Bazaars and Shopping in Istanbul

Transporting goods in the Bazaar District

Taking advantage of a free stopover on Turkish Airlines, I was lucky enough to experience Istanbul. It’s a city I’ve been dying to visit for about seven years now, and though the visit was brief, I fell in love. Stella, my awesome US road trip buddy and former fellow Kenya volunteer, skipped school and met me in Istanbul for a short reunion. With less than 72 hours to explore the city, we had a jam packed itinerary. Our first day? Shopping of course. 

Conveniently, some of the best sightseeing in Istanbul also happens to be fantastic places to shop. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse. I’d like to think it’s a blessing, but when I cave and buy a gorgeous lamp that I have to lug with me to Kenya, I believe it’s debatable. Here are some of the shopping/sightseeing spots in Istanbul that we loved.

Grand Bazaar:

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. It is surrounded by a wall with access through one of the four main gates, as pictured below. It has thousands of shops that sell everything from gold to carpets to beautiful lamps and has been in operation since 1461.

These mannequins have hand-drawn facial hair on them…

After getting a bit turned around (which is not hard to do considering there are about 4000 shops in the bazaar), we hit a dead-end. I heard a loud noise coming from a tiny shop tucked in the corner and peered in the doorway. The man inside warmly smiled and motioned for us to come in. It’s some type of thread shop where he reloads the spools. He let us walk around and even wanted to take our picture for us. It was a nice introduction to Istanbul hospitality.

Spice Market:

Though smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market still is, architecturally, a very interesting building. In addition to the spice stalls, there are also souvenir stalls that sell a sampling of what’s in the Grand Bazaar as well as Turkish Delight.

This shop also sold some type of treat called “Turkish Viagra”…

Istiklal Street: 

Istiklal Street feels worlds apart from the older side of Istanbul. Stella and I chose to stay here (thanks to a recommendation!) because it’s where the restaurants and nightlife are located, and we could walk around in the evenings. If you’re looking to shop popular western brands like Adidas and swatch, then this is the place for you. While I had no interest in doing so, just walking this modern street to see how many people are on Istiklal in the evenings is incredible. There’s also an amazing side street (more like an alley) where everyone sits outside to drink beer and enjoy each other’s company. Even on a Tuesday evening, it’s packed! Nearly 3 million people visit Istiklal Street every day.

And just for kicks….

This is what I like to call a bonus picture. While I did not visit Istanbul to go lingerie shopping, I did have to take a picture of this shop. If there was any confusion over what they sell, I’m pretty sure the display clears it up!

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