Bazaar bargains in Istanbul
- Recommended for:
- Shopping, Budget
There's super-cheap shopping in Istanbul - it's a bargain-clothes-shopper's paradise!
Many of the UK's high-street clothing stores use factories in Turkey to produce their garments. These days in the smart parts of Istanbul you'll find designer shops and Ferraris, but if you know where to look, you can still pick up jeans and skirts for less than £20 and T-shirts for a couple of pounds. And it's all good quality and surprisingly stylish. So make sure you take minimum gear there in your rucksack - you'll need all the spare space you can get on the way home.
I wished I hadn't bought that first pair of shoes. The guy in the shop was nice, though. He didn't push me to buy; he let me wander around trying things on. So I bought them. A funky pair of trainers in cool brown suede. He wanted 60 Turkish Lira. I wasn't completely sure. Then he knocked 10 off for me. I could hardly say no. At today's prices, 50 Turkish Lira is about £20. So I bought them and walked on down the road. And then I found all the other shoe shops. There was a whole courtyard stuffed with footwear, and streets either side as well. Shoe heaven. And it made the pair I'd just bought look expensive. What the heck. The courtyard is just off Yeniceriler Cadesi in the Sultanahmet area - the old town tourist zone just before the Grand Bazaar. I bought two more pairs of shoes here for around £12 a pair. There's a cluster of slightly more upmarket boutiques and shops selling shoes on this road too.
Top tourist tat
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi as it's known locally, has over 4000 shops, 66 streets, a mosque, a post office and a police station. The bazaar caters to tourists, but it's absolutely a part of the Istanbul shopping experience. There are even a few bargains to be had here but you have to hold your nerve and bargain as if your life depended on it. I had great fun. The Turkish stall-holders are generally friendly and keen to get a deal. There's stacks of junk here too, though. Fake Tintin T-shirts, stuffed camels, the works. Wander further into the bazaar's alleys and you'll find far more and get pleasantly lost for a while too. Are the Moschino and Prada shoes and shirts real? We argued about this, I and a couple I met in my hotel. They were adamant that they are genuine. I settled for Levi's and Diesel jeans for around £12 a pair, but had to walk away several times to get the deal I wanted. If you're in the mood for carpets and leatherware, the bazaar is perfect. But work out how much you want to spend and stick to it. Otherwise you'll find you're blowing bucks like confetti on a windy day.
Spice it up
Wander out the east end of the Grand Bazaar and you're in a maze of small streets crammed with shops selling everything from hosepipes to hosiery. Watch your back, your feet and your pockets, as it's minor mayhem. People cannon past, pushing huge trolleys of stuff piled high; little old ladies in headshawls step right out in front of you. This is real life in old Istanbul and it's fascinating. The boutiques sell cheap stuff that's of lower quality, so don't bother shopping here. Your destination is the Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi). Follow your nose downhill and keep your fingers crossed a little to find it. It's a lovely old covered building. At the right time of day, rays of sunlight bounce through the high level windows illuminating an atmosphere of pungent dust and cigarette smoke. Don't actually buy spices in here - for that, try the smaller stalls in the side streets all around - but do try a few chunks of kaleidoscopic Turkish Delight. It comes in all flavours and sticky styles and it's an ideal souvenir - it's genuine and it tastes far better than the perfumed gloop we buy in the UK.
Istanbul straddles the divide between Europe and Asia. Jump on the tram a few stops and the contrast between the hubbub of the bazaars in the old Sultanahmet area and the attractive main street, Istiklal Cadesi, in the old European quarter in Taksim, could not be more surprising. This famous old cobbled street wouldn't look out of place in Prague or Vienna. The shops here feature many of the brand names you'd find on high streets elsewhere, particularly the funky Spanish brands Zara and Bershka. Here you'll find all the shoes, jeans and shirts you can imagine, at great prices. But if you're looking for serious bargains, forage further. Trekoz Cikmaz is a small side street off Istiklal with large tables piled high with T-shirts and sweats. You have to delve a little, but I bought cool T-shirts with abandon for around £2 each. You need to check what you're buying, as it's slight seconds, and some clothes have holes or small stains - but there are plenty that don't. A block or so further along towards Galatasary Square, on the same side of Istiklal, is another arcade, which descends underground several stories. The front looks almost derelict, but inside the building is rammed with stalls and boutiques. It feels a little like Camden market. I bought jeans here for £15 a pair, and enough underwear to last me several years. You'll recognise the UK brand names here, from George at Asda to Kangol to Levi's to Fishbone - it’s eclectic and slightly addictive shopping. You literally never know what might be under the next pile of stuff...
Turkish Airlines fly daily to Istanbul's main airport, Ataturk. Low cost airline easyJet has flights from Luton to Istanbul's second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, about 90 minutes from the centre.
The old town (Sultanahmet) is the best place to base yourself. Recommended are the four-star Hotel Orient Express, Hudavendigar Cad 34 (excellent value) and, for real budget travellers, Sultan Hostel, Akbiyik Cad 3.
The friendly crew at Fez Travel (Akbiyik Cad 15) can help you with all your requirements for seeing the city and tours elsewhere in Turkey.020 7629 7771;
The Rough Guide to Turkey, £12.99.