The Bazaars of Istanbul
“Would you like a Turkish carpet? How about a Turkish scarf? Do you want Turkish tea? HOW ABOUT A TURKISH BOYFRIEND?”
No kidding, I got that from one of the vendors in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, trying not to laugh too hard as I walked away from what seemed like the millionth carpet store in there.
If you love bazaars or markets like Malaysian pasar malams (or any other South East Asian markets), you’ll love the bazaars of Istanbul as well!
The salesmen in Istanbul are some of the most persuasive, aggressive ones I’ve seen in my life – if you’re a single female traveller, they’ll probably try to hit on you while selling you a carpet at the same time 😛 Unabashedly so, at that. Also, be prepared to be offered more tea than you’ll ever drink in your whole life. I don’t know how it happens, but there’s Guy A that ropes you in (“Turkish tea or apple tea?”), he yells at Guy B in Turkish, 5 seconds later Guy B appears out of nowhere with a tray of tea, and once they get you to sit down for a chat, you’re not leaving without a carpet. Or a lamp. Or an impossibly soft cashmere scarf.
It can get rather overwhelming sometimes, but it’s not all bad because most of the time, they’re just really friendly. It’s a Turkish thing. And even if you’re not particularly set on shopping, the bazaars are pretty awesome places to get lost in and get some cool photos too!
I managed to visit the 2 most well-known bazaars in Istanbul when I was there, namely the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar.
The Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s second largest covered market complex after the Grand Bazaar, and is pretty easy to reach. It’s located in Eminonu, right next to Yeni Camii (New Mosque), and a short walk away from the Galata Bridge. If you’re taking the tram, just get off at the Eminonu stop!
No prizes for guessing how the Spice Bazaar got its name!
The Spice Bazaar was, and still is, the center of spice trade in Istanbul, but you can also find a whole lot of other foodstuff there.
Wondering what love tea does? I… can’t give you the answer to that either. *sniggers immaturely*
There’s lots of Turkish delight to be found! It’s a little too sweet for me, but if it’s too your liking, they have some pretty high-tech packaging thingamajig methods so you can take some back for your friends with a sweet tooth.
There are some non-food-related stalls in the Spice Bazaar too, but to a lesser extent, it seems, as food is still the main focus of the Spice Bazaar.
The Spice Bazaar feels kinda like the Grand Bazaar’s little brother – it’s not as big, the crowds are smaller, and it feels like people actually go there to buy stuff, as opposed to the Grand Bazaar, which feels like a flashy, grand tourist central, if you stay on the “main streets”.
But don’t let that put you off visiting the Grand Bazaar, because it’s absolutely an Istanbul must-do!
This is one of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar. It is an absolutely massive complex holding over 3,000 shops, so you can bet there are a lot of those! The Grand Bazaar is pretty easy to get to as well, you can either head there on foot from the Hagia Sophia (there’ll be signs leading you), or you can hop on the tram and get off at the Beyazit stop.
Keep an eye out for these money changers outside the Grand Bazaar, or around the Sultanahmet area, because this is where you want to convert your currencies! If you’re trying to convert Malaysian ringgit in particular, this is your best bet, because trying to buy Turkish Lira in Malaysia is prohibitively expensive with ridiculous rates. It’s best to get lots of euros, and convert them to Lira at these money changers with minimal commission rates.
So yes, the Grand Bazaar!
Step into mayhem.
And colours. Lots of colours.
You can find anything, and everything, in the Grand Bazaar.
How about some wildly patterned ceramic bowls or jugs for souvenirs?
A nargile pipe maybe?
Bronze ladle things for your kitchen?
More friendly shopkeepers!
Pretty trinkets for your next night out?
Maybe just an evil eye talisman then, nothing too fancy.
Or maybe some lamps!!
Those cliche shots of lamps to represent the Grand Bazaar are not too far off the mark – they really are everywhere. And they are BEE-YOO-TIFUL. The lamp shops are without a doubt some of the prettiest to look at, because colours! And sparkly things!
Please help this man. He is drowning in lamps.
I spent a lot less time wandering around in the Grand Bazaar than I thought I would, because I got lost… but not lost enough, and started looking for the nearest “cikis” (exit) I could find when it seemed that the stalls were starting to repeat themselves (in terms of products sold). Turns out I totally missed out on the best parts of the Grand Bazaar. Bummer!
A couple of months after I returned, I happened to read posts from two of my favourite blogs – MessyNessyChic and For 91 Days – about what else, but the hidden secrets of the Grand Bazaar. I do have a knack for bad timing, don’t I?
MessyNessyChic and For 91 Days both blogged about the hans of the Grand Bazaar, which are basically medieval travellers’ inns, hidden within the Grand Bazaar complex itself. They were used by traveling merchants as places to rest, and also to do business as well. If you wander around enough (which I obviously didn’t), you could probably find one and almost enter an entirely different world, as not many people know about them, and they’re an oasis of silence from the noise of the bazaar crowds!
I really recommend checking out MessyNessyChic’s post here, and For 91 Days’ posts here and here. Just a little teaser of what you can expect: if you make it to one of these mysterious hans, there’s a chance you could end up on the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar. Yes, just like in the movies where the bad guys jump across the buildings and the good guys follow. WHAT.
WHY ARE PEOPLE JUST STANDING AROUND ON ROOFTOPS SO EASILY AND I’M JUST SITTING HERE JESUS
Okay maybe I am (really) jealous that I didn’t manage to find the secret hideaways. But all the more reason for me to come back again for another look at the Grand Bazaar! 😀
Up next, a leisurely afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus!