It’s been called the oldest shopping mall in the world, even though the Grand Bazaar isn’t exactly what we would think of as a modern shopping mall! Even so, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is definitely one of the oldest and one of the largest covered markets in the world, and it’s a huge attraction for the city; in more ways than one! Not only does the Grand Bazaar attract thousands of tourists every day, it serves the people of Istanbul too, and has been doing so since they started building this vast complex of shopping streets over 550 years ago.
Yes, the Grand Bazaar is over 550 years old so it’s very much a part of the history of Istanbul, and it’s amazing to think that this covered market spans 61 different streets and has around 3,000 different shops inside!
You could spend weeks visiting all these thousands of shops, and you could easily get yourself lost inside the Grand Bazaar as many streets look very similar to the last. Knowing some Turkish would help while you explore the labyrinth of streets and shops, though many of the store owners know enough English for you all to get by and understand each other.
Navigating the Grand Bazaar
I’ve been to the Grand Bazaar several times now but I still appreciate how daunting it can be wandering into one of the largest covered markets in the world! In historic times the market was set up so that certain kinds of stores and services were grouped together.
The streets were named accordingly so it was easy for shoppers to find the kind of shops they wanted. It’s still like this to a certain extent today though the shops have become more mixed. Even so, you will find clusters of jewellers, or carpet sellers together so definitely head to these specific streets if you know exactly what you’re looking for.
One thing I find fascinating about the Grand Bazaar is that it hasn’t really changed in centuries. There have obviously been some upgrades to plumbing and electricity, but the architecture has pretty much stayed the same.
I love exploring the smaller ‘streets’, which really are more like little alleyways – the atmosphere changes in these parts of the Grand Bazaar as the lighting never seems quite as good, and you can find some real treasures amongst the hundreds of items that some shop owners sell. Their wares often spill out of the shops onto the pathways, though each night when they shut up shop, they clear it all away inside again.
Finding Bargains at the Grand Bazaar
Though locals do still shop in the Grand Bazaar many of the visitors are tourists, and as you can probably imagine some of the prices are inflated accordingly. That being said, you can buy designer name handbags and leather goods for a fraction of the price it would cost back home – just don’t ask whether it’s genuine or not! You should also remember to haggle, as this is firmly expected; the price you are first quoted is never the price you actually have to pay, so haggle with the shop owner and you’ll end up buying at a far lower price!
One word of warning – if you are offered goods that the shop owner says are antique you should be very wary. The sale of antiques is strictly enforced so there’s a good chance it is not an antique, but if you do buy antique goods you are not allowed to export them out of Turkey and will find yourself in serious trouble if you try.
Finding the Grand Bazaar
For such a big place, finding the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul can be difficult! It’s really not that obvious from the street to the untrained eye because it doesn’t stand out like modern shopping malls do – you enter via one of the ‘gates’ which although they can be decorative in nature they don’t always give a clue as to what is to come. Look a little more closely and you will see the words ‘Kapalicarsi’ and even an English translation ‘Grand Bazaar’, and you’ll know you’re in the right place! The Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays and holidays, and most stores will be open from 9am until 7pm.
The Grand Bazaar is considered by some to be the oldest shopping mall in the world. Are there any shopping malls you would recommend elsewhere around the world, either historic or ultra modern?