Istanbul Tours

Shopping in Istanbul, Turkey

Enjoy shopping in Istanbul with a difference at the Grand Bazaar!
Enjoy shopping in Istanbul with a difference at the Grand Bazaar!

Shopping Guide for Istanbul, Turkey

Think of shopping in Istanbul and it is probably the Grand Bazaar that first springs to mind.

The Grand Bazaar first saw its beginnings as 2 wooden bedestans, or warehouses with individual cells for stalls, named the Cevahir Bedesten and Sandal Bedesten, erected during Mehmet the Conqueror’s reign towards the end of the fifteenth century. The chance of being destroyed by fire necessitated that they be rebuilt in stone and they have since been absorbed into the core of the Bazaar today. Originally its profits were to go to compensate the ongoing expenses of the Aya Sophia. It invariably grew and expanded, as did its trade, incorporating more and more shops into its environs. Today it covers an entire area of 30 hectares and has almost 4400 shops, 40 hans (a type of night stop-over where dealers could unload their wares) and encompasses over 60 streets.

Its nucleus consists of 3 parallel streets between Nurosmaniye and Beyazit, the first comprising mostly of jewelery outlets, the second of carpets, and the third of textiles. In the days gone by, each class of wares operated under a traditional guild system whereby one stall having reached a particular target sale that day would then direct further customers to other stalls in that guild. In this way they supported each others trade and formed a closely knit family. However this tradition no longer continues today.

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Shopping centers have become a part of daily life in Istanbul, and there are now several in different parts of the city. They fit in well with the rapid pace of life today, saving precious time by offering a wider diversity under a single roof. Istanbul is no stranger to the shopping center, with its traditional covered bazaars like the Kapaliçarsi, (the famous Grand Bazaar), the Egyptian Bazaar and shopping streets like Mahmutpasa. But in past times shopping expeditions to these centers were different in concept. In the days leading up to important events like religious holidays, weddings or engagements, it was customary for the whole family to go together to buy new clothes, shoes, handkerchiefs, and household linen and other domestic articles for the trousseaus of girls about to be married. On such special occasions shopping had a ceremonial character.

Modern shopping centers, on the other hand, are not only places to shop but also to pass the time and in various leisure pursuits and forms of entertainment. While these modern malls cannot be said to harmonize with the cultural texture of the city in architectural terms, and are not perhaps aesthetic, they make full use of the latest technology and offer facilities completely unrelated to shopping. For example, in the center of Galleria there is an ice skating rink, while Carousel has a roundabout in the middle, to name but a few. Galleria was Istanbul’s – and indeed Turkey’s – first modern shopping mall. Situated in the western suburb of Ataköy, it was opened by then prime minister Turgut Özal in 1988 and espoused as a symbol of modern life. For several years Galleria was without competitors, but it had blazed a trail down which others were to follow.

Akmerkez in Etiler, Carousel in Bakirköy, and on the Asian bank of the city Capitol and Carrefour opened in rapid succession. As well as locally make goods these centers contained shops selling world famous brand names. Galleria reflected the changing face of Turkey in the late 1980s, with scores of shops selling a wide range of goods which included a high percentage of imports, cafes and restaurants which made going there a popular day out. At weekends in particular people flocked there from all over the city. With its 140 shops Galleria attracts an average weekly total of 300,000 people, while on weeks when there are public holidays or special days like Mother’s Day this number can be as high as 500,000.In 1995 Akmerkez was declared to be Europe’s Best Shopping Center by the International Council of Shopping Centers, and in 1998 was selected as the World’s Best Shopping Center by the same organization and received the International Design and Development Award. Akmerkez opened in 1993 and is visited by between two and two-and-a half million people every month. At weekends and before public holidays and new year the number of visitors soars to around 100,000 people daily. Akmerkez shopping center has 240 shops and a total floor area of 180,000 square meters on four floors. Above these rise two blocks of office premises of 14 and 17 stories respectively, and a 24 story residential block. The highest proportion of customers come from the surrounding districts of Etiler, Levent and Ulus, which are in walking distance, and from the European shore of the Bosphorus. They generally visit the center during the week and do most of their household shopping here. The second group of customers come from districts slightly further away, such as Nisantasi But at weekends people from all over the city are to be found here. Visitors spend an average 3.5 hours in the center, compared to the world average of 2.5 hours. During the summer, excursions are organized to the shopping center from nearby hotels, and during the winter there are bus services from large business centers such as Sabanci Center, Yapi Kredi Plaza and Maya Center.

Capitol shopping center also opened in 1993, and is now visited by 12 million people a year. It has 120 shops, 8 cinemas, cafes and open and closed car parks. This is a spacious shopping center around a huge central well through which daylight pours. On special occasions the number of visitors rises to 80,000 a day, mainly from the east bank districts of the city.

Carousel, which opened in 1995, pulls in approximately 50,000 people per day, and 18 million people a year. Four leading banks have branches here, and its attractions include discussion panels, music recitals, an art gallery where exhibitions by both amateur and professional artists are held, book signing sessions by famous authors, and special weeks featuring different countries. There is also a ticket sales service for art and cultural events all over Istanbul.One of Istanbul’s youngest shopping centers is Polcenter, which opened in Levent on 16 December 1998. It has 52 shops and covers an area of 15,000 square meters The majority of its customers are from the banks and companies which have offices in the area. Polcenter is a three story shopping center over which are two large towers containing office premises. It has a three story car park.