Fener and Balat Walking Tour (with Local Guide) 2024

Fener and Balat districts offer a wonderful experience for those who want to go beyond the classic tourist route in Istanbul. Fener and Balat were the Greek and Jewish districts of old Istanbul, and it is still possible to see the traces of those days.

As a local tour guide, I have been giving history and culture themed walking tours in Istanbul for many years. Among these, Fener and Balat walking tour is the one that surprises people the most with the hidden treasures and historical depth it offers.

Fener and Balat districts in Istanbul have become a phenomenon on social media in recent years with their colorful houses and stairs. When these visual features are combined with the historical background, this area becomes one of the best walking routes in Istanbul.

Highlights of the Fener and Balat Tour

Fener Balat tour is the trip where you will need a local tour guide the most in Istanbul. Because the historical artifacts here are not open to visitors regularly, and a guide who knows the staff in the buildings can help you see these hidden treasures.

There is a remarkable historical heritage in the Greek neighborhood of Fener and the Jewish neighborhood of Balat. In these districts, churches, synagogues and mosques are side by side and each has a unique story.

In the following lines, you can see the highlights of the Fener and Balat tour summarized under 10 headings. However, if you would like to make a reservation directly instead of reading this long article, you can reach me by filling out this form on the contact page.

1. Kadir Has University

Kadir Has University in Cibali

Kadir Has University is essentially a tobacco factory from the 19th century. There is a magnificent view of the Golden Horn from the courtyard of this building, which was built in the last period of the Ottoman Empire.

Fener and Balat walking tour starts by meeting in the courtyard of this university. Here, I share general information about our tour covering Cibali, Fener and Balat districts and we talk about Ottoman Istanbul.

After leaving the university courtyard, we continue parallel to the northern walls of Constantinople on the banks of the Golden Horn and even see one of the ancient Roman gates that gave entrance to the city.

2. Church of St Theodosia

Old Byzantine Church to be seen in Fener and Balat tour

Church of St. Theodosia is a 1000-year-old Byzantine church that we see in all its majesty at the end of our walk from the foot of the Roman walls. Today, it serves under the name Gul Mosque.

St Theodosia was an icon-loving woman who lived in the 8th century of Byzantium. She died while trying to protect the icon of Jesus from Roman soldiers during the iconoclasm initiated by Emperor Leo III.

This church was built later in her memory, and after remaining as a church for 500 years, it was converted into a mosque in the 15th century. There is another interesting story about how today’s Gul Mosque, which means “Rose Mosque”, got this name.

In my opinion, the Fener and Balat walking tour perfectly reflects the cosmopolitan structure of Istanbul in history and is full of such interesting stories. Even though I cannot fit them all into this article, I passionately share these stories with my guests on my tours.

3. Church of St Nicholas

Church of St Nicholas aka Santa Claus

Church of St Nicholas is a hidden treasure in Istanbul that even the locals do not know about its existence, but those who enter are fascinated by it. This centuries-old building is a great example of Istanbul’s Greek Orthodox heritage.

Church of St Nicholas offers us a peaceful environment. During the half hour we spend here, I explain the sophisticated history of Istanbul to my guests with maps and visuals and try to create a timeline in their minds.

4. Fener Orthodox School

Greek Orthodox School to be seen in Fener and Balat tour

Fener Orthodox School educated some of the most important clergy in Istanbul (former Constantinople), the heart of Eastern Christianity. The school, which is today a secular high school, has a magnificent architecture.

During the tour, we wander through the back streets of the district to watch this distinctive architecture of the school from the most beautiful point. Even though the road takes longer, the view is worth it.

5. Church of St George

Church of St George located in Greek District Fener

Church of St George is definitely the most important stop of the Fener and Balat tour. Because here there are 1000-year-old icons and relics that have survived from the Byzantine period to the present day.

The remains of the three great fathers of the Eastern church, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great, are here and each has a separate story.

There are also icons and mosaics in here, which are the best examples of Byzantine religious art. Additionally, it is sometimes possible to see the Patriarch of Constantinople here.

6. The Colorful Stairs

The Colorful Stairs of Fener and Balat districts

The Colorful Stairs has become one of the most important symbols of Fener and Balat, thanks to Instagram. Although the stairs do not have much historical significance, it is possible to see hundreds of people taking photos here during the day.

We will be using these stairs to reach the Church of St Mary of the Mongols, one of the most interesting churches in the district. Here is another hidden treasure that Fener Balat walking tour offers you.

7. The Colorful Houses

The Colorful Houses of Fener and Balat tour

The Colorful Houses are among the most distinctive features of Fener and Balat districts. With the 19th-century Greek houses recently being painted in bright colors, the neighborhood’s presence on social media has increased significantly.

8. Ahrida Synagogue

Ahrida Synagogue located in Jewish District Balat

Ahrida Synagogue is the most beautiful building in Balat, the Jewish quarter of Ottoman Istanbul. Ahrida was built by Jews from Ohrid, Macedonia, and today it is the second largest synagogue in Istanbul.

Unfortunately, for security reasons, casual visits to synagogues are not allowed. To visit synagogues in Istanbul, you need to apply in advance. That’s why we tell the story of this place from the outside.

9. Colorful Streets of Balat

Colorful Streets of Fener and Balat in Istanbul

The colorful streets of Balat were once the neighborhood market of Jews. Here, it is possible to observe the Jewish heritage of Balat, which has a history spanning centuries, with the help of a local tour guide.

10. Iron Church

The Iron Church is belong to Bulgarian Christians of Istanbul

Iron Church is a place belonging to the Bulgarian community of Istanbul and is also known as the Bulgarian Sveti Stefan Church. This church on the banks of the Golden Horn is a very photographic place.

Iron Church has recently undergone restoration and looks great. Here we talk about the stories identified with the history of the church and why the church is called “Iron Church”.

Iron Church is also the last stop of our Fener and Balat walking tour, which takes approximately 4 hours. After seeing all these places, you can be sure that this tour will leave you with unforgettable memories.

How to Get to Fener and Balat?

To go to Fener and Balat from Sultanahmet, you first need to take Tram T1 to Eminonu (where Spice Bazaar is located). When you transfer to T5 here and arrive in Cibali, you will reach Kadir Has University, the starting point of the tour.

To go to Fener and Balat from Taksim, you can first take the F1 funicular (or on foot) to Kabatas, the first stop of Tram T1. You need to get off T1 at Eminonu, the first stop after Galata Bridge, and transfer to T5 to reach Cibali.

If you need visual support about tram routes, you can use the public transportation maps in this article. The tram map in the article shows you the routes of T1 coming from Sultanahmet and T5 traveling along the Golden Horn.

Conclusion

Many people have joined my Fener and Balat walking tour so far and they found this experience far beyond their expectations. They were very impressed by being able to witness hundreds of years of history, away from the tourist crowds.

There is information about my references on the about page of this site, but if you wish, you can also read reviews about me on TripAdvisor. Although some of these comments are about other tours, a significant part of them are feedback about my Fener and Balat tours.

If you want to embark on this historical journey that starts from the Byzantine period and continues throughout the Ottoman period, you can contact me by filling out the form on the contact page. As a licensed tour guide in Istanbul, I am ready to share with you all I know.

Finally, the Fener Balat tour is generally about non-Muslims in Ottoman Istanbul between the 15th and 20th centuries. On the other hand, you can review another history tour that introduces Byzantine Istanbul between the 4th and 15th centuries from this link.

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