As the world’s largest covered market, the Grand Bazaar is a spectacle to behold. An ancient architectural labyrinth that spans 61 streets, the bazaar is home to 4,000 shops and vendors sure to spark curiosity in every visitor. However, with so much going on under one roof, things can get a little confusing — but we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Istanbul’s greatest attraction.

Basics

  • Built: between 1455 and 1461
  • Location: Beyazıt Mahallesi, 34126, Istanbul
  • Currency: Turkish Lira
  • Daily Visitors: 250,000 – 400,000
  • Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Photo by Diana Kot

A Bit of History

Though bazaars have been around for thousands of years (the term simply means covered marketplace or, in some instances, a network of merchants and traders), none have cemented their place on the global stage quite like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. This mesmerizing market has been around since the 15th century, built shortly after the Ottoman Empire came into power, and it has only grown throughout the years. Due to the city’s location — centralized in a country straddling two continents, with access to a third — the bazaar quickly became the face of international trade and, at the time, the largest piece of Istanbul’s economic puzzle.

The bazaar has endured its fair share of hardship, with almost a dozen fires damaging its infrastructure and the brutalizing earthquake of 1894 taking its toll. But despite these setbacks, the market continued to thrive. Once a simple space with just a handful of rooms and shops, the Grand Bazaar now stands as a city within a city, complete with thousands of offerings — everything from jewelry and carpets to antiques and sweets.

Photo by Adem Baris

Getting There

Luckily, the Grand Bazaar is within walking distance of other popular Istanbul attractions like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Because of this central location, public transport is your best option in getting there, mainly the city’s tram system.

It’s also helpful to know that there are 21 different entrances to the bazaar, though you’ll most likely get in through one of the five main gates: Beyazıt Kapısı (accessed through Beyazıt Square), Çarşıkapı (near the Beyazıt tram stop), Nuruosmaniye Kapısı (by the Çemberlitaş tram stop), Örücüler Kapısı (toward the Eminönü tram stop), or Mahmut Paşa Kapısı. Other nearby tram stops that might be useful are Üniversite and Sirkeci.

No matter how you go about arriving at the market, though, once you’re in the vicinity, it’s hard to miss — so don’t stress too much!

Getting Around

As daunting as the bazaar may seem, navigating its narrow walkways and alleys is doable even for unexperienced travelers. There are plenty of informative signage that will keep you from getting lost, and you can also use this map — an invaluable resource. You’ll notice the market is separated by its types of goods, which makes a huge difference, especially if you’re headed there with a specific purchase in mind. Either way, an aimless stroll through the maze should be high on your to-do list if you’re wanting a chance to people watch and see how the locals live. And, if you find yourself temporarily lost, let that be part of the adventure!

Know Before You Go

Heading into the Grand Bazaar, you should make peace with the fact that you’re not going to see everything. Once you’re under its roof, your senses will be hard at work. There will be thousands of people; there will be bright lights and countless colors; there will be smells of spices, sweets, and perfumes — combined, these factors can be overwhelming. If after a few hours you’re feeling like you need a rest, that’s completely normal. But to help combat the sensory overload, visit early in the morning or later in the evening when the crowds are less chaotic.

Also, note that bartering is accepted here, so be patient when looking around. There will be plenty of vendors offering the same product, so there’s no harm in trying to get the best value for your money. And, speaking of money, a warning about pickpockets is unfortunately necessary. But as long as you keep your valuables secure, you won’t have to worry.

Finally, the market’s resources aren’t limited to consumer goods, as bank outlets, a visitor’s information center, and even a police station are found within these walls.

If you have any of your owns tips for visiting the Grand Bazaar, let us know in the comments below!

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications, most recently showcased through the co-founding of his former university's inaugural creative writing journal.