“ A maze of shopping, colours, delicious aromas, and jewellery in the heart of Istanbul. „
The Grand Bazaar is one of the famous attractions in Istanbul. It is a vast complex, much undercover, but also market stalls surround the covered area. It is also easy to disorientate yourself here as there are many exits and entrances. The original market was founded in the 15th century and has grown as Istanbul became an increasingly important trading gateway between the east and west.
The Bazaar is located in the old part of the city just two stops on tram T1 from Sultanahmet where most of the main attractions are. The nearest stop is Beyazit-Kapali Carsi (Kapali Carsi meaning covered market) but you could use Cemberlitas if more convenient. We entered 'somewhere' over the other side as we were coming from the Spice Market. We got lucky with our exit as we had noticed a big Burger King by the tram stop (which was 5 mins from our hotel) and saw that as we passed, and decided to quit whilst we were ahead.
I can't say I experienced the market in its entirety, just a part of it. I visited late on a Saturday afternoon and it was quite quiet. There are certainly a vast amount of items available. There were a number of stalls selling some pretty glass lamps (not the easiest thing to get home), or brightly coloured ceramics if you are looking for gifts. Other gift or home ware items include things like water pipes and candlesticks.
I was quite keen to look for some accessories like bags and belts but didn't think the price was that competitive. A lot of bags were brands such as Mulberry or Michael Kors but I am not familiar enough with the brands to know if they were genuine articles (seconds for example), knock offs or just random bags with a fake label. You are, of course, expected to haggle, but personally if the starting price they offer is way to high then it isn't worth bothering. Ask for 40% of the asking price, but settle for 60%, but it is up to you to decide if you are prepared to pay this amount or more/less. Most bags were not significantly cheaper (anticipating a fair price) than any quality leather bags at home, and as I wasn't in love with any, I didn't start negotiations. You could buy leather jackets also, but they weren't my taste.
Clothing consisted of traditional Turkish style (mainly children's wear) or T-shirts. They were mainly the shapeless slogan style T-shirts, nothing that was outstanding or special. You could also purchase accessory items like scarves or pashminas. There were of a similar price to those back home (inexpensive) and were mass-produced ones.
There are a number of jewellers and a friend and I checked out the silver bangles, which she then purchased for £35 or similar equivalent. The array of styles is quite varied, so you may have to look hard for something in particular.
Outside the bazaar is the place to go for textiles - bedding, curtains etc although the designs are probably not to the taste of many Western Europeans being a bit lary and flouncy or with twee prints. There was also a haberdashery row with a staggering away of the glitziest trimmings such as lurex ribbons and a lot of bling not out of place on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
You may see some rugs and carpet shops, but I think that many are elsewhere, and the ons I saw in the bazaar were cheap and poor quality. I imagine there may be a separate or specialist area that I did not come across. There are cafés inside the Bazaar complex, but if you are spending time haggling with any shopkeepers they are likely to offer you some tea whilst you wait.
The length of time you spend here is dependant on your own level of interest in shopping or purchasing gifts for home or souvenirs. At times it can be quite busy, I visited late afternoon on Saturday and it was quite pleasant and not too crowded. If you do spot something you like try and memorise where it is in relation to an exit (the bazaar does have internal street names) or find it on the map, so you can return, otherwise it could be very difficult to find it again as the 'streets' all look very similar with the same sorts of wares. It is also easy to lose track of time here, as you are in a covered area with little natural light.
The bazaar is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm. It is not open at all on Sunday. Some of the shops outside on busy thoroughfares maybe open later
The Grand Bazaar Istanbul is also known as the Kapali Carsi (Covered market) in Turkish.
The grand Bazaar is another must see place to visit when in Istanbul and should be on everyone's itinerary. It is quite unique in the way that it is set out. It is absolutely vast covering an area of at least 47,000 square meters and is the biggest covered market in the world. Although there are 21 entrances there are four main entrances at either end of the two main streets in the bazaar. Most of the bazaar is under cover and off the two main streets one of which is called Kalpakcilarbasi street where they sell gold and the second main street is called Iniciciler Sokagui ( Pearl Street). There are over 50-60 plus smaller streets and alleyways all containing shops. There are two mosques, a hamam, wells, fountains, a post office, a police station and of course thousands of shops and many cafes throughout the Bazaar. It is like a city in itself.
The grand bazaar first started trading in 1461 taking five years to build and is still trading goods to the public today. It was expanded in the 16th century and again in the 1800's following an earthquake to its current size today.
