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Istanbul is visited by millions of tourists each year who are drawn to its beautiful architecture, storied history, and bustling markets. Straddling the line between two continents and finding its origins in the distant past, the ancient city is one of the most culturally-rich of any in the world. Next to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, few attractions are better known than Istanbul’s markets. The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and most famous, but other popular markets include the Spice Bazaar, Istikal Caddesi, Çarşamba market, and the Sahaflar Çarşısı book market. We’ll take a look at all these and a couple of other Istanbul markets below so you can plan out your bargaining during your trip to Istanbul.
1. The Grand Bazaar
When one thinks of the quintessential mid-eastern market, chances are they’re thinking of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or at least something like it. The Grand Bazaar dates back to the very early days of Ottoman Istanbul, getting its start around 1445 and reaching its massive modern extent around 1600. It quickly became the center of the Ottoman Empire’s trade network.
Today it’s home to more than 4,000 shops and extends over 61 streets – the Grand Bazaar is so large that it can be found on both the Asian and European sides of the city!
Here, travelers can buy unique Turkish items such as beautiful ceramics or Turkish lamps. Rugs and jewelry aplenty are available to spice up your home or wardrobe, along with a cup or two of the excellent local black tea to soothe your stomach.
The Grand Bazaar is a sight every traveler to Istanbul should check out, even if they’re not interested in shopping – we can’t promise, however, that they won’t find themselves tempted by the smell of Iskender kebab or Turkish delight wafting in the air! If you do shop here, remember that haggling is permitted and encouraged.
2. The Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is the second most famous of Istanbul’s markets, referred to by the city’s inhabitants as the Egyptian Market (Mısır Çarşısı). Located just a short walk from the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar’s primary focus is – you guessed it! – spices.
If you’re looking to get a taste or smell of Istanbul’s own authentic cuisine, the Spice Bazaar is the place for you. Here you’ll find not only spices, but jams, cheeses, dried nuts and, of course, Turkish delight (lokum).
While you can find the odd souvenir shop in the Spice Bazaar, the emphasis is definitely on food. If you’re looking for a Turkish lamp or rug, for example, the Grand Bazaar will suit your needs better.
3. Çarşamba Market
Çarşamba is the Turkish word for “Wednesday” and, as you may suspect, this market is only held on Wednesdays. This tradition goes back to Byzantine times (i.e., before 1453). Çarşamba is also the name of the section of the city in which this market is held.
Here you’ll find a variety of low-cost, everyday items such as clothes and articles for the home – that’s because this market is targeted at native Istanbul residents, especially those who live in the surrounding area, if you’re looking for souvenirs you’ll have better luck in the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Bazaar.
The main attraction of the Çarşamba Market for tourists is that it’ll give you a peek into the lives of true Istanbulers – it’s a practical market without bells and whistles. The prices here also tend to be fixed, and keep in mind that not every vendor will speak English.
Çarşamba is one of the most conservative sections of the city, and you’ll see many women out to do their weekly shopping wearing hijab or burka here. Right outside the market, you’ll find the Fatih mosque, a beautiful building definitely worth paying a visit to.
4. Istikal Caddesi (Street) at Taksim Square
Another popular area in Istanbul that is a must-visit for travelers is Taksim Square. This is really the modern heart of Istanbul and the area is full of restaurants, shops and hotels. There’s a lot happening in this part of town, and it has a great vibe to it. Taksim Square is also a transportation hub, so it’s quite convenient to get here and get around. Chances are if you are visiting Istanbul, you’ll be coming through this area at some point.
Istikal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) is a long pedestrian shopping street which ends in Taksim Square. This is actually one of the main shopping streets in Istanbul. The market area and shops are located on and around the famous Istiklal Street. You can many all the major international brands here, as well as traditional 100+-year-old shops.
I highly recommend that you spend some time explore Taksim Square and this Istikal market area when you are traveling in Istanbul. The place has a really cool vibe and you can meet some great people and also score some deals.
5. Sahaflar Çarşısı
Love books? Then you’ll definitely want to walk through the Sahaflar Çarşısı, which has operated – in one form or another – as a book and paper market since Byzantine times.
It’s believed that the first book published in Turkey was published here in 1732 by Ibrahim Müteferrika, a bust of whom is prominently displayed in the market’s interior courtyard.
If you’re looking for a variety of books both old and new in various languages, cool maps, or even rare tomes, you’ll definitely be able to find at least one item of interest to you in the Sahaflar Çarşısı. You’ll find this market in Fatih, behind the Beyazit Mosque.
6. Galata Tower
If you are in Istanbul then you will hear about Galata Tower. It is a tourist-heavy destination in the heart of the city, but there are some really great shops to bargain in this area. The traditional cobblestone and narrow streets of this area are home to some great local shops. You won’t find any of the major international brands here, but there is a nice local feel to the area.
Because it’s quite a touristy area, you will be given tourist prices at the start. But the vendors will bargain with you. Near the Galata Tower, you can find the traditional tourist souvenirs but if you dig a little deeper you will find some good high-quality brands. And when you want to take a break from bargaining, then you may want to head up the tower for a birdseye view of the city.
When it comes to markets in Istanbul, Kadıköy is where you’ll want to go to if you’re a food lover; that applies equally to both tourists and Istanbul natives. Located on the Asian side of the city – you’ll have to take the ferry if you’re on the European side – this market operates on Tuesdays and Fridays.
You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and spices, along with a variety of restaurants and bakeries. Consider visiting Çiya Sofrası for excellent, authentic Turkish food, and Baylan Pastenesi for some delicious ice cream for dessert.
Bakırköy, located on the European side of Istanbul towards Atatürk airport, is famous for dealing in top brands or, at least, knock-offs of top brands. Use discretion!
Here you’ll find designer handbags and cheap clothes. If you need to diversify your wardrobe but want to do so on a budget, Bakırköy may be the market for you. If you want to get some kitschy Turkish clothing as a souvenir, this is also the place to go.
You’ll find this to be one of the most bustling markets in Istanbul outside of the Grand Bazaar. It operates on Saturdays.
Exploring Markets in Istanbul & Adventures Beyond the City (VIDEO)
Istanbul is a favorite city of mine for exploring and for bargaining. On my most recent visit, I had a lot more time to be able to explore some of the different markets and soak up some of the local culture. I also had a chance to visit other popular areas of Turkey such as Cappadocia and even go biking on some local islands off the coast of Istanbul city.
If you haven’t watched the full video yet, kick back and come along with me as I take you on an adventure through some of Istanbul’s most popular markets and beyond!