Istanbul off the beaten path – A photo walk in Balat and Fener

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If you come to Istanbul and, like me, you’re the kind of traveler who likes to walk, go off the beaten path and stay away from the crowds of tourists, then you should definitely include Balat and Fener in your itinerary. Both Balat, the historical Jewish quarter, andthe neighbouring Fener, the ancient Greek neighborhood, are the perfect areas to experience a bit of the local Istanbul lifestyle while getting lost in their historical, colorful and narrow streets.

colorful streets of balat

Colorful streets of Balat

 

 

Balat and Fener

Located in the district of Fatih, along the South side of the Golden Horn, walking around the neighborhoods of Balat and Fener is certainly a journey to the past. Back in the days, both neighborhoods were a melting pot of Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Turks.

However, that multiethnic character of Balat and Fener was lost during the mid-20th century when a large portion of the Jewish community left after the birth of Israel and most of the Greek families fled after the Cyprus dispute of the 60s and 70s. After that, the area has been forgotten for a long time becoming certainly one of Istanbul’s poorest ones.

 

Views of Balat from the old Greek highschool

Views of Fener from the old Greek highschool

 

From 2003, following a renovation programme for Balat and Fener instituted by the European Union, the area started flourishing again with cool cafes, vintage shops and artisan workshops. Both Balat and Fener were also included in UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

Balat streets (Istanbul)

Street of Fener, the historical Greek neighborhood in Istanbul.

 

The best way to discover Balat and Fener is by simply getting lost and wandering around their narrow and hilly streets. Among historic wooden houses of bizarre colors and shapes, synagogues, churches and mosques dating from Byzantine and Ottoman times, there are plenty of little secrets to be discovered.

One of buildings which will surely catch your eye is the imposing castle-like structure of Phanar Greek Orthodox College (aka the Red Castle or the Red School), which was built back in 1454 with red brick brough from France.  The magnificent building dominates the hill of Fener and is still in use today as a highschool for a Greek minority.

 

Fener Rum lisesi – Greek Ortodox College

Fener Rum lisesi – Phanar Greek Ortodox College

 

Another important place not to be missed in Fener is the Church of St. George, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople since 1600. Even though the church is relatively small and humble, it means for the Orthodox believers as much as St. Peter in Rome for the Catholics.

The exterior of the Church of St George in Fener, Istanbul.

The exterior of the Church of St George in Fener, Istanbul.

 

But, besides history, what struck me most from Balat and Fener are the small bites of reality. During your walk, you will see lots of stray cats resting quietly, kids playing soccer, locals drinking tea and laundry hanging from house to house… Lots of photo opportunities at every corner!

Even though the area is still relatively quiet and not many tourists venture here, it is clear that it’s a matter of time until Balat and Fener become trendy. Go now before it gets too crowded!

Ottoman houses of Balat

Colorful streets of Bala, the historical Jewish quarter in Istanbul.

Balat scenes

 

 

Getting there:

From Eminönü you can walk along the beautiful Golden Horn coast (around 20-30 minutes) or take any of these buses: 33ES, 35D, 36CE, 41Y, 44B, 48E, 55T, 99, 99A, 99Y, 399B and 399C. You can get off at Fener bus stop and start exploring its backstreets!

In Balat kids still play free in the streets

In Balat kids still play free in the streets

A walk in Balat gives you great photo opportunities.

A walk in Balat gives you many good photo opportunities.

Laundry hangs outside in Balat

Laundry hangs outside in Balat

This long forgotten area is now flourishing with cafes and artisan shops.

This long forgotten area is now flourishing with lots of cafes and artisan shops.

 

Giveaway by GPSmyCity

If you have made it until here, you probably like to explore and discover new places by walking. If that’s the case, I have good news!  I’ve partnered with GPSmyCity to give away 20 promo codes to download the full version of their City Walks Apps for FREE!

In case you don’t know, GPSmyCity is an iOS and Android app that offers over 4000 walks in more than 470 cities around the world. The City Walks Apps are easy to use and a great tool for your next city trip. If you want to download this app for free, just leave a comment in this blog post and I will make sure to send one promo code your way.  You are welcome!

Ana

Ana comes from Southern Spain, but you will hardly ever find her there. After a few years living in Germany and Ireland, she found out life without sun was not worthy for her! Now she lives in Istanbul where she teaches Spanish and writes about things she loves.

8 Comments:

  1. There’s quite a world in there… hilly labyrinth with intriguing streets.

  2. Thank you for the interesting article, I am going to Istanbul next month and will definitely add Fener and Balat to my itinarary.

  3. Hi Ana,

    Please would you send me one of the promotional codes for GPSMyCity? having GPSMyCity for Istanbul would really make my trip great.

    Thanks
    Anthon

  4. hi Ana!

    would you mind to send me the promo code for GPSmyCity ?
    i’ll be solo traveling istanbul in next month, i’m interested in off-the-beaten-path of istanbul, and the full version of GPSmyCity will be very helpful during my visit there.

    thanks,
    Zaki

  5. Hi Ana!
    I’ve just come across your article while researching about Fener and Balat. I’ll be visiting Istanbul in a week and I want to check them out. Can you help me in setting a route for my tour? How do I find the attractions in those areas without getting lost? And how do I go from Fener to Balat?
    Thanks!

  6. Hi Ana. I want to visit Fener and Balat during my upcoming visit to Istanbul. Can you give me a clear route for visiting the major attractions in this area without getting lost? Thanks!

Comments are closed