The grand bazaar is said to be more expensive than the much smaller Egyptian spice market down near the seafront and if you have the time you can always compare prices of the grand bazaar and the spice bazaar although the spice bazaar is very much smaller with one main street and a couple of streets off to the side.
Within the labyrinth of streets there are 5,000 shops within the bazaar selling every imaginable thing going the main streets of course are probably the most expensive streets to walk through or purchase things from presumably because the shop owner is likely to be paying premium prices for the premises. The lighting in the bazaar can be quite intense in places especially where they are selling gold and jewellery and the walls and ceilings and arches are decorated with windows allowing in some natural light.
The shops are set out according to what they are selling so the main street will be selling gold and jewellery. The jewellery is all set out in the windows and sparkles and glistens in the indoor lighting. The next street will be selling leather, Turkish delight, bags, clothes, shoes, ceramics, lanterns, spices, antiques, rugs, or knick knack souvenirs. The list of items is endless. It is amusing to find shop after shop selling toilets!!! ( I would have called it Karzi Street)! All the same items but I guess you can get a bargain as there will be an element of getting the best price you can for whatever you are buying.
It is very atmospheric and if you spend a second or two glancing at the merchandise or showing any interest it will elicit a response from the stall holder who invariably will be able to detect which country you come from without you even uttering a word. They seem to have an inborn knack of knowing exactly where you are from and will utter colloquial sayings such as Alright mate come in and have some char! Turkish char is the best. Mind the apple and pears! Etc etc.
I must admit that the stall holders are not as pushy as in some other countries especially the traders in Egypt who are quite mercenary in obtaining a sale blocking your way and in the end being quite rude. The Turkish traders we found to be friendly and not too pushy however should you start negotiating a price for an item it should be with serious intention of buying. If you have no intention of buying in the first place under no circumstances start this process.
Bartering or haggling is not something the English are particularly good at but don't be intimidated or put off by this as it can be great fun. The trader will start off quoting a grossly inflated price of which one should offer approximately 20% of that price. He will play around and say NO 'I will have to sell my mother to make any profits'. 'You are a hard man I have seven children to feed they may go hungry! '.
Increase slightly by another five percent. He will drop his price slightly so you should up yours again. It's a great game but it is a serious business. Do not be fooled though if he refuses to come down to approximately 50-60% of what he initially offered then say no and walk away. He may well come after you and offer you it for the price that you want. Once you have agreed a price you will shake hands but make sure if they are packing the item it is the actual item that you have bought and if you are travelling ask them to pack it carefully.
The market is very colourful and busy and although there are many locals in the market there are significantly more tourists it is estimated that each day 500,000 or half a million visitors are tourists. I do not like crowds but I never felt claustrophobic or overwhelmed by the thousands of people in the bazaar.
This place is a magnet for pickpockets so be aware of your wallet and purse. There are two mosques inside the compound of the market and also a police station and there were plenty of policemen stationed around the Bazaar. I did not see any women traders and I believe that it is solely a male domain. Sit down and enjoy a cup of fruit tea or Turkish coffee or a cool drink. There are plenty of cafes around the market and it will fortify you for further shopping.
A warning though the market really is a maze of alleyways and small streets and it is quite easy to lose yourself or if travelling with friends. I mistakenly raced off to find a loo never to find my friends again until we met at the entrance we agreed to meet at should any of us get lost. I guarantee that you will find this a brilliant and exciting experience and one that will stay in your mind for a very long time.
The grand bazaar is open from 09:00- 19:00 Monday - Saturday.
It is closed on Sunday and bank holidays.
It is easy to get to by tram, taxi or bus ask anyone and they will help you find your way!
Along with the Aghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, no trip to Istanbul is regarded as being complete unless it includes a visit to the Grand Bazaar. It's fame is almost legendary but I have always found the response of tourists to be mixed; put simply you either love it or hate it.
Always one to buck the trend, my reaction having visited this summer was "It was OK". This is why
Having been to Tunisia and Morocco I knew roughly what to expect of the Grand Bazaar. The hustle and bustle, rows of units selling the same stuff, confident and friendly traders, haggling for the best prices - yes, I now consider myself a veteran. I feel confident enough to haggle and am happy to walk away if the price is not right. I might sometimes come away feeling that I could have done better but I am willing to have a go.
