Shopping in Istanbul: where to shop in Beyoğlu

by jennifer.hattam

Antiques and avant-garde design are the hallmarks of the shopping experience in Istanbul’s lively “new city”

If it’s funky jewellery, edgy attire, modern or antique housewares, or books and music you’re after, the Beyoğlu district is the place to be. The prime shopping grounds can be divided into three main neighbouring areas: İstiklal Caddesi, Galata, and Cihangir/Çukurcuma.

İstiklal Caddesi

Beyoğlu’s big pedestrian-only thoroughfare is dominated by international brands such as Swatch, Diesel, Mango, and Benetton, but there are still plenty of unique little stores on and off the main drag. Pandora Kitabevi (Büyükparmakkapı Sokak No. 8) and Robinson Crusoe (İstiklal Caddesi No. 195A) both have a broad selection of English-language books, while the helpful staff at D&R (İstiklal Caddesi No. 85A) can suggest good CDs by Turkish artists.

Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir (İstiklal Caddesi No. 83) is a classic place to buy lokum (Turkish delight) and other sweets. The chocolate-covered candied orange rinds aren’t particularly Turkish, but they are delicious.

About halfway down İstikal, you’ll reach Galatasaray Square, an intersection marked by a sculpture of metal rods shooting up into the sky. Take a right turn to find the Aslıhan Pasajı (Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 10), which is filled with dealers of used books and magazines. The next-door Avrupa Pasajı (Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 8) is an attractive, high-ceilinged arcade that offers a low-key place to shop for traditional Turkish crafts and souvenirs. I like the silver jewellery at Alara Gümüş (No. 2), the mindboggling variety of bright blue “evil eyes” at the unnamed shop No. 10, and the bins of old maps, postcards, movie posters, and other ephemera at Ergun Hiçyılmaz (No. 17).

A left turn from Galatasaray takes you down Yeni Çarşı Caddesi, where you’ll find lovely stationery and notebooks at Mektup (No. 10A), a big selection of art books and an upstairs gallery at Arkeopera (No. 16A), comic books at Gon (No. 34A), hippie-style clothes at Shashi (No. 7A), designer dud at AntiJen (No. 9B), and fashionably clunky shoes and Boa Studio's artistically patterned organic T-shirts at Lazy (No. 9A).

Back on the main street, keep an eye out among the many little doorways full of scarves and trinkets for my favourite side “passage,” Hazzopulo Pasajı (İstiklal Caddesi No. 116), which opens up into an atmospheric courtyard tea garden encircled by shops.

Bargain hunters will enjoy digging through the clothes piled high on street-side tables in Terkoz Çikmazı or in the warren of shops inside the Beyoğlu İş Merkezi (İstiklal Caddesi No. 187); the best finds are kitschy T-shirts with gaudy patterns or seemingly random assortments of English words. For more stylish attire, try top Turkish name Mavi Jeans (İstiklal Caddesi No. 123 and 215).

For books, CDs, postcards, maps, and other materials relating to Istanbul and Turkey, the municipality-run İstanbul Kitapçısı (İstiklal Caddesi No. 191) is also worth a stop.

Running parallel to İstiklal, you’ll find Meşrutiyet Caddesi and its side streets, which hold a few quality shops tucked away amid all the hotels, including Edo (Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 33) for Japanese-influenced gear; Her Şey Aşktan (Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 79) for beautifully packaged Ottoman-inspired earrings, coffee trays, and covered bowls; and Umit Unal’s high-style Doors Fashion Design (Ensiz Sokak No. 1B). The İKSV Design Shop (Sadi Konuralp Caddesi No. 5) is worth the trek down to nearby Şişhane for creative housewares, clothing, and accessories by Turkish and international designers.

Galata

İstiklal ends at Tünel Square, where you’ll find local recycled-packaging purses from Çöp Madam, a local NGO that helps provide employment opportunities for women, on sale at Karınca (Tünel Meydanı No. 1) and a carefully cultivated selection of CDs and records at the tiny Lale Mağazası (Galip Dede Caddesi No. 1).

