Planning a visit to Sultanahmet is rather easy because some of the most beautiful things are obvious to the plain eye. Topkapı Palace, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia are all marvelous places… After seeing the Iznik tiles that makes the blue mosque as magnificent as the sky, spare some time to stroll around Sultanahmet. This is the heart of Istanbul’s tourist attractions, the center of the trade center and the shopping center of istanbul. If you are searching for the best shopping mall in istanbul you are in the wrong place but if you are searching for the best shopping experience continue reading. Because in this district you will find authentic İstanbul stores and İstanbul bazaars that offer unique handcrafts and textiles all around you.
You can start your journey directly behind the Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar aka Arasta Carsisi where you can find high quality souvenirs. The two great bazaars of the city, Kapali Carsi and Spice Bazaar are huge places that I want to tell you in detail, but you shouldn’t miss out on other places tucked away on the Hippodrome square, or close by on the Historical Peninsula.
Let me tell you a bit about what will be expecting you at the historic Arasta Bazaar. Lined on an alley are 40 shops built into the walls under Blue Mosque. Being a much smaller bazaar compared to the Grand Bazaar’s 4000 shops, Arasta does not have the same buzz. It is an orderly and less crowded marketplace offering the traditional and organized way of European shopping experience. You can think it as the modern and the miniature version of the Mall of İstanbul. You can get some Turkish delights and Halwa, look at genuine leather items, feel the fabric on fine-quality Turkish rugs and try on beautiful hand-made gold or silver wares.
Let me also tell you that there is a small museum inside the bazaar called Great Palace Mosaic Museum. It displays 6th century mosaics that once graced the floors of Byzantine Constantinople’s Great Palace. The colorful representations of mythical beasts, fantastic objects and hunting scenes are still marvelous to look at for their liveliness and variety.
While talking about variety, you should know that there is a great towel shop featuring traditional robes with gorgeous colors and designs. It is located inside the market, called Jennifer’s Hamam. Silk scarves, organic linen cloths, towels from handmade cotton, you name it. The shopping experience is relaxed, the prices are not high, and you’ll find the salesmen to be friendly and not too pushy. Nevertheless, don’t forget to bargain if you plan on buying with cash. It is a cultural thing and encouraged in these bazaars, though certain places like Jennifer’s Hamam has fixed pricing. Besides the bazaars, keep an eye out for the small shops that sells souvenirs. The salesmen might be pestering at times but some of them are passionate about the products they sell and offer their genuine interest to help you find what you are looking for.
Ruby Ceramics on Boyacı Ahmet Street is run by two brothers who sell thousands of beautifully crafted ceramic works like plates or phosphorus vases that glow in the dark. You’ll greatly appreciate his sincerity when you see Sinan sharing with you the knowledge of ceramics in the company of the apple tea he prepared. Similarly, Otantik Gift on Alaykosku Avenue is run by brothers as well and they sell really nice souvenirs; jewelry, handbags and scarves.
If you feel tired from all the walking and sight-seeing, head to Gülhane Park near Topkapı Palace. The oldest public garden of İstanbul remains to be one of the biggest urban parks in the city. Gülhane means Rose Garden, so sit back and enjoy your time in the company of hundreds of colorful roses and tulips under the shade of as hundred years old chestnut and oak trees.
When you are ready, pay a visit to the nearby Tuncer Gift Shop on Taya Hatun Street. Located right in front of the Gülhane Tram Station, the shop has a great variety of goods including decorative and colorful ceramics, tiles, mugs, lamps and plates. If you still haven’t decided on which Turkish rug to buy, you are missing out on a great deal. While window-shopping, try to do a little research and pay attention to the details of the rugs to figure out what you want… Decide how big you want your rug to be. And then, according to your budget, plan your negotiation and be ready walk away if the price does not suit your wallet. Each carpet is different and unique in its own way, so the prices vary accordingly. Lion’s Rugs and Kilim’s Art Gallery at Hudavendigar Street is a great place to check out the huge variety of carpets on display. The owner Mr. Aslan and his staff are friendly and try their best to help you find the perfect carpet that suit your own taste.
The salesman on the Historical Peninsula are renowned for being too pushy selling overpriced items, but you’ll find that it is slowly changing. Sincere and passionate shopkeepers who prioritize the satisfaction of their customer are cementing their place in İstanbul streets. While enjoying your time in the historical city, particularly in the touristic Sultanahmet, try to enjoy the cultural aspect as well. Engage in haggling, ask about the symbolism of a porcelain plate or the meaning of a mesmerizing pattern on a rug. That is the true shopping experience in Istanbul.