The Mother of all Markets.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. And “Large” is an understatement.
The market covers a huge area of the city, with over 60 streets and 4,000 shops! Within the market are several squares, about 5 mosques, various entrances, and exits. It is one of the easiest to get lost in as well. You can wander and never pass the same shop again. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still folks lost in the market who have never emerged again! Silly joke yes, but really it’s a massive place.
As Mark Twain wrote:
“We went to the Grand Bazaar in Stamboul, of course, and I shall not describe it further than to say it is a monstrous hive of little shops – thousands. I should say - all under one roof, and cut up into innumerable little blocks by narrow streets which are arched overhead."
But if you go to Istanbul you certainly cannot miss this place. It is one of the top places to see in Istanbul if not the whole of the country. And if you are worried about getting lost, honestly that is one of the best aspects of the place.
Just be sure to keep tabs on your money. Those rug sellers, in particular, are ever cunning in getting you to spend more than you expect on a beautiful hand-loomed carpet. Selling is more of an art form than business here.
Learn how to haggle before coming here. Prices are all over the place between various different vendors and you need to negotiate to get the best rates. They expect people to haggle and if you don’t you’ll end up paying much more than you should have. But have fun. Haggling can be a great experience for all parties involved. Make it a game and be upbeat throughout the negotiation. But don’t start pushing numbers unless you are serious about buying.
One of the most difficult things to shop for here are the carpets. These are literal works of art and history and many are antiques or heirlooms.
When shopping for carpets, be sure to take your time. Carpet shopping is a long process and it is certainly not cheap. But the quality and variety you’ll find in the markets are incredible so expect to pay for it. My recommendation here is to find a good shop and talk to the folks. Learn the history of the rugs and the shop and take your time. Maybe have some tea and sit for awhile. They love telling stories and talking too I found and it was one of my most enjoyable experiences in the markets.
When or if you are ready to buy, consider your budget carefully. Put a number on how much you are willing to spend and be cautious about going over. It is really easy to let prices go out of control. Also be sure to know the conversion rate. You’ll always get a better deal negotiating in Lira than in Dollars.
In terms of getting it home, don’t worry most places will take care of shipping. Get all the information from the sellers, receipts, shipping slips, etc. before you head out. You want to have this in case of issues. I’ve found the vendors here, to be honest, though in terms of shipping, etc.
Other Items of Interest
There is no limit to the things you can find within the walls of the Grand Bazaar. From local goods to kitschy knickknacks, you’ll find it here. Some of my favorite things are the small beautiful tea cups you see everywhere in Turkey. Or the lovely hand-made pottery or beautiful textiles from hand loomed shirts to scarves or towels.
If you are looking for spices or sweets you can find some of them here. But you are better off going to the Spice Market in Eminönü which specializes in these types of things. If you go, don’t just go for the Baklava (which is good) but also try some other great sweets such as Cevizli Sucuk, Kunefe, Cezerye, and many others.
Negotiate prices in Turkish Lira vs. US Dollars or Euros. The conversion at the stall will never be in your favor. This is generally good advice for all over Istanbul actually. Don’t even tell them you have Dollars or Euros.
Start low with your price. They will go high on items and will expect you to go low and meet somewhere in the middle.
Negotiate on things you want. They will constantly try to sell you things whether you want it or not. Don’t get sucked into buying something you really don’t even want. It happens to a lot of people, they are really good.
Go really early or late. People are more willing to negotiate and give you a deal with things or slow or they are getting ready to go home.
Watch your bags and other goods. Not everyone is there for the right intentions. Pickpockets and thieves prey on tourists that look like they are distracted. Don’t fall victim.
If you are shopping for a lot of souvenirs. Be sure to negotiate prices based on buying a bunch of items. They will almost always give you a better deal this way.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you are not happy with the deal or the items. Just walk. Often they will call you over to give you a better deal.
Shop Around. No matter what they tell you, there are likely many vendors with the exact same merchandise. Almost all of these people are selling as a reseller and not an original creator so don’t expect complete uniqueness. Why go to a huge market if you are not going to see what other’s are offering.
Have fun. Shopping should be fun and shopping here especially. If you look happy and in a good mood people are going to be more willing to work and negotiate with you. I’ve gotten better deals just by making the vendors laugh.
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If you can’t make it to Turkey though, you can get some of the goods here too. Be sure to check out some of our Turkish Goods too!