Shopping for traditional Turkish crafts in the Grand Bazaar and the rest of Istanbul’s historical Old City
Its twisting streets and alleys piled high with colourful objects from around the world, Istanbul's historic Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşışı), while increasingly catering to tourists, remains a fascinating -- and often intimidating -- place to shop. The bazaar is roughly divided into streets, sections, or hans selling similar-looking items, few with price tags, an organisational principle that makes it hard for the newbie to know where to start. The touts stationed in front of most shops, of course, are convinced their store should be your first and only destination. The Turkish phrase "Sadece bakıyorum" (I'm just looking) can be helpful, but probably won't dissuade many of them. Don't feel bad about just walking on by if you're not interested in what's on offer or if a shopkeeper's overly persistent approach puts you off.
Carpets, kilims, and other textiles
Haggling in a carpet store is a quintessential Istanbul shopping experience. While learning about carpets and their craftsmanship can take a lifetime, some basic tips are to check that the carpet lies flat, that the colours aren't bleeding into each other, and that the pattern seems balanced. For all but the most serious investors, the important thing is that the carpet will find a well-loved placed in your home, so think carefully about where you'll put it and if the colours and style suit the rest of your décor. Take your time, look at lots of carpets, drink lots of tea, and don't hesitate to say you'll think about it and come back later. Most carpet shops also sell kilims, a type of flat-woven mat with no pile, and many deal in the colourful Central Asian tapestries called suzanis as well.
Recommended carpet dealers in the Grand Bazaar include the Anatolian Carpet Shop (Ressam Basmacılar Sokak No. 62-64), Mümin Ticaret (Koltukçular Sokak No. 1-2), Adnan & Hasan (Halicilar Caddesi No. 89-92), and Sisko Osman (www.siskoosman.com, Zincirli Han No. 15), as well as Cocoon at Kuçuk Aya Sofya Sokak No. 13 and in the Arasta Bazaar, once the palace stables and now a smaller version of the Grand Bazaar itself.
Behind the Hippodrome, Tulu (www.tulutextiles.com, Üçler Sokak No. 9/1) sells bed sets, scarves, baby clothes, and other textile products with original designs from the store's own line. Near the Grand Bazaar amid rug-mending workshops, Ali Textile (Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medrese, Yeniçeriler Caddesi No. 36/15), sells bags and cushion covers made from old carpets and kilims.
Traditional Turkish bath products
Traditional hamam (Turkish bath) products are also popular purchases. Yılmazlar (Grand Bazaar, Yorgancılar Caddesi) and Jennifer's Hamam (www.jennifershamam.com, Arasta Bazaar No. 135) sell high-quality robes and towels; Abdulla (www.abdulla.com, Alibaba Türbe Sokak No. 25) specialises in natural soaps and handmade linens; Dervis (www.dervis.com, Grand Bazaar, Keseciler Caddesi No. 33) offers a full line of bath goods, including traditional wooden clogs and copper rinsing bowls; and Egin Tekstil (Grand Bazaar, Yağlıkçılar Caddesi No. 1 & 50) is full of peştamals -- the traditional bath wraps used to cover up in the communal hamams -- in many patterns and colours.
Jewellery and accessories
Gold dealers line Kalpakçılar Başı Caddesi, the wide street running along the south edge of the Grand Bazaar, selling jewellery by weight. (Silver pieces are generally priced the same way.) For something more unusual, try Ak Gümüş (www.ak-gumus.com, Gani Celebi Sokak No. 8 & 12 and Keseciler Caddesi No. 68-70, all in the bazaar), which specialises in imports from Central Asia, including chunky beaded necklaces with silver pendants and colourful felt jewellery, among other charming felt products. Outside the bazaar, Maya's Corner next to The Kybele Hotel has funky handmade jewellery, while Igüs Tekstil (Yağlıkçılar Caddesi No. 80) and Seda Tekstil (Cevahir Bedesten, Kapısı Sokak No. 28/30), both in the Grand Bazaar, carry a wide variety of scarves and pashminas.
The oldest, most interior part of the Grand Bazaar, the İç Bedestan or Cevahir Bedesteni, is home to dealers of every kind of antique, from silver tableware (Kapris Silver House, No. 39-40) to diamond brooches (Helen Antik, Şerifağa Sokak No. 68), hand-carved pipes (Nick’s Calligraphy Corner, Şerifağa Sokak No. 24) to maritime instruments (Minyatür, No. 31-34). Be sure to note that antiques that are more than 100 years old cannot be taken out of the country without a certificate from a museum or the Culture Ministry in Ankara.
Other things to buy
Tarkan Özbudak (Yağlikçilar Caddesi, Çukur Han No. 4) and İznik Classics (İç Bedesten, Serifağa Sokak No. 188), both in the Grand Bazaar, specialise in the colourfully patterned tiles and ceramic goods for which Turkey -- and particularly its İznik region -- are well-known.
Handmade clothes, table linens, dolls and toys, and accessories such as wallets and key chains are the specialty at Deli Kızın Yeri (Grand Bazaar, Halıcılar Caddesi No. 82).
You'll find jewellery and housewares inspired by Ottoman-era motifs such as tulips and traditional mosaic tilework at Özlem Tuna's Design Zone (www.designzone.com.tr, Alibaba Türbe Sokak No. 21/4), and artisans practicing and selling their traditional wares -- including calligraphy, glassware, miniatures, and embroidery -- at the Istanbul Handicrafts Market (Sanatlar Çarşışı, Kabasakal Sokak No. 23).
Bargaining in the Grand Bazaar
Bargaining is typical -- and necessary -- in most of the Grand Bazaar and many shops around the Sultanahmet area. A standard rule of thumb is to start out by offering half the price initially stated; it's a bit of an art to discern whether the shopkeeper's subsequent outrage is real or faked. No matter how much free tea you drink or how many goods you look at, it's OK to walk away without buying anything, but once you've agreed on a price while bargaining, it would be very rude not to carry through with the purchase.
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.