Immerse yourself in the colourful sights of the Spice Bazaar, where the aroma of fruit, tea and spice hangs in the air, or take a nostalgic walk through stalls that sell old cassettes, posters and radios at the Feriköy Antique Market on a shopping trip through Turkey’s cultural capital.
Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, Istanbul has always been a trading hub. The city’s trade legacy can be explored at over 200 markets, some operating weekly and others year-round, where you can find great bargains, fresh produce and hidden treasures.
In operation for almost 600 years, the Grand Bazaar – Kapali Carsi in Turkish, which translates to covered market – is the most famous bazaar in Istanbul. Wander through a maze of over 60 streets with more than 4,000 shops selling ceramics, rugs, gold and silver jewellery, handmade cotton goods, plus leather and food items. There are also high-quality items including handwoven carpets, original calligraphy, paintings and antiques. Those who like to bargain can get more bang for their buck here as competition between shopkeepers is stiff. Highlights include Lalezar Çini, which sells hand-painted Iznik (ceramic) tiles, plates, bowls, panels and vases by artist Selhattin Tek, and Nick’s Calligraphy, where artist Nick Merdenyan creates miniatures and intricate calligraphy on dried leaves. As not all of the 22 gates to the bazaar are always open, the easiest way to not get lost is to enter via the Beyazit Gate (Gate 7), a five-minute walk from the Beyazit tram stop, and make your way down the main street, Kalpakcilar Caddesi. The left side of this street takes you into the rest of the bazaar with its alleys, arcades and shops.
At the Arasta Bazaar, tucked away behind the Blue Mosque complex, you don’t have to hunt for quality. With around 70 shops, this shopping experience is a much less daunting one when compared to the Grand Bazaar. You will find fine rugs, handwoven cotton goods, well-crafted jewellery, calligraphy, embroidered cushions, paintings and more here, at slightly higher prices than the Grand Bazaar. Feel free to haggle, but know that the shopkeepers may not budge as much as those at the Grand Bazaar. Check out the famous Iznik Classics, which sells traditional style ceramics along with newer, contemporary spins of this traditional Anatolian art. Everyone from the local people to Oprah has visited this popular shop in the heart of the bazaar. Ethical consumers will love Jennifer’s Hamam, which has locally sourced, sustainably grown textiles made of natural materials. The products, including Turkish towels and bathrobes, are created on shuttle looms by Turkish artisans.
The Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Bazaar) is an L-shaped covered market about a quarter of the size of the Grand Bazaar and much easier to navigate; it can be found just a stone’s throw away from the Eminonu ferry terminal in front of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque). Wander through the stalls that feature lines of hanging dried herbs, boxes of brightly coloured spices and dozens of teas, oils, spices, plants and seeds. The back streets behind the bazaar are also a delight to discover. Walk along Hasicilar Street to Tahtakale running along the Golden Horn to discover arcades and shopping plazas where you will find stores for pots and pans, stationery, baby supplies, clothing and textiles, electronics, beauty products and toys.
This Sunday market is a flea and antique market with over 200 vendors selling everything from Ottoman-era brass items to vintage European jewellery. You can also find goods such as old coins, glassware, china, retro radios and old cameras. Also, keep a lookout for nostalgic items, including videocassettes, posters, books and even war memorabilia. Exploring this market is a truly entertaining way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the Sisli neighbourhood, and chances are you’ll walk away with something great. The market is a 15-20 minute walk from Osmanbey subway station in Sisli’s Bomonti area.
Held in the same location as the Feriköy Antique Bazaar, this organic market is on every Saturday. Scour the stalls to discover what’s in season, and buy Istanbul’s freshest organic produce including lentils, flours, preserves, eggs and cheese. You will also find natural cleaning supplies, which are usually tough to find in Istanbul’s supermarkets. With items priced slightly lower than those at the organic section at major supermarkets, this bazaar is great for stocking up on your grocery list for the week. Fit in with the environmentally conscious shoppers here by bringing a shopping bag from home.
The Kadiköy Sali Pazar (Kadiköy Tuesday Bazaar) is a sprawling market on Istanbul’s Asian side. As a larger version of the weekly neighbourhood markets held around the city, this market offers everything from knock-off Nikes to curtains and fresh eggs. Haggle alongside the neighbourhood ladies at this truly local bazaar, and eat kebabs or fish sandwiches at makeshift food stalls. This market recently moved to a new location right in front of the Göztepe subway station. Follow the signs that say “Sali Pazari” (Tuesday Market) inside the station, and you won’t get lost.
Book lovers should take the time to explore this old book bazaar, located in the Old City between Beyazit Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. Once a Byzantine marketplace for books and paper products, the bazaar is now a great place to hunt for Ottoman-era volumes, Turkish manuscripts, copies of the Quran and rare coffee-table books. Trade has declined in recent years, and though it isn’t the massive bazaar it used to be, Sahaflar Çarşısı is still a great place to idle away some time in search of books, paintings, calligraphy pens and ink, maps and more.