The Grand Bazaar or Kapalıçarşı, meaning ‘Covered Bazaar’ in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world, encompassing over 4,000 shops sprawled across 61 streets. The Grand Bazaar can be traced back to 15th century, and since then, has been a centre of trade and commerce for the Middle East and Mediterranean.
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Today, over 26,000 people work inside the Grand Bazaar and anywhere between 200,000-400,000 tourists visit it on a daily basis. The Bazaar is a must see for most tourists visiting Istanbul, regardless of their interests, age, or cultural background. The bazaar is not only the best place to purchase souvenirs and high-quality goods such as leather items, jewellery, antiques, handbags, carpets and much more, but is also an incredible place for photography enthusiasts and culture vultures.
Take a look through your camera viewfinder, and you’ll be mesmerized by the colours and shapes at each and every stall. Photo op on top of photo op, you can spend hours just roaming around the Grand Bazaar snapping incredible shots of local merchants and their goods. Stop by a few stalls and within minutes you’ll be chatting it up with a local salesperson or a shop owner, telling you stories about their lives and their goods. While they are, at the end of the day, just trying to make a sale, their stories can be just as colourful and interesting, as the merchandise itself.
Now for those visiting the bazaar with a purpose of shopping, it’s a whole other ball game. Your day at the Grand Bazaar can turn out to be one of the best days of your visit to Turkey or one of the worst!
Here are 10 tips to a great Grand Bazaar experience!
1. It is best to dedicate an entire day to shopping at the Grand Bazaar, splitting it up into 2 visits – early morning and late afternoon with a lunch break and a good rest in between. Avoid going mid-day or you’ll be shopping with the rest of 399,999 tourists.
2. Spend the first few hours getting acquainted with the layout, browsing the shops and the merchandise available. Grab a map of the bazaar at the entrance and try to refer to it in order to avoid getting lost. You’ll be approached by salesman every step of the way, but make sure you stick to your plan of “just looking”.
3. Once you’ve noted the items you are interested in, start inquiring about the prices. One of the first questions you’ll be asked by a shop-keeper is “Where are you from?”. While it seems like nothing but a friendly question, that is almost used as a “hello”, your answer will give the merchant a lot of information about you, your wallet and their starting price. Tell them you are from a big city in US, UK, Australia Canada, etc and they’ll automatically judge you and place you in the “rich” category and start their pricing at the higher end. Know this and be prepared that in some cases, the first price is double or sometimes even triple the price the merchant is willing to sell for.
4. Never give the shopkeeper your best price. This will immediately be the lowest price you will be offered, putting the bargaining power in the merchant’s hands. Flip the question back on them and get them to start with their best selling price.
5. The more you buy, the bigger the discount. Every seller in the shop has a quota for how many items they need to sell in a day and how much commission they need to earn. Showing them that you are interested in buying more than 1 item will result in a lower price per item. Be careful though, buying too much, no matter how cheap the items are, can end up costing you hundreds of dollars in excess luggage fees on your flights back home.
6. When you have an idea how much you are willing to pay for an item and the seller won’t budge, don’t be afraid to walk away. There are hundreds of shops within the Bazaar with multiple sellers selling the exact same merchandise. If your final price gets rejected by one merchant, hear their final offer, then walk 2 stalls down and share that offer with the next merchant selling the same thing, asking him if he can give you a better deal. In a lot of cases they will. If their final offer is still too high, walk away and go to the next seller. Keep in mind that if the price you are asking for gets a “you are crazy” or “no no no, cannot” type of comments, you may have gone too low. Walk away and try to offer a bit more at the next stall.
7. Be patient. Bargaining is hard work and will make you frustrated, stressed out, and tired. When you get there, take a break. Get outside, go for lunch, go back to your hotel, take a nap and think things over. If you are still thinking about the items you were haggling over, go back in later afternoon for round 2.
8. Don’t feel pressured to buy something. The nice pleasantries, the tea, and the conversation are not something you need to feel guilty about. This is a part of the process. It doesn’t mean that the merchant is being extra nice to you and you are obligated to buy.
9. Don’t skimp out on something you really like, even if it’s a bit more than what you were initially willing to pay and you can’t seem to get the price down. Put things in perspective. Convert the amount into your home currency and you might realize that you are bargaining over a few dollars. Don’t leave the bazaar without buying something you really like, because when you go back home the regret of not getting it will haunt you for months to come.
10. Don’t forget to take in the atmosphere, have a laugh or two with the merchants, take a few of them up on their offer of a cup of tea!
The Grand Bazaar is opened each day except Sundays and bank holidays from 9:00 until 19:00. Happy haggling!
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Have you ever shopped at the Grand Bazaar? Do you have any other haggling tips to share with others?