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Balat Istanbul Guide (2024) – How to Visit the Colourful Houses!

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Balat is one of the most colourful neighbourhoods in Istanbul and it’s a spectacular place to visit during your trip. 

Although this area has traditionally been a ‘hidden gem’ in the city, it’s very popular today due to the rainbow rows of wooden houses and the rise of social media. 

However, don’t let that put you off visiting as there is so much more to Balat than just the colourful houses.

You can get lost in these steep and narrow streets finding amazing artwork, yummy cafés and vintage shops. Plus, there is a plethora of interesting historic religious buildings to visit too. 

Here is a detailed Balat Istanbul guide with all the amazing things to do there! 

Things to do in Balat Istanbul guide

Balat Istanbul history

Balat is one of the oldest areas of the European side of Istanbul and is located on the western shores of the Golden Horn.

Historically, this area was a Jewish district in the city. Sultan Bayezid II offered residency to all Jews and Muslims who fled after the Spanish Inquisition of 1492. 

At its peak, this community was home to over 18 synagogues. However, there are only three that survive today. 

This area is often linked to Fener which was an important Greek Quarter and so you’ll notice lots of Greek Orthodox buildings here like a school and cathedral. 

Balat Istanbul

It was also home to a large Armenian and Turk community. All of these backgrounds created a riot of religious buildings, festivals, music and cuisine that still has an influence today.

By the 20th century, this area fell into decline and was seen as a rundown and unwanted district. However, it has recently undergone a huge restoration project.

The entire community has worked hard to bring life back to Balat by restoring buildings, giving their houses a new colourful lick of paint and opening lots of welcoming shops and cafés.

Today, it’s a popular area of the city and is famous due to the ‘Colourful Houses of Balat’. 

Colourful Houses of Balat

Why is Balat so famous today? 

Although Balat used to be a ‘hidden gem’, since the renovation and social media it’s currently experiencing a renaissance in a way I don’t think anyone expected.

This area used to be seen as very rundown and unsafe. But with several community projects and a thriving café scene, Balat is now one of the most popular areas of Istanbul. 

You’ll most likely see the iconic row of colourful houses online and this is why this neighbourhood is gaining such fast-growing popularity. 

For better or for worse, this vibrant area is now famous and visitors flock here to take photos of the colourful buildings, find street art, eat tasty food and enjoy the bohemian environs.

The Colourful Houses of Balat

Why you must visit Balat in Istanbul

Although most people visit Balat for just one street of colourful buildings, there is SO much more to this area than just that!

In amongst the colourful streets, you’ll find amazing antique stores, street art, quirky cafés, and historic religious buildings.

I spent a gorgeous afternoon in Balat during my time in Istanbul and was surprised by how much there was to see and do here. 

Every corner has something vibrant or outlandish to see. It’s the perfect place for art lovers or for those looking for a place to escape the crowds of the main tourist sites!

balat istanbul
Rainbow Stairs of Balat

Best things to do in Balat 

1. Visit the Colourful Houses of Balat

The main draw of this artsy neighbourhood is the plethora of colourful houses in Balat.

Although a Google Pin locates this as just one street, you’ll actually find vibrant houses on nearly every street.

Even the stairs, drains, windows and construction works have been painted in a rainbow of colours. 

It makes a stroll here really fun as every corner will have some vibrant artwork or quirky installation to surprise you.

Painting houses in different colours in Istanbul dates back to the Ottoman Empire where residents were required to paint their houses to signify their religious background. 

This is no longer required but the houses are much brighter and are painted in all different shades.

If you’re looking for ‘that’ colourful street you see on Instagram it’s called Kiremit Street. I’ll go into details of my experience below!

Note: Although Balat’s colourful houses are gorgeous they are local residences. So, always be respectful when visiting. Don’t pry in windows or climb on doorsteps! 

Colourful Houses of Balat Istanbul,

What is the most famous street in Balat? 

The most famous street in Balat is Kiremit Street and this is most likely the photo you’ve seen on social media before you arrive. 

