The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a famous, if not infamous, attraction. But I don’t think the name does it justice. Yes, it’s grand. And it is a bazaar. There are stalls selling scarves and clothes made of gorgeous Turkish fabric in colours ranging from proud red to sky blue and a mix of everything in between.
There are tons of dried fruits, and spices galore, and a range of teas that would make an Englishman blush.
There are more souvenirs and knickknacks than you could ever want or need – tealights, crockery, cutlery, jewelry boxes and the list goes on. It occupies 61 streets and I am quite sure it would take you a whole week to walk through and examine every stall properly.
It’s located inside an old building with exotically patterned rooves in white and blue and you have to pass through an old concrete arch (and a metal detector) to get inside.
Yes, it sounds very much like a grand bazaar. But I got the impression that it was more of a giant washing machine, churning people around inside itself until the cycle is done and you are spat out feeling drained and overstimulated. It’s certainly a unique experience. And just when you think that you are safe, walking out the exit that only took you 30 minutes to find, you realise that the streets surrounding the giant building are also markets, and the streets after those streets are markets and so it goes on, like a massive labyrinth of persuasive salesmen, enticing smells and shiny fabric. A bit like falling down the rabbit hole.
But I digress. The Grand Bazaar is well worth a visit. It’s an overwhelmingly large market that will have you gawking at and admiring something at every turn (even if you’re not quite sure what it is you are looking at). And you can also do some great people watching if you just stand in the crowd and let yourself be pulled along past the abovementioned delights by the tide of tourists.
Aussie Aussie Aussie
The sellers know their trade. If you tell them you’re from Australia, they’ll hit you with an “Aussie Aussie Aussie” that is sure to charm and if they find out you’re from Russia, a Privet or Dobriy Den will be politely pronounced.
It’s not just about the stalls though. You can also spot shoe shiners and beggars walking amongst the giant white columns covered with golden Arabic text, offering taps and basins for washing your hands and face. There are cosy cafes and little alleyways darting off here and there that open out into restaurants and lavatories.
If you want to feel completely out of your depth and experience pleasant but intense sensory overload, this is the place for you.
BUT. If you’re looking for something with just as much charm that is a little less people-y, you could head over to the Egyptian market which is really right next door to the Grand Bazaar with many of the same products and half as many people. Except if you go there just before a massive thunder storms breaks out (like we did) and then this small enclosed space also becomes overrun with sweaty, wet, panting bodies.
All in all, it is definitely a must-do that will probably take half your day but will leave an impression forever.