Soon after conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantines in 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II commissioned the beginnings of the Grand Bazaar to reinvigorate trade to the city. Over 550 years later, the bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world with a labyrinth of 60 streets connecting over 3,000 shops selling all manner of treasures and souvenirs from jewelry to silk carpets. Looking for currency exchange shops? You’ll find the best rates in Istanbul here.
Have you been here? Share a tip or a photo with fellow travelers.
Hunting for Kilims in Istanbul
Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. It is absolutely dizzying, even to the most dedicated shopper. I stumbled into a family-run carpet store, which was a welcome reprieve from the hustle going on in the main hall. They showed me scores of antique and contemporary carpets and kilims before I finally decided I was just there to browse, not buy—a choice I now regret. Know your price before you go, drink some mint tea, and don't be shy about taking your time and negotiating on price.
Your exploration isn’t over till you take in the dazzling eye candy of the gem merchants near the Nuruosmaniye Gate. Prices on real-deal jewelry aren’t as flexible as on typical tourist targets (throws, ceramics), but you should be able to knock 70 to 80 percent off the first price offered. —Cynthia Rosenfeld
For two very-seasoned shoppers, my sister and I were more than overwhelmed at the selection inside the massively and truly Grand Bazaar. We'd get caught up in jewelry, and then turn around to get caught up in tea sets, and then next thing we know we were back in jewelry. On the way, though, we passed by some ceramics and rugs that we liked...could we find that one spot again? It was dizzying. Go with a plan, and stick with it. It's easy to just wander and buy and wander and buy. But if tackled with smarts, you'll save yourself money, and the need for Advil.
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar might have become a tourist mecca, but given that it's the world's oldest shopping mall, it's still around for a reason. Locals still work, shop, and play here, and if you're there in the off-season, as we were, you hopefully will get a more authentic grasp of the way this bustling hub of old-world business used to be. I loved watching the employees rush around the huge place with the ubiquitous Turkish apple tea to shop owners and customers in their gorgeous, yet utilitarian, tea caddies. Between the knick-knacks, it's still full of beautiful spices, textiles, and other authentic Turkish goods.
Though I couldn't rock a pair of these back in the states, I thought this was such a lovely vignette of this once-traditional Turkish footwear!
I lived in Ankara for a year, studying abroad at Bilkent University. Because of the lack of activities in Ankara and its pollution of Ankara, my roommates and I often frequented Istanbul.
When I first arrived in Turkiye, I had this this exotic and magical image of what Turkiye was in my head, but in reality it's not that at all. Turkiye is so many things, it's hard to describe. It's old and new, secular and Muslim, private and public, fast and slow....etc. Nothing is ever quite what it seems or what you expect, but that keeps life fresh.
I think what sticks out most in my head of Turkiye are the sounds. There are so many different vivid sounds in Turkiye, from the sound of the azan (call to prayer), to the Arabesque music, to the old men quarelling in the backgammon parlours, and the sound of bargaining in Turkish, there are so many sounds!
In Turkey, people believe in gin, basically genies, which are considered to be evil spirits that enjoy doing terrible things to you. Turkish people are quite superstitious. They are often worried that praising something or someone can often attract the attention of these gin, and that something will happen to the thing or person that they have praised. Therefore, when you talk about something like someone's health, happiness, wealth, luck, or children, whatever is said is followed by the phrase "mashallah," which comes from Arabic. This saying is believed to be protection against the gin. In addition, people wear nazar and hang them in their homes. Nazar are basically an eye, which is supposed to ward off the evil gin. The nazar are blue because blue eyes are considered good luck. This item is also seen in other parts of the world such as Greece and Egypt. Many Turkish mothers sew small nazar to their children's clothes to protect them from evil things. And many buses and other vehicles have "Mashallah" printed on them, and often times a nazar is painted on them.
Walking through the grand bazzaar I saw so many brightly colored things. One of the things that stuck out most in my mind were all the beautiful lights though.... Too bad it's such a touristie and over priced area! I always ask in Turkish for the "local price," but still, since I am blonde with short hair, it takes me a while to get closer to the "Turkish price."
