Any trip to Istanbul would not be complete without a visit to the famed Grand Bazaar. Situated in the heart of Old Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is one of the historic city’s most iconic sites. Construction began shortly after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1455. It remains one of the world’s oldest and largest covered marketplaces. There is no admission charge, and, since it is within walking distance to other historical sites, it is a must see.
Considering Istanbul is the crossroads between Europe and Asia, it is no wonder visitors will find merchants from all over the world. If you go, you will not be alone. Between 250,000 to 400,000 people visit the Grand Bazaar’s 5,000 shops each day. Vendors from all walks of life, selling anything from Turkish rugs to Iranian spices can be found. One word of caution, though: do not pay the asking price. The Turkish merchants consider haggling an art and they can be insulted if you do not bargain with them.
My trip to the Grand Bazaar is filled with great memories. The visit was part of a shore excursion that my wife and I took while on a cruise. Since we had never been to Istanbul before, we booked a shore excursion that took us to various parts of the old city. Looking back, we spent too much time in a carpet factory and too little time at the Grand Bazaar. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time. The next time we visit Istanbul, we will certainly set aside more time for this.
Before you go, it is important not to stand out. Being recognized as a tourist is like hanging a large sign around your neck that says, “I am an easy target because I am in unfamiliar surroundings.” Think about it for a minute. I am not saying that an American has to look like a Turk to walk about the streets and markets of Istanbul, but f you are going to a public place in any foreign city, you don’t want to appear as an easy prey for thieves and pushy merchants. Nothing screams American tourist like a polo shirt, ball cap, shorts with a visible wallet outline in the back pocket and gym shoes. While Istanbul is generally safe, don’t advertise that you are in unfamiliar surroundings and an easy target for thieves.
When visiting the Grand Bazaar, it is advisable to note that you do not want to make eye contact with the merchants unless they are selling something at is of interest to you. With approximately five thousand shops, you will never get to all of them anyway. Stopping at one particular stall implies that you are interested in their merchandise. Once the vendor notices this, you will not be able to walk away easily if you do not buy something. It is also a good idea to separate your money before approaching a vendor. If the vendor is selling something for ten Turkish Lira, hide your money and show that you only have six. Act like you are simply not interested if it will cost you any more.
Even if you do not plan on buying anything, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is worth it just to simply take in the sites. Strolling the labyrinthine corridors will surely conjure memories of several movies that were filmed on location. Merchants from all over the world, particularly the Middle East, have shops there. The Grand Bazaar offers first time travelers to the region a look into the lives of people from various places that you may never get to visit. A trip to Istanbul without a visit to the Grand Bazaar would be like a trip to Hawaii without ever seeing a beach.