Galip Dede Caddesi, known locally as “music street,” runs down the hill from Tünel to the Galata area and is lined with shops selling -- what else? -- musical instruments both traditional and Western, including colourful toy shakers and guitars. Home Spa (Galip Dede Caddesi No. 61) has nice natural and locally made bath products, while the Milk Gallery & Design Store (Balkon Çıkmazı No. 8A) specializes in graffiti-inspired art, accessories, and toys.

When you see the Galata Tower looming on your right, turn left down Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi, a character-filled cobblestone street lined with century-old apartment buildings both crumbling and beautifully restored. The area is a hub for Istanbul’s new designers. You’ll find sleek housewares at Lunapark (No. 17B), retro dresses and structured jackets at Lilipud Boutique (No. 26A), high-quality ceramics at Stok Atolye (No. 38A), modern silver and felt jewellery at Ayda Pekin (No. 44A), and even customised wallpaper at Studio Nommo (Lulecihendek Caddesi No. 46B). Feeling peckish? Stop in for a snack at Galata Şarküteri (Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi No. 30A) or Mavra (Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi No. 31), a design shop that doubles as a café.

With a bunch of souvenir shops clustered around its base, the area around the Galata Tower itself looks unpromising at first, but the streets leading down from the medieval stone structure are full of finds. Shop for traditional pestamels (towels), colourful cotton robes, handmade soaps, and other Turkish bath supplies at Hamam (Kule Çıkmazı No. 1C) or Lalay (Camekan Sokak No. 3A); frilly dresses at La Mariquita (Galata Kulesi Sokak No. 3B); non-touristy Istanbul-themed T-shirts at Lal (Camekan Sokak No. 4C); and clothes by international designers at Paris Texas (Camekan Sokak No. 4). Nearby Cherrybean Coffees (Camekan Sokak No. 10) roasts its own beans to have brewed there or take home.

Cihangir/Çukurcuma

This atmospheric part of Beyoğlu is best known for its wealth of antique shops, largely located on three interconnecting streets, Turnacıbaşı Sokak, Faik Paşa Sokak, and Çukurcuma Caddesi. (You’ll probably spot some junk dealers roving by as well; have a peek on their carts too.) It’s also home to plenty of boutiques.

Turnacıbaşı Sokak wends its way from İstiklal Caddesi to Cihangir proper. Along the way, you’ll find high-quality jewellery fusing antique and modern styles at Mor (No. 10B), funky T-shirt and colourful sun dresses at Roll (No. 13), vintage records at Deform Muzik (No. 45), and inexpensive paintings and other unique pieces at Arkadaş Art Gallery (No. 36A).

Clothing stores in Cihangir tend toward the frilly, romantic, and vintage-y, looks you’ll find at Vanilya (Ağa Hamamı Sokak 3), Berrin Akyüz (Akarsu Yokuşu No. 20), Mariposa (Şimşirci Sokak No. 11A), Margarit’s (Siraselviler Caddesi No. 62A), and Matchbox (Matara Sokak No. 14). If that style doesn’t suit your sensibilities, head down the hill to Tophane, where you can get clothes made to order for reasonable prices at İncir Boutique (Boğazkesen Caddesi No. 72A).

Other shops in the area worth a stop include EviHan (Altıpatlar Sokak No. 4A) for delicate glass pendants and playful brooches; NB Seramik/Kreo Design (Defterdar Yokuşu No. 34A) for ceramic plates and mugs; Vie en Rose (Yeni Yuva Sokak No. 50A) for hand-blended aromatherapy oils and teas; Art.i.choke (Faik Paşa Sokak No. 1) for unusual designer clothes; and Kare Deri (Çukurcuma Caddesi No. 19) for one-of-a-kind leather bags and parchment necklaces.

More expert advice on Istanbul

For suggestions on where to stay in Istanbul, see my Istanbul Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Istanbul page.

Read my shopping overview on my Shopping in Istanbul page.

jennifer.hattam

I work as a news editor at Turkey's leading English-language paper, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, which keeps me up-to-date on everything from political campaigns to coup plots to the latest cultural events in Istanbul. Writing freelance dispatches for publications such as the luxury lifestyle magazine Ayn, the Abu Dhabi-based daily The National, the online magazine Salon.com, and the popular U.S. technology magazine Wired meanwhile allows me to peek into new cultural, political, and historical corners of this ever-fascinating city in greater depth.

