Fener and Balat districts stand out with their centuries-old churches, mosques, synagogues and colorful houses. As a licensed guide, I organize private guided tours in Istanbul and you can discover the hidden treasures of these districts on my Fener Balat walking tour.
On the Fener and Balat tour, you can learn a lot about the life of non-Muslims in Istanbul during the Ottoman period. Between the 15th and 20th centuries, Fener was the Greek quarter and Balat was the Jewish quarter of the city.
Of course, Fener and Balat walk can also be done without a guide. You can take pictures of the colorful houses, enjoy the beautiful cafes and restaurants of the neighborhood, and visit a few historical sites on this self-guided trip.
However, it should be noted that most of the churches in these districts are not open to the public. Anyone who wants to get in must know the attendants. A licensed tour guide who knows the area well can arrange for you to visit these structures.
For this reason, if you want to have a full Fener and Balat experience, you can contact me by filling out the form on the contact page of the site. Thus, you can organize a trip with a private tour guide.
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Things to Do in Fener and Balat (2023)
Things to do in Fener and Balat include seeing the Roman walls of Istanbul, taking pictures of the colorful houses, visiting the structures of the three monotheistic religions, and drinking coffee in retro cafes.
Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the area, it is possible to see mosques, churches and synagogues almost side by side. In this way, you will realize how people of different faiths lived in harmony in Istanbul for 500 years.
1. Kadir Has University
Kadir Has University is one of the most distinctive buildings in the neighborhood and is located on the main road. For this reason, we meet in front of this building for Fener and Balat walking tours.
The entrance to the building is open to everyone and promises a wonderful view of the Golden Horn. Although the building has been serving as a university for about 25 years, it is essentially a tobacco factory from the 1800s.
2. Cibali Gate
Cibali Gate gives us clues about the city walls from the Roman period. The northern walls of old Istanbul ran along the Golden Horn and were first built during the Roman period.
These walls also protected the city during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Although a large part of it has disappeared today, it is still possible to see the walls of Constantinople and its gates to the city.
3. Gul Mosque
Gul Mosque is essentially a thousand-year-old Byzantine church. The structure was one of the medium-sized churches of Constantinople and was dedicated to Saint Theodosia.
One of the most beautiful features of Fener Balat tour is that it introduces you to the hidden gems of Istanbul. If you visit these places with an experienced guide, you can listen to the stories associated with this building.
4. Church of St Nicholas
Church of St Nicholas is my favorite place to visit during my Fener Balat walks. Because the interior of this church provides us with a mystical and quiet atmosphere.
The beginning of the tour is usually in a noisy environment as we walk close to the main road. However, when we enter the courtyard of this church, which is below the street level, we find peace.
During the half hour we spend inside the church, I generally give information about the fascinating history of Istanbul and explain the common features of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Istanbul.
5. Atolye Kafasi
Atolye Kafasi is the only place where we take a break during the Fener and Balat tour, which takes about four hours. I’ve been to this place with hundreds of guests so far and they all liked it very much.
Apart from being a cafe with its own atmosphere, Atolye Kafasi also hosts the ruins of an old Byzantine church. For this reason, it is a resting point that exactly coincides with the theme of our tour.
6. Fener Greek Highschool
Fener Greek Highschool is a building that draws attention with its red bricks. Located on the highest hill of Fener district, this building resembles a castle with its neo-gothic architecture.
This school was the most prestigious Orthodox Christian religious school in Istanbul during the Ottoman period. For this reason, many famous clergy and even the patriarch in the city grew up from here.
The school now serves as a modern high school. In order to see this breathtaking structure in its most photographic form, I follow a special route in my tours.
7. Church of St George (Fener)
Church of St George is a must-see place in Istanbul, especially for Orthodox Christians. Because the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, whose history goes back centuries, is located here.
Church of St George is a white building located in the courtyard of the Fener Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul. This church has served as the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch for 400 years and is located in the heart of the complex.
When you enter the interior of the Church of St George, you see a gold leaf altar and hundreds of icons. The church is the most important stop of my Fener Balat tour with its relics from the Byzantine period.
8. Yildirim Street
Yildirim Street is home to the most beautiful cafes in the neighborhood. You can see colorful retro cafes on this beautiful street stretching between Fener and Balat districts.
