Though I recently visited Istanbul for the first time, my parents and sisters had all been there before me. In addition, several others I know have also made it a point to travel to the city, and for good reason. Regardless of whom I spoke to about the city, prior to my trip, there was always a mention of how great the shopping is in Istanbul. While I had a feeling that I would end up buying at least one thing during my travels, I never expected to come away with as much as I did.
It really is true. Although I don’t despise shopping, I generally don’t consider it to be a hobby. In Istanbul, however, I really didn’t mind it. Here are five reasons why:
1. The merchandise is more impressive.
Shopping in Spain is great – things are relatively inexpensive considering its quality (all of this in comparison to Canada). Still, from one shop to the next, things look similar to anything you can buy in regular malls around North America. In Istanbul, you have more variety. On the one hand, your international brands, such as Mango, are still abound. However, you’re also able to find locally-made things, as well as lots of spices, trinkets, and knockoffs. Istanbul is a haven for knockoffs.
2. It’s cheaper.
This part gets slightly tricky. Merchants usually list off their highest price to tourists, which means that if you don’t ask for a lower price, you won’t be getting things extremely cheap. However, as long as you do ask for a better deal, and your shopkeeper isn’t completely stubborn, shopping can be inexpensive. In addition, the Turkish Lira is valued at about 1/3 of the Euro, at least for now.
3. It’s a challenge.
As a person who enjoys anything more when there’s an added obstacle to it, this was what made shopping in Istanbul fun for me. It’s important to realize that it’s considered normal to ask for lower prices in Istanbul, and that not doing that makes you an easy target. There were a couple of instances where I didn’t ask for lower prices – for food, or for already very cheap items – but even on souvenirs, I tried to get a deal. It helps to ask for a lower price without going too low, but asking for not enough of a lower price can also make it impossible to get what you want. In general, I was surprised at how much I got knocked off of original prices, but I never let on to that in the store.
4. There are multiple places for the same thing.
While the merchandise is varied, you also find the same thing in multiple areas. This means that if you don’t get your deal in one shop, you can find it somewhere else. This, of course, helps in getting a lower price at your original shop. I thought it was great that I could pick up what I wanted at different spots, as it made it easier to walk away from shops on days that were meant more for sight-seeing.
5. You get to know the people.
It may seem extremely strange to add this one to the mix, but it’s completely justifiable. Whilst shopping in major outlets in Spain – or even smaller shops – the salespeople rarely warm up to you, let alone ask you how you are. In Istanbul, shopkeepers are usually friendly, asking where you hail from, what you think of the city, where you’re going, and even tell you where they’re from. Liz and I had never heard of Izmir before going to Istanbul, yet because we shopped at so many stores owned by Izmir natives, we learned about how it’s actually Turkey’s third-largest city (making it embarrassing that we didn’t know about it!), and that it’s quite beautiful. Now, we know where to head next time we’re in Turkey!
Where to go:
Head to: the Grand Bazaar – Istanbul’s famous and large market – to do your shopping all in one spot. Beware: the Grand Bazaar is generally more expensive.
Head to: the Spice Bazaar for your spices and sweets needs. Here, you can get some Turkish Delight, either pre-packaged or freshly made.
Head to: side street shops for everything you can find at both major bazaars. Side streets were where I found my best deals!
Head to: near Taksim Square for your more commercial and international shopping.
All around, shopping in Istanbul is an enjoyable, though sometimes stressful experience. Although it can take its toll on you on the days you aren’t in the mood for it, it’s a fun experience that allows you to walk away with some good finds.