With over 500 years of history, the red tiled covered market, the Grand Bazaar, is the most popular attraction in Istanbul. Merchants have been trading here since 1455 with only a few lulls resulting from fires (in 1515, 1588, 1701 and many more) and earthquakes. Even though the merchants trade with plenty of locals and international tourists daily, up to 400,000 people a day, the Grand Bazaar does not have the same commercial power as it once had. During the Ottoman Empire, the Grand Bazaar was the world’s central trading hub for spices, textiles, silks, paper, and precious stones. It was the link between Europe and Asia, and during that time the end of the Silk Road landed in Anatolia, or present day Turkey. After visiting you’ll be awed to think it could have traded even more than it does now!
Unique Things to See and Do in/near Grand Bazaar
- Admire the artistry of calligrapher, Nick, who paints exquisite artwork on dried leaves
- Drink Turkish coffee brewed in sand!
- Find the Sultan’s water fountain
Be “market savvy” at the Grand Bazaar
Who can resist a market like the Grand Bazaar? No one! And you shouldn’t either. Chockablock full of treasures, the Grand Bazaar has over 4000 merchants stalls, 60 streets, and up to 400,000 shoppers a day. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and even with all the “awe and amazement”, navigating through this market takes time and patience. Make sure you give yourself at least 3 hours to take it in.
As with many markets around the world, there are some “buyer-beware” things to look out for. The first being your own patience. The merchants are aggressive but in a subversive way. They will call out to you, engage you in dialogue, invite you for tea (in the Turkish culture it is considered rude to refuse), and then they’ll hit you up with the hard sell. For many North Americans and Europeans, this can be emotionally difficult, especially for the polite souls who have difficulty walking away when someone is talking with them. The best approach to avoiding this is to ignore the merchants which for some may mean you have to avoid eye contact altogether. And when you say “no” mean it. Seriously, be STRONG and ignore! If you’re not interested do not engage. Walk away.
In all honestly, the merchants are excellent salesmen. They know how to engage with playful banter and they ask probing questions that appear harmless, but all along they are actually sizing you up for which price they can raise it to. So, if you come from a rich country the prices will be much higher. Many travellers will actually assume false nationalities just to thwart their price gouging. That being said, the merchants are incredibly friendly, super helpful, and if you need help in making your souvenir choices they will be there to assist you.
Prices for different articles are typically cheaper outside of the bazaar, especially for items like custom or tailored made suits, etc. Another tip is to be wise with your things. Pickpocketing is common in the market so take heed: wear crossbody purses or keep your bags and purses in front of you, don’t bring valuables to the market, and watch out for fast approaching kids that like to snatch and run!
Getting to the Grand Bazaar
Finding your way around the Grand Bazaar can more difficult than finding the entrances. In total, there are 21 archway gates with 4 main gates leading the way in. Of course the gates are labelled with different names, so there is a specific area you wish to enter, learn the name of the gate. Once in the market, the traders are grouped together by like items. This makes the competition to sell quite fierce, but for the savvy traveller and haggler this can work in your benefit.
Shop, shop, shop? Night markets are very trendy and you can find some of the best in Taipei.
Ready to plan your visit to Istanbul? Check out these popular guides and trips.