I love a great market and the Grand Bazaar has to be one of the worlds greatest. Actually it’s misleading to call this a market, I’m pretty sure I heard this was the worlds first shopping mall. Don’t quote me on that though. The Grand Bazaar actually spans several city blocks both covered and uncovered and has 22 different entrances. The main entrance is right in the centre called Kapali Carsi (literally meaning city centre)
At one point in time this was the place for commercial trade in the Ottoman Empire. With around 4000 shops and stalls you can find anything you want (or didn’t know you want) here from silk, gold, kitchenware, Oriental imports, copperware and every possible tourist souvenir you can think of. Trying to create a walking tour is next to impossible. I had one in hand from one of my favourite guides and there was no way to follow along. So long story short don’t bother. Rather I have a couple of tips to help you navigate your way around. First, get a sense of what you’re looking for.
If there’s something that catches your eye just have a look around first. Check some other shops and go back to the one that you liked most. From there, haggle a better price. I personally don’t like to be insulting when I haggle. I offer genuinely what I would like to pay, maybe a little less. Or offer to buy a couple other things to get to a price you both like. If it’s still too much walk away. But more often than not you’ll get what you want. If you’re looking to make a more substantial purchase like a rug or gold it’s not unusual for the shopkeeper to ask you in for tea. You don’t have to buy. Have a look over your beverage, have some interesting conversation and buy or don’t buy. It’s how they do business so don’t feel bad if you don’t really want what they’re selling. One of my favourite memories was having a chat with a carpet salesman about traveling in Montreal over a glass of tea. He knew I had no intention to buy a carpet, I was clearly a backpacker and warned him so from the beginning. But we had a great chat about what I should check out, where to buy the best turkish delight or where to buy the best cup of Turkish coffee (check out my post on eating and drinking in Istanbul). So don’t be afraid to talk to people. They’re not all trying to rip you off.
With that being said here are some of my favourite things to peruse or buy
I am absolutely in love with Turkish glassware. From lamps to tea glasses, everything is so colourful and intricate
I’m not really a big fan of souvenirs but i’ll admit I picked up some of these pot holders. Though my Turkish hosts also had these in their house too so I didn’t feel too bad
Granted the best spices are actually found in the nearby spice market, a smaller covered market adjacent to the Grand Bazaar so I’m including it here.
My favourite by far was rose pistachio but look for the double cooked variety. Sooooo good
This place is also a food lovers paradise. From upscale eateries to street food here are a couple of my favourite places
Havuzlu Restaurant This is a sit down restaurant but don’t let the table cloths fool you this is a cafeteria style eatery popular with many of the tradespeople I spoke to. Make sure to arrive before 3pm. Once the food is gone it’s gone. If the Patlican Musakka (basically like greek moussaka) is available don’t even think twice…get it!!
Gul Ebru Kantin Probably the best doner kebab I had in Istanbul. If you’re feeling adventurous, try washing it down with some pickled beet juice. Not as bad as it sounds