Guess which is Europe’s most-visited attraction? You say, ‘Musée du Louvre, Paris’; ‘eeeeee’ (that obnoxious buzzer sound). You re-try and say, ‘the Coliseum in Rome’; ‘eeeee’, off goes the buzzer again. You win if you answer ‘the Grand Bazaar in İstanbul’. According to the Travel + Leisure magazine, over 90 million people checked the Grand Bazaar out in 2014. What draws these folks to this 15th-century location? Gold, intricately patterned carpets, hand-painted ceramics, lanterns, copperware and Byzantine-style jewelry, to name a few. Once the center of everyday urban trade it has since expanded and become increasingly touristy. It is not only the tourists that frequent bazaar’s vaulted walkways but Turks, themselves, make up a good portion of the visitors. The World Tourism Organization says Turkey was the seventh-ranked country for international arrivals, with 27 million visitors in 2010 and more than 30 million in 2011. Since a large proportion of these travelers stop by in İstanbul, it is not surprising to learn that most visited the Bazaar while in town.

 

A street in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

A street in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

 

So, what is it like to walk around these labyrinthine narrow streets? It is, indeed, a very large space to explore. If you want to really soak it all in, you may need more than one whole day to cover the whole market. Be prepared and wear comfy shoes. I feel first time visitors need a few words of caution, especially if this is their first tour in the Middle East. They will be facing some intense attention by the shop owners and the folks commissioned to drive traffic to these stores. There will be some sweet pressure to buy things whether you are interested or not. But this really is not a reason to spoil the enjoyment to be derived from visiting the place. Don’t get defensive… play the game. They are really a group of very friendly folks who are just wanting to make a living. Your sense of humor and the right mind set to play along will be your best shield. I’ll give you a tip on how to minimize the barrage of offers by the shopkeepers. As you walk along a row of shops, know that there is an invisible boundary between each couple of neighboring stores. The inhabitants of the bazaar show tremendous respect to these imaginary boundaries. This is the line where a shop owner is expected to stop its efforts to lure the passing potential customer and allow the next shop in line to take over. So, when you are walking along and get a little overwhelmed by the attention of the sellers, just stand at this imaginary line. That will throw off both neighbors as to who’s ‘jurisdiction’ you are in. Since it is never desirable to sacrifice good neighborliness for a few bucks to be made off a smart aleck tourist, odds are you will be left alone. Temporarily, of course; until you get out of that safe zone and resume your safari. But, believe me, it is all in good fun. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience. Or, simply say ‘no thank you’ and walk on.

Like many tourists, you may choose to visit the Grand Bazaar following your stop at the Hagia Sophia and/or the Blue Mosque. The bazaar is at walking distance from Sultanahmet area where the mentioned attractions are located. The walk is enjoyable. You see a preview of most everything that you will find at the bazaar so don’t make the mistake of buying something at the first store where you see something you like. Stop and ask for the price and then walk away to explore what the other shops are offering. Lots of shopkeepers would offer you free samples of food or spices to taste or smell. You are welcome to accept or reject, no hard feelings. Don’t be shy to bargain, but remember that Istanbul’s shopkeepers are masters of salesmanship and negotiation. Like an angler who values a catch that puts up a fight before it is landed, a shop owner prizes a potential customer who is a tough haggler. They will like you more if you don’t rob them of this satisfaction. And don’t feel obligated to purchase something just because the store owner offered you a cup of tea and/or a piece of Turkish delight.

Once you get to the Grand Bazaar, you will quickly realize that the place is just amazing and so unique. The only shopping area on the planet with over 4000 stores under one roof where you will find just about anything you want to buy. Even if you’re not a shopper, walking through the Bazaar is a wonderful cultural experience. Some call it “The Labyrinth” because you may actually get lost there. But, don’t fret. If you are not using the GPS navigator in your smart phone, all you need to do is ask any of the warm and hospitable shopkeepers. They will be happy to direct you to the nearest exit. You may also print a copy of the map below to help you maintain your bearings.

Map of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Street map of the Grand Bazaar. To download the map, first double click on it to enlarge, then right click on it once more and then select ‘download image’.

 

You will feel absolutely safe at the Bazaar. Each and every access is securely guarded and handbags of every visitor are checked. Uniformed police are quite visible and there are plenty of plainclothes cops making sure nothing spoils the visitors’ pleasant experience.

Such a special place. You can’t imagine how big this place is. This isn’t just a tourist destination, Istanbulites also shop here. Most shop owners speak some English. If the dollar is strong, you can buy gold jewelry at bargain prices. Furs, leather, food, clothing are all available. You can buy so many different types of stuff at this bazaar. I recommend you to try the flavored teas. They are all amazing. The jewelry, finery, accessories and silver stuff are beautiful. Handmade carpets are dazzling. The mall acts as an unofficial exchange for gold. There is a myriad variety of souvenirs at reasonable prices.

See if you can attend a ‘carpet show’. If a carpet shop owner senses that you are genuinely interested in buying, he will arrange a presentation for you. They flick the carpet into the air and have it land at your feet. You look at the carpet from one direction and note the colors. Then, you look at it from a different angle and the colors look different. Fascinating.

One of my favorite corners of the Grand Bazaar is the ‘İç Bedesten’ or the ‘Inner Mall’ (no. 14 on the map above). This is where you must stop if you fancy antiques. Be surprised with the unexpected finds you may run into at this location. Mother of pearl handled daggers, 15th century pistols, medals worn by Russian Communist Party members, lapel pins, miniature paintings, Greek Orthodox iconas. There is no end to this list.

 

A display case in front of an antique shop.

A display case in front of an antique shop.

 

The producers of the James Bond flick ‘Skyfall’ must have thought this scenery above would be an excellent backdrop for Agent 007’s escapades and the location got international exposure during the high-speed motorcycle chase in the movie when it got released in 2012.

The roofs of the Grand Bazaar.

The roofs of the Grand Bazaar.

 

The producers of the James Bond flick ‘Skyfall’ must have thought this scenery above would be an excellent backdrop for Agent 007’s escapades and the location got international exposure during the high-speed motorcycle chase in the movie when it got released in 2012.

The set up crew of the movie, Skyfall, is preparing the motorcycle race scenes on the Grand Bazaar roof in Istanbul, Turkey

The set up crew of the movie, Skyfall, is preparing the motorcycle race scenes on the Grand Bazaar roof.

 

Agent 007 at The Grand Bazaar

Above, actor Daniel Craig as he causes havoc not only on top of but also in the halls and alleys in and around the Bazaar in Skyfall.

 

In case you find inspecting 4,000 plus small shops overwhelming, there are plenty of small cafés and restaurants around the Bazaar to take a break and chow down on a döner kebab sandwich, sip up a cup of Turkish coffee or, if you are one of those health nuts, gulp down the juice of a fresh squeezed pomegranate. All in all, be assured that you will discover a lot during your visit to this magnificent destination which will likely remain among your most pleasant travel experiences.