It’s a gorgeous area of Balat with a rainbow row of colourful houses and it does look great in photos. 

As it’s so famous, you’ll most likely find this street crowded throughout the day with selfie-takers and photographers. Plus, there are groups of walking tours that pass through here.

But, with a little patience, you’ll be able to get your pretty travel photos! To guarantee a quieter visit, I’d visit early morning to beat the crowds.

There is always usually a car parked on this street but I thought it added to the colourful vibes.

Getting to Kiremit Street requires a bit of a steep walk up and down! Setting up my tripod here was a challenge as it kept falling over. 

The exact address is Kiremit Cd, Balat – click here for a Google Pin

Balat Istanbul Kiremit Street

2. Phanar Greek Orthodox College

One of the most famous buildings in Balat is the Phanar Greek Orthodox College with its ornate red brick architecture and cupola.

It was founded in 1454 by the patriarch Gennadius Scholarius and is the oldest surviving Greek Orthodox school in Istanbul. 

The current building was created in the 19th century and has the nickname of the ‘Red Castle’.

You can’t go inside but this spectacular building is worth checking out. You can usually see its huge domed roof as you wander around.

Phanar Greek Orthodox College

Notable religious buildings in Balat 

If there is anything that tells the story of the diversity in this district it’s the plethora of religious buildings smattered around. 

You can visit the Patriarchal Church of St George which is an Orthodox cathedral near to the private school.

Saint Stephen’s Orthodox Church can also be found near the western shores of the Golden Horn on the Bosphorus. 

There were over 18 synagogues here when Balat was a Jewish neighbourhood but today you can visit the Ahrida Synagogue and Yanbol Synagogue.

There is also Kariye Mosque from the 6th century and a late-Byzantine mosque called Fethiye Camii which can be found near Kiremit Street.

Balat Istanbul

3. Balat’s Colourful Stairs at İncir ağacı kahvesi

One of the most popular things to do in Balat is to visit the colourful stairs you can find near the İncir ağacı kahvesi café or Renkli Merdivenler.

It was a very cool spot and looked like a bit of a movie and music Hall of Fame with all the vintage posters. There was also a cool letterbox to send postcards back home. 

It was created as part of a community project and it’s also a café. I would recommend heading inside when they open for a drink or food.

Although it is pretty, this area can be a bit of a circus and not the nicest experience in Balat. When I got here, there were queues of people waiting to get photos on nearly every part of the steps. 

Rainbow Steps of Balat

The colourful ‘booth’ people sat on had an orderly queue with people waiting patiently in line. 

However, a very aggressive ‘professional’ photographer kept cutting the queue to push their clients in front of everyone and it was not appreciated by those waiting.

They didn’t even ask if it was okay, say they were on a time limit or apologise for cutting in front of everyone and they did this not once but three times over. 

The audacity was unbelievable and it’s a shame I couldn’t find their company to warn you against hiring them.

So, if you want photos without having to wait or deal with rude photographers then I would get here early. Or, prepare to deal with the madness. 

Exact location – İncir ağacı kahvesi, click here for a Google Pin! 

Balat Rainbow Stairs

4. Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Cafe 

Just next door you’ll find one of the most colourful cafés in Balat which is the Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Cafe.

This café has lots of colourful booths to eat in, a VW Beetle, colourful art installations and rainbow umbrellas hanging above the courtyard.

It’s perfect for photos and videos – they even had a ‘glambot’ type experience with a ring-light!

As well as the restaurant, they had several street stalls serving up traditional Turkish coffee, pancakes and fresh orange juice. 

They are quite strict about you taking photos without purchasing something. But, luckily, their menu of traditional Turkish dishes is very tasty!

Balat Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Cafe 

5. Visit a café on Yıldırım or Vodina Street

I found both Yıldırım and Vodina the best streets to meander down in Balat as there was so much going on here.

You could find all sorts of teahouses, shisha bars, art galleries and shops. 

There were also lots of fun and vibrant cafés to choose from here and they serve food for lunch and dinner. 

On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting outside amongst the colourful houses and artwork!

