No trip to Turkey or Istanbul is complete without at least a brief stop at the Grand Bazaar (and the nearby Spice Market). Seriously you CANNOT miss it. The Grand Bazaar is claimed to be among the oldest and largest markets in the world, with over 60 streets full of goods, and 4000 shops!! You could certainly spend weeks just gazing upon what the multitudes of shop owners have to offer.
Construction of this huge marketplace, sometimes called the first shopping mall in the history, began in 1455. They have been selling jewels, rugs, magical lanterns, clothing, textiles, kitchenware, and many many other items ever since.
Exploring the Grand Bazaar
I really wish that I had more time to spend at the Grand Bazaar. It really seemed like I could have spent days wandering through its endless alleyways and gawking at it’s beautiful and detailed goods. But as I unfortunately only had a short amount of time to spend there, my first thing to look for were the famous lanterns of the Grand Bazaar.
I always saw soooooo many pictures of these famous, intricately designed, stained glass looking lanterns. It was always a dream of mine to go see them and gaze at their beauty. So much so that I even designed a pair of 70s flared pants (check out the post here) that I would wear at the Bazaar and ideally get a picture under the magical lanterns. How perfect are those colorful stripes with the bright colors of the lanterns?? My dreams came true!
The Spice Market or Mısır Çarşısı in Turkish (meaning Egyptian Market) is not technically apart of the Grand Bazaar. It had its own building and is about a 10 minute walk from the Grand Bazaar. Even if you don’t need to buy any spices, it is definitely worth the visit. The smells and colors and rows upon rows of unique spices is such an authentic experience. Also, it’s not just spices here! They also sell lots of Turkish sweets, dried fruits, and nuts!
Best Time to Visit
The Grand Bazaar marketplace is open all year round! It is also open every day of the week except Sundays. The technical opening hours are between 9:00 am – 7:00 pm. BUT, from my experience the actual hours are a bit different.
On my trip to the Grand Bazaar, we were very short on time. We had to catch a flight to Cappadocia around noon and so we had to be on our way to the aiport by 10:30. Since everywhere claimed the opening hours to be 9:00 am, we figured it would be more than enough time to see everything. Well…we were wrong.
We went first to the Spice Market, since it was a bit more of a walk away. The technical open hours of the Spice Market are 8:00 am-7:00 pm. Well THAT IS INCORRECT. We were not allowed to enter until 10:00 am! Seriously, all the shops were closed up and a guard was at the entrance making sure no one came in. We had walked through the Grand Bazaar on our way to the Spice Market, but that too was not really open yet. A few stores were beginning to open up, but nothing substantial.
So I would say DO NOT GO BEFORE 10:00 AM. Little to nothing will be open! Both in the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. Even at 10:15am, only about 1/3 of all the shops had opened up. We still got to see many many amazing things, but if you want the full experience, DO NOT GO IN THE EARLY MORNING.
If you are looking for good deals, try going in the evening. Most vendors are looking to make quick sales before they close up shop and will often give you a lower price than they would have during the day.
- The place is HUGE. If you are looking for something specific, there are maps available at entrances and it would probably be worth your time to take a look at one.
- BARGAIN!!! Please DO NOT just go with the first price that the shopkeepers tell you. It is not a fixed in stone price. Everything is negotiable. That is the Turkish culture. Be sure to offer a reasonable price for the item, but remember that they know they can charge tourists (especially those from big “rich” cities) more money.
- The vendors will be very aggressive. There is nothing you can do about it. Don’t be taken aback. The vendors will be aggressive and if you are not interested in their items or do not want their help, just ignore them. Don’t feel like you have to respond to every seller who addresses you. The minute you respond, the minute they think they will have a sale. It is often better to just ignore them rather than waste their time having them think you may be interested in their goods. Instead they can move on to another buyer who is actually interested.
- The more you buy, the lower the price. As with all bargaining, the more items you buy, the less you pay per item. Now I’m not encouraging excessive buying, but consider the benefits of maybe buying a few small items instead of one. There have been multiple times that I have gotten 3 items for the original asking price of just 1.
- Consider the time of day you go. If you want a quiet experience (with less shops to chose from), go in the early morning. But be aware that many of the shops won’t open until 10:30/11:00. If you are looking for quick, cheap bargains consider going in the evening as vendors are eager to make last minute sales before they close shop.
- Where to Stay – In order to see all the best tourist places in Istanbul, it is recommended to stay in the Sultanhamet neighborhood. All the most famous tourist sites are within walking distance! Here is where we stayed, a very affordable boutique hotel right in the heart of the Sultanhamet. The staff were very helpful and friendly and the place was beautiful. It even has a view of the ocean!
- In 2014 the Grand Bazaar was listed #1 in the world’s most visited tourist attraction with almost 9 million annual visitors
- The Grand Bazaar is known among the locals as Kapali Carsiand, meaning “Covered Market”
- The Grand Bazaar is estimated to have around 250,000 visitors per day!
- When it was originally made, each street was designated for a specific trade or profession.
- Besides all of it’s diverse shops, the market also boasts Turkish baths, mosques, cafes, a school, and more!
Any other Istanbul questions? Looking for more amazing places to visit? Check out this perfect Istanbul Travel Guide!
Lots of Love, xoxoxo Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters