The Grand Bazaar is arguably the most popular touristic site in Istanbul. Only one can contest—Hagia Sophia, which some consider it the most touristic. And with Istanbul as the most popular city in Turkey, without debate, the Grand Bazaar ranks high in the most visited place in Turkey by tourists. What makes the Grand Bazaar so grand? Explore it for yourself, with the next few words as your guide.
You begin at one of its many entrances, the entrance closest to Hagia Sophia and the furthest eastern one. Before visitors and tourists are allowed inside, a metal detector stands in their way.
Through Its Many Gates
A security personal stands near it, directing visitors through. He holds a handheld metal detector, and waves it at backpacks entering through. You’re carrying a backpack so he waves the handheld metal detector as you walk by. The metal detectors are more for show than anything else. The way he waved it, the way his eyes roamed elsewhere, the way the metal detector beeped yet he did nothing makes you believe they’re more for show than anything else.
The first scent that welcomes you into the Grand Bazaar is cigarettes. Smoking is allowed; you turn to your right and see a shop seller with a cigarette, releasing a puff. Depending on the time, the Grand Bazaar can be really busy—in the afternoon and evening, or very slow—in the morning. You’ve come in the morning, wanting to experience the shops more than the atmosphere available in the evening.
People pass by you as you pause to soak in the initial atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar. You raise your eyes to the ceiling, realizing why the Grand Bazaar is called the Grand Bazaar. You don’t question the word “Grand” in its name. The architecture is quiet breathtaking, and quite rare in shopping centers or malls. A small smile appears on your face.
Proceeding forward, you notice that the shops are bunched together—one built alongside another. Almost all the shop owners are standing outside, luring the few visitors into their shops. But as its only the morning and there are little visitors compared to the afternoon and evening, there are a bunch of shop owners doing other things to prepare for the busy day such as moping in front of their shops. You continue walking, deeper into the Grand Bazaar, wanting to experience the depths of it and possibly have a conversation with a shop owner.
Interaction With a Seller
It’s not long until a conversation sparks into action. You’re not the one who ignites it; rather, a clothing shop owner does. He looks at you, holding eye contact for a brief moment, and then says, “Hey. You need a jacket? Want to buy one? On sale today.”
How lucky I am to arrive on a day with a sale? You think to yourself. You gaze at the owner—he’s wearing a Prada jacket with his hands tucked inside his jeans—then your eyes wander to his shop. Jackets, sweaters, and shirts are waiting inside his shop for a new owner. You take a closer look at the brand names, they’re all expensive: Prada, Versace, Gucci, Moncler, and more. You take a closer look at the Moncler jacket, moving closer to his shop.
“You like that jacket?” He says, then turns to look at it. You turn to him for a moment, then he turns back. “For you, only eighty euros.”
You can’t help but laugh. Has Turkey suddenly changed its currency from Lira to Euro? You shake your head, your eyes at the jacket and your laugh downgrades into a smile. “Just looking around for today, thank you.”
You leave the man standing, and continue on your exploration of the Grand Bazaar. Your laughter wasn’t due to him asking for Euros instead of Turkey’s currency or the fact that you spoke with him in good English—making it clear that you come from United States or an English-speaking country—but the fact that the jackets and sweaters were fake.
Grand Bazaar’s Alleys
From there, you notice that the Grand Bazaar has alleys. You reach the first alley—a four-way intersection. You turn your head left and right to see the stores on either side, but you come to realize that you’re better off continuing on the same route you entered from, at least until you reach deeper into the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar is design as such: many routes come together, crossing one another. Over a hundred shops, each showcasing their products. As it’s the morning, you also find some shop owners mopping front of their shop, as you noticed once you entered. Other shop owners gathering around a table, drinking tea and having borek or other breakfast meal, talking amongst themselves.
You continue walking, sometimes moving into another alley. You distance yourself from shops, and tend to view them with your eyes from afar. One shop attracts you, and forces you to grab a closer look. The shop sells Turkish delights, tea and other sweets. They’re all displayed in glass boxes with lights shining down below at them—without giving the sweets a choice other than being the center of attention. You raised your eyes, they dig deeper into the shop, gazing at the more colorful Turkish delights. The owner is arranging them by color. He looks at you for moment, smiles, but remains silent, returning to the Turkish delights in front.
You leave the shop, and continue walking, leaving the heart of the Grand Bazaar. There are many shops with different items: clothing, jewelry, tea, sweets, rugs, perfume, souvenirs and much more, but you quickly gaze over them. In one side, there’s the old Grand Bazaar which you enter it for a moment but quickly leave as it’s not an immersive experience.
And the Grand Bazaar is like this, a maze that can get any first time visitor lost. With many shops seemingly identical, it does not help with the cause. The moment you enter this maze-like bazaar, expect to smell cigarettes, perfume, and some sweets such as Turkish Delights. Allocate an hour if you’re looking to explore the alleys and the old Grand Bazaar—where it’s less busy with shops of jewelry. Be cautious in purchasing items, make sure the cost equals the quality.