The 4,000-store Grand Bazaar is practically synonymous with shopping in Istanbul, but there’s more to buy and browse in the city than carpets, leather bags, and nazar boncuğü (evil-eye beads). New shopping malls seem to be popping up daily, many swank affairs carrying the latest in luxury brands from around the world, while innovative young designers of clothing, jewellery and housewares are showing off their work in small ateliers and boutiques.
Traditional Turkish crafts
In addition to carpets and kilims (flat rugs with no pile), popular purchases in Turkey include colourful tiles, plush towels and hamam (Turkish bath) accessories, antiques, gold jewellery, and scarves, slippers, and other textile products. The Grand Bazaar and other shops in the vicinity offer the broadest variety of such traditional crafts in one place, as well as an atmospheric setting and the opportunity -- or hassle, depending on your perspective -- to bargain. See my guide to Shopping in Istanbul: where to shop in Sultanahmet.
Innovative new designs
The winding streets of the Beyoğlu district, particularly the Galata, Cihangir, and Çukurcuma neighbourhoods, are full of small shops selling the work of designers crafting distinctive jewellery, avant-garde attire, and modern housewares. The area is also your best bet for buying books and music, as well as wine (try La Cave in Cihangir, www.lacavesarap.com, Sıraselviler Caddesi No. 109, or Sensus in Galata, (www.sensuswine.com, Büyükhendek Caddesi No. 5). See my guide to Shopping in Shopping in Istanbul: where to shop in Beyoğlu.
Malls and luxury shopping
Istanbul’s dozens of malls are like mini-cities of their own, with restaurants, cinemas, and other forms of entertainment. While some cater to a broad crowd, others are veritable temples to the world’s top luxury brands. Shops on the Asian side’s high street, Bağdat Caddesi, and in the Nişantaşı neighbourhood on the European side, both cater to a well-heeled crowd as well. See my guide to Shopping in Istanbul: where to shop for luxury goods.
Shopping at Istanbul’s markets
Mall mania hasn’t entirely taken over the city, however; Istanbul’s traditional markets are still lively with shoppers and are good places to pick up local foodstuffs such as herbs, nuts, spices, dried fruits, jams, and olive oils. Try the streets behind the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü, or a few blocks back from the ferry port in Kadıköy, near Çiya Sofrası. Kadıköy also has a popular weekly market on Tuesdays, while the conservative Fatih district hosts the city’s biggest weekly market -- full of food, clothes, and more -- on Wednesdays near the Fatih Mosque.
What you need to know
Shops are generally open Mon-Sat from 9am-8pm, while malls are typically open 10am-10pm seven days a week. Markets kick off at 8am.
Bargaining is practically mandatory in the Grand Bazaar and similar shops where prices are not listed, but is not common practice at other types of establishments.
If you spend at least 118 Turkish Liras in one shop, you can claim back the 18 percent VAT (called KDV in Turkey); be sure to get the form you’ll need to present to customs officials when leaving the country to get your refund.