Istanbul Bazaar Survival Tips

So you’ve alighted from your first-time flight to Istanbul, Turkey, managed to locate your hotel and are ready to embrace all Istanbul has to offer.

And there is certainly a lot you can see an do in Istanbul, from the inspirational mosques such as the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and even the Topkapi Palace, if you have time.

I would certainly recommend mapping out your own Istanbul itinerary if you have more than a few days here, because there is so much to do.

But first, maybe you want to go shopping.  Here’s what you need to know before you even attempt to enter a bazaar.

Check opening times…

Or don’t, but have an alternative destination to go to if the Grand Bazaar is closed due to a Muslim holiday. Don’t bother popping in on Sundays.

Skip the Bazaar if You’re Tired

Pickpockets and bag slashers will spot you if you don’t have your wits about you, it’s that simple. They have been in the business for generations (probably), are desperate and know the territory much better than you, so try not to stand out. And leave your valuables somewhere safe; it’s best to bring a set amount of money you wish to spend anyway, believe me!

Accept the Haggling Reality
Watch out for passive-aggressive shopkeepers

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When you travel to Istanbul you can accept the reality of haggling or get ripped off and cursed at. Pazarlıkor bargaining is part of the culture in Turkey: it’s a conversation, a social interaction and a show of respect, so it’s best to learn it and come to shop with an open mind and a generous dash of extra patience. Keep a poker face, check prices for similar items at various stalls (or check the value with a local friend) and decide what the fair price would be for you to pay. When a shopkeeper enquires how much you’d like to pay, simply ask again what the price is, letting them start the process. Here’s the tricky bit: you shouldn’t go too low with your counter offer not to offend, that’s why you’ve checked out the competition before. Deflate the price as much as you deem the shopkeeper has inflated it, and soon enough you’ll both arrive at a happy (and hopefully fair) place for both parties.

Discounts and Fees

When buying a few items from one stall it’s definitely ok to ask for a discount. The bargained for price is normally a cash price, and credit card transactions do attract extra fees from the banks which the shopkeeper will pass on to you. On the other hand, even if you’ve spent two hours in a shop having coffee and baklava with the shopkeeper, do not feel obligated to buy anything. However, making an offer is considered a verbal contract, so please be sure before you do so, as changing your mind or withdrawing an offer would not be considered ok.

Your lips says “no”, but the tea says “yes”?

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A Few Words of Warning

It’s best to arrange your own shipping and not leave your purchase to be shipped home to you, especially if it’s on the expensive or unique side. Be careful before signing the tax refund form as well – it’s best to ask for a refund on the spot and not let the shopkeeper add the tax to be refunded at the airport, as sometimes the form you present at the airport actually may say that you’ve already received a refund…Also it is illegal to take items older than 200 years out of Turkey (i.e. antiques ok, antiquities not ok) and Turkish prisons are best avoided, so if in any doubt, move on!

Author – Patricia Bieszk+  – Freelance travel writer

Featured image: Wikipedia
Title image: flickr photo by e-showb

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