The Best Shopping in Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar looms large as Istanbul’s most renowned shopping destination, with 61 covered streets where you can haggle for handwoven carpets, fine jewelry, spices, and many more Turkish souvenirs. It’s not the only market worth browsing, and you’ll find everything from contemporary shopping malls to independent boutiques vying for your attention.
Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Soon after conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantines in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II commissioned the beginnings of the Grand Bazaar to reinvigorate trade with the city. More than 550 years later, the bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, with a labyrinth of 61 streets connecting over 4,000 shops selling all manner of treasures and souvenirs, from jewelry to silk carpets. Make a beeline for Sivasli Istanbul Yazmacisi, whose quality textiles are popular with interior decorators. Looking for currency exchange shops? You’ll find the best rates in Istanbul here.
Arasta Çarşısı, Küçükayasofya Caddesi No:135, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Intricate textiles woven on looms handed down through generations. An array of laurel, olive, and lavender bath products and the hammered bowls to hold them. Silk shawls with which to drape the color of the Aegean in a graceful arc below bare shoulders. All organic and produced locally, with the specific intent of preserving a dying art. Jennifer’s Hamam works with traditional Turkish weavers to produce luxuriously looped Turkish towels, flat-woven pestamels (the towels and wraps used in hamams, similar to a sarong), and fine silks woven from hand-spun thread. Looms are passed from one generation to the next. New designs evolve over time. Part entrepreneur and part preservationist, Jennifer and her staff are generous with their knowledge and delight in sharing their affordable luxuries. Wander, shop, and emerge enlightened. Accessibility: A wheeled walker can easily maneuver the main path of the Arasta Bazaar.
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar may be a global tourist trap, but isn’t nearly as rage-inducing as the squawking group tours inside the Grand Bazaar. Here, a remnant of authenticity lives on in this 17th century building, created by commission for Sultana Turhan Hatice. Visually-arresting piles of spices and Turkish delight, and rows of pushy men, make for a wild afternoon of souvenir shopping and colorful conversation. Inside the Ucuzcular stall the sellers are friendly and happy to let you browse. A bag of “love tea” ensures romance in a pot. In that vein, on my way through the bazaar, a man trotted up to me and said, “Excuse me. I think you dropped something...” I looked puzzled. He smiled and theatrically clutched his chest, "...my heart.” He probably does that for all the Westerners, but I pretended it was as real as the magic in the spices.
51-53 Turnacıbaşı Cd
The Çukurcuma neighborhood, just a short walk down the hill from Istanbul’s busy İstiklal Caddesi, is an antique, vintage, and retro lover’s delight. Step onto Faik Paşa Street or Turnacıbaşı Street and you step back in time. Here, you can find eclectic shops filled with the possessions of generations of Istanbul lives. Wanderlust shoppers can expect to find modern art, antique jewelry, old and restored furniture, retro lighting, vintage clothes and shoes, well-read books, brass ornaments, coins, old photographs, and other knickknacks from the past. These are cluttered among funky cafés that stretch out to the cobblestone streets. It is one of the most enjoyable and least-touristed parts of the city, full of intriguing finds and photographic opportunities.
Harbiye Mahallesi, Teşvikiye Cd. 47/A, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
Pick up any glass in Turkey and chances are there’s a letter P on the bottom of it, standing for Paşabahçe, Turkey’s top manufacturer of glassware and housewares. Blue-glass eye amulets (nazar in Turkish) that ward off the evil eye are sold everywhere in Turkey, but the items here are actually locally made. They range from simple, silver-dollar-size keychains to hefty, gilded wall hangings. Other souvenirs include the tulip-shaped glasses seen in every teahouse in town and ornate Ottoman-inspired vases that look like they could have been lifted from Topkapı Palace. Another contender for your collection: a piece of twisted blue-striped çeşm-i bülbül (nightingale’s eye) glass, a Venetian glassblowing technique made distinctively Turkish.
Nişantaşı is the posh “Upper East Side” of Istanbul, home to the priciest designer boutiques and old-fashioned couturiers, especially along Teşvikiye and Abdi İpekçi streets. Beymen department store was Turkey’s first luxury retailer and remains a one-stop shopping destination for international and Turkish designers; take a seat outside its sidewalk café to see the fashionable set preen. For a peek at the old-money Istanbul chronicled in Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence, find Hak Pasajı, a shopping arcade just a few steps from the City’s Nişantaşı shopping center. Along with jewelry stores, stationers, and shoemakers, you’ll find Orlando Carlo Calumeno’s shop, a veritable treasure trove of authentic Constantinople relics ranging from French postcards of the old Pera district to museum-quality Ottoman army items.
