The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is not your average shopping mall. Shopkeepers are not shy about letting you know they want your money and will do their best to get it. Sixty streets covered with thousand of shops is not easy going and can be overwhelming especially if you are not used to crowds.
On my first visit to the Grand Bazaar, I spent most of my time staring at the rush with my mouth open! The crowds were too much and I didn’t buy anything. My second visit was with two friends; female and foreign, we were all ripe targets.
We did survive though so I have put together my photo guide on everything you need to know including where to find maps, souvenirs to buy, opening hours, shopping etiquette, getting there & how to bargain like a pro so you come away with some awesome and cheap souvenirs!
Guide to The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul
What To Buy
Well, it would be quicker to list what is not for sale because there are millions of weird, wonderful and normal things to buy. I did not spot any farm animals or day trip tickets to outer space. Streets are grouped according to the products they sell, which is a tradition dating back to the Ottoman times. Locals shop in the market as well, so you can find some household goods. Unfortunately, there is also quite a lot of junk.
In the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, You Can Buy….
A gas mask if you know something the rest of us don’t!
A cute little guitar with the Turkish flag on it…
A pair of funky boots…
A statue of some cool dude from the Ottoman empire…
Food and drink from this bloke if he stops daydreaming and washes his hands first!
A belly dancing outfit to spice up life in the bedroom…
As much silver as you want….
If silver is not your thing, buy bucket loads of gold!
How to Avoid Hassle in the Grand Bazaar
- Think about faking temporary insanity. Mutter feverishly to yourself and develop awkward twitches. Salesmen are scared of crazy people.
- Your second option is to roll around in the trash and sleep on the streets the night before, so everyone thinks you are a tramp with no money.
- Your third option is to kit yourself out with a burqa and a pair of soundproof earplugs.
Well, by now, you should realize what I am trying to say. There is no normal way to avoid the hassle. You have to deal with it. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is the lion’s den and you are the prey.
Women : If it is that time of the month when PMT is rearing its ugly head, I suggest staying away until your hormones return to normal. After all, there are only so many times you can hear “do you want to buy a carpet?” before deciding to batter the salesman around the head with his lovely Turkish carpets.
Seriously, you have to be a good mood. Just join in with the banter and you can end up having quite a laugh. Many salesman asked me to take their photograph. One asked for a kiss so I told him my husband was around the corner. As for the “do you want to buy a carpet?”, the conversation went something like this.
Salesmen – Do you want to buy a carpet?
Me – No, I bought six yesterday
Salesman – What about your friend?
Me – She bought nine yesterday
Salesman – So you are rich ladies then?
Me – No we are now poor, but that carpet seller is now rich
The salesman laughed and backed off.
Note : I did not get grabbed on the arm by any salesman, but if this does happen to you, simply tell them firmly but nicely to take their hands off you. It is no use getting angry with any of them
Bargaining Like a Pro in the Grand Bazaar
As mentioned before, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul has a lot of junk for sale but if you find something you like, get your bargaining head on. If you do not bargain, you will be ripped off as the shop owner is expecting you to ask for a lower price, therefore has already put the price up.
As a rule, whatever price he gives you, go back with 50% knocked off. He will laugh, tell you he is poor and has six children to feed, and then come back with another price. Repeat the process until you both agree on a price.
Maps for the Grand Bazaar
If you want to know your location at all times, here is a map. Unfortunately walking around the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with a map, is the equivalent of sticking a flashing neon sign on your head, saying, “Look at me everyone”
Instead prepare to get lost; it is part of the fun. You can discover so much more. When you are fed up and decide that, you want out, look for the exits signs, which are everywhere.
The Grand bazaar of Istanbul is closed on Sundays but open every other day from 9.00am to 7.00pm. Yearly October the 29th is a bank holiday in Turkey, so it also shuts then. You should also check the opening hours during religious holidays that are Seker Bayram and Kurban Bayram (these occur at different times every year)
How to Get to the Grand Bazaar
It is located in the Beyazit district of Istanbul (near Sultan Ahmet) so ask your hotel for details of buses passing in that direction. If you are staying in the Sultan Ahmet, Beyoglu, Fatih, Eminonu or Taksim districts, it is within walking distance. Use Google maps to input the location of your hotel, the Grand Bazaar and it will give you the perfect route!
Grand Bazaar Tour Ideas
If you want the help of a guide or are a repeat visitor to Istanbul, you might enjoy the unique Grand Bazaar experiences offered by Istanbul Tour Studio. In the past, I’ve worked closely with Sinan Sokmen, who is the owner, manager, and a local tour guide and together with other independent experts, he has created two tours to enhance a visit to this historical Ottoman landmark.
The first is the Bazaaring in Istanbul tour tailored for shopaholics or anyone daunted by the thought of exploring the Grand Bazaar on their own. The curator is an antique expert who has spent most of his life meandering around the bazaars of Istanbul, and he has set the course for a local tour guide to help you explore the traditional side of the Grand Bazaar and other shopping havens such as the Spice market. (Read more about him and the tour here)
The second experience is the Jewellery workshop held in a traditional and ancient han of the Grand Bazaar. A silver/goldsmith demonstrates the art of making traditional Turkish jewellery before letting you take the reins to make your very own souvenirs instead of buying them. (Watch the video and read more about the experience here)
Lastly…enjoy the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey. It is one of the best markets in the world!