Supermarkets may be making inroads into Turkey’s traditional network of street markets, but for some years to come visitors will still be able to shop from ad hoc stalls no matter where they are in the country. Almost everywhere still receives a visit from the street traders on at least one day a week, with the same retailers circulating around the different settlements that make up one particular part of the country day by day. In Cappadocia, for example, the week kicks off with a big market in Nevşehir, with the same traders moving on to Göreme on Wednesday, Avanos on Friday and Ürgüp on Saturday.

The markets listed below the more exciting ones, whether because they’re housed in historic buildings, sell interesting handicrafts, or are frequented by villagers in colorful costumes.

Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), İstanbul

The granddaddy of Turkey’s markets has to be İstanbul’s amazing Grand Bazaar which has been doing business in Beyazıt in the heart of the old city since 1461. The figures are staggering - - the bazaar is said to have more than 4,000 shops, 58 streets, and more than 25,000 visitors a day, as well as its own private network of mosques, banks, and restaurants. On a bad day when the crowds are dense and the attentions of the stallholders wearing, it’s easy to write it off as too touristy. The fact is, though, that it still plays a real part in İstanbul life, its jewelry shops still prime places to pick up the gold coins that are given as gifts for weddings and circumcisions.

To get the most out of the Grand Bazaar you need to come with a clear idea what it is you want to buy, and how much you’re prepared to pay for it. Set aside plenty of time, too, because the most interesting shops tend to be tucked away in the least obvious places. There are the Türkmen traders, for example, who retail felt flowers and costume dolls from down a back alley, and the man who sells individual pieces of jewelry reusing old beads from inside a tiny booth in the ancient Bedesten. The seemingly timeless Grand Bazaar also has its finger very much on the pulse of change. Last year’s must-have items, for example, were “quilted” carpets made by splicing together pieces from unsaleable old rugs.

Open: Daily except Sunday from 8am to 7.30pm

Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian or Spice Bazaar), İstanbul

Less overwhelming is the atmospheric, multi-domed Spice Market beside the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) in Eminönü, which has been standing here since 1660 when it was built to house goods brought into the city by camel trains from Egypt. Today the traditional spice stalls have those selling souvenirs snapping at their ankles, but if you want some apple tea to take home with you this is still the most enjoyable place to make the purchase. Locals shop not so much inside the bazaar as in the streets surrounding it. On the Yeni Cami side, stalls selling plants are interwoven with those selling animals and birds in not very salubrious conditions; you can even buy a leech here, should you so wish. On the other side, Tahtakale, which surrounds the Rüstem Paşa Cami, is the place to come for an incredible range of household goods and packaging, as well as to stock up on freshly ground coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, or cheese and cold meats from Namlı Şarkuteri.

Open: Daily except Sunday from 8.30am to 6pm

Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), Bursa

If İstanbul’s Grand Bazaar is too much for you, you might prefer the calmer atmosphere of its Bursa equivalent which stretches out from behind the Ulu Cami on the main road through the town center. Bursa is well known for its textiles, and this is one of the best places in the country to buy fluffy towels, thick bath-robes and a choice of wonderful fabrics. In what was once an old hamam you will also find a shop selling Karagöz shadow puppets alongside a variety of antiques. Silk scarves from the 15th-century Koza Han are another best buy.

Open: Daily except Sunday from 9am to 8pm

Tire Market

You need to plan more carefully to catch the market at Tire, near Selçuk. However, this is an extraordinary event that colonizes most of the streets of an old town center dotted with medieval mosques, hans and hamams. It’s a good place to buy fabrics, and you can sometimes pick up lovely old embroideries, albeit at scary prices. Your friends are more likely to ask you to bring them back doorstep-sized chunks of corn bread though.

Open: Tuesdays, from 9am to 6pm

Ayvacık Market

Usually seen as little more than a jumping-off point for getting to Assos, Ayvacık actually boasts a great Friday market which is worth exploring not just for the huge piles of immaculate fresh fruit and vegetables, but also for the costumes of local Türkmen women who come to shop wearing long satin overcoats and brightly-colored headscarves.

Open: Friday 9am to 5pm

Beypazarı Market

Just west of Ankara, Beypazarı has a lively weekend market which fills the old town’s picturesque cobbled main street. Women in brightly-printed cotton shawls come here to sell their jams and embroideries, although really the things to buy here all come flavored with carrot – carrot juice, carrot helva, you name it, they sell it.

Open: Saturday and Sunday 9am to 6pm

Göynük Market

West of Beypazarı, lovely under-visited Göynük has a fantastic Monday market which is attended by women from the surrounding villages, each with their own take on plaid şalvar. They come here to sell their home-made butter, cheese and yoghurt, and make an extraordinarily colorful sight.

Open: Monday 9am to 5pm

Antakya Market

Antakya’s wonderful market fills a sprawling area between the Ottoman quarter and the old bus station. As in Tire, the stalls ramble around a collection of old mosques and hamams, and they’re great places to stock up on local cheeses, especially the variety used to make künefe, a shredded pastry dessert. The most striking handicraft items are the colorful round straw trays which are used as outsize serving dishes here. They’re made by old women in the villages, which means they’re unlikely to be available for much longer.

Open: Daily from 9am to 6pm

Mardin Market

Lovers of handicrafts should hotfoot it straight to old Mardin in south-eastern Turkey where a wonderful market still takes place in the streets just below the main drag. In the narrow alleyways you’ll still see much of the produce being moved around by donkeys, perhaps the last place in Turkey where this is the case. Come here, too, to watch old men hand-making saddles or carefully carving the bench seats that are all the rage in local hotels. But the most famous and colorful handicraft items on sale are what are called camaltı (under glass) pictures of the Şahmaran, a local fertility symbol with the head of a woman and the body of a snake.

Open: Daily except Sunday from 8.30am to 6pm

Şanlıurfa Bazaar

One of the most atmospheric of all Turkey’s bazaars is in old Urfa where stalls still surround a network of ancient hans. This is a good place to shop for cheap clothing, although a more novel purchase might be a set of the beaded anklets used to decorate the much-loved local pigeons. Pass an hour or so in the plane-tree-shaded courtyard of the 16th-century Gümrük Hanı watching the local men play backgammon over endless glasses of tea and you could believe yourself back in the Middle Ages – except for the currently fashionable lilac-colored headscarves for both sexes!

Open: Daily except Sunday from 8.30am to 6pm




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