Balatis one of the oldest and most spectacular districts ofİstanbul. The second you step foot along its narrow cobbled streets and historic buildings, you sense an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in İstanbul, and indeed the world.
The district is genuinely hidden away a little bit, set past the shores of Eminönü along the Golden Horn. It’s quite close to the metro stop along the Golden Horn (called Haliç in Turkish), within comfortable walking distance. The coastal road all along the Golden Horn is extremely pleasant, with massive parks all along and families walking along the promenade all the way up to Pierre Loti at the end of the Golden Horn.
But once you step insideBalat, all that drifts away as you’ve stepped into a İstanbul of yester year. So let’s go exploring!
Balat’s Colorful Homes
Perhaps the most iconic part ofBalatis the district’scolorful housesalong sloping cobbled streets. These homes are mostly over50-years-old, and in some cases are up to200-years-old. These historic wooden homes are amongst the most photographed buildings in the city, and given its popularity many of these streets now feature cafés and restaurants for you to stop off at and admire the setting.
The neighborhood itself is incredibly welcoming, with many families having lived here for generations. You’ll meet locals who are very happy to talk to you and ask you about your background, and as we’ll see… Many of the locals have quite the diverse background themselves!
The Diverse History of Balat
Balatis a district that has traditionally been home to minorities in the city, with many Jewish families and Greek Orthodox families making it their homes. The stunning massiveFener Greek High Schoolis still in operation here and you can see it from many different angles all over. Along the coast is a Bulgarian church, with iron castings manufactured in Vienna and a belfry tower that was a gift from Russia.
You’ll see tons of churches and even a synagogue in the neighborhood – theYanbol Synagoguebuilt by Bulgarian immigrants - and the residents match this with many famous Turks having lived here as well as a Moldavia and Wallachia prince and other dignitaries.The Vaftizci Yahya Churchis one of the most unique churches in the world, built during the Ottoman period and based on a monastery Sultan Selim I saw during his conquest of Egypt.
In short, this district is one of the city’s most diverse and its historic buildings and residents give you this sense the second you walk through it.What Made Balat Istanbul Every Tourist’s Favorite Place?
Balat in Istanbul is located in the non-touristy neighborhood on the European side of the city. Much like the rest of Istanbul, Balat is also built on a hill, with ascents and descends throughout the area. There is a street called the colorful houses of Balat Street which have the most Instagrammed houses completely painted in yellow, orange and blue.
Since the area has gained popularity, just a short stroll away from the colorful houses of Balat, there are streets filled with cute and tiny decorated cafes and antique shops. I absolutely loved the café streets as it is colorful and vibrant! Some of the shops are even underground but the owners have maintained and decorated them so well. The old and rusty walls of the area are beautifully painted with graffiti by the locals. Some of the graffiti is very eye-catching!
The locals of Balat seem to be quite creative people who happen to love colors. There is a flight of colorful stairs called the Rainbow Stairs, which was supposedly painted by the locals as they wanted the area to look beautiful and colorful. The municipality painted it back to the boring grey color, but the locals protested and painted the steps again. Little did they know their desire to make their neighborhood colorful would result into making it an ‘ influencer magnet’ with tons of influencers and tourists hanging around and taking turns to get a picture on the stairs.
Food and Shopping
Finally, the diversity of the district has bled into the food options available, and thecafés and restaurantsare truly spectacular. It’s the kind of district where you can’t really go wrong – turn a corner and you’re walking past one of the oldest cafés in the city, turn another and you’ve got the city’s oldest meyhane, a type of traditional dinner spot.
The markets along the winding cobbled streets are famous throughout the city for sellingtraditional wears and fresh produce, and just the ambiance of the district is enough to make a stroll through the markets worth it. You won’t find any big brand names inBalat, but you’ll find things the likes of which you can find anywhere else in the world.
How to Get To Balat in Istanbul?
Here is a map of Balat, so save the coordinates if you plan to visit the colorful houses of Balat while in Istanbul.
There is no direct tram connection to Balat from the touristy center of Sultanamet and Eminonu. However, there are two alternate ways to reach the colorful houses of Balat.
The fastest way to reach Balat without much walking or hassle is to take a taxi to Balat.
If you would like to use the public transport instead, you can take a tram to Eminonu and then walk to the ferry terminal at Karakoy. From Karakoy, take a ferry directly to Balat.