Surviving the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market of Istanbul

Surviving the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market of Istanbul

January 23, 2015

The local marketplace is always high on my list of things to do in any city I am visiting as this is often where I find that I have a deeper experience of the people and their culture. The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market were of course high on my list of things to do in Istanbul but were to coin my husband’s phrase, a mixed thing for me. 

What I loved about both of them was how colorful and full of energy they were, not to mention steeped in history. I could easily imagine the camel caravans which would stop here as they traveled the Silk Road bringing with them goods from afar … China, India, Persia …. my imagination truly ran wild.

What I didn’t love was that with over 5000 shops, 60 streets and 18 different entrances is that it can be, to say the least, a tad overwhelming. The energy which is on one hand exciting can also quickly dissolve into feeling a bit pushed and shoved, and what it takes to negotiate your way through without responding to every shop owner trying to capture you attention is, well …  a tad exhausting. They truly can be quite creative though. One of my favorites was “Hi! I’m George Clooney! Want to have some tea with me?” And then there was the guy who told me he wanted me to have his baby. I wonder if he even realized how funny that truly was!

All in all it’s an experience not to be missed and is just the way of it, as it is with many of life’s richest experiences. Learning to just be in the middle of the chaos without judging or reacting is what it’s all about. And of course just having fun with it, whatever “it” looks like at the moment.

So what are my tips for Surviving the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market of Istanbul?

I thought you’d never ask …

1). Take your time.  Best not to rush this one … give it the major part of a day if you can so you aren’t feeling in a hurry to be somewhere else.

2). Start with the Spice Market. Known as the “Egyptian Bazaar” in Turkish, it is much smaller and also noticeably less crowded which in my opinion makes it a good place to get your feet wet. It is here you will find the spices, teas, dried fruits and nuts and sweets such as Turkish delight that Istanbul is famous for.

3). Spend less time at the Grand Bazaar. Known as the “Covered Bazaar” in Turkish, this is where you will find mostly hard goods such as carpets, clothing, jewelry, water pipes and pretty much anything else you can think of including many low quality souvenir items. Unless you are seriously in the market for a carpet or furniture, I’d say take a lap and call it good.

4). Walk it once before you touch or buy anything.  Good advice for any marketplace but particularly so here in Istanbul. Snap a photo with your cell phone including the shop number of anything that catches your eye and only return to those of real interest. The shop owners are really good at what they do and disengaging once you stop can be a bit of a challenge.

5). Look up! There is so much to catch your eye you can easily forget to just stand still and look up. The centuries old architecture is amazing and it’s worth taking a few minutes to take it in and be in awe.

6). Haggle! It’s part of the experience and it’s expected. Do it with good humor and enjoy the dance and they will too. A few tips: no plastic, just Turkish lira, honor any price you offer (changing your mind is not cool), and know when to stop. A few Lira means a whole more to them than it does to you and haggling over it is, well, tacky.

7). Toughen up and then smile, a lot. There is an art to walking through a marketplace like this and there is a balance to be found. What worked for me was to nod, smile, and then keep walking no matter what. I mean engaging with people is part of the experience, right?  The ticket is for you to be in control of where and when and not the other way around. At the end of the day a genuine smile and a little connection always wins. 

8). Hit the streets.  Surrounding the outside of the bazaar is a maze of streets and alleyways that are also filled with little shops and vendors of all kinds. Although very crowded too, you’ll have a much more authentic experience here shopping amongst the locals. This was actually my favorite part of the Bazaar by far.

9). Drink tea and carry on. When you’ve had enough, find a little cafe with some cozy seating, order some apple tea (it’s delicious) and relax! 

And that’s exactly what we did…

10). Enjoy!


To see more images from the Istanbul gallery click here:


Until next week when we visit the beautiful Mosques of Istanbul …

XOXO, from me and lu