Here it is, as promised, the only guide you'll ever need as to how to haggle your way through crowded streets of Grand Bazaar.
First things first, let's talk a little about what Grand Bazaar stands for.
Located in the heart of the old city you can approach it by any of the 21 gates, although most people use the one at the main street which leads you directly to Hagia Sofia.
It was built in 1400s and today it stands proud with its more than 4000 shops. It's one of the largest covered markets in the world. (The crown goes to Bazaar of Tabriz in Iran)
I feel we all still call it a market because there's a lack of a different word for this phenomenon - it's a city within the actual city of Istanbul - you can find kilometers of streets filled with shops there, there are mosques, cafes, places to eat and banks. Everything there, from smells to visuals, dazzles the mind. And although I read and heard a lot of people calling it a 'tourist trap' and just not fascinating enough, it will be the single most-unique sight I'll remember Istanbul for.
What should you look for?
Are you a shoe person? Or a bag person? Or do you enjoy cooking? Or maybe you're a carpet collector? Or you love watches?
You'll find all that and beyond at Grand Bazaar.
From a domestic standpoint - spices can be found at a higher prices at Grand Bazaar than at the Spice (Egiptian) market located near the bridge connecting the mainland with the Taxim. But since spices are as much my thing as cars are, I'll let you decide on that one.
What I loved were the little vases, cups, mugs, cutlery and such, all unique, in vibrant colors and in decorated with every pattern imaginable. From what I've gathered, the prices don't differ that much from Ikea, so I'll give you a green light for this.
A few people bought carpets - these come in all sizes, from towel-sized to wall-sized. If you are not too picky and really want a medium-sized one for your living room/bedroom you can bargain your way to a 10-euro buy.
I fell madly in love with uniquely-shaped, voluminous lanterns. I think of the as some kind of symbol of Istanbul as they are widely popular and can be found in all the cafes and restaurants all over the city. But to cary one home would mean to have an extra suitcase filled only with bubble wrap so the lantern wouldn't break. And I needed that for my clothes.
(See, that's what I'm talking about, are you a lantern person or not?)
I think for next time I'll definitely be buying a coffee set, you can hardly find such beautiful ones anywhere else, and they'll be a huge hit among your friends. So, for those always having friends over, here's your bargain to score.
Now let's talk fashion - because that's what I know.
Please note that 90% of that you'll see at Grand Bazaar regarding any clothing item or accesorize is an absolute knock-off. (The other 10% is real. But it's also stolen)
If you still have set your mind on it, great for you. (That means you either really want to fool everyone, including yourself, and/or don't mind possibly being arrested) (Every joke's half true)
Fashion-wise, Grand Bazaar is a mecca. Everything you need you'll find there. Scarves. Shoes. I'm talking Louboutins. Well not Louboutins. Although I couldn't spot the difference even if I put the real shoe next to the Grand Bazaar version. Clothing items. Bags. You want the latest Celine luggage mini in a suede and leather version? Or just leather? What degree of quality would suit you? The exact replica or with minor flaws? See this yellow one? It's a flawed replica, you can inspect it. See? And look at this black and white one? Perfect, even the interior. To the last stitch. Or maybe you're a Mulberry girl? Which model? Alexa? Bayswater? Lily? Willow? We have it in pink, yes! You need a Louis Vuitton wallet with this? Oh no problem? Monogrammed? Would you like to see our selection of luggage from Vuitton as well? Yes, we do have it in black.
And so it goes...
What is it like?
The streets are crowded, you'll hear every language except maybe Russian spoken (I think Russian people just don't buy knock offs) and the shop owners are like hawks waiting to catch their next victim.
I have never seen better sellers than them. Their opening scheme is this: 'Where are you from?' after which they'll try to put their spell on you by actually conversing in your own language with you, while also mentioning either cities (Oh, Zaaaagreb!) (Or sometimes they'll miss by a few hundred miles but you'll smile anyway) or something that your country is famous for (Footballers, cuisine, sea). At that point their assistant will either show you three most popular models suited perfectly for you or they will continue the scharade by asking 'What is your favourite model?' or 'Which size the bag should be?' or 'Which label?' Ohhh well they have it in black and yellow and white. Just look. Then you look. You examine. At one point I told a seller the chain of the bag was not the same color as the real chain or the real bag, so he got his brand new iPhone out of his pocket, went on Net a porter's site and showed me the model. See, the same!
After a while you'll finally ask what's the price and then the real showtime begins.
In my opinion, the price sellers will tell you is between 25% and 50% higher than what they are prepared to sell it for. If you've told them your nationality, it can be even more. (Americans and Western Europeans are known as people who spend large sums, so they automatically double the price)
After the initial price offer, it is up to you to dial it down a notch. Mention how much money you have with you. 'Well, I cannot do 400, that is too much. All I have with me is 200.'
Next, if you find something irregular about the bag, like a scratch or a difference between the original item, take that to put it down a notch. 'You see this here?'
Also, smile. Be nice. Talk to them. Pay attention. Smile some more. Mention how they have the best stuff out of the whole market. Your friend will want to hear about this shop.
As much as they're selling you the item, you're as well selling them the price.
And if nothing works, see how low it goes, and suggest to come back tomorrow. It will show you're willing to buy. And when you do come back, smile some more.
Is it worth it?
Some people say haggling's just not their thing. I agree. Not everyone can be as persistent and as willing. You need to walk around, find the good stuff, be willing to talk to the sellers for hours even and be prepared to even than pay a little more than what you've imagined.
To me, haggling was just about fun. I never intended to buy anything there, but wanted to see how well I could manage it. And for me, it was exciting, new and I will always have the memory of haggling the price of the best knock off Celine I've ever seen from 400 euros to 150 in less than half an hour.
1) Look for elderly sellers, they are prone to bargain more. Some of the young sellers can be arrogant, while the elderly have a charisma. It's funnier. And sometimes much cheaper.
2) Don't be shy. Say hi to sellers, stop by the shops, ask about the prices, even if you don't intend to buy anything at that particular shop.
3) Do a tour around before you really start haggling. Compare the models and the prices. The quality.
4) If the sellers ask you to go to the back room with them - never say no. That's where they keep the best stuff.
5) Have fun!