Formerly Istanbul’s Greek Orthodox and Jewish neighborhoods, today Fener and Balat are known for their dilapidated yet beautiful old houses and hidden churches. In recent years, the area has also become a popular spot for new and younger businesses with new openings popping up at a constant rate. If you want to spend a day wandering up and down Balat and Fener’s picturesque ascending and descending streets, definitely check out our favorite spots beforehand.
Phanar Greek Orthodox College
Overlooking the entire neighborhood from its elevated position, this beautiful dark red structure is one of the city’s few remaining Greek orthodox schools. Established in 1454, the school educated the children of prominent Greek and Bulgarian families of the Ottoman Empire. Nowadays, the school, by law, applies a full Turkish curriculum, but also continues to teach some Greek subjects.
One of Fener’s most important historical structures, the Church of St. George has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople — the senior patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church, or simply put, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians — since 1600. The church is a great place to light a candle and make a wish, even if you’re not Greek Orthodox.
Certainly one of Istanbul’s most beautiful churches, the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is right by the Golden Horn. Its façade, made of prefabricated cast iron elements, rich ornamentation, and neo-Gothic style, all make it stand out gloriously.
This 16th century imperial mosque is perched above Balat and has an amazing view of Istanbul from its courtyard. Commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent to honor the memory of his father, the mosque’s beautiful courtyard has lovely examples of very early İznik tiles.
The café belonging to the Kinfolk-inspired Cooklife magazine really reflects the magazine’s Scandinavian minimalism-inspired aura. Really a great place to have a coffee and a freshly baked treat, while you leaf through their latest issue or get some work done on your laptop. If you’re there during breakfast or brunch, make sure to try the delicious pancakes.
With its colorful tiles and big oven, Forno Balat is one of the best places in the neighborhood to get a freshly made and crispy lahmacun. Make sure to add a spritz of lemon, some tomatoes, and parsley to your lahmacun before you roll it up and eat it.
If you’re on the hunt for vintage finds, Rag’n Roll Vintage is a great place to stop by to browse through colorful outfits from the 70s and 80s, as well as accessories such as cool sunglasses, bags, and shoes. You won’t miss this shop because of the pretty bike parked outside.
The neighborhood’s first micro-roaster, Coffee Department makes its coffees with quality beans from all over the world. You can either take a seat outside with your brew and watch people walk past or buy your own bag of beans to make excellent coffee at home.
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Open since 1890, Agora Meyhanesi is a real standout among Turkish taverns because of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Turkmen, and Zaza chefs in the kitchen. As such, the selection of mezes are always a multi-ethnic culinary journey that is anything but ordinary.
Another one of the neighborhood’s favorite Turkish taverns, Balat Sahil Restaurant is a very classic meyhane, complete with rakı bottles, old black and white photos on the walls, and antique chandeliers. Make sure to try the stuffed onions and turbot – and order a big bottle of rakı.
You’ll find some of Istanbul’s best köfte in this very laid back, unassuming restaurant that’s easy for people to just walk past. Another house special at Çanak are the delicious kuru fasülye (baked beans), so it’s recommended to get both dishes, as well as some delicious manda yoğurdu (yogurt made from water and buffalo milk) and pickled vegetables.