- Nia Alexander Campbell
Shopping in Istanbul
Different shopping options in Istanbul
What my experiences were in different shopping areas
Some of the things to buy in these areas
Polaroids on display near Kadıköy
Even as someone who has never really enjoyed shopping, I always look forward to it when I travel abroad. My experience in Istanbul was no exception to that, so today I’m going to run down a list of some of my shopping experiences in the city – what I bought, where I found it, and a handful of tips I’m now able to share. A fair warning, though: This post hasn’t got the best photographs, so you’re going to have to trust my words more than my pics.
As one of the largest covered markets in the world, as well as one of the oldest (completed in 1461), the Grand Bazaar is worth seeing. It sells everything you can imagine, like a medieval shopping mall. However, as beautiful as the bazaar was—and as calm as it was compared to other souqs & markets I’d experienced—it was still too touristy for me to really enjoy shopping there. In fact, I didn’t buy a single thing. To add, there were a lot of shopkeepers shouting different African countries at me (and Asian countries at my partner) trying to guess where we from as we walked through the market, which was very annoying. As much as I appreciated the vastness, and as much as I’d still recommend you go see it, it wasn’t one of my favorites.
Also called the Egyptian Bazaar, this one was pretty cool and very old, but also very expensive (like $70 for about 4.5lbs of Turkish coffee kind of expensive). Of course, you’re supposed to haggle—that’s part of the experience, I suppose—but I didn’t have it in me because I knew I could get most of what the bazaar was selling for easily under half the price literally anywhere else in the city. The thing is, it otherwise offered a lot of unique options, some of which weren’t all that easy to find outside the market. There were also market stalls immediately outside the bazaar that had lots of herbs, seeds, and live plants for sell.
Shops around Sultanahmet
A scarf I bought in Sultanahmet
As a general note, shops, markets, and restaurants on the European side were more expensive than things on the Asian side, but Sultanahmet was by far the priciest. However, they did often have some interesting things, especially clothes, particularly a very warm leather & faux fur skull cap, loose patterned trousers, and silky square scarfs—often iridescent or covered in pattern—that seemed to also be a very popular choice for hijabs.
Boutiques near Galata
This might be the corniest tchotchke I saw in Istanbul, but I promise, other things in the shop were super cool.
The Galata area was cool in that it had your classic tourist tchotchke shops as well as artisanal boutiques and very hip stores. The tchotchke stores were touristy, but not as touristy as Sultanahmet, meaning they weren’t as expensive. Here I found some really cool things that I hadn’t seen in Sultanahmet, like tiny brass lockets and leather magnets.
The hip stores sold all kinds of different highly “designed” things: Postcards, sneakers, posters, t-shirts, there was a variety. It reminded me of Carytown in Richmond or the pop-up store in the QF building in Education City. The thing is, these places were expensive, not in an overpriced kind of way, just worth more money than I was ready to spend.
The artisanal boutiques had a lot of gorgeous things, especially beadwork. Here was where I saw the most evil eye charms to hang around your house and, unlike the ones I saw in Sultanahmet, these looked of genuinely high quality. I’ll admit, the boutiques were expensive too, but in the way all boutiques are expensive; they weren’t trying to rip anyone off.
Before coming to the city, I’d read online that there were weekly pop up markets in Kadıköy, the neighborhood we stayed in. I definitely saw a market in Kadıköy, but I’m not sure if it was a pop-up market. Either way, these kinds of markets exist all over the city and sell a variety of different things, so keep them in mind.
A candy & spices store and a fish stall in Kadıköy
Speaking of markets in Kadıköy, the one I visited—whether it was permanent or pop-up—was really nice. It was open air, lined up in between brick & mortar stores and restaurants on a slightly uneven, narrow, cobbled street. This was where I found the Turkish coffee my partner and I had been looking for. Want to guess how much it was? $30 for 4.5lbs.
Hobby shop in Kadıköy, full of nerd stuff
I had never seen a hobby shop before, so seeing these in Istanbul was really something special. The ones I saw were all in a very hip part of Kadıköy, and area full of piecing shops, tattoo parlors, dessert bars, cafes, and cool restaurants.
Curiosity & antique shops
Necklaces and a sculpture in an antique store in Kadıköy
I stumbled upon one of these in Kadıköy that really had some interesting things to fill up your bookshelf, sit on your coffee table, or start a conversation in your living room. There was a surprising amount of African—or perhaps African inspired—objects, as well as stones, jewelry, and daggers.
Hanging sculpture at Aqua Florya Mall
Even though a mall is a mall no matter where in the world you go, I like seeing what malls in different countries are like. This curiosity emerged after experiencing malls in Qatar which was a totally different world compared to malls in Richmond. Well, the malls I went to in Istanbul were like something in between: Big, but not too big, full of familiar spots (like Krispie Kreme and Zara), but also often had attractions attached to it like movie theaters and that one aquarium.
I get a turtle in every country I visit. This is the one I got in Istanbul from the antique store I showed earlier.
If it’s one thing I can say, it’s that Istanbul gave me plenty of shopping options and experiences. Crowded, solitary, touristy, local, familiar favorites, unique finds, traditional things, modern creations, wildly overpriced, built for budget ballers, the list goes on. Overall, shopping in Istanbul, even just window shopping, was genuinely really cool simply because of how colorful and varied my experiences were.