Shopping in Istanbul Grand Bazaar tops my list of things to do in Istanbul. There is no greater cultural experience to have in this city! If there is one thing that best reflects the spirit of Istanbul, that is the Grand Bazaar.
This place is one of the world’s liveliest markets I have ever seen and it’s particularly fun to experience if you are visiting Istanbul with kids.
You can loose yourself for hours in this maze of stores, booths, and warehouses, much like in the souks of Morocco. If you are looking to make a deal on some souvenirs or taste some of the delicacies and foods in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is the place to go.
Besides stores, cafés and exchanges, there is even a mosque, a police station and a post office in the Grand Bazaar. One could righteously considered this place “a city within a city.”
A Brief History of the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is the world’s largest covered markets. The bazaar stretches over an area of 61 streets and includes more than 4000 shops. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar attracts hundreds of thousand of fascinated visitors every year.
The Grand Bazaar was founded over 500 years ago by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The reason for concentrating the trade in one place was to provide security against theft. The gates were always closed at night and the bazaar was patrolled by guards paid by the merchants.
Bazaar’s merchants organized themselves in guilds. Being accepted in a guild was possible only by co-optation, as the son of a deceased member or after paying a large amount of money to a member who wanted to retire.
The bazaar has a long and tumultuous history. It has witnessed many historical incidents, survived earthquakes and fires but came back to life again and again. The 1980s restoration returned the place to its old glory.
The variety of merchandise that you can find here is amazing: from fashion and jewelry, to Turkish ceramics, carpets and textiles, to food delicacies and spices you can have everything.
From wide alleys lined with expensive shops, glittering windows, cafés and restaurants, to tiny passageways with dimly lit rooms, exotic scarfs and colorful shoes, the bazaar bursts with energy and forceful characters.
What to Expect at Istanbul Grand Bazaar
Whether you are visiting the Grand Bazaar in the hope of making a good deal, or just browsing it to take some pictures, you’ll be in awe at the abundance of goods and the soliciting shopkeepers.
It’s hard to work your way through without being invited to buy something every two minutes.
If you want to have a good experience in the Grand Bazaar, here are a few tips:
- Try to approach the persuasive merchants with a sense of humor. Don’t loose your patience if they insist. It’s how their culture works.
- Also, don’t feel you have an obligation to buy something just because someone pushes you to do it. Merchants will invite you to see their goods, even offer you a cup of tea, and try to work a sale. They will attempt to guess you what country you are from and will address you in your own language, offering to give you the best possible deal.
- Don’t engage in their game if you are not planning to buy something from them. They will pay you lots of compliments hoping to sell you something. If you engage in the conversation they will believe you are looking to buy. Therefore, if that’s not your intention, try to avoid the chat with a polite “no, thank you!”
Tips for Shopping at Istanbul Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar is not going to be your shopping mall experience. If you want to buy something here, you have to come prepared to bargain. The Western world (except for maybe southern Spain and Italy) doesn’t have much of a bargaining culture, but in Turkey bartering is an old tradition.
You have to be aware that merchants inflate then prices by at least 30-40% in order to leave room for bargaining.
Bargaining is the name of the game at the Grand Bazaar! But for many people negotiating a price can be very stressful. The process is very similar to that of buying a car or a house here in the States. There are a few common sense rules that apply:
- Know the market
- Don’t show enthusiasm for the object you want
- Decide how much you want to pay for it and wait for an offer
- If the merchant doesn’t accept your counter-offer, wait for another offer or walk away
- Unless you agreed on the price, you don’t have to buy anything. However, if the merchant agreed to your offer you have an obligation to buy.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Istanbul. It’s not only a shopping oasis, but also a very interesting cultural experience and an opportunity to discover the people of Istanbul.