I was smitten with Turkey on my first visit to the country, in 2001, and have now been living in Istanbul for more than three years, regularly renewing my love affair with the city by gallery- and bar-hopping in Beyoğlu, clambering on the Byzantine city walls, and swimming in secluded coves on the Bosphorus. As an inveterate urban explorer, news junkie, avid photographer, and enjoyer of a good night out, I find Istanbul hits all my buttons -- excepting, alas, the yen for microbrews and Burmese food.

I write about my travels, linguistic misadventures, and daily observations about expat life at http://theturkishlife.blogspot.com.

My Istanbul

Where I always grab a coffee: With its funky-old-house interior, large patio, and artsy vibe, centrally located Kafe Ara (named for the famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler) is the perfect place to meet for a leisurely chat with friends or while away the afternoon with a book.

My favourite stroll: Every time I walk along the waterfront from, say, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan to Bebek for an ice cream, I ask myself why I don't do it more often. The Bosphorus views and sea breezes always give me new energy. For a more urban experience, I love crossing the Galata Bridge on foot, watching the passing boats, the crowds of fishermen, and the giddy tourists, before being swept up into the chaotic warren of streets in Eminönü, where everything from cheap pajamas to heating stoves to wooden spoons is on offer.

Books for inspiration: Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk's memoir Istanbul is a loving, if melancholy, ode to the city, while Elif Şafak's novel The Flea Palace has been described as a Turkish-style Tales of the City. Latife Tekin explores a darker side of Istanbul life with her Berji Kristen, a somewhat surreal story set in a community built on a garbage dump. For lighter fare, Jason Goodwin's Ottoman-era mystery The Janissary Tree is an atmospheric page-turner.

City on screen: Istanbul's twisting streets and dramatic backdrops seem made for action flicks, from the James Bond classic From Russia with Love and the 1960s French heist movie Topkapı to the 2009 global-banking thriller The International. Films by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Distant), Semih Kaplanoğlu (Egg), and Fatih Akın (Head-On) give viewers a taste of modern Turkish cinema along with an intimate perspective on the city.

Where to be seen this summer: Life is lived outdoors during Istanbul's sticky, sweltering summers, whether on a rooftop bar or a sidewalk café. The Cihangir neighbourhood has a café culture to rival any in Europe, with the White Mill Café and nearby Limonlu Bahçe offering shade and socializing day and night in their "hidden gardens." Rooftop bars like Balkon in Asmalımescit and My House near Taksim have great views without too much pretence.

The most breathtaking view: A ramble up through the leafy hillside cemeteries of the Eyüp district is rewarded with a sweeping view down the Golden Horn from the Pierre Loti Café, while those who hike up to Yoros Castle above Anadolu Kavağı (the last stop on the Bosphorus Tour) can gaze out over the seemingly endless Black Sea and the undulating green hills leading back to the city.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The car-free Büyükada - The Princes’ Islands is the classic Istanbullu getaway -- escape from the city for the price of a ferry ride. If you must go on a summer weekend, try the lesser-visited Heybeliada or Burgazada. Pure bliss, though, if you have enough people and/or money, is to charter a boat for a day trip up the Bosphorus, to sunbathe, grill fish, and swim in the secluded coves at the northernmost end of the strait.

Shopaholics beware: There's always something enticing to buy in this city of salesmen. The Grand Bazaar is a must-see on most visitors' itineraries for its sheer size and chaos, but to pick up evil eyes, prettily patterned ceramics, and other typical Turkish gifts for visits home, I prefer the much smaller Spice Bazaar in Eminönü or (to escape the "Hello, lady, I have very nice carpet. You like?" gauntlet altogether), the Avrupa Pasajı, a quiet arcade off the bustling Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu. The new city's Cihangir, Çukurcuma, and Galata districts are increasingly good places to find boutiques offering clothing by up-and-coming designers and other out-of-the-ordinary items.

City soundtrack: Ship horns on the Bosphorus mixed with the cries of street vendors, the five-times-daily call to prayer, taxi horns honking, and whatever pop hit of the moment is pumping out of all the stores and bars on İstiklal Avenue.

Don't leave without… Joining the throngs on İstiklal on a weekend night and feasting on mezes while drinking rakı at a raucous street-side meyhane in Nevizade or Asmalımescit.