Colourful Istanbul: Streets and Houses Brightening Up the City

The architecture of cities sometimes de-motivates us, and Istanbul is no exception. Certain drab areas with no soul just represent a fast-paced lifestyle many seek to run away from. Yet colourful Istanbul is another side to Turkey’s largest metropolis.

Whether it is streets, houses or notable landmarks, this side of the busy city reinvents urban living and is the perfect antidote to put a smile on your face. For years, scientists have confirmed colours like blue, green, yellow, red, and orange have a soothing subliminal effect, so if you need a happy fix while in Istanbul, here are the places to head to.

5 Places in Colourful Istanbul

Istanbul’s Rainbow Steps

Beyoglu’s rainbow steps are not only pleasing on the eye but also have a heart-warming story as to how they came about. In 2013, a retired engineer called Huseyin Cetinal painted three steps of a long stairway linking the Cihangir and Findikli neighbourhoods.

Passerby's said they looked beautiful and made them feel happy, so he spent a further 1500 Turkish lira and along with a friend painted every single step in rainbow colours. Social media was quick to notice the painted stairs and pictures went viral.

While some said it supported the LGBT movement, others said it was a silent and peaceful protest after the Gezi Park riots two months before. However, Huseyin said he simply did it because it made people smile. However the local council wasn’t so enthusiastic and two days later, they repainted the stairs grey.

So locals used social media to organise a community paint spree that turned them back to rainbow colours. These days, the steps are a local tourist spot for photo ops, and a few newlyweds also have their photos taken there. To see them for yourself, head to Sali Pazari street in the Kabatas district of Beyoglu.

Rainbow steps Istanbul

Urban Street Art in Istanbul

Earlier generations called graffiti, a disrespectful community crime but these days, the movement has evolved to become an recognised art niche standing on its own. Often called urban street art, pieces adorning sides of buildings either evoke emotions, make us smile or impress with the immense talent needed to produce such a work of art.

As Turkey’s largest city, artists naturally flock to Istanbul so their pieces can appear in various neighbourhoods. Such is their popularity, an Istanbul Street Art app detailing locations, artists and stories behind pictures, is perfect for independent travellers looking to self-tour the best murals.

A yearly festival also hosts artists from other countries to display their latest masterpieces. It takes place in Kadikoy which is the best place to see street art. Prominent pieces to keep an eye out for include Captain Borderline, and the Bambino by Pixel Pancho.

Street art Istanbul

The Tulip Festival in April

If colour is what you seek, visit in April when millions of bulbs are planted in parks and gardens across the city. You may ask what’s the connection and why would officials spend so much money on different coloured bulbs that don’t last long. Well, many people associate tulips with Holland, whose national symbol is the flower, but it originated in Turkey.

It’s also responsible for the Ottoman Empire’s much celebrated 18th-century tulip era. Featuring in architectural landmarks, and pieces of art, old buildings built during that era still display the symbol. The best places to see tulips during the festival are Emirgan, Goztepe, Gulhane and Yildiz parks, and Camlica hill and Sultanahmet square.

Tulip festival Istanbul

Colourful houses in Balat and Fener

Exploring streets of the Balat and Fener neighbourhoods leads to nostalgic, multi-coloured Ottoman houses but also introduces Istanbul, away from tourist scenes. For decades, as tourists flocked to areas like Sultanahmet and Taksim, the Balat and Fener districts were never talked about.

However as travel trends changed to become more “local,” walking tours took off, and they entered the spotlight because their history as old Jewish and Greek orthodox quarters makes them just as important, as any other district.

Proof of this lies in the 7 million euro project of 2003, that was funded by the EU to restore 87 houses and 33 shops in the old quarters, as part of an urban regeneration project. While wandering around the streets, watch out for notable architecture like the Greek Orthodox College and Yavuz Selim Mosque, before nipping into a quaint street cafe for refreshments.

Balat houses Istanbul

Bosphorus Waterside Landmarks

Buy a ferry ticket, take a seat looking out and prepare to see splashes of colour pass by as you cruise the Bosphorus. Green hillsides on both sides of the waterway are home to esteemed and prestigious yali mansions, that catch the eye.  

These houses date from the Ottoman era when affluent members of elite social circles bought them as summer retreats. Dramatic colours and soft pastel shades also add to distinctive architectural styles that make them Turkey’s most expensive real estate market.

Hekimbasi yali is renowned for its deep red colour and one of the most famous yali houses but if you go as far as Arnavutkoy, watch for Ottoman mansions sitting waterside. They are a nostalgic trace of colourful Istanbul and its history.

Arnavutkoy houses Istanbul

You Might Like to Read

Autumn is a fantastic time to travel because this season’s colours change landscapes into vibrant oranges, red, and yellows. Read about the best places to visit in Turkey during autumn, and reasons to visit them. Otherwise, if you are planning to see other places in Istanbul, you’ll find lots of handy tips and advice on our Turkey blog section.


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