Yildirim Street starts from Fener, the Greek quarter of the past, and continues into the Balat district, the former Jewish quarter. The street promises many beautiful frames to photographers.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Fener and Balat is to sit on this street, sip a large cup of coffee slowly and watch the people passing by. Balat is a very energetic place as it is one of the hippest districts of Istanbul.
9. Merdivenli Mektep Street
Merdivenli Mektep Street allows you to bypass the steep slopes in the Fener district and climb the hill where the school is located. Stairs of the street, painted in rainbow colors, attract great attention.
Climbing this slope allows us to see the next three places on our Fener Balat tour route. A view of the Golden Horn, which becomes more beautiful as you climb the stairs, encourages us to continue.
10. Yuvakimyon Highschool
Yuvakimyon Highschool is also referred to as Ioakeimeion in some sources. This name is in honor of patriarch Joachim II, who pioneered the establishment of this school where Orthodox women were educated in the 19th century.
Yuvakimyon Highschool has not been actively used since 1980 and is mostly closed to visitors. We can only visit this school when the building hosts temporary exhibitions. For example, I took the photo above during Contemporary Istanbul.
11. Church of St Mary of the Mongols
Church of St Mary of the Mongols is known as the only Orthodox Church in Istanbul that has been serving uninterruptedly since the Byzantine period. For this reason, it has a special place in our tour.
I tell a few stories associated with this church to my guests during the private guided Fener and Balat walking tour. The church is briefly identified with a Byzantine princess named Maria Palaiologina, who was a bride to the Mongols.
12. Kiremit Street
Kiremit Street is where the famous colorful houses are located. For this reason, the street is very popular and hundreds of people take Instagram photos in front of these houses throughout the day.
Kiremit Street is also the last stop of our tour in Fener district, and after that we take a walk towards Balat, an old Jewish quarter. On the way, we see the bell tower and walls of an old destroyed church.
13. Merdivenli Yokus Street (Balat)
Merdivenli Yokus Street is located in the back streets of Balat district, which is famous for its synagogues. Seven colorful houses can be seen on a slope paved with cobblestone.
The houses here were restored in 2007 with a fund from the European Union. In fact, these are the first restored historical houses of Fener and Balat, painted in pastel colors.
14. Ahrida Synagogue (Balat)
Ahrida Synagogue stands out as the second largest Jewish place of worship in Istanbul. The synagogue takes its name from the Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated from the Macedonian city of Ohrid.
The synagogue is located in the heart of Balat, which is a very lively place. Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the interior spontaneously. Because it is necessary to apply in advance to visit the synagogues in Istanbul.
15. Leblebiciler Street
Leblebiciler Street was once a local market filled with the shops of the Jewish people of Balat. Today, the shops are different from what they were in the past, as the Jewish population of the district has experienced a drastic decline.
However, the good news is that the street has gained a very lively appearance in recent years with the efforts of entrepreneurs from Istanbul. On the street, there are many boutique cafes as well as Agora, the most famous tavern of Istanbul.
16. Church of St Stephen (Bulgarian)
Church of St Stephen is a wonderful building built by the Bulgarian community in Istanbul at the end of the 19th century. This structure, which is adjacent to the waters of the Golden Horn, is also known as the Iron Church.
Since the church did not have a solid foundation, it was placed on piles driven into the water. The structure, consisting of iron and steel, is one of the most unique buildings in Istanbul.
The Church of St Stephen has been recently restored and fully polished. That’s why it looks amazing both inside and out. The icons inside the church are very beautiful.
Fener & Balat Walking Tour (2023)
Fener and Balat Walking Tour allows you to see the magnificent structures mentioned above and listen to the stories associated with them. On this tour, you will feel like you have traveled through time.
I had prepared the route of this tour for a photography club in 2008. For this reason, during the tour, you can learn the historical and cultural background of the districts, as well as take magnificent photos.
If you want to go outside the popular touristic area and see something different in Istanbul, this tour is for you. You can fill out the form on the Contact Us page to organize your private Fener and Balat walking tour.
Fener and Balat are located in the northwest part of the Historical Peninsula and on the shores of the Golden Horn. There is a magnificent historical heritage in this area where Greeks and Jews lived in Ottoman Istanbul.
Of course, you can also visit these districts on your own. However, most of the buildings I have mentioned above are not open every day and you need to be connected with the staff to get inside.
In order to fully perform the Fener and Balat walking tour, it is essential to have a local tour guide with you who knows the area well. For this reason, you can join the tours I organize and get to know many hidden gems of Istanbul.
Written by Serhat Engul