If you looked at Instagram before coming to Istanbul, you would have seen Balat’s colourful houses, red school, churches, designer and antique shops, souvenir shops, cafes and places to visit.
As a native of Istanbul, I must tell you that Instagram only shows you 10% of the content. When you visit there, so many things will affect you that your phone may run out of battery from taking photos.
Also, if you like cultural tourism like me, there are traces of an incredible cultural mixture of Greek, Jewish, Armenian, Bulgarian and Turkish traditions in Balat’s buildings and religion.
Balat Istanbul is an ancient Jewish district. Its name comes from the Latin “palatium” which means “castle”, in honor of the Blachernae Palace, the ruins of which are located nearby. In the second half of the XV century, sultan Bayezid II promoted its settlement by Sephardim – Spanish Jews who fled from the Iberian Peninsula. By the 19th century, the Jewish community had built 12 synagogues, opened a hospital and a large number of shops. In 1950, the bulk of the Jews moved from Balat to Israel.
In this native insider guide, we’ll show up the top activities to experience in Balat, offering insights and recommendations often overlooked by visitors. Learn about the most enticing attractions, navigate the best routes to Balat, uncover the fascinating history of the area, explore the finest cafes and restaurants, and discover the optimal hotels for your stay in Balat. Dive into the heart of Balat with our expert native tips and make the most of your visit.
Balat is located on the European side of Istanbul, in the Fatih district, on the Golden Horn, where many museums and historical monuments are located.
How to Get to Balat Istanbul?
You can get to Balat and Fener from different points of Istanbul by public transport:
How to get to Balat from Eminonu
Take the bus at the stop near the pier – No. 33ES, 36CE, 44B, 48E, 99, 99A, 99Y. The journey takes 7 – 10 minutes. Get off at the stop Fener or Balat.
Also in 2021 not far away from Eminonu Square near the Ataturk Bridge in the direction of Eyup a tram line was opened. It goes along the shore. You can take the T5 tram and, after a couple of stops, get off at Balat station.
How to get to Balat from Taksim
Take the metro M2. Get off at Haliç station. Walk to the bus stop and take buses No. 36CE, 44B or the T5 tram.
Across the bay. The road can be combined with a romantic water walk along the Golden Horn. Ferries going from Üsküdar or Karaköy to Eyüp are suitable. They run every hour. Get off at the pier Fener or Balat. Walk through the park.
From the Asian side – from the shopping center Metropol Istanbul in the Ertuğrul district. Walk to the Ataşehir Atatürk Mahallesi bus stop, take bus No. 19EK, get off at Uzunçayır. Transfer to bus No. 34G, get off at Ayvansaray Eyüp. Walk 30 minutes.
You can always use an Istanbul taxi, the main thing is to indicate to the driver a specific place, for example, a Bulgarian church. Otherwise, he can drive you around the streets of the district.
Where to see
The Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Church of St. George
The temple complex consists of several buildings. The main one is the church, which is a modest–looking small three-nave basilica. The parishioners of St. George’s Cathedral are Christians living in Istanbul. Pilgrims from all over the world come to it on big orthodox holidays. Behind the basilica there is the Patriarch’s office and his library. The entrance to the Patriarchate is free, but all visitors are checked for security.
Phanar Greek Orthodox College (“Red Castle”)
Nestled in the Fener and Balat neighborhoods, atop the steep Sancakar Street, stands the impressive Phanar Eastern Orthodox College, distinguished by its striking red brick façade
The educational institution, functioning since 1454. Its current building was erected in 1883. The main sponsor of the construction was Georgis Zarifis, an Ottoman banker of Greek origin, who donated 17 thousand gold coins. The author of the project is architect Konstantinos Dimidas.
The red brick building, located on a high hill, resembles a French castle in the Art Nouveau style. The lyceum has an observatory with a rare operating telescope and an observation tower with a magnificent view of Istanbul.
Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. Stephen
An Orthodox church belonging to the Bulgarian community of Istanbul. Its first wooden building, consecrated in 1849, was donated by Prince Stefan Bogoridi. After the temple burned down, new construction was started in 1892. The Bulgarian Iron Church of St. Stephen is called the Iron church among people. The unofficial name was born because of the unique feature of the building: it is completely made of cast iron.
Balat Colourful Houses
The residences, referred to as “cumba evleri” (houses with alcoves), were originally owned by affluent upper-class inhabitants of Balat and boast an age ranging from 50 to 200 years. Although numerous houses have undergone restoration and transformation into apartments or hotels, a number of them are still inhabited by local families with a long history of residence.
While charmingly colored houses can be found on every street in Balat, certain areas stand out as particularly favored by photographers.
Vodina Caddesi, its name deriving from the Jewish community that migrated here during the Ottoman period, offers the true essence of the Balat experience with its historical structures and warm atmosphere. In recent years, with the support of the Fatih Municipality, this street has transformed into an open-air photography studio with its vibrant and restored buildings. Indeed, when you visit, you will see many visitors capturing numerous photographs along the colorful street.
