There is a reason Istanbul is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. With its picturesque skyline, ancient historic buildings and enticing cuisine, visitors can’t seem to get enough of this city. There is so much to see and do, the choices can be overwhelming. An easy choice therefore is visiting the Grand Bazaar or, as it is called in Turkish, the Kapalıçarşı. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror commissioned the building in 1461 and it has since that time remained one of the oldest and largest covered bazaars in the world. Spanning 60 streets and containing over 4,000 stalls the Grand Bazaar receives between 250,000 to 400,000 visitors a day! That makes it the world’s most visited attraction.

Entering the Grand Bazaar can be a bit overwhelming. Tourists and locals alike swarm to the bazaar to purchase everything from trinkets to treasures. Gold and silver are popular items for sale. Carpets, textiles, leather and jewelry can also be found as well as bright ceramics, lamps and antiques. You name it, the bazaar has it. As a general rule the main bazaar, the actual enclosed building, will have the highest prices and the most aggressive salesmen. Casual browsing will almost certainly lead to a sales pitch. If you are interested in making a purchase, it is expected you should haggle. Try not to seem that interested and even act a little bored. Whatever price you are offered you should counter offer with 50% less. Don’t buy into their stories of hardships and kids to feed, at the end of the day whatever price you agree upon, the shopkeeper will still have made some money. Don’t be afraid to walk away if it isn’t a price you feel comfortable paying. And remember, just because he gives you a glass of tea doesn’t mean you have any obligation to make a purchase.

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If none of that sounds terribly appealing, perhaps you are like me and hate haggling. The shops on the outer streets will generally have better prices and less pushy sales people however, the outlying streets are also quite crowded. I have linked an extremely helpful series of maps here to help you to understand the layout of the market. That way you will know which street to arrive by and which of the 11 entrances you would prefer to use. While I believe the main building is a place everyone should experience, I personally prefer to wander the side streets and get lost among all the hustle and bustle and just explore the wares and feel the immense history of the area.

Once you have finished your shopping, continue your Grand Bazaar experience by choosing one of the many small cafes to relax. Enjoy a tea or coffee and watch the people go by. I would also recommend getting a snack. The area is rife with street food options. Treat yourself to a something cheap and delicious. You battled the bazaar, you haggled the price down like a champ, you deserve it! To help you make a choice here are a few guaranteed local favorites.

Aynen Dürüm is a tiny stand located on a small side street of the bazaar. Aynen serves up spicy Adana and less spicy Urfa kebabs, as well as chicken and lamb shish. It is wrapped in lavash and you can self serve the garnishings of your choice.

Havuzlu has been around since 1959 so they must be doing something right. This restaurant is what is known as a tradesman or worker lokanta. You can try daily samplings of various meats, beans and vegetables prepared in the Ottoman tradition.

Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu is a tiny hole in the wall joint which prepares amazing kebabs. The service is extremely friendly and the location is a peaceful getaway from the chaos of the bazaar. Feeling adventurous? Try the kidney or liver kebabs!

Things to remember when visiting the bazaar:

  • It is crowded, keep your valuables near you at all times so as not to be pick-pocketed.
  • Be prepared to haggle and carry small bills.
  • Check for quality. Sadly, there are many fakes being passed off. Do your research on prices and quality indicators and shop around for major purchases such as rugs.
  • Keep a sense of humor! Don’t take it too seriously. If you don’t like a price, smile and walk away.

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