Balat Istanbul Cars

Best cafés in Balat 

You will be spoiled for choice with cafés in Balat and you may have a hard time choosing as they all look so inviting. 

I stopped for a drink in Vavien Café-Balat with a VW Beetle outside. It was wonderfully decorated and full of bric-a-brac mirrors, photos and antiques! 

I had a refreshing rose soda and it was just what I needed as it was getting quite hot! If you’d rather, here are a few more gorgeous Balat cafés;

  • Cafe Naftalin
  • Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Cafe 
  • Velvet Café
  • Forno Balat 
Vavien Cafe Balat Istanbul
Vavien Café-Balat

6. Go vintage & antique shopping 

If you love to go vintage shopping, thrifting or antique dealing then Balat is the right neighbourhood for you.

You’ll find thrift shops on the main shopping street of Vodina Street and they all have their own unique offerings. 

I particularly loved the Genantik & Café which was an antique store and restaurant. It’s easy to spot them due to the vintage car outside!

The area surrounding the shop is filled with a hodgepodge of different items to browse and is like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. You never know what you might find. 

Balat Antique shopping

7. Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri

Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri is another popular photography street in Balat and is a sloping row of pastel houses.

You can ascend the steep street with the rainbow staircase that has been painted on the side of the hill.

These houses were built for Greek aristocrats once upon a time! Now, they’ve been painted beautiful shades of peach, pastel pink and sage green. 

It’s quite difficult to photograph these as the street is really steep. So, you’ll need to play around with angles.

But, a bonus is that it’s nowhere near as busy as the Colourful Houses of Balat on Kermit Street. So, you’ll pretty much have it to yourself. 

Exact location – Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri or click here for a Google Pin 

Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri
Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri

8. Buy freshly squeezed juice

A quick stroll down Vodina Cd. will reveal a variety of fresh juice stalls at cheap prices.

These are the perfect places to stop and grab a fresh cup of pomegranate or orange juice for a stroll around Balat. One of my favourites was Café Dora!

As well as a juice stand, they had a sit-down restaurant to grab some Turkish food like a Kofte and fries or vegan wraps.

Balat Istanbul Cafe Dora

9. Grab a treat from Balatte Gelato

One of my favourite places to visit in Balat was Balatte Gelato.

It’s a bright orange colour with a moped outside and a gorgeous purple flower garland in the doorway.

If It’s a hot day in the city, Balatte is the perfect place to grab some refreshing iced treats.

Balatte Gelato Balat Istanbul

10. Admire the cats of Balat

The main characters of Balat are the gorgeous cats you’ll see wandering around.

You’ll see these felines everywhere snoozing, prowling or posing for photographs against the colourful backdrops.

It has to be said though – as much as the cats are cute, don’t irritate them by trying to pick them up or they could bite or scratch you. I saw this happen on my trip. 

Balat Cats

11. Balat Street Art 

Not every house will be colourful in Balat and there are a fair few crumbling buildings. However, these are usually covered in creative and colourful street art!

The murals here really add to the vibrancy of the place and you could spend an afternoon just picking out your favourite ones. 

As far as I could tell, there isn’t a signature famous piece here and the artwork changes all the time. But, you’ll it in abundance. 

Balat Istanbul

12. Go vinyl and book shopping at Popstel

If you’re anything like me, you’ll love to go book shopping when you travel. 

After my visit to the Book Bazaar and Beyazit State Library, I was in the mood to browse for more books to take home.

I would recommend taking a look around the colourful Popstel store that sells books and vinyl. 

It’s also a hotel and café with a beautiful terrace rooftop overlooking the Private Fener Greek High School!

Popstel Balat Istanbul

Why not take a Balat Walking Tour?

Balat is a delightful neighbourhood to explore in Istanbul and the beauty of visiting is just exploring these streets at your leisure.

If you’d prefer, there are Balat walking tours you can take around the neighbourhood which are run by professional guides.

These walking tours will explain the history of Fener and Balat and take you to all the highlights. Plus you’ll find out some secrets only a local would know.

