Istanbul has a long and rich history as a great trading city that spans many centuries from when the city was known as Byzantium and later Constantinople. Istanbul is a city that has many different influences so it is a great place for finding all sorts of exotic food and handicrafts. There are numerous colorful shops and bazaars to explore. The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsil) is one of the oldest covered markets in the world with 61 streets and 4,000 shops and stalls with so many tempting things including gold, silver, ceramics etc. Gold doesn’t seem particularly cheap, but this is because it is a higher carat than in European jewelry. Anything you would like to buy in the market is worth haggling for!
Sultanahmet, the Spice Market, Istiklal Caddesi, and Taksim Square are all great hunting grounds too! The Mall of Istanbul has an impressive selection of upmarket shops, whilst Galata Tower has some interesting trendy art galleries and craft shops. If you don’t have time for shopping, a bottle of Raki – the popular anise-flavored drink – is always a fun gift and souvenir and if you are traveling with cabin baggage only, you can plan to pick one up at the airport! Without further ado, here’s presenting the top 10 souvenirs to buy in Istanbul.
1. Choose a pretty hand painted Iznik plate
This attractive style of pottery evolved in the 16th century and is instantly recognizable by its rich colors and elaborate designs. Many of the plates are decorated with intricate geometric patterns and flowers – especially tulips. The technique used to create the design is time-consuming as the pattern is slowly built up in layers – the colors are applied in turn and then fired before the next color is added. Plates of all sizes are widely available.
2. Get ready to play Tavla (backgammon)
Backgammon is definitely the national game and men can be found playing it in coffee shops and on stools perched in alleyways. There are backgammon sets available to suit every budget and if you are short of space in your case, there are travel versions too! The sets are made in a variety of woods and some of the more elaborate ones are decorated with inlays of different woods, mosaics, and mother-of-pearl. Apart from being fun to play, a backgammon board in your home will be a conversation piece.
3. Enjoy the taste of lokum
Turkish Delight is the most well known of all the Turkish sweets and whilst you can just simply pick up a box to buy, it is far more fun to go into one of the little manufacturers to taste some too – Kosha is a popular chain in the city that is regarded as the best! It is possible to taste a few different flavors and then buy a mixed selection! There are all types of flavors with rosewater being the classic one and some really tasty varieties made with different nuts. Haci Bekar in Eminonu is the family shop that was once owned by the man who made the first lokum for the Ottoman Sultan and his family has continued the tradition.
Another tasty sweet to try is pismaniye which is very similar to candy floss but cut in easy manageable pieces!
4. Buy a stylish Nargile
Even if you are not a smoker, the stylish nargile (aka sheesah, hookah or hubble bubble pipes) make a lovely room decoration! The nargile has a colored glass pot at the bottom, colored hoses, and a pipe and comes in a variety of sizes – and prices, depending on how intricately it has been decorated. Interestingly, Nargiles are enjoying a renaissance and can be found in various coffee houses and bars where customers can choose which fruit or flowers they would like to smoke.
5. Create your own hammam at home
If you have enjoyed the relaxing experience of a hammam, it is a lovely idea to recreate the feeling at home! Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamami is a specialist shop where you can find gorgeous thick 100% cotton bath towels, as well as Pestamal – the thin hand made towels used in the hammams. There are wooden clogs, scrubbing mitts and soap dishes too. The lovely handmade soaps are made with olive oil and rosewater, oregano and many other herbs and feel very luxurious on your skin.
6. Treat yourself to a stylish pashmina
The beautiful mohair shawls are made from 100% hand-spun goats hair in a variety of colors and they can cost as little as 15 Turkish dollars; they make great gifts. Apart from using them as a cozy layer over your winter coat, they can be used as stylish decorations for sofas and beds.
7. Feel the softness of the leather products
Turkey makes really good leather products and there are a number of tanneries in Istanbul. Leather is on sale everywhere and the range includes belts, bags, wallets, and purses.
8. Fill your case with spices
The colorful Spice Market is fun to visit and there are some wonderful spices to buy including sumac, paprika, and allspice which can all be bought fresh and is packaged on the spot. If you want a very special spice set, the copper sets are particularly attractive.
9. Try resisting the Baklava
Baklava is the most delicious sweet pastry that can be found in much of the Middle East. It is made with layers of honey-soaked phyllo pastry that is flavored with rose water and has various chopped nuts between each layer. A small tray of Baklava is the perfect memento of your time spent in the city. There are two bakeries that are held in high esteem as far as Baklava is concerned and these are Gulluglu Karakoy and Dedeoglu Beyazik (in Gedik Pasa St).
10. Buy some Turkish tea
There are a couple of tea specialists in the city selling black Turkish tea which is served with plenty of sugar! They also sell apple tea which is extremely popular with visitors as are the beautiful Turkish tea cups which are made of glass and are tulip-shaped.