t find out how to get there without a car.
Kumtur Plajı – it has no facilities so you need to take your own food and drinks
Kadınlar – a women only beach. There’s a turn off on the road before Tavşanlı if you’re coming from Yiğitler.

Where to eat
To be honest, checking out reviews for a lot of the places in Avşa gave me a better idea of where not to eat than anything. There were a lot of complaints about the service, quality of food and dishes served versus dishes billed for. That said I did eat some really nice meals while I was there, including fresh fish.

The places I personally tried and recommend (please note things do change) are;

Meral Balikcilik – near the IDO terminal, behind Ada Café. They have good fresh fish selection, fair prices and don’t serve alcohol. Be aware a serve of fish is exactly that. There might be garnish but you’ll have to order and pay for a full salad or vegetables as a side.
Lakerda had really nice levrek (sea bass).
Simit Of was good for traditional meat and vegetable stews
Roma Dondurmaci for icecream

You won't leave Avşa Pastenesi empty handed!

Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth you have to check out Avşa Pastanesi. They have a huge range of sweet and savoury pastries, börek, simit etc. You name it, I wanted to eat it! If you’re self-catering the Avşa weekly pazaar, that’s outdoor markets, are on Tuesdays.

Enjoy fresh fish at Neşe’li Balik.


Neşe’li Balik is a restaurant built over the water in a carpark . What it lacks in décor it makes up for in a peaceful view over the harbour and squeaky fresh fish (again, no alcohol). In August 2020 we paid 30tl for levrek and the same for calamari. Prices will no doubt be much higher now but at the time (2020) that was half what paid for the same in Istanbul. Cheery staff made up for the slow service.

I’m a bit of a pide afficianado and the Yiğitler Pide Salonu did not disappoint. Crunchy base, generous toppings and good prices. As well as making pide, they serve menemen and kebabs such as Urfa, Adana and so on. According to Google they’re permanently closed but this is not true. They’re open daily, 10am to 10pm. Afiyet olsun!

Getting there & around
Depending on where you start from in Istanbul, you can catch the IDO ferry from Bostanci or from Yenikapi. Allow 15 mins to walk from the Yenikapi Marmaray stop to the IDO wharf. Note that the air-conditioning on the ferry can make it very cold so keep a scarf or shawl handy. On arrival at Avşa Merkezi you can catch minibuses around the island including to Yiğitler, Altınkum, Kadinlar and Tavşanlı Plaji (beaches). They go every 15 mins during the day and every 30 mins in the evening.

Note: the last minibus leaves Avşa Merkezi for Yiğitler at 1am in summer while the last one leaves Yiğitler to Avşa at midnight. In 2020 the trip cost 3tl but there are price lists displayed in the minibuses.

From Yiğitler can get minibuses to the various beaches but those to Çınar Köku only go every hour. There is a separate belediye (council) bus to Mavikoy.

Usually the minbiuses from Yiğitler go direct to Avşa. However be aware that if they have enough people wanting to go to the beaches in the other direction they might ‘detour’. This isn’t a problem if you have time but if you plan to have something to eat in Avşa Merkezi (or buy some organic jam, olive oil or other edibles) before catching the IDO back to Istanbul allow extra time otherwise you might be caught out.

Note: At night the minibuses from back from Avşa might drop you just down from the market place and not stop at the sea front, because they detour via houses up past the fishing port. That said, they might say nothing as they plan to drop you off on the way back. If in doubt, ask.

View of Karadut beach

Although Avşa lacks the geographical beauty of other places in Turkey, the sea at the five beaches I visited was crystal clear. Being selective about where I swam made my four and half day break, which included walking along the water, waking up to the sound of the waves washing up to the shore and evenings sitting on the balcony enjoying the breeze, a restorative tonic after the lockdowns and worry of the Coronavirus in the summer of 2020. As Yiğitler is still very much a local village, people sit outside their houses every night. They chat with the neighbours, the kids riding their bikes up and down the streets, families play Okey sitting out on their balconies and the nights are alive with the sounds of life. It was bliss.

If you don’t have your own car and are looking to get away, I recommend you try Avsa for your next island break.


Find out more about my ultimate move to Turkey in my memoir Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom. Making the decision to come was easy. It’s choosing to stay that can be hard.

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    1. When you say grass in the water I think you mean seaweed, right? There is seaweed in the deeper parts of most of the beaches so if you’re swimming you don’t touch it. The mains roads around the island are good but the access roads leading to some of the beaches are rocky and very steep. You might have to park you car by the side of the road and walk down in some places. Enjoy your time there!

  1. Great comments about yigitler and the beaches. I always stay in yigitler as its so much more quiet. Don’t forget to mention the local wine houses for wine tasting in yigitler and this year it is much cleaner. The yigitler beach is landscaped now and people are looking after it better. It’s a big shame that the beach clubs play very loud music as its a peaceful place spoiled by annoying turkish pop. Great place to visit though as its so close to Istanbul and breezy in the summer.

    1. It’s lovely to hear the Yigitlter beach is landscaped now. Do you have any picture from this year? I’d love to see them.

  2. There is so much of Turkey I still want to see. You provide so much insight. I hadn’t heard of Avsa Island. Thanks for the thorough report Lisa. x

    1. Thank you Serap. As I wrote in the post, it’s not the most stunningly beautiful but it is a lovely break from the city. It reminded me of childhood holidays I had in Avoca in the 1970s, before it went upmarket.

  3. Highly informative and colorful as always, Lisa. Thank you for these articles. I’ve gotten lots of ideas about places to visit from reading them.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I hope you get a chance to visit the various places in Istanbul. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  4. Hi Lisa,
    you mention litter strewn beaches. I’m curious if any measures have been taken re. litter since the devastating fires in Turkey? Local to us BBQs are prohibited everywhere as are Turkish Tea Kettles and people are being urged to bin their litter particularly bottles and plastic that could cause fires.

    1. I don’t know what’s happening on Avsa, but I just got back from Eski Foca (nearish to Izmir) and there are signs everywhere on the beach about not putting cigarette butts out in the sand. Council workers collect rubbish several times a day and it was very clean. Elsewhere I’ve read of foreign resident led clean up groups going out to collect plastic bottles etc left over after people battled the fires. As to anything being done on a nationwide level, I haven’t heard, but then I haven’t been following the news lately. It’s too hot at the moment and too depressing.

        1. That is really lovely to hear. If it’s not too cheeky to ask, I’d love if you’d tell them about my books too!

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