Alemdar Mh., Çatalçeşme Sk. No:21, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Located one street back from the tram line in Sultanahmet, Tribal Art Home’s owner Nihat and his assistant Yekta will help you browse their extensive range of hand-crafted ceramics, mosaic lanterns, candle holders, waterpipes (nargile), and textiles—wall hangings, cushion covers, and handbags. The bargaining is minimal as the prices quoted are already reasonable. The guys here can pack and wrap your purchases for safe transportation home. If you’re concerned about the weight of your suitcase, door to door delivery via international post can be organized. Do know that parcel post from Turkey can be expensive, so check the prices by weight before committing.
166/C İstiklal Cad.
Immerse yourself in clothes, shoes, bags, costumes, and accessories of bygone eras at By Retro in Suriye Passage, off Istiklal Street. This expansive basement shop is a wondrous labyrinth of vintage and retro treasures that feels more like a big kid’s dress-up box than a thrift shop. Take a trip back in time here—it will surely captivate vintage and retro fashion lovers for hours.
Alemdar Mh., Ticarethane Sk. No:5, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Selecting the perfect Turkish carpet or kilim can be like finding the perfect partner—there are plenty to choose from, and patience is often required. With this in mind, you need a carpet seller who will listen to your needs, appreciate your tastes, and avoid pressuring you to choose the wrong one. Noah’s Ark Carpets in Sultanahmet are the sellers I trust. Yusuf and Hamza make the whole buying experience hassle-free and fun and because of this, I’ve bought three carpets from them for myself and for friends in Australia. Noah’s Ark can also arrange door to door international post if you’re concerned about the weight of your luggage. The store is recommended by National Geographic Traveler and Vogue (so don’t just take my word for it). Drop in and see the guys and enjoy a glass of çay while browsing their beautiful collection of carpets and kilims from Turkey and surrounding countries. Before leaving, ask to see their magic flying carpet—it will impress.
Şahkulu Mahallesi, Galip Dede Cd., 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
If you’re interested in buying (or browsing) musical instruments in Istanbul, then head to Galip Dede Caddesi in Galata, between Istiklal Street and the Galata Tower. Here you’ll find an enormous range of percussion instruments such as darbukas, davul, frame drums and symbols; stringed instruments including the bağlama and saz; or Middle Eastern wind instruments like the mizmar. Western-style instruments are also available. If you have the time to shop around, it might also pay to visit the shops on Ataturk Caddesi in Unkapani, just down from the aquaducts in Fatih.
Beyazıt Mahallesi Çadırcılar Caddesi istanbul sahaflar çarşısı No.16-18-19-22-23, Beyazıt Mh., beyazıt, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Book lovers and bazaar hunters will revel in foraging through the Sahaflar Çarsısı (Beyazit Book Bazaar) for new titles, secondhand books, historical maps, the Quran (in various languages), ancient texts, and other rare finds. The bazaar, between Beyazit Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, was built in 1954, but the site is a historical literary landmark where the Chartoprateia—a Byzantium book and paper market—existed. During Ottoman times, the site became a center for printing and literary trade, drawing many intellectuals and writers to the Beyazit and Grand Bazaar area. Some historians will say Sahaflar Çarsısı is where the first book was printed in Turkey in 1729. Whether this is fact or fiction, the statue in the middle of the courtyard is that of Ibrahim Muteferrika, an Ottoman diplomat who, among many titles, was the publisher responsible for the first book—a two-volume Arabic-Turkish dictionary. The entrance to the bazaar is off Çadırcılar Caddesi (Road), just down from the Grand Bazaar’s Beyazit Gate (Gate Number 7).
38 Bab-ı Ali Caddesi
The master jeweler at Grand Bazaar Jewelers is a fourth-generation Turkish citizen of Armenian descent who designs and hand-crafts necklaces, pendants, rings, bracelets and more using gold, silver and precious gemstones, preserving the traditional Armenian art form of jewelry making. Custom orders and international shipping are available.
19 Küçük Ayasofya Caddesi
Turkey has a strong textile tradition: carpets, of course, but also tapestries, pillows, and clothing. Cocoon boutique has a beautiful collection of these goods, along with embroidered suzani fabrics from Uzbekistan and Central Asia, felted wool and silk hats, and colorful travertine tiles. Also look for oya, intricate flowers made with an ancient needle-lace technique. Some pieces are vintage and others are made new for the shop, but all are fit to be heirlooms. Their showroom near the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet is also a good source for olive oil soaps and cotton peştamal (towels).