You need to be ready for a different surprise at every step here. One of the most colorful surprises that Balat offers to its travelers is Kiremit Street. This street is famous for its colorful houses that stand as if they are supporting each other to avoid collapse.
Kiremit Street, with its multi-story and bay-windowed houses, some evoking a sense of impending collapse and others undergoing restoration for preservation, attracts photography enthusiasts.
The mansions on this steep cobbled street were initially constructed by Greek aristocrats residing in Fener. At the street’s base, there’s a café where you can savor a cup of tea after marveling at the architecture.
Authentic Chifit Bazaar
A number of outlets with a unique flavor on Leblebiciler Street. In the old days, Jewish merchants were engaged in commercial activities here. On the market you can find pastry shops and bakeries, a butcher shop, pharmacies, ateliers, shoe repair shops, household goods, antique and mirror shops.
Balat Toy Museum
The 1000 m2 museum was opened in 2021. Its exposition includes more than 17,000 toys. It presents tin figurines, models of cars, airplanes, ships, dioramas, porcelain dolls, cartoon characters, mechanical moving compositions, Lego collections and so on. There is a souvenir shop and a cafe in the museum building.
Opening hours are from 10:00 to 20:00 every day.
The ticket price is 8 euros.
One of the oldest Jewish temples in Istanbul. It was erected in the XV century by Romaniots – immigrants from the Macedonian city of Ohrid. The synagogue is the core of the Jewish district of Balat.
Mustafa Pasha Hamam
It was built in 1477 by order of Kara Mustafa Pasha, who served under Muhammad the Conqueror. The area of the brick building is about 1265 m2. It has two compartments – male and female, each of which includes a number of rooms – cool, warm, hot, dressing room. They are equipped with marble bathrooms and massage plates. The rooms are covered with domed roofs. The hamam functioned until 1995, after which it was abandoned.
After the restoration work, it has become the place for exhibitions and biennales.
Or-Achaim Jewish Hospital
The hospital has been functioning since 1898. It was opened by order of sultan Abdul Hamid II to provide medical services to the poor. The institution was built with donations collected by the Jewish Or-Ahayim (“Light of Life”) charity society. The author of the building is an architect Gabriel Tedechi. Over time, the hospital has become one of the best hospitals in Istanbul.
Yavuz Selim Mosque
A Muslim temple built in 1527 by order of Suleiman the Magnificent in honor of his father Selim I the Terrible. The granite building has two minarets and a dome about 30 m high . Near the mosque there are tombs of sultans and their heirs, as well as a terrace with a view of the Golden Horn.
All the described temples are functioning. They are open to visitors during the day from 9:00 to 16:00.
Colored houses on Merdivenli Yokuş street
There are old bright houses on this street. Its peculiarity is a steep climb. On both sides of the road there are colorful steps leading to the sea. The “street with stairs to the hill” looks very picturesque in the photos, but don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes for walking along it.
One of the busiest streets of the quarter. On its sharp turns there are many colorful cafes, antique shops, stalls with street food. Here you can buy unique collectibles at good discounts that start after 15.00
There is a wonderful view of the Golden Horn from the hill. You can climb it by the steep stairs of Merdivenli Mektep Street. At the top there is a cafe where you can relax and drink tea.
Interesting to know about Fener and Balat
The popularity of Balat and Fener is largely due to the Turkish TV series “Çukur”, which takes place in bright streets of the quarters.
Excursions to the Balat and Fener quarters are regularly organized, including a transfer and a guide.
Where to Eat: Balat
Agora Meyhanesi is a historic restaurant and meyhane located in the Balat neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey.
Agora Meyhanesi has been operating since 1992 and is housed in a restored 19th-century building. The restaurant serves traditional Turkish meze (small plates) and rakı, a popular anise-flavored alcoholic drink that is often enjoyed with meze in Turkey. Some of the popular meze dishes at Agora Meyhanesi include stuffed grape leaves, fried eggplant, and grilled octopus.
In addition to its delicious food, Agora Meyhanesi is also known for its lively atmosphere and live music performances. The restaurant often hosts traditional Turkish musicians who play saz (a type of stringed instrument) and sing folk songs. This makes Agora Meyhanesi a great place to experience the local culture and enjoy an authentic Turkish night out.
Overall, if you’re looking for a traditional meyhane experience in Istanbul’s historic Balat neighborhood, Agora Meyhanesi is definitely worth checking out.
Forno Balat – Small bakery
The menu at Forno Balat features a variety of baked goods, including croissants, bagels, muffins, cakes, and cookies. They also serve sandwiches made from freshly-baked bread, with a range of fillings such as cheese, ham, and vegetables. In addition to these items, Forno Balat serves coffee, tea, and other beverages.
One of the unique features of Forno Balat is that they make their own sourdough bread using natural yeast, which gives it a distinctive flavor and texture. They use high-quality ingredients and bake everything fresh daily, so you can be sure that your food will be both delicious and fresh.
Overall, Forno Balat is a great place to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a cup of coffee while exploring the beautiful neighborhood of Balat.