The ancient city of Istanbul has plenty to offer visitors who venture within the realms of the city’s instantly recognisable skyline, centuries of history creating a mismatch of arts and architecture. Byzantine and Ottoman rulers left their mark on the city with imperial mosques, churches and palaces, with many of the mosaic strewn structures still standing. Tea gardens provide refuge from the hustle and bustle, and the Turkish cuisine provides a steady flow of meaty kebabs, delicious meze and incredibly fresh fish.
Once you have explored the city and seen the sights of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus Strait, there is just one more thing left to do: shop. Istanbul is famed for its bazaars and we’ve put together our guide to five of the best.
Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar)
Imagine foodie nirvana and you’re on the right track to imagining Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. As the name suggests, there are spices, but also so much more; Turkish delight (of course), herbal teas for every ailment, cheeses, dried nuts and fruits, coffee, olives and their oils, sticky essences. Since the 17th century, traders have provided a feast for the senses here, their wares displayed in bold bright bowls seven days a week. Come hungry and eat as you go.
Photo Credit: For 91 Days
Istanbul’s bazaars are teaming with wares but one thing they lack is books. Old, worn and with well-thumbed pages, every one telling a different story that was thought up years ago.
Books have been sold at the Sahaflar Çar?isi since Byzantine times, the market and its hidden tea garden attracting poets, academics and authors seeking inspiration and solace. Today the bookworm’s paradise sells a mixture of literature, textbooks, novels, stationary, calligraphy tools and papers, with its position in the ancient courtyard between the Grand Bazaar and the Beyazit Mosque only adding to its appeal.
Photo Credit: The Salariya
Located along the Marmara coast, Bakirköy street market offers clothing, ‘designer’ wares and costume jewellery, however it is the authentic Gözleme that attracts tourists in the know and locals looking for lunch. Turkish ladies wait with piles of dough and flour dusted aprons, poised to cook thin stuffed pancakes unlike anything you’ve ever eaten at home (as much as you will try when you return). Once the dough is rolled and the freshest of fillings added, the pancakes are cooked over convex grills and served with tea, always tea in Turkey.
Photo Credit: Carol Schaffer
Since 1461 over 4000 stallholders have hawked their wares in Turkey’s largest bazaar. Carpets, tiles, pottery, spices, lanterns, leather and jewellery line the maze of walkways here, with artisans crafting their goods stall-side. The sprawling Grand Bazaar also houses a dozen restaurants, so you can refuel on meze galore between purchases. The market is open 8.30am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, closed all day on Sundays. Even if you aren’t looking to buy, a visit to Istanbul isn’t complete without a trip to the Grand Bazaar. If you are looking to buy, bartering is an absolute must!
Photo credit: Garron Nicholls
The Arasta Bazaar is built in the shadow of the Blue Mosque, set in the heart of the Sultanahmet District. While modest in comparison to the nearby Grand Bazaar, the Arasta Bazaar is also a break from the associated hustle and bustle. While the market is great, it is the Great Palace Mosaics Museum that makes Arasta Bazaar stand out from the rest, with perfectly preserved mosaics from the Byzantine period on display here since being unearthed in the Great Palace of Constantinople in the 1950’s.