During my younger days while studying in Britain, I traveled to few European cities. Unfortunately time was scarce, money even scarcer so I didn't get to see Turkey.
13 years and one child since after the graduation, my husband took me to Istanbul & Athens. I had a ball of a time in Istanbul, my shutter button worked relentlessly. My senses stimulated at every corner of this city.
One exceptionally hot and dry afternoon, I took a respite from the sun by getting lost inside Kapali Çarşı - The Grand Bazaar.
I found this gentleman sitting at ease with his friends along the alleyway that connects The Old Book Bazaar and Istanbul University.
I gestured to my camera, put on a pathetic face in asking his permission to snap a photo. He nodded softly and smiled in return.
Then I walked towards him to crack a conversation, at this point my husband called up to me saying that our friend, Kerem, had been waiting too long outside the Bazaar to take us to The Bosphorus. I rushed out to Beyazit street without looking back.
I kept thinking about him. I did return to the same place to look for him on our last day in Istanbul but he wasn't there.
The episode will forever be my only regret in Istanbul. I should have talked to him that very same afternoon.
Lamp display at Grand Bazaar. The bazaar caters mostly to tourists and is mostly full of souvenir stands. The Egyptian Bazaar is still a popular place to visit, but has some beautiful stalls full of food and spices.
Istanbul is like my second home. Growing up my family and I (and always a friend or two) would spend the entire summer in Istanbul. We would spend the long hot days with our friends kicking around in the dirt, eating popsicles at the dock in out small neighborhood or roaming the alleys of Istanbul's famous covered bazaars. I didn't know at the time how lucky I was to have parents who knew the value of travel and living abroad. I'm now 27 and still constantly on the move.
I stood at the entrance to the greatest market in all of Byzantium, the glittering Grand Bazaar. Enthralled and petrified by the swirling mass of people pouring past, I stopped to take stock. 4,000 stores filled the musty and smoke-filled bazaar, spilling their wares into the miles of cobblestoned streets and alleys. Stall after treasure-heaped stall beckoned. With only an hour till closing I dashed down alleys and careened around corners — I wanted to see it all before I decided where to shop “Just pick one or two shops,” my husband wisely advised. I could feel the sand slipping through the hourglass — I would never see it all. Hookahs, painted bowls, brilliantly colored slippers all charmed me. But it was the jewel-toned hanging glass lamps that drew me to pause under them and gaze, dreaming of sultry Ottoman nights as the waning sunlight flickered through the thousand and one colors and drifted down to gild my upturned face. Though candy to my camera, they were out of my budget. My explorations over, I settled on some crimson tea glasses. I talked the shopkeeper down a few lira. My technique? Smiling hugely when I offered my price.
A day at one of the oldest shopping places in the world is an unforgettable experience. Even after 18 years in Istanbul it is one of my favorite activities. In fact, the Grand Bazaar has become so much part of me that I have incorporated it into my business and arrange exclusive guided shopping days. One piece of advice, don't be intimidated to explore back streets and alleys and to engage shop owners.
Walking throught the Grand Bazaar is an assault on the senses and often an assault on the person. This covered structured as made up of a series of corriders that seem to meander aimlessly and endlessly. Visting with someone who is familiar with the area and the language is extermely helpful. Full of shops, shop owners and shoppers, the Bazaar is one of the most bustling and exciting parts of the CIty. Give yourself plenty of time to wander throught the shops and to find your way back out. Be ready to barter with the store clerks and make sure to get a sense of all the shops before making a big purchase on any one item (i.e. rugs, leather, jewelry). There are some exquisite finds in these corridors of chaos, but you will have to work for your good fortune.
The captivating colors, reflections of minuscule mirrors and luminous lights will draw you into this shop. The entire Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is a cacophony of color and sounds, but the brilliance of this shop of lighted globes is not to be missed. Even after shopping for shish-ka-bob skewers, snacking on Turkish pastry delights and swirling midst the hustle and bustle of multiple languages, it was the light--- the sparkle---that drew me back again and again.