The Grand Bazaar is basically an old covered market in the heart of Istanbul, a few minutes walk away from Sultanahmet. It has several entrances and consists of a maze of alleyways, each one specializing mostly in one kind of wares - so you'll get a row selling gold, another selling leather good and another selling glassware. Of course, just to confuse you, there are shops here and there which don't follow the pattern so don't be surprised if you find yourself walking in circles trying to go back to a particular shop.
Unlike the Bazaars in the medinas in places like Tanger or Tunis, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar feels almost "purpose built". The alleys are quite wide, the walls are freshly white-washed and the lighting is excellent - it really makes the gold sparkle in the windows of the jewellery souks. The paving is immaculate making it ideal for wheelchair users or people with pushchairs (although quieter times might be easier for these groups). Contrast this with the dark and grubby alleys of Tunis which I personally found much more atmospheric.
Entering the bazaar through one of the narrow arches, I thought we would be immediately set upon by traders but it really wasn't the case. In fact, at one souk, we stood for age trying to find someone to haggle with! At three o'clock on an afternoon in August I was amazed how quiet the place was. I would have thought that a lack of potential shoppers would make the traders even more intent to help us spend our money but it seemed to only make them less interested.
If you have never been to a bazaar like this, here's what you need to know. All bazaar traders are extremely perceptive and can tell almost immediately which country you are from without you saying a word (one or two guess Scandinavian when they see me, I used to let them think they were right, but it turns out almost as many can speak Swedish as English so you'll still get pestered). They use this to get you to stop and look; often they'll use some colloquial expression that surprises you so much your feet stick to the ground and you can't help breaking into a smile.
Don't say you are merely looking because "That's OK, looking is free, come into my shop and look some more". If you claim to have no money, that's also OK because "everything is practically free". You may think you have an answer, but you're wrong. The Turkish stall holder has all the answers.
Don't kid yourself into thinking you're going to get any bargains. This is the biggest market in one of the world's major cities; rents are high, nothing is free.
The trader will suggest a price, you should start at a tenth of that and work up. Aim to pay about one third of the original asking price. Never - I said NEVER - offer a price you aren't willing to pay; this is very bad form. If you can't agree a price, walk away. Be polite, the dealer might come after you and change his mind; don't burn your bridges.
Unless you buying in the antique section, nothing is rare. You will find the same item elsewhere, probably for less. Don't be too hasty, buying at the first stall, look around first before you start spending. Often you'll look at a display item but when you buy, your item will be given to you boxed up. Ask to look at the item first to make sure it is the right item and that it is not broken.
The Grand Bazaar is the Turkish equivalent of the Metrocentre with cafes and tea houses, a mosque and even a little police station! As you would expect, you will pay a premium for drinking tea in the Bazaar as you do with the goods on sale. I was disappointed to find that I could have bought the set of tea glasses for 4 Euro less at the Spice Bazaar instead (I found many prices lower at the Spice Bazaar in fact) but had to remind myself that I had already got a good deal by haggling (think about what you'd pay in the UK at a shop like The Pier for a set of tea glasses).
There is little you can buy at the grand Bazaar that you can't buy anywhere else in Istanbul; tea glasses, t-shirts, any kind of item bearing the "evil eye" symbol, fruit tea, Turkish Delight, embroidered cushions, leather pouffes, coloured glass lanterns. Much of item low quality, much of it pretty tacky. Leather goods seem about the best in terms of quality and you can get some good prices on bags and coats - not sure who wants to but a leather jacket in the midle of August though....
In the end I came away with a set of tea glasses and teeny spoons, two boxes of Turkish Delight, three boxes of Turkish fruit tea, a t-shirt, a fridge magnet and some bracelets for just over £20.00 which I found reasonable for an expensive capital city.
Overall I found the Grand Bazaar somewhat sanitized without even the pantomime I'd anticipated to liven things up. Many stall holders won't even haggle and have set prices. Unfortunately it's not always obvious which ones these are and even managed to offend one trader who took back the goods we were holding up! For a more exotic experience I suggest you try the Spice Market or Egyptian Bazaar as it's also known - now that's a real sensory experience and cheaper to boot! Full marks for the range of goods but points deducted for lack of atmosphere.
