Turkey is one of the world’s great shopping destinations. Located at a historic trade crossroads linking to the Silk Road, the country has been a shopper’s paradise for centuries, offering everything from hand-woven Turkish carpets and kilims to jewellery, antiques and Iznik ceramics, carved meerschaum and a growing number of designer brands including Mavi Jeans, Vakko and Beymen. You will also delight at the diversity of culinary shopping, including fresh fruit and vegetable markets in every city, sweet treats, nuts and spices, Turkish tea, coffee and alcoholic tipple.
Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and the country’s cultural and business capital, offers the greatest variety; from its atmospheric bazaars to more than 135 modern shopping malls dotted around the country. The legendary Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi), near the historic centre of Sultanhamet, which first opened its doors to traders in 1461, is a vast labyrinth of 61 covered streets encompassing 4,400 shops selling everything from jewellery and carpets to leather and antiques – intermingled with cafes, restaurants and beautiful ancient architecture. Although bargaining is still the norm, the Grand Bazaar today is a much calmer, less-crowded environment than yesteryear as many shoppers have migrated to the modern malls and high streets around Istanbul. On Wednesdays, you may like to visit the kilim auction at the Sandal Bedestan. The nearby Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi; closed Sunday) is another favourite with shoppers for its enticing array of exotic spices, jams, dried fruits, nuts, tea, coffee and of course, lokum, or Turkish Delight, in its multitude of flavours. For handicrafts, ceramics, calligraphy and miniatures, head to the nearby Istanbul Handicrafts Center, Istanbul el Sanatlari Çarsisi – or the book bazaar for rare and interesting finds.
Istanbul also has many vibrant outdoor markets, selling an assortment of fresh food and produce, clothes and antiques. There is a flea market every Sunday in Istanbul near the Grand Bazaar, as well as the Horhor Market in Aksaray on weekends, and daily in Cihangir. There is an art, crafts and jewellery fair in Ortakoy, by the water’s-edge on Sundays – and the city’s fresh food markets are also renowned, including its fish markets and colourful fruit and vegetable stalls.
For a more modern shopping experience, Istanbul doesn’t disappoint, with designer brands, edgy boutiques and upmarket malls moving in at a remarkable pace. New developments include the ultra-sleek Istinye Park, City’s Mall in Nisantasi, the futuristic Kanyon (shaped like a canyon) in the upmarket Levent district which houses Turkey’s first Harvey Nichols. Istanbul is also host to Europe’s second biggest mall, the Cevahir after London’s Westfield. Thanks to Turkey’s strong textile sector, when it comes to clothing there is something for every budget, style and taste. Those looking for world-wide brands and fashion labels will find them in Istanbul’s upmarket malls, while also discovering some of Turkey’s home-grown talent at Turkish designer stores and boutiques.
Istanbul is also packed with interesting quarters that are great for everything from designer labels to unusual, quirky pieces. Visit Istiklal Caddesi and Galata near Taksim, a bustling promenade of boutiques, clothes, record and book shops, as well as fantastic cafes and restaurants – and hidden gems in the many passage ways that lead off the main street. Northeast of Taksim is the trendy neighbourhood of Nisantasi, where you’ll find an array of elegant boutiques and upmarket cafes.
Outside of Istanbul, other cities with historic bazaar areas include Izmir, known for its leather garments; Bursa, whose silk textiles are famous; and Kayseri, traditionally known for its carpets. In addition, every major city in Turkey will usually have a modern shopping mall, offering a mix of global brands and domestic labels. In smaller towns, open-air street markets are common; these popular markets are filled with vendors selling fresh produce, household goods, and, in tourist areas, craft or souvenir items.