While Grand Bazaar may not always be the best place for shopping, it is definitely the best one to experience Turkish culture and market traditions. One of the reasons is, while you may think that Grand Bazaar is mainly a tourist attraction, it is still an important trading spot in Istanbul. It is one of the oldest and larges covered markets in the world.
Actually, this place has all reasons to be so famous. The Bazaar has 61 interconnected covered streets and 21 gates. It houses around 3000 shops which sell everything you can imagine, and is a workplace for more than 30,000 people. But that is not all: In 2014, Grand Bazaar became No. 1 most visited tourist attraction in the world, with unbelievable 91 million annual visitors (it’s 250 thousand people daily – a bit less than the whole population of Iceland!).
Constructed more than half a millenia ago, Grand Bazaar has been steadily growing from the beginning of 1461. Interestingly enough, competition was banned here up to the 19th century. All the shop names and show windows that you can see today were installed relatively recently. Actually, this place as a whole can easily compete with shopping malls, which are numerous in Istanbul. However, the beauty of the Bazaar’s architecture and its unique local charm set it apart from the competition – as that is what lures all those crowds of tourists here every day.
When you enter this place, you immediately start feeling its magic. Different exotic things hanging, dangling and laying near every shop, tea boys running all around, each carrying tea in the traditional glasses (called bardak) on the special trays, shop keepers inviting you into their shops in all possible languages… Perhaps this is the only place in Turkey where you can hear almost any world’s language, spoken by locals.
If there is any place in the world where you have to bargain, this is it. Keep in mind that almost all prices include the eventual bargaining discount. If you negotiate well, you can pay from 30% to 50% less than the stated price. But be careful, shopkeepers are always ready to use the whole arsenal of their mastered selling tricks.
Don’t forget to stroll along the market streets where desserts are sold, mainly Turkish Delight (or lokum, as Turkish people call it). You can try lots of sweets here – and eventually you don’t have to buy a thing! This is a perfect hint for the hungry budget travelers. Try to keep track of the streets where you have already been, not to stroll along the same places multiple times. Even if you accidentally do, the process of wandering around the Grand Bazaar can never be boring!
You can get here by train, hopping off at Beyazit, Sirkeci or Üniversite. Alternatively, have a 15-minute walk from Aya Sofia or Blue Mosque.