One of the most fascinating places to visit in the city of Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. Pretty much every guidebook on the city warns that "nothing can prepare you" for it, and I have to agree. The bazaar covers a huge, sprawling, covered area in the centre of the city, and consists of miles of twisting alleyways of different widths, lined with shops selling all sorts of goods, from carpets to fabrics, household goods to souvenirs, leather goods to football memorabilia. LOCATION AND SENSE OF DIRECTION The Grand Bazaar is pretty much in the centre of the southwestern peninsula of the city, just a few yards to the north of the tram route along Yeniceriler Caddesi. The nearest tram stops are Cemberlitas (which is a little to the east of the bazaar), and Beyazit (which is a little to the west of it). There are several entrances around the edge of the bazaar. The Carsikapi Gate is nearest to Beyazit tram stop, and the Nuruosmaiye Gate is nearest to the Cemberlitas tram stop. Either of these entrances, or the Beyazit Gate (further to the west than the Carsikapi Gate), are ideal for giving you a gentle introduction to the hubbub that is the Grand Bazaar, as they all lead directly onto the Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi, a relatively wide street in the bazaar (see later in the opinion). Upon entering the bazaar, you'll pass a number of stern-looking policemen. Generally, Western tourists are allowed to pass them without hassle. If they do stop you, however, it'll only be to half-heartedly pass a metal detector near you, and peer quizzically at your mobile phone. All the gates are clearly labelled above the entrance, so if you've got a map of the bazaar, at least you'll know where you entered. The fact is, whether you have a map or not, you will lose all sense of direction in the Grand Bazaar. Wandering through the Grand Bazaar is such a fascinating experience, that you'll soon forget how many turnings you
've made, and forget where you're headed, and indeed, where you've been. My guidebook (the Dorling Kindersley one) helpfully provided a map of the bazaar, but to be honest, I really didn't look at it while exploring the bazaar, because it would have proved tiresome to keep glancing down at the map all the time... and it was much more fun to wander round aimlessly, and stumble upon the increasingly fascinating shops. In addition, the map was a little misleading in places, suggesting that the bazaar's besetens (large warehouses that are part of the bazaar) are free from stalls, where they are generally packed with small shops. AREAS OF THE BAZAAR Stalls and shops selling similar goods dominate different areas of the bazaar. - Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi The Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi, a wide street running the length of the bazaar, on the south side is lined with jewellery shops. These are the most prestigious locations with the Grand Bazaar, and the stores don't attempt to accost passers-by to look at their wares, unlike the stalls in the rest of the bazaar. The goods are, however, considerably more expensive than those in other parts of the bazaar - although the workmanship reflects this too. The street itself is covered by a yellow arched ceiling, and is very crowded throughout the day. This is the best-lit part of the bazaar too, so on a bright day, you might want to stay on this street for a while to let your eyes adjust to the light. Heading north into the Grand Bazaar proper from the Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi involves walking down a slight incline, and you'll immediately notice the change in the style of the place. The rest of the Grand Bazaar has much narrower alleys, with stalls and stores spilling out their wares onto the street in front. The adequate lighting comes from occasional windows, letting through tiny shafts of light that glow in the dust of the bazaar, and electric lighti
ng. - Jewellery The eastern side of the Grand Bazaar is primarily filled with other jewellery stores. The easternmost of the alleys leading north from the Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi leads into the Sandal Bedesteni, a warehouse area consisting of twenty brick domes supported on piers. The Sandal Bedesteni is filled with stalls selling souvenirs for tourists, most of which are available cheaper elsewhere in the city or even deeper in the bazaar itself. Essentially, the Sandal Bedesteni is filled with stalls which pray on the easily-intimidated American tourists, who don't really explore the city that much. Nonetheless, if you do want a set of Russian dolls bearing the faces of NBA basketball players, this would be the place to come... As I mention earlier, the jewellery stores north of the Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi generally stock poorer quality good than those on the wider street, however, the prices are very good. You can also buy beautifully painted pictures on manuscript, often featuring gold leaf, from the stores here, as well as various knives. Obviously, getting dangerous looking knives back through customs can be extremely difficult - particularly given the stricter security measures in place on flights nowadays - so if you do want to get a knife, make sure it has been blunted, and pack it in your luggage. - Rugs and Kilims The area to the west of the jewellery shops is the most central area of the bazaar, surrounding the Ic Bedesten, which is occupied by the shops selling Turkish carpets (kilims). A lot of these stalls are quite professional looking, often with a showroom within the store. The storeowners are quite intimidating, trying everything short of force to get you to come into their store and look at their carpets. Don't be afraid of going in to look at carpets in a store, despite the overaggressive sales technique, most carpet salesmen know their trade, and will give you good advice about what to look
