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  • Elizabeth Cochran

Explore Balat the Old district of Istanbul with a budget traveler

Are you traveling to Istanbul Turkey, but want a different experience than the normal tourist attractions? If so, then check out the old district called Balat. I highly recommend this district to visit for a day exploring here for enjoying the local life, sitting with some locals amongst a tea, and experiencing a historical district. This is for those travelers keen on learning of the culture and the people when traveling.

Balat, is the old district of Istanbul. The district where it all started! Yet, it remains almost untouched by tourists visiting here and it is a colorful and vibrant district for seeing the local life authentically. Turkish people are one of the most hospitable and truly kind people I have encountered in my travels. If you come to Balat they have many cay "tea" cafes where you can have a cay for as little as 3 lirah. In the city center a cay will be around 10 lirah.

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What to do in Balat When in Balat, there is something more peaceful and quiet about this district. It is not a highly visited spot compared to Sultanhamet area in the city center. This area is for the photographers, slow travelers, couples, digital nomads looking for a chill experience, and those keen on seeing local and historic life. This district looks vastly different from the rest of Istanbul, as the architecture is from a different time period. It was the first district in Istanbul and was previously many years ago, known as the "poor" district. Yet, there is a lot to explore here. If you are looking for a district to capture your eyes and maybe chat with locals, then come here. 1. Visit the rainbow "antique cafe" for a colorful themed cafe with a rainbow staircase This cafe is popular and you definietly will see many strolling through for videos or a photoshoot, per as what I did as well. It is not crowded though like the other parts of Istanbul. It is very enjoyable to sit at this cafe and watch the pedestrians pass through.

2. Visit the cathedral If you like to visit holy places, temples, churches then visit the cathedral. I personally didn't go inside, but instead sat outside the grassy area for an ice cream while watching the tram and the river overlooking Istanbul.

3. Take a walk through the side streets In Balat, there are many pedestrian streets where you can wander through. It was perfect for photography as the architecture was very unique here to the rest of Istanbul. The art of wandering is to simply ponder and walk without a destination or worry, but to just merely explore to see what you may encounter.

4. Walk on the main street The main street will easily be recognized as there are many cafes on the road and it wanders to the cami "mosque. I am unsure of the name, but just look up when walking or take a listen and I am sure you will find the main road. This district is quite small, so I reckon a day is enough to explore. There were many good places to eat for a local price including Turkish foods such as an interesting manti place, bakeries, ice cream, durum, and all of the Turkish foods.

5. Chat up with some locals over a cay

Since this district is not crowded with tourists, you most definitely will be able to experience the local charm of Turkish people. The only barrier for exploring here might be the language barrier since they are just speaking Turkish. There are no worries though, I felt very safe. Use normal precautions for travel and judgement of character, however I chatted with locals while walking. I have an app that is called google translate and downloaded turkish offline, that way I can always show them my phone if my pronunciation is awful.

While wandering around in Balat, I asked if I could take photos of interesting things, the locals, and buildings, and was given head nods to continue, welcome to Turkey, and returned with smiles only. If you are someone who is a wander and loves a a good chat, it is likely you will end up having some cay "tea" with the locals if you find the right place.

How to get to Balat

After reading this guide I am sure you will want to explore Balat, but how do you get there? The transport in Istanbul works very well and covers almost the whole city it seems. To get to Balat it depends where you are leaving from. The easiest way to check the route is using the Turkish app called "Moovit" or you can use your google maps to see the buses, trams, and the location. I recommend that you use the moovit app to check the best route such as a tram part way then the metro or tram for the rest of the route. When I went I left from Sultanhamet tram station and took the tram all the way to Eminou. Walked to the next tram station across the bridge for about a 15 minute walk, then took the tram to Balat. If you want to keep it budget friendly definitely use the local transport your entire time while in Istanbul. If you don't want to worry about the local transport then book a "taksi", however I recommend that you use local transport. Have a fun and safe time in Istanbul. Happy travels. Join my community on patreon! We talk about female travel, tips, how to move abroad, live chats, and more.

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