Click here to book your Balat walking tour 

Balat Istanbul

How to get to Balat in Istanbul

Balat is located on the western shore of the Golden Horn between the districts of Fener and Ayvansaray.

For tourists, it’s near to popular areas like Sultanahmet and the Galata Bridge but you will be walking a while to get there from those places. 

For example, it’s a 1-hour walk from the Blue Mosque and a 45-minute walk from Eminonu on the Galata Bridge. It’s pleasant but takes a long time! 

I recommend getting the metro or bus here. You can take the tram or bus from Sultanahmet or Karakoy that stops at Eminönü to Fener station. From there it’s a short walk.

Alternatively, you can book a yellow cab with Uber if you’re stuck on time. Yellow taxis can be quite scammy with tourists if you hail them on the street but if you book through Uber it means a fixed price. 

You’ll be dropped off outside the area near Balatte Gelato as the popular streets of this neighbourhood are (mainly) pedestrianised – no traffic is yet another reason to visit Balat! 

Balat Istanbul Guide

What is the best time to visit Balat in Istanbul? 

Balat is a great area to visit at any time of day but it’s getting very, very busy.

I got here around lunchtime on a Monday in April and it was already packed with photographers and walking tours. Every street was filled with tourists. 

There were lots of queues around the colourful areas for photos and the popular cafés were pretty full.

If you wanted to explore the area in peace or visit for photography, I would opt to visit during the week and early morning before the crowds fill in.

Balat crowds

Is Balat safe?

Years ago, Balat was seen as an unsafe neighbourhood of Istanbul but since the renovation project and installing the colourful houses, this area has now seen a renaissance.

I was quite surprised how touristy it was actually. I’ve always thought this was a quiet area of the city but not any longer.

There were colourful houses, thriving cafés, antique shops and beautiful street art everywhere. Tourists were on every corner and it had a lively atmosphere with music and fun.

There are a few persistent ‘street kids’ that will try to offer you tours or show you locations. But, they were very young and harmless.

There’s always going to be interesting characters in every neighbourhood wherever you travel. However, I didn’t feel unsafe here once even though I was a woman travelling alone.

I felt safer in this bohemian neighbourhood than I did in certain areas of the tourist hub of Sultanahmet!

Balat Istanbul

Is Balat Istanbul worth visiting?

Yes, Balat is definitely worth visiting if you have the time spare as it’s an artsy neighbourhood with lots of character.

Although most people visit to get photos of the colourful houses, there are lots of other things to do there as well.

You could spend hours wandering around just soaking up the atmosphere here. Don’t skip a visit to the bohemian neighbourhood of Istanbul. It’s a stunning area with so much to offer! 

Balat Istanbul

My top tips for visiting 

  • It’s vehicle-free – part of the beauty of this neighbourhood is that it’s mostly traffic-free but this means lots of walking. So, sensible shoes are recommended.
  • It’s steep – something that is not mentioned a lot is how STEEP these streets are. You will probably need some breather breaks.
  • Respect the area – although colourful and pretty, it’s still a residential neighbourhood so respect the residents and their property.
  • Visit early – for a quieter experience, visit this area early morning to avoid the crowds. 
  • Watch out for ‘tour guides’ – there will be people who approach you to show you places or give you a ‘tour’. But, this is most likely a scam for money. Only book an official tour!
Balat Istanbul

Can you stay in Balat?

Yes, if you would like to stay in this colourful neighbourhood, there are a few Balat hotels that you can book;

Castello Bella Balat Hotel 

Troya Hotel Balat

Petrion Hotel

Or click here to find your perfect stay in Istanbul

Read more of my Istanbul travel guides

The most Instagrammable places in Istanbul 

Basilica Cistern – visit a sunken palace in Istanbul

Seven Hills Restaurant – best rooftop in Istanbul

Why you must visit the Beyazıt State Library

The top places to visit in Istanbul

How to spend the perfect weekend in Istanbul

Where to find the best Baklava in Istanbul

Save the Colourful Houses of Balat Istanbul for later! 

How to visit the colourful houses of Balat Istanbul