Istanbul’s much vaunted role at the end of the Silk Road lives on in these ancient shopping streets. Somehow, it retains the feel of a hectic, medieval shopping mall.
It is said that the expert salesmen of the Grand Bazaar have divided humanity into three instantly identifiable categories: those who aren’t there to buy anything, those who are there to buy something in particular; and those who are there to buy something, but don’t really know what yet. Obviously the hawkers’ favourites are the last, and truth be told it is they who will most enjoy a day in the Bazaar Quarter, provided they are not shy of attention and keep a certain amount of dillegence about them.
If that sounds like you, start at Beyazit Kapı at the top of the Grand Bazaar and slowly wind your way down hill in long lateral swoops, being sure to get thoroughly lost. That way you’ll pass through the maximum number of different areas both inside and outside the walls of the covered market itself, and by following the gradient downhill you will inevitably come to water and an exit, somewhere near Eminönü and the Galata Bridge.
For a more clinical approach, start at Nuru Osmaniye Caddesi and Kaşıf Gündoğdu’s Sofa, the sort of antiques shop that makes some museum collections lose their lustre, and Armaggan, a palace of an atelier which makes some luxury hotels look positively run down. Tucked in a side street is the chic Fes Cafe. Use their other place in the Grand Bazaar itself as a base for forays to Iznik Art for ceramics and Derviş for luxurious bathing supplies, which might put you in the mood for a good scrub at the nearby Çemberlitaş Hamam. Stock up on spices at the foot of the hill, not forgetting the famous Turkish coffee shop, and explore the back streets around Rüstem Pasha Mosque for any wooden kitchen utensils you could possibly need.
Three tram stops put you practically inside the bazaar: Eminönü for the Spice Bazaar, Çemberlitaş for the Nuruosmaniye gate to the Grand Bazaar, and Beyazit for the Grand Bazaar gate of the same name.
If you don’t spoil your appetite tasting lokum in the spice bazaar, dine at Pandeli. Choose between a view over the market itself or one out over the water. For some of the best fare from Southeast Turkey in Istanbul, visit Hamdi just around the corner. Before you actually enter call and reserve a table with a view on the top floor. Incredibly, it usually works.