Having been a mercantile city for centuries, Istanbul takes its shopping seriously. A recent profusion of malls competes for buyers, alongside boisterous neighborhood markets where sellers bark out the price of wares to jostling crowds. Even the humblest street vendor brings an aesthetic flair to his trade, meticulously arranging the fresh cherries or cucumbers on his cart in rows or neat pyramids.
With a rich tradition of craftsmanship, especially in textiles, ceramics, glass and leather, there’s no shortage of potential purchases to remember your trip, from a blue “evil eye” trinket to a fine kilim, a style of rug. “Every kilim tells a story through the symbols woven into it,” says Arzu Güden, head concierge of Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus.
While the maze-like Grand Bazaar, often dubbed the world’s oldest mall, is Istanbul’s most famous shopping destination, the city’s colorful neighborhoods are chock-full of interesting items for browsers and buyers alike.
HIGH FASHION IN NIŞANTAŞI
Just west of Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, the leafy Nişantaşi district is one of the city’s most stylish—think New York’s Upper East Side—replete with chic sidewalk cafés, contemporary art galleries and society types. Glance upward at the Art Deco apartment buildings as you stroll nearby side streets, dotted with the tiny shops of tailors, cobblers and other local tradesmen.
Luxury brands line the main thoroughfare, Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, where international fashion houses like Prada and Louis Vuitton sit side-by-side with flagships of standard-bearers Vakko (best known for their boldly printed scarves and gourmet chocolates) and Beymen, a Nordstrom-style department store with local flair. On the same street, the eclectic jeweler, Kismet by Milka, has gained an international celebrity following, and concept shop Openhaus offers a platform for up-and-coming Turkish designers.
On the side streets, you’ll find hidden gems such as designer Gönül Paksoy’s richly colored and textured haute couture and ready-to-wear collections, which take inspiration from Turkey’s Ottoman past. Meanwhile, Rifat Özbek’s Yastik pillows incorporate centuries-old designs from Central Asia. Handmade plates, bowls and cups from Kulak Ceramic are also beautiful and relatively affordable.
Nişantaşi is also home to one of the many branches of Paşabahçe, a leading Turkish retailer of glass and ceramics, where you can pick up a good quality set of the ubiquitous tulip-shaped tea glasses. “Paşabahçe is a really good brand with designs ranging from Ottoman-influenced to contemporary,” says Conrad concierge Güden. For shoppers who prefer more literary souvenirs, Pandora Kitabevi has Istanbul’s best selection of English-language books by Turkish authors.
DISTINCTIVE DESIGN IN KARAKÖY AND GALATA
A short taxi ride away from Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, the former industrial area of Karaköy is now bursting with hip cafés, cocktail bars, street art and design shops. Palto Karaköy, which doubles as a café, is lined with displays showcasing different local artisans and their wares, ranging from concrete jewelry to olive-wood kitchen boards, from leather bags to quirky notebooks.
Tucked away down a flight of stairs, “lifestore” Mae Zae features a wide range of design items, including the proprietors’ own jewelry made in the on-site workshop. In the open-air Fransiz Geçidi (French Passageway), paper shop Kâğithane is full of playful notebooks, cards, calendars, gift wrap and other items that are quintessentially Istanbul.
Four galleries in the Juma Karaköy building offer a good glimpse into the local contemporary art scene. Mixer, on the basement level, specializes in originals and editions suited for a wide range of collector budgets. Across the way, the beautifully restored 16th-century Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamami has a small boutique with a fine selection of towels, wraps, bathrobes and other items associated with Turkish bath culture.
Cross the busy main road and follow Lüleci Hendek Caddesi as it wends up to the Galata neighborhood, stopping in at Hiç Crafts to browse colorful, modern ceramics by Santimetre Studio, lushly designed scarves by Rumisu and much more. Many cafés in the Galata neighborhood double as design shops.
BOHEMIAN BOUTIQUES IN KADIKÖY
For a shopping trip that’s a sightseeing excursion, too, Güden suggests strolling to Beşiktaş pier, where Istanbul’s classic ferries depart every half-hour for the Kadiköy district on the Asian side of the city. Grab a simit (a sesame-seed-studded bread ring) and a çay (tea) for the short but scenic ride across the Bosphorus Strait. “On the ferry ride, you might catch local students playing guitar or singing opera,” Güden says. If you’re lucky, you might spot dolphins swimming alongside the prow, too.
From the Kadiköy ferry pier, proceed to the neighborhood’s vibrant street market along Güneşli Bahçe Sokak, where beautifully arranged stalls sell fruits, vegetables, fish, pickles, olives, honey and preserves. Other edible treats are perfect for picture-taking, nibbling and picking up foodie gifts. (Many shops will vacuum-pack bulk goods upon request.) Nearby streets are dappled with shops selling olive oil soaps, vintage clothes, books, records and the works of young designers.
“Kadiköy is very local, very bohemian and not overpriced,” Güden says. “You’ll find lots of handicrafts, lots of antiques, lots of artists. I think it’s unique.”
Look for handmade leather bags at Agarapati, jewelry and accessories at Punta Design Store, housewares made from olive wood at Çiçek İşleri and ceramics at Bizon. But that’s just a start—in a city this dynamic, you never know what treasures you’ll find around the next corner.
Plan your next shopping excursion in Istanbul with a stay at Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus as your home base.