Slanted cobblestone streets surrounded with vibrant facades, Balat is the center of modern bohemia in Istanbul. The district is located on the fringes of the city center, and yet it’s still a mainly residential district where locals outnumber tourists.
While the neighborhood was historically considered the Jewish Quarter, it’s actually a mosaic of Jewish, Christian, Orthodox, and Muslim communities that co-exist peacefully today. The neighborhood is full of a youthful, hip atmosphere, while still preserving the original Ottoman architecture.
If you plan on coming to Istanbul, I definitely recommend keeping an afternoon open to explore this district. Here’s all you need to know about Balat, Istanbul.
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Historical Attractions in Balat, Istanbul
If you’re looking to discover some of the hidden, historical attractions in Istanbul, Balat would be a good place to start. This district is particularly a hub for the Armenian, Greek, and Jewish communities. You also won’t have the masses of crowds that you will find around the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia.
Rezan Has Museum, Old Tobacco Factory
Only in Balat could you find a restored Tobacco factory turned into classroom. The award-winning Cibali used to be a tobacco factory back in the late 1880s, and it is now used as a classroom for the Kadir Has University.
It is now called the Rezan Has Museum, and you can visit for as little as 5 Turkish Lira. (Hours are from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (St. George Cathedral)
Little did I know, Istanbul is actually the world headquarters of the Orthodox religion because of the city’s historic significance. This particular church, also known as the St. George Cathedral, dates back to the 15th century and is still in use today! In fact, the church is a popular pilgrimage site for many Orthodox.
Inside you can find relics and symbols from St. George and the Prophet Elijah, (you can read more about that here).
Ahrida Synagogue of Istanbul
Ahrida happens to be one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul, dating back to the 1400s. This was one of the monuments that was the lifeblood of the Jewish communities in this district throughout the centuries. Still in use today, it is consider to the oldest working synagogue in Istanbul now.
Yavuz Selim Mosque
The Selim Mosque is one of the recognizable landmarks on the Istanbul skyline. It sits on top of the 5th hill overlooking the “Golden Horn”, and its call to prayer can be heard through the streets of Balat. The interior is rather simple with a bright, white room with mosaic embellishments, but the outside is what makes this Mosque so spectacular.
Here you’ll find one of the best views of the city, without all of the crowds of tourists.
Colorful Corners of Balat
Even if you wander through Balat with absolutely no sense of direction, you will definitely stumble upon plenty of colorful hues. The entire District is known for having vibrant street art, colorful houses, and unique shops and restaurants.
You can find the mural above, and several others, off of the main street as you walk up the hill into Balat. There’s a couple other places you can explore too that you might want to bookmark.
Merdivenli Yks Street
Perhaps it was this exact colorful row of houses that put Balat on your radar in the first place. This residential street of Merdivenli Yks is on a steep incline with pastel-colored houses stacked together on the left side. The other side was a bit less photogenic, with a fence and some pieces of trash in the grass.
This is definitely a popular place for photographers that visit Istanbul. Just be mindful that people still do live here, and kids are often playing around outside. As anywhere else, I wouldn’t recommend leaning against someone’s door or being an annoying tourist outside their window.
Incir Agaci Kahvesi
Hands down this techno-colored cafe is a reason alone to visit Balat. There’s so many different colors, patterns, bits and bobs along the outside of this cafe and staircase, and yet somehow it is all effortlessly pulled together.
Incir Agaci Kahvesi has a great crowd of mostly young people, sipping coffee or stopping for a quick bite of cake.
Colorful hanging umbrellas
Just around the corner from here you’ll find an array of hanging umbrellas in a small courtyard. There’s also a type of market and fruit stand in the area as well.
You’ll also find these hanging umbrellas throughout several other streets in Balat (although this changes frequently).
Cafes and Restaurants in Balat
Balat is filled with students and young professionals, so naturally you’ll find a funky cafe or coffee shop on every corner. Each place has meticulously crafted its own character with a slightly different spin on quirky and modern design.
Although there are definitely more cafes/coffee bars than restaurants, most places serve some type of food.
Balatkapi Cafe and Restaurant
I walked back this place while wandering through Balat and I’ve regretting not stepping in ever since. Through the window I saw groups of friends eating meze, essentially the Turkish version of tapas, with funky jazz music in the background. The cafe is decorated with lantern lights that give the minimalist space a cozy feel.
Barba Vasilis Rum Meyhanesi
For a more upscale dining option in Balat, this seafood restaurant located along the Golden Horn would be a great option. The restaurant is actually a part of the Troya Boutique Hotels, which looks like it is out of Santorini with its coastal decor. Try any of the fish dishes, such as the sardines in wine leaves or the Thessaloniki-style shrimp.
This is a funky cafe located in the middle of the park, ideal for a mid-day coffee or snack. The menu offers a variety of meze dishes and also serves hookah from the daytime into the evening. Karakoy Kahvesi would be a cozy spot to relax in the shade and enjoy some of the green spaces of Balat.
Shopping in Balat
Rag N’ Roll Vintage
Without a touristy souvenir shop in sight, Balat is packed with trendy boutiques and concept shops filled with unique pieces. One of the favorite we stumbled upon is Rag and Roll Vintage, a tiny second-hand shop with women’s clothing and accessories from every era. From vintage Levis and flat-brim hats, they source items from all over the world.
Kulis Vintage (Backstage Vintage)
I really wish I brought a bigger suitcase with me to Turkey, because I wanted to buy everything in Kulis Vintage. They had a wide selection of women’s and men’s vintage leather jackets, floral dresses and shirts, and tons of funky accessories. As one of the biggest vintage shops in the area, Kulis Vintage probably has one of the widest selection of vintage items.
Lighthouse Antique Auction
If you’re drooling over all of the gorgeous Turkish lamps in the Istanbul Bazaar, you may be able to get one for a better price at the Lighthouse Antique Auction. This little hole-in-the-wall sells antique lamps and other homeware items, and from the sounds of it host auctions where you can bid on several items. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it seems like the auctions are one hell of an experience.
How to Get to Balat, Istanbul
Balat, Istanbul is actually fairly easy to get to. Of course Istanbul is a HUGE city about the size of London, so you should keep this in mind when planning your visit to this trendy district.
Fenir and Fatih
These are actually the neighboring districts to Balat. They are often grouped all together in one, although in reality this encompasses a pretty large area. You can easily navigate through these Northern neighborhoods by foot, take a local bus, or hop in a taxi.
The Sultanahmet District
This central area is not far from Balat either. This is the area you’ll find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Grand Bazaar, and it’s about 4 km from Balat. You could easily walk here, and it would take around 40 minutes.
Otherwise you can hop on the bus or tram system, as there are several lines that will take you here. You’ll have to walk about 15 minutes to take a bus from the “Eminou Kantarcilar” stop. You’ll get off at Fener.
We took a cab and it took us less than 10 minutes and costed I think about 40 TL.
This shopping street is about 3.7 km East of Balat. It’s a straight shot here going over the Golden Horn, so you’d need to walk to the Kasimpasa Ferry and take the blue “Hatic Halli” line. You’ll get off at the Fener Station.
From here you have a couple different options. If you’re near the Galata Tower, you can walk 15 minutes to the Kasimpasa station and also take the blue “Hatic Halli” line and get off at the Fener Station. You can also this same line from the Karakoy ferry terminal.
Otherwise there are several local bus lines that will take you into this neighborhood, usually with one transfer though. This is why taking the ferry might be the easiest option.