for. Prices are generally very high, but quality varies enormously. If you're thinking about buying a Turkish carpet, it's worth reading the advice offered in guidebooks before purchasing. Essentially, check that the carpet lies completely flat, without bumps, make sure that the patterns remain consistent throughout the carpet, and make sure the colours are distinct. If you don't want to buy a whole carpet - perhaps because they're so stunningly expensive - many of the showrooms sell small bags made from worn out carpets or offcuts. These generally cost about 8 million Turkish Lira (a little over £5), and are much easier to get home! The central Ic Bedesten, although surrounded by carpet showrooms, is filled with tiny stalls selling jewellery. Again, like the Kalpakcilar Basi Caddesi, the owners will do little to attract you into their stores, letting you look at their wares undisturbed. - Souvenirs To the west of the kilim area are the souvenir stalls. Souvenirs consist of everything from painted tiles (in the Iznik style) to sets of "Russian" dolls, from drums to nargiles (hookah pipes). These storeowners are probably the most eager of the vendors in the Grand Bazaar, enthusiastically asking you if you are American, and telling you that they can do you good price. Simply pausing in front of a store seems to be enough to count as expressing an interest, and the storeowner will enthusiastically throw himself at you as soon as you stop. This is where I did most of my shopping, so most of my advice about haggling (see later in the opinion) really applies most to stores in this area. Nargiles vary in price according to size. I bought a blue glass one, with metal work on the glass area, which is around three feet tall when assembled, and cost 10 million Turkish Lira (about £6.50). When you buy a nargile, be sure to ask the storeowner to wrap it thoroughly to ensure that it won't be dam
aged in transit, and ask for advice about how to smoke it (in case it should ever seem like a good idea!). Most storeowners selling nargiles also stock tobacco and blocks of charcoal cut to fit in nargiles. My other bargains included a copper drum with a handcarved design etched onto it, with an animal skin, which cost 20 million Turkish Lira (about £13), and a set of five "Russian" dolls with pictures of sultans on them, and pictures of the city's tourist attractions for 10 million Turkish Lira (about £6.50). - Leather Goods To the west of the souvenir stall area are the stores selling leather goods, and a surprising wealth of denim. Leather jackets can be picked up very cheaply here, supposing that you can endure the overenthusiastic attentions of the stallholders. - Fabrics Between the souvenir area and the leather goods stalls is an alley running north lined with stores selling fabrics. In general, this isn't of much interest to visiting tourists, but you can buy some beautiful woven cushion covers for the equivalent of just three or four pounds. Most of these stores don't actually sell the cushion filling material, but to be honest, for reasons of packing, you're probably best off buying it when you get home anyway. HAGGLING Your best bet for buying things in the Grand Bazaar is to look at things and decide what you think would be a good price for them. Then ask how much the storeowner wants to charge you for it. In general, the price they give you is around 30 to 50% higher than the price that they'd be prepared to accept for it. Don't be afraid to haggle over price, the storeowners are used to it, and it can be quite fun. Occasionally, you'll encounter a storeowner who will refuse to haggle, and will mutter something about how he didn't haggle when he visited your country, but this is all part of the game... if you continue pressing for a lower price, he
39;ll eventually agree to debate it with you. If the storeowner doesn't seem willing to reduce the price as much as you'd like, storm off. The more expensive the item, and the longer you've spent arguing over price already, the more likely the storeowner is to charge after you as you walk off in mock disgust. Curiously, the longer your argument over price goes on, the more friendly the storeowner will become, and often, once the haggle is over, he'll invite you into his store for a cup of tea and a chat. Nonetheless, even if you don't get the best price you possibly could, the important thing is to get a price that you're happy with - it doesn't really matter if you've paid a little more than the storeowner would have been prepared to let you pay. CONCLUSIONS The Grand Bazaar is an absolutely fascinating place to spend a few hours. It can be quite tiring to tour the bazaar, having to continually explain to stallholders that you have no interest in buying their wares, but it's well worth it. Also, make sure you keep track of your wallet - even though I had no problem with pickpockets in the bazaar, the crowded alleys provide an ideal environment for petty theft. Around every corner you find a whole new line of fascinating and diverse stores selling even more fascinating goods. The place has a unique ambience, with its bustling streets and eclectic stalls, making it an ideal area to buy gifts for friends and relatives - a real shoppers' paradise. The Bazaar is open from 9am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday. It's considerably busier in the afternoon and evening, and on Saturdays, so your best bet is to visit on a weekday morning.
A maze of shopping, colours, delicious aromas, and jewellery in the heart of Istanbul.