The Grand Bazaar and the more authentic Egyptian Spice Market, situated in the old heart of the city, are two must-sees on any first-time traveler’s itinerary. Both of these popular tourist haunts close on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
The Grand Bazaar – Beyazit, Istanbul
Also known as the Covered Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi), this Ottoman-era covered market is home to thousands of vendors selling gold, Turkish carpets, clothing, handicrafts, silver, copperware, ceramics, leather bags, jewelry and other traditional Turkish souvenirs.
Its origins date back to the 15th Century to the time of Mehmet the Conquerer (1451-1481). Covering 30 hectars, it extends over 65 streets, which are named after the Turkish crafts that are on display.
However, let the buyer beware! Before visiting this Aladdin’s Cave it pays to do some homework. A little research before setting off will make the shopping experience a more pleasurable and less stressful one.
Finding your Way Around
With 18 gates, 8 main entrances and over 3,000 shops, it is easy to get lost. The streets are designed on a grid system but a map is recommended. Buy one from a nearby newsstand at 9.50 YTL ($7).
If also planning a visit to the Egyptian Spice Market (highly recommended), then ensure you leave from the Misirçarsi Gate. This is the nearest exit to the market, approximately 1 kilometer’s walk away.
Get to Know the Prices Before You Shop
Don’t expect goods to be cheaper here. As this is one of the most popular destinations for tourists, vendors are inclined to hike up the prices. Look around Istanbul first and get an idea of prices, before entering the bazaar. Otherwise it is possible to end up paying over-the-odds for an item that can be bought cheaper elsewhere.
Bargaining in Bazaars and Markets
As a general rule of thumb, expect to pay between 30% – 70% of the original asking price. If the price seems unreasonable at first, walk away and be seen to look at alternative shops. This may give more leverage for negotiation in the long run, should you decide to return to the same vendor.
Obtaining More Discount
Obtain higher discounts by buying several items from the same shop. Ask for a ‘bulk’ price for everything instead of each individual item. Shopping early in the day or near to closing time may also encourage a further discount.
Don’t be intimidated by touts trying to entice customers into their shops. They can be insistent and occasionally aggressive, but given the high rents they have to pay, perhaps it is understandable. Keep a sense of humor and be polite. Enjoy a glass of Turkish Tea offered by the many vendors, take a few photographs and pass the time of day.
Buying Carpets and Kilims
The best buys are those which are unique to the Grand Bazaar. Bear in mind that Turkish people do not normally shop here, they come only for its special desserts from well-known Turkish names such as Haci Bozun or Gulluoglu. Buy carpets and other high value items from the modern commercial outlets around Istanbul, where a certificate of origin, guarantee and overseas shipping can be relied upon. However, a kilim (small Turkish rug) from the bazaar will fit into your suitcase easily and provides a memorable and useful souvenir.
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar – Istanbul
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar offers a more authentic shopping experience and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the local Turks. It is located 1 kilometer from the Kapaliçarsi Gate of the Grand Bazaar, and is situated at the foot of the Galata Bridge in the Yeni Cami complex.
Despite its name, its 100 plus shops sell more than spices. Alongside the selection of saffron, cumin, red pepper and the like, there are dried fruits, nuts, Turkish Delight, flavored teas and Baklava, a delicious, traditional honey and nut pastry.
How to Buy Spices
Purchase spices and other food stuffs by the gram or kilo. Turkish Delight can be boxed up and vacuum packed for the trip back home.
Prices Get Lower
Resist the temptation to buy from shops near the entrance. Prices get lower and lower the further inside the market you go.
Buy in Practical Amounts
Select spices carefully as quality varies between vendors. Colors should be deep, not dull, and their aroma should be strong and powerful. Be aware that spices start to loose their strength after six months, so buy in practical amounts.
Istanbul Flower Market and Galata Bridge
Take the opportunity to visit the neighboring Flower Market and watch the many fishermen on the Galata Bridge, over the Bosphorous. This area is called the Golden Horn and offers a good view of old Istanbul.
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