Travel Diaries

10 Places in Istanbul to Shop Outside the Grand Bazaar

by Meg Nesterov

No visit to Istanbul is complete without a trip to the mother of all tourist traps, the Grand Bazaar. However, locals are more likely to shop at the modern equivalent: the mall, of which Istanbul has many. In between, there are many neighborhoods with modern designer clothing and old-fashioned specialty shops. At these stores, no bargaining or hard sell is required, but service may still come with a glass of çay or two.

1. Çukurcuma

Behind bustling Istiklal Caddesi, Çukurcuma is a hodge-podge of winding streets, new hipster coffee shops, and old antique stores. Browse here for Ottoman-era furniture, vintage fashion, and busts of Atatürk, Turkey’s beloved founder. After treasure-hunting, be sure to check out the Museum of Innocence, based on Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s romantic novel of the same name.

Standout shop: Throughout the neighborhood, you’ll see signs for “The Works – Objects of Desire.” The prices there aren’t the lowest in town, but the collection is well-curated and the owner speaks excellent English.

2. Yeni Çarsi Caddesi

Turning left off Istiklal at the imposing Galatasaray high school, go down the hill towards the Bosphorus to find a smattering of modern and retro boutiques. Pick up a book of local history at Homer Books, a Batman comic in Turkish at Gon (an extension of the excellent Robinson Crusoe on Istiklal), or an Istanbultote bag at Cassette. The tulip statue at the bottom of the hill (turn left after Antijen) marks the start of Cezayir Sok (which means Algerian, but it’s known as the French street), a row of cafes and bars better noted for their atmosphere than food.

Standout shop: Otto carries fun party dresses and funkier shoes—think ballet flats with Little Prince illustrations—by Turkish and European designers.

3. Tophane

A number of art galleries and exhibition spaces have popped up along the hilly streets between trendy Cihangir and the cruise ship port. You can pick up a map at any gallery to follow the Tophane Art Walk and try to snap up a local piece of artwork. The arty gentrification is spreading into neighboring Karaköy, which is also home to some of the city’s coolest cafes like Julius Meinl and most mouthwatering baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu (ask to see their “Baracklava Obama” if it isn’t on display).

Standout shop: Pick up souvenirs like ceramic tea glasses and eclectic jewelry at the Istanbul Modern‘s gift shop, and make time for a drink on the restaurant’s terrace after taking in the collection.

4. Nişantaşı

Istanbul’s preferred address for high-end labels (it has some of the priciest retail space in the country) and old-school couture, Nişantaşı is where you come when you have somewhere fabulous to go, or just want to look like it. Men can get a custom suit made at department store Beymen or intimate tailor shop Yalçın Say & Refik Say (67 Vali Konağı), while ladies can try on hand-made high heels at NR-39 and party frocks at Dresscholic. Join the Turkish ladies-who-lunch at the original House Cafe on Atiye Sok, with a tucked-away garden and an extensive cocktail list (the other location next to the mosque on Teşvikiye is dry).

Standout shop: A few doors down from the CITY mall on Teşvikiye Caddesi, the Hak Pasaji is a low-pressure spot to browse jewelry and old-fashioned house slippers; head downstairs to see the incredible collection of Constantinople postcards and Ottoman portraits at Orlando Carlo Calumeno.

5. Galata

The street leading down from Istiklal is the place to buy musical instruments, while stylish designer and concept shops are starting to take over Serdar-i Ekrem street, such as Turkish nostalgic and home products at Lunapark, or tailored leather looks from Simay Bülbül. Save time for a coffee with a view of the Golden Horn at SALT gallery‘s restaurant or go full-on tourist with a sultan photo shoot at Giyçek.

Standout shop: Kagithane House of Paper has a covetable and clever collection of Istanbul notebooks, simit coasters, and çay saucer wrapping paper.

6. Akaretler, Beşiktaş

The historic row houses were originally built for the Dolmabahçe Palace staff and transformed into upmarket retail a few years ago. Anchored by the W Hotel, Akaretler has since evolved a fashionable spot for gallery-hopping and window-shopping after a glass of wine at Corvus Wine & Bite. The nearby fish market ensures freshness at the surrounding meyhanes, and you can catch a ferry from the pier over to the Asian side or along the Bosphorus.

Standout shop: If you’ve been wowed by any of Istanbul’s Ottoman-meets-modern designed cafes or hotels (see: House Cafe and Hotels), chances are they were created by Turkish designer team Autoban. They have a showroom here where you can bring home a piece of their style in the form of a chandelier or rocking chair.

7. Kadiköy

For the freshest and cheapest produce and fish, locals head to one of the city’s pazars (markets) on their designated day, or to Kadiköy any day of the week. Save some room after sampling street eats for lunch at Çiya, ice cream at the Moda pier, or beer at one of the bars on Kadife Sok (aka Bar Street). Prices tend to be cheaper than the European side, with no compromise on quality.

Standout shop: Restaurant, technically. You can easily spend a small fortune for decent Turkish wine, or you can head to Viktor Levi for well-priced house wines, traditional Turkish fare, and a pleasant garden.

8. Bebek

Well-heeled Istanbullu head up the Bosphorus to lovely Bebek (baby in Turkish) for tony restaurants like Managerie and one of the world’s most beautiful Starbucks, with four floors of stunning views and outdoor seating. Foodies will find plenty to take home (or eat on the cab rade back) like olive oils at Laleli, meats and cheeses at Santral Şarküteri, and marzipan at Meşhur Bebek Badem Ezmesi. Sweet-toothed Turks love the French macarons at Baylan, but if you’re a purist, Parisian Laduree has a branch here as well.

Standout shop: The cheekily-named Midnight Express sells classic and trendy clothing as well as luxury textiles and candles from Haremlique.

9. Bağdat Caddesi

The Asian side’s answer to Istiklal Caddesi (but with one-way traffic going through), Bağdat is miles of upscale places to eat and spend. The range of international retail outlets feel almost American, but the serious çay-drinking and people-watching on the weekends is pure Istanbul.

Standout shop: Turkish luxury label Vakko has branches throughout Turkey, but the Suadiye location is housed in a beautiful historic building, wrapped up like a present for the holidays in December.

10. Kanyon

You may not consider a mall to be a sophisticated destination, but Kanyon‘s open-air Guggenheim-esque design sets it above the typical shopping center. Here you’ll find international favorites like Harvey Nichols and Mandarina Duck luggage, as well as Turkish chains like Chakra for lush towels and the house line of crisp white shirts at Bilstore. The eateries like Kitchenette and Num Num are more power lunch than food court.

Standout shop: Nearly every glass in Turkey has a P on the bottom for Paşabahçe. They have two shops at Kanyon: one for everyday items like çay glasses and evil eye charms, and a second with museum-quality mosaic vases and ornate decorative plates.