Kuloğlu Mh., İstiklal Cd. 123-A, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Mavi means “blue” in Turkish, as in denim, and in Turkey the retailer Mavi is analogous to Gap, producing fashionable and affordable clothing made in Turkey. While they now have a worldwide presence, you’ll find shops in each of Istanbul’s considerable clutch of shopping malls, as well as several on İstiklal Avenue and in Nişantaşı and Kadiköy. In addition to jeans, Mavi collaborates with local artists for their range of original and surprisingly non-touristy Istanbul T-shirts, with designs depicting iconic city silhouettes like the Galata Tower or graphics of ubiquitous street cats and seagulls. The shirts are a good choice for kids’ souvenirs especially, and if you forget to shop, you’ll also find them at the airport (at a decent but reasonable markup from city stores).
Demirtaş Mh.kıble Çeşme Cad./no.68 Kantarcılar.eminönü, Demirtaş, 34134 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
I loved meeting kind and generous shop owners throughout my trip in Istanbul. Mustafa Altan owns this candy shop with his son (pictured here) where they make the most delicious Turkish Delight and hard candies just above the shop. I came back twice to pick up more rose Turkish Delight and cinnamon candies for gifts.
57 Yağlıkcılar Sk
The shops of the Grand Bazaar are often derided as a tourist trap. Yes, you may want to see the historic setting, the common wisdom goes, but when it comes to actually shopping, you’ll get better quality at lower prices outside of the bazaar. There are so many exceptions to this “rule,” however, that it’s hardly worth repeating. One of the bazaar’s gems is Sivalsi Istanbul Yazmacisi at No. 57 on Yaglikçilar, the fabric “street.” The small shop’s shelves are covered with embroidered pieces, ikat-dyed fabrics, and ones with traditional Turkish patterns, from light cottons and silks to heavy wools. In short, you’ll find pretty much whatever Turkish or Middle Eastern fabric you might want, appropriate for everything from upholstery to clothing. The owners, Murat and Necdet Bey, count designer Rifat Ozbek, New York’s ABC Carpet & Home, and interior decorators and architects among their clients, but they still have time for ordinary customers interested in Turkish textiles. Prices are pretty much set but fair, starting at around $25 per square meter and going up to $600 and beyond for hand-embroidered pieces.
Balat, Lokmacıdede Sk. No:34087, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
Every Wednesday morning in my neighborhood near Fatih Mosque, the traffic disperses, the roads are closed, plastic canopies are strewn from building to building, and thousands of stalls bursting with color and produce are set up across several blocks. It’s my favorite day of the week because not only do I get to rub shoulders with the locals, I can also grab a bargain of fruit and vegetables, cheeses, olives, herbs, spices, kitchen odds and ends, clothes, shoes, bags and haberdashery. Not all the fashions are geared to the western tastes, but wandering through the makeshift open-air markets is highly entertaining as vendors compete over offering the cheapest bargains with the loudest voice. It’s also an opportunity to better understand how the locals live—just keep in mind that the market is in a somewhat conservative neighborhood, so dress modestly to avoid becoming the main attraction.
Sultanahmet Mh, sultanahmet meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
The very chill owner of Arasta 79 has one of the best shops in Istanbul. Ikat scarves, knotted silk jewelry strung with chunky jewels, delicate crochet strings of flowers, pestemals (traditional Turkish bath towels) in every weave and color, and bright Suzani and Uzbeki ceramics. If you have time for only one stop within Arasta Bazaar, this should be it.
Kocatepe Mahallesi, Paşa Cd, 34045 Bayrampaşa/İstanbul, Turkey
Opened in 2009, this light-filled megamall draws a staggering 25 million annual visitors to its shops and attractions. It can be overwhelming, so it helps to consult the online directory in advance and approach this city-within-a-city with a game plan. Shops include familiar international brands (Adidas to Marks & Spencer to Zara) and Turkish ones, such as Atasay Jewelry, Bilik Deri leather goods, and Van Hatemoğlu for menswear. Forum Istanbul also offers plenty for the kids to enjoy. At the Turkuazoo Aquarium, you can view 10,000 sea creatures and even dive with the sharks, if you’re game. (There are discounts on entry fees to some attractions with the Museum Pass.) You also have your pick of old-school family activities like 10-pin bowling, mini golf, a mirror maze, and movie showings. To reach Forum Istanbul, you can take the Metro from Aksaray station to Kocatepe/Kartaltepe; the train stops right outside.
Levazım Mahallesi, Koru Sokağı Zorlu Center 2/194, 34340 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
To create an opulent home fit for a sultan, visit Haremlique and browse their range of 100% Egyptian cotton linen, bath sheets, peştemals (traditional Turkish towels), tableware and assorted accessories. Choose exquisite toile designs or satiny embroidered linens from the quality collection or opt for custom designed bespoke products.