Beneath the Golden Domes: A Trip to the Grand Bazaar

in Sightseeing

A shop selling handmade plates in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Photo: © Vitaly Titov

The popularity of Turkey as a holiday destination for Europeans has sky-rocketed in the past decade. Istanbul, millenarian city and capital of three successive empires is the perfect destination for those who wish to experience the mysterious world that sits on the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In this article we’ll talk about the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of shops at the heart of Istanbul that attracts huge crowds every day.

The Grand Bazaar is a massive complex, truly one of the largest covered markets in the whole world. The 5,000 shops of the Bazaar receive between 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily. While this little fact should give you a clear picture of its scope and popularity, the most important thing to realise is that a visit to the Grand Bazaar is as much about the people as it is about shopping. The experience of delving into a small city of pedlars, hagglers and throngs of customers has few equivalents around the world.

Entering through the Nuruosmaniye Gate visitors arrive to the Jewellery street, a wide pedestrian avenue that goes completely across the bazaar. As its name implies, this street is filled with jewellery stores that deal in gold, precious and semi-precious stones (such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds.) The bazaar is actually one of the most important gold markets in the world. The prices of the materials are not particularly low but lower workmanship costs means that mindful buyers can get these hot commodities at a reasonable price.

Gold and precious stones are just the tip of the iceberg. The Grand Bazaar has incredible variety for those who wish to alleviate the weight of their pockets. Most shoppers visit the bazaar because of its jewellery, hand-crafted ceramics, regional carpets, home decor, spices and antiquities. The good news is that most of the stalls are grouped in sections by type of goods, which means that (except for a particularly elusive item) you won’t have many problems finding what you want. Still, many first-timers who choose to wander might feel lost walking around in side-streets that seem to be part of an insidious labyrinth. Getting your bearings is not that hard as long as you make sure you remember your way back to the main street or the tourist information points.

After your stroll (or shop) you can sit down at one of the many cafes or treat yourself at one of the dozen restaurants sprinkled over the premises. Even those who choose to pass on the shopping can spend an afternoon exploring the two bedenstens (domed buildings) of the bazaar and watching the crowds. The Grand Bazaar is open from 09:00 to 19:00 (Monday to Saturday only) and can be reached by taking the Zeytinburnu tram or by a 15 minute walk from the Aya Sofya/Blue Mosque area.

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