Istanbul is such a huge city and you can easily spend a couple days here doing all the standard touristy stuff and becoming a 'Touristanbul'! It is not hard to find something about visiting the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque or the Grand Bazaar, but what if you are after an Istanbul off the beaten track adventure? If you’re the kind of tourist who likes to get to get away from the crowds, then a Fener-Balat walking tour is your best bid!
When you travel to Istanbul then I would recommend you to buy a Turkey sim card to avoid high roaming costs. Below you see the colored houses of Fener-Balat, one of the coolest things to do in Istanbul. Also don't forget to get to the Buyuk Valide Han viewpoint.
History of Balat Istanbul
Head to the historical neighborhoods Fener Balat and spend your day getting lost in the fascinating streets. Here the houses are painted in all kind of colours and laundry is still hanging across the narrow streets, kids still play football in the streets rather than on a Playstation, and many different cultures and religions live next to each other. Curious how I found this place? Read my blog: coloured houses of Fener Balat and see my Snapchat video of that day.
Walking around in Fener Balat is a journey through the past. Back in the days this was where the Jews settled. Although about 60 years ago most of them left with the birth of Israel, the Jewish architecture can still be found here. If you enter this district from the old gate you will immediately stumble upon two old synagogues. Through the years Balat also became a home for Armenians, Greek and Muslims. With all these flavors Balat Istanbul is a great mix of multiple cultures. With churches in one street and mosques in the other, a Greek Orthodox school on top of the hill and a synagogues when you enter I would like to say: Thanks Balat, Istanbul wouldn't be the same without you! I probably already convinced you that this Istanbul off the beate path adventure is worth it, but there is more...
Where to start your Istanbul off the beaten path adventure?
Begin your tour at the St. Stephens of Bulgars church that lies on the seafront of Balat. Built in the 1800’s, this church is completely made of iron because it had to be constructed in only 3 months. Isn't that a funny fact!? LOL. From here head east along the waterfront and make your way into the bohemian streets of this place. Head straight and at the end of the street you will see the Greek orthodox college. This more than 500-year-old building is totally red and hard to miss on the hill right in front of you. From up here you will have great views over Istanbul while winding your way through the area. Of course I got a little lost and people were surprised to see me walking around. This is not the place for mass tourism, the hop-on-hop-off bus won't bring you here! Take streets with narrow walkways, walk up stairs that make you feel like climbing to infinity and head towards the great buildings at the end of the extremely steep streets: this is Fener Balat, a amazing walking tour through different cultures, religions, but with super friendly people welcoming you! Beautiful coloured houses, churches, mosques and cats will all become part of your photo album. Relive the past and embrace the future of Istanbul, Balat you are fabulous!
From up top start your winding your way down, but not before you get to the famous photo spot in the steep street where the houses on your right will be painted in red, green, yellow and blue. I was pretty curious what is the reason behind it, but no could tell me. I was determined to find it out, but people here dont speak any English. To communicate with the friendly locals be prepared to laugh a lot!
To finish your Istanbul off the beaten track adventure head to Cooklife, a lovely spot down in the main street of Fener Balat. You won't probably expect this place here, but the area is changing. There are a lot of hip and trendy places popping up. Cooklife is one of these hip coffee place where you will meet young locals working on their Macbooks, groups of friends drinking a good cup of Chai Latte or fellow travellers that just like you want to unwind from a cool adventure. Don’t forget to try a delicious piece of one of the homemade cakes. Places like this are a litle upscale but still very affordable. Although Turkey is a cheap country to travel, buying a sim card in Turkey is not cheap for tourists.
Did you know that luxury accommodation in Istanbul is very much affordable? Check out the great deals on Agoda, my article Best Luxury Hotels in Besiktas or see which hotels TripAdvisor is recommending.
Looking for another cool thing to do in Istanbul? Let me show you a video how to get to Buyuk Valide Han? Ok, I understand you have never heard of it, but I am sure you want to go there as this is one of the unique things to do in Istanbul. Click on the link to read my article about it and take a look at the video I created how to get to this mysterious rooftop that has the best view of Istanbul! I was also lucky to be part of a press trip organized by the Turkish Tourism board, which made me visit the Edirne Mosque from Istanbul. Check out how a group of international travel bloggers survived the 11.00 am wine tasting.
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