Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul

One of the big quandaries in travel lies in whether or not one should do a lot of research before heading out. Surprises and random discoveries are a highlight of a trip but at the same time, randomness can be hard to come across on one’s own. A perfect example of this is the colourful staircase of Istanbul. Rainbow StairsDuring the summer of 2013, a retiree named Huseyin Cetinel decided to paint a public staircase in the district of Beyoglu. It took him four days but when he was done, the result was a dazzling display of colour in the middle of a dreary-looking area. The stairs were an immediate hit. Photos went up online and all across social media. Some people even assumed it was an LGBT project due to the rainbow theme. Mr. Cetinel said he did it because he “wanted to make people smile”. Whatever the reasoning or purpose behind the project, it quickly became part of Istanbul’s political landscape. Why Colour is ImportantOn August 30, not long after the stairs got their beauty makeover, the municipal government re-painted the staircase back to the original cement grey. People were pissed. They were angry to the point that the popular hashtag from June’s protests, ResistGeziPark, was duplicated into ResistStairs. The protest spread right across Turkey and people painted their local public stairs rainbow in solidarity. Eventually the municipal government caved and re-re-painted the staircase, this time somewhat back to what Mr. Cetinel did.

When I was preparing for my summer 2014 trip back to Istanbul, my research led me to these stairs. If I hadn’t been researching for random things to see/do in Istanbul, I wouldn’t have come across this to visit because they are definitely not on the tourist trail. So, score one for research 🙂 The stairs are actually easy to find – they lie in between the metro stops of Findikli and Tophane. Starting from Tophane, we walked towards Findikli, not deviating from the main road which hosts the metro line. If you are walking towards Findikli, you want to be on the left side of the road. On the right side, we passed Istanbul Modern (museum) which lies along the Bosphorous. You can’t see it, though, due to all the buildings, but you can see the tops of cruise ships poking up over the buildings rather incongruously. Walking down the rather busy street, I wondered if I got the correct directions because it really did seem like a weird place to paint some stairs. But no, soon enough, just after a bank, there they were! Colourful StairsI immediately loved the rainbow stairs. The sheer randomness and chutzpah it takes for someone to one day decide to paint public property is pretty awesome. The staircase itself is chipped and beaten up, the area is decidedly functional and rundown, and there are 145 stairs in all. I’m not sure how Mr. Cetinel saw all that and still imagined pretty colours. Today, the colours are not as bright and solid compared to the photos taken in 2013, which was a shame. But they were still fun and they are a bright spot in a rather arbitrary place. If you’re in Istanbul, do check them out! People on Colourful Stairs

Have you ever visited something very random that you discovered in your pre-trip research?

How to get there: Take the metro to the Tophane stop and walk towards the Findikli stop. It is about a 5-10 minute stroll. Retrace your steps to explore Beyoglu or climb the stairs to access the Cihangir area instead!

11 responses to “Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul

  1. It’s a really neat (and random!) idea to brighten up the urban landscape. It hilarious and kind of telling that the stairs developed such a following.

    Is it funny that I feel a little ripped off that the municipal goverment repainted the stairs rather than having Mr. Cetinel (who was maybe fed up) redo it?

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – New | Rusty Travel Trunk·

  3. Hey, i just visited Istanbul this week. Thank you so much for helping me find them. The colourful stairs are very much there – shiny and bright. These stairs seem to be the one parallel to them, the colour scheme is slightly different if you notice.

    • Hi Keta! I’m so glad that my post enabled you to find the stairs 🙂 They are fun to see, aren’t they! Thanks very much for coming by to let me know you found them!


  4. Hi Kendra! I will visit Istambul in may. My hotel will be in Taksim, and i don’t know how to find this place. Can you help me and tell wich transport i should take to get this place.

    • Hi Mari!

      Your best option is to email your hotel. They will be the ones to know best how to get to their location. Many hotels have a taxi service that will meet you in the airport with a sign that has your name on it. This is what I did both times I went to Istanbul – it was the most cost effective and very low-stress. I hope you have a fantastic trip!

  5. Love that fact that this happened and that people stood up against the municipal government. There is a similar project in the favellas of Rio de Janeiro, where several artists began painting the ramshackle houses, then obtaining funds to buy paints and brushes for more people who then did their own houses. It really changed the entire, poverty-ridden neighborhood and has become a tourist attraction.

    • Oh wow – that’s very neat. I love how colour can change things! Thanks for telling me about it (now I’m off to look it up to see it!)

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