Balat is a vibrant district of Istanbul, with authentic streets, colorful houses, cozy vintage cafes, and numerous ‘Instagrammable’ photo spots. Here, you can experience a different side of Istanbul – charismatic, hipster, and contrasting. Balat is visited by fewer tourists, even though it’s located not far from the historic center of Sultanahmet
History of Balat
Balat’s history dates back to ancient times. This district is one of the oldest quarters in the city and is situated in the European part of Istanbul, within the municipal district of Fatih, on the western shore of the Golden Horn. It borders the Ayvansaray district, where the ruins of the Byzantine Palace of Blachernae still stand. It is believed that this palace gave the name ‘Balat’ to the district, derived from the Greek word ‘palatiоn,’ meaning ‘palace.’ On the other side, you’ll find the Fener district, home to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the abandoned houses of Balat, designer shops, antique stores with nostalgic items from the past, vintage cafes, and conceptual art restaurants began to open soon. Workshops for artistic glass, wooden products, ceramics, and handmade crafts also started operating in the area. This was due to the affordable cost of houses and rental spaces. Today, Balat is considered a “hipster” and bohemian district of Istanbul.
What to see and do in Balat?
Balat is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets that ascend from the shores of the Golden Horn. Popular streets in the Balat district include Yıldırım Cd. and Vodina Cd., with hills like Sancaktar Ykş and the slope of Merdivenli Yokuş Sokağı. It’s also interesting to explore other narrow streets to experience the unique atmosphere of this historic neighborhood. Yıldırım Cd. and Vodina Cd. run parallel to each other and towards the Golden Horn waterfront.
One distinctive feature of the Balat district is the old 3-4-story Jewish houses with narrow facades. Many of these houses have bay windows extending from the second floor and above. Some of these buildings are abandoned, and a few are more than 200 years old, adding to the historical charm of the area.
4 my favorite places in Balat
Balat and Fener are notable in themselves. These are old neighborhoods of Istanbul, and it’s very interesting to stroll through them. I recommend allowing yourself to get lost in their streets and discover new experiences. There are several places in this area that are worth your attention.
Colorful houses of Balat – Kiremit Street
📍 Kiremit Cd., Balat, Fatih district, Istanbul, Turkey Google Map
Famous street with colorful houses in Balat. There are always many people here! If you want to take the best photos, come early in the morning, preferably at dawn.
Phanar Greek Orthodox College
📍 Balat, Sancaktar Ykş. No:36 Google Map
A very beautiful building, the architectural landmark of the entire district.
The Greek Orthodox Lyceum (Özel Fener Rum Lisesi ve Ortaokulu) is the oldest and most prestigious Orthodox school in Istanbul. It was founded by Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius in 1454, immediately after the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.
The school was intended for children from noble Greek and other Orthodox families in the Ottoman Empire. Many Ottoman ministers and Moldavian and Wallachian princes received their education there during their youth. For instance, Dimitrie Cantemir, whose traces can still be found in the “Instagrammable” Balat neighborhood, spent some time at this school.
The modern red-brick building, designed in the eclectic style, was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century by the Greek architect Konstantinos Dimadis. The construction costs, which were considerable for that time, were sponsored by Georgios Zarifis, a renowned banker and financier in the Ottoman Empire.
📍 Balat, Fatih district, Istanbul, Turkey Google Map
On the corner of Yıldırım Cd and Camcı Çeşmesi Ykş streets, there is a famous local cafe called “Naftalin” (“Нафталин”). It’s a retro cafe decorated with various vintage items such as photographs, toys, tablecloths, and tableware. It’s a very atmospheric place, and the presence of cats adds to the charm of “Naftalin.” They feel right at home here, as they do throughout Istanbul.
You can come here just for photos. Here you can have coffee and enjoy their homemade pastries. Oh, and of course, pet the cat!
📍 Balat, Çimen Sk. No:8a Google Map
Home-made halva and the best orange cake!
The eclectic little cafe “Velvet” is a reflection of Balat, where the best vintage and antique dealers are located among ancient Greek houses. There is simply a charming sound environment, Edith Piaf, Fred Buscaglione, orchestras of the past, the whole cafe is imbued with a soft and old-fashioned retro atmosphere. Velvet makes the best homemade halva. In the photo on the left. This is not quite the halva we are familiar with. This dessert is hard to find in Istanbul, and that’s why you should come here first. And secondly, for Turkish coffee, which you can drink here, choosing a cup from the owner’s antique collection. Some of these cups are 80 to 100 years old. Just say that you want to choose a cup, and the waiter will understand you in half a word and show you everything) I also highly recommend their orange cake, I think I like it even more than their halva).
Is it worth to go to Balat?
Exploring the Balat district is a delightful experience. You can leisurely stroll through its narrow streets, sit at a table in a charming café, enjoy some tea with Turkish sweets, and observe the local life. This allows you to truly immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of the area. Watching the surroundings and interacting with the local residents can add memorable moments to your Balat experience. This neighborhood is rich in history and cultural heritage, and walks here can be fascinating and inspiring.
Here are some tips for tourists visiting the Balat district:
- Wear comfortable shoes for exploring the narrow streets of Balat. Leave high heels at home.
- Balat is considered a relatively poor district, so it’s important to be cautious with your belongings to avoid theft.
- Avoid walking around the area at night, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, and especially if you’re a solo female traveler. Balat has its own local dynamics and rules.
- The deeper you venture into the poorer neighborhoods, the less safe it may become for tourists. Exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings.
Balat is indeed a unique and contrasting neighborhood in Istanbul, and it offers a different perspective compared to the more touristy areas. Istanbul is a diverse and multifaceted city, and exploring off the beaten path can lead to discovering hidden gems like Balat, which is rich in history and character.
To get to the Balat
From the Eminonu Pier to the Balat district, it’s approximately 2.5 kilometers. You can reach it by bus or by ferry.
Balat disctrin on the Istanbul Map
🚌 By bus
The fastest option is by bus. From the bus stop at Eminonu Pier, you can take buses #44B, 48E, 99, 99A, 99Y. The ride along the Golden Horn takes about 7-10 minutes (if there are no traffic jams) to either the Fener stop or the next one, Balat. Cross the road and immerse yourself in the colorful streets.
⛴️ By ferry
Another interesting option is by Ferry. Taking the ferry to the Balat district takes longer but is more romantic. You can enjoy the views of the Golden Horn’s shores along the way, almost like a mini-cruise. The cost of the trip by bus and Ferryis the same. Disembark at the Fener or Balat pier. Then, walk through the park and cross the road.
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