When you are in Istanbul, seek out the light... and, please, please, soak up some dazzle for me.
After wandering through Istanbuls Grand Bazaar for two hours and seeing way to many clothing, jewelry and souvenir shops I came across a handful of hidden shops just outside the main Bazaar with nothing but old Turkish antiques for sale.
Every tourist in Istanbul stops at the Grand Bazaar! Make a plan to spend at least half the day wandering and be okay with the fact that you will get lost. Insiders tip: everyone knows to bargain in this market, but if you plan to buy anything in large quantities, develop a relationship with one shopkeeper. We knew that we wanted to buy a lot of ceramics, and we chose a friendly shopkeeper. We passed a lovely hour negotiating with him and drinking apple tea, and in the end, we walked away with ceramics at a 60% discount!
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a crazy, busy, noisy place but in spite of the magnificent confusion it´s definitely a highlight on any trip to this amazing city. Be prepared to negotiate, don´t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you´re being ripped off and take advantage of the massive spice selection because there´s lots of things here that you most likely wouldn´t find back home in western supermarkets.
These are miniature chests. I got them more than 15 years ago at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. They are beautifully handcrafted, but unfortunately it's quite difficult to find them these days.
By AFAR Traveler
Look up once inside any gate to Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. The ceiling will provide clues as to which part of the Bazaar you are in.
The Iҁ (or Cevahir) Bedesten is deep in the center of the Bazaar. The concentric red brick circles of its high, domed ceiling shelter the Bazaar’s most precious jewelry and antiques. One of the few structures remaining from the time of Mehmet II, the Conqueror, the Bedesten was a source of revenue for Aya Sofya after the original Byzantine church was converted to an Ottoman mosque. The nearby Sandal Bedesteni, which carries textiles, has a similar red brick ceiling.
Elsewhere in the Bazaar, look up to find yourself beneath a path of yellow arches with blue arabesques; or variations in beige; or under ceilings in which the patina of centuries belies (or defies) location.
Combined with the abundance of jewelry, antiques, carpets, silver, leather, textiles, house wares, or souvenir shops in any particular section, Bazaar ceilings can help wanderers find their way. To find an exit, look for the word “kapali” (door or gate). It pays to know where you would like to end up, the name of the kapali you seek, and the section of the Bazaar that it’s in – there are at least half a dozen main gates (some near taxi stands) and as many as twelve smaller entrances to the Bazaar with approaches under arched stone ceilings from the time of the sultans.
There are many bazaars in Istanbul and stall after stall of goods to explore. Bartering with food sellers over dried fruits, nuts, and spices, was impressive to watch and intimidating to attempt. With so much on offer it was hard to make selections, but even harder not to people-watch! Surprised to see predominantly men- both as workers and shoppers in this particular stall, the colors and smells were intoxicating and we paused to admire the options, and what seemed to be an enthralling discussion, inquiry, or piece of gossip.
Here, in what looks like age-old exchange in an age-old location, these men go about their work with a backdrop of modern technology- not one, but two, flat-screen TVs. I am still surprised by the mix of old and new... but more importantly, I wish I could've understood what precisely was so captivating...
I work as a photographer, but even if i didn't, Istanbul would have turned me into one. The tiny moments of every day existence in this town look like photographs. The expressions of the people were so open, and everyone is ready to chat, to be friends, to share a moment. It's one of the most hospitable, welcoming countries I've ever been to and I cannot wait to go back. If you go, block out hours each day to simply wander and soak it all in. The big tourist spots are cool … but the back alleys and forgotten streets are better. For more images and information on traveling istanbul, hit up the link below.
Among all the treasures you can find at the Grand Bazaar, the most captivating one will have to be the Turkish lamps. The beauty of its colors, the intricacy of its mosaic patterns, and the multitude of glittering lamps hanging at these shops will transport you to a world of magic and wonder.