Shopping in Istanbul: An Ancient Art

By Dayna Engberg

Gaze across Istanbul’s skyline and you’ll quickly notice how diverse this city is. From the towering minarets of its iconic Blue Mosque to ancient Roman walls and Greek columns, Genoese towers, Byzantine basilicas, Ottoman-era palaces and Egyptian obelisks, Turkey’s largest city is a true melting pot of cultures. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, modern Istanbul is a convergence of east and west, old and new, secular and spiritual — making it one of the world’s most captivating cities for architecture, history and cuisine, but especially for shopping. From Turkish staples to designer labels, read on to find out where to go to snag the perfect souvenir.

Turkish Handicrafts: The Grand Bazaar

Once the westernmost point of the legendary Silk Road, Istanbul has long been an important trading hub for merchants and artisans. This legacy lives on in a big way at the Grand Bazaar, the oldest and largest covered market in the world. If you’re planning on doing some shopping while in Istanbul, a visit to the Grand Bazaar — or Kapalı Çarşı — isn’t just another option. This is your mandatory, must-see, bad-luck-for-seven-years-if-you-miss-it priority. Spanning over 60 streets and alleys with over 4,000 shops, this is the place to find all the Turkish essentials, from hand-knotted kilim rugs to colorful mosaic lamps, ornate gold jewelry, elaborately painted ceramics and fragrant, hammam-grade soaps. Even if you aren’t necessarily looking to buy anything, soaking in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells within this frenzied maze of shops is as much a cultural experience as it is a material one.

Bargaining Basics
For first-timers, the energy of the Grand Bazaar can be sensory overload. You might be tempted to accept the first price and get out. Don’t! This is all part of the experience. Slow down with these beginners’ tips to getting a great deal. If the item you’re considering doesn’t have a price tag, it’s most likely up for negotiation. Let the shopkeeper be the one to state the first offer, even if they ask what you’re willing to pay. Bargaining in Turkey is less about rushing to a final agreement and more about the exchange. Expect to spend more time with bigger-ticket items, settling on a price that’s 30%-50% of the seller’s initial offer.

Boutique Gems: Galata and Karaköy

The charming, cobblestone streets surrounding the Galata Tower and southeast toward the waterfront are where you’ll find Istanbul’s hippest shops and indie boutiques. From modern art galleries to stylish hammams and too-cool cafés, this is where to go to shop alongside Istanbul’s young and hip. Stop for coffee and people-watching at the patio outside Karabatak, a former metal workshop turned quirky café, before continuing on to the indie boutiques in the Fransiz Geçidi shopping arcade or to Lunapark, a splendid amusement park, for fun souvenirs. Getting hungry? Pop in to Karaköy Güllüoğlu for some of the best baklava in the city and end the evening with some live music at Nardis Jazz Club.

Designer Finds: Nişantaşı

The posh Nişantaşı neighborhood is known for luxury, whether it’s big names like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Cartier or the showroom of the hottest, up-and-coming Turkish designer. Flagship stores frame the main thoroughfare of Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, Istanbul’s “Rodeo Drive,” with its wide, tree-lined walkways and elegant, art-nouveau facades. For an exhaustive spread of both European and Turkish designers, opt for Beymen department store, one of the first luxury retailers in the country. Searching for something truly unique? Head to Gönül Paksoy, where every piece is a one-off creation. Part art gallery, part boutique, Paksoy creates custom pieces that straddle the line between fashion and art, utilizing naturally dyed Turkish textiles like goat hair, silk and cashmere.

Are you fascinated by the markets, boutiques and other highlights of Istanbul? Contact one of our travel agents. Their years of experience will provide you with insights for your adventure in Turkey.