Whether you have your compulsive shopping under control or not, shopping at the Grand Bazaar is a must do in Istanbul.
With over 4000 stores under one roof, the Grand Bazaar is a retail-therapy dream come true! If you’re going to the Grand Bazaar to complete your list of “things to do in Istanbul” and not with the intention of shopping, we’ve got news for you: you’ve taken on an inhuman task: going to the Grand Bazaar equals shopping whether you like it or not.
So we’ve boiled it down to the best of the best, trying to save you some time and effort, and hopefully making your visit a little less chaotic and overwhelming.
But before we list our recommendations, here is what you need to know before you step in the Bazaar and start throwing your valuable dollars around.
First and foremost, don’t pressure yourself. Trying to see the entire Grand Bazaar in one afternoon is an unrealistic task. It’s more than likely that there won’t be enough time or you’ll get too tired. Once you accept this, you won’t rush from one shop to the next and you’ll get to enjoy the extraordinary shopping experience of the Bazaar.
And it’s not just the act of buying but the act of bargaining and chatting with sellers that make the Grand Bazaar experience so special and unique. You’ll see that the thousands of stores that are lined next to each other sell similar stuff; that’s why bargaining works and that’s why customer service is crucial. But it’s not for the sake of customer service that shop owners chat away with customers and offer them tea—that’s just the Turkish way of welcoming visitors.
Although the Grand Bazaar often feels like an overwhelming sensory-overload, especially for first-timers, there are a few ways of making the experience smoother. You’ll quickly notice that once you lay your hands on a product, regardless of whether you have the intentions of buying it or not, the shop keeper will “attack” you, trying to close the sale. This is a typical scenario on the main streets of the Bazaar, so we suggest you begin your trip on the side streets where things are bit calmer. Also, keep in mind that the shop keepers of the best shops won’t “harass” you to buy their products. Speaking of harassment, you’re more than likely to witness men bantering with bazaar-goers, especially women. Some do see this as harassment, but this is just the character of the place. If you hear anyone cracking a joke, just laugh it off and don’t take it seriously.
Keep in mind that light and playful bargaining is accepted but don’t get aggressive. If you change your mind or don’t like the way the bargaining is going, just leave and move on to the next shop.
Having digested all this information, you’re now ready to shop away. Even though we tell you the best spots in the Bazaar, you should still rummage your way through the Bazaar just for the fun of it. And remember that this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the Grand Bazaar has to offer but it does steer you in the right direction.
Carpets & Kilims: With the new airport regulations, you’ll be pushing your luck if you try to squeeze a rug or kilim in your luggage. But that surely won’t stop you from buying one at the Grand Bazaar. We suggest you head directly to Şişko Osman. A fourth-generation family business, the store features a wide selection of carpets and kilims chosen from all over the country, at all price ranges. Ethnicon stands for two things: ethnic and contemporary. And the store offers just that. You’ll find unique, hand-woven carpets and kilims made with a range of colors. Most designs are modeled on existing kilims, with special attention paid to details like tassels. Along a similar vein is Dhoku, another carpet & kilim store by Ethnicon’s owner, specializing in contemporary designs.
Leather: If you’re after high-quality leather goods at considerably reasonable prices (when compared to the stores in high-end neighborhoods), stop by Koç Deri. Prepare to spend a considerable amount of time trying on anything from classic leather jackets to chic fur coats. For a more minimalist take on leather, stop by Punto Deri.
Turkish Textiles and Goodies: Head to Abdulla for all-natural products, including towels, blankets from Southeast Anatolia, peştemals, and shawls. You’ll also find pure olive oil soaps and bath accessories, such as kese (scrub mitt). Similar to Abdulla is Derviş, whichboasts a colorful range of secondhand clothing that are in fact ‘sandık eskileri’—clothing from the treasure chests of people’s homes from all over Anatolia and, therefore, with a little history. You’ll also find soaps, olive oil, and necklaces made out of karanfil (cloves). Sivaslı Istanbul Yazmacısı features a lovely collection of scarves, stockings, gloves, and other ethnic goodies, mostly handmade and featuring Turkish motifs.
Antiques: You’ll find tons of antiques and antique-looking objects at the Grand Bazaar. It’s standard practice to try to sell antique-looking stuff as antique, so you need to know that where you’re going is trustworthy. Sofa is one such store, a collector’s heaven, featuring antiques, books, art, furniture, sculptures, and much much more. Everything has a feeling of contemporary meets the not-so-contemporary, which makes the pieces even that much more beautiful and enchanting.
The İç Bedesten inside the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest sections of the complex with original arched ceilings, and most of the antique shops are located within this space. Eski Fine Arts and Antiques has three separate shops with an array of smaller sized 19th-20th century antiques from various countries formerly in the Ottoman Empire. Paintings, calligraphy, hookahs, backgammon sets, sea-foam pipes, Çanakkale, and items made of silver, ivory, and amber are all stocked up in the lighted glass shop display.
A little bit outside this historical space is Ziya Aykaç who carries 18th-19th century European and Ottoman objects made of silver or porcelain, as well as beautiful hand woven fabrics from Bursa among other regions. If you make your way outside the Grand Bazaar toward Çuhacı Han, you will find the store of Sait Asil which focuses entirely on silver objects for the home that range from silverware to candle holders, as well as mirrors and more on two floors.
Jewelry: You’ll find loads of jewelry stores around the Bazaar and you will be tempted over and over again. For a blend of ancient art and modern influences, see Hilat's collection of handcrafted gold jewelry. If you’re after something chic and sophisticated, have a look at contemporary jewelry designer Örge Tulga’s creations. Using silver, gold, and a wide variety of semi-precious stones, Tulga designs simple and elegant pieces, often inspired by shapes in nature. But if you’re going for something over-the-top, jeweler Sevan Bıçakçı is your man.
Gifts and Souvenirs: Obviously, you can’t go back home empty handed. You’ll want to buy something to take back with you—either to give as a gift to a friend or to keep for yourself. A relative newcomer to the bazaar, Sasanna Tasarım carries a range of elegant and tasteful gift items. Home and office accessories are produced using high-quality natural materials, such as marble and copper, and embellished with traditional Turkish motifs, making this an ideal place to find gifts. İznik Art specializes in çini (traditional Turkish pottery and tiles)from the western city of Iznik. Iznik tiles are famous the world over, andare ornately decorated in turquoiseand coral-red floral motifs. This storeproduces a wide range of high-qualitytiles and decorative objects in traditionalpatterns, including bowls, jugs, vases, and even mosque lamps.