A repository of treasure and trinkets, the 570-year-old Grand Bazaar is Istanbul's greatest calling card. Istanbul resident Ozgu Alnitemiz is the Celestyal Cruises country manager (Turkey), and shares his tricks on negotiating its labyrinthine streets. In 2020, Celestyal's new Eclectic Aegean route adds Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar to its classic Greek Islands itinerary, celestyalcruises.com
This historic building – Kapalı Carşı in Turkish – has more than 4000 shops under 15 domes, and eight main doors. When you enter the Nuriosmaniye Gate, beside the Nuri Osmaniye mosque, the first shop on the left is Number 1, the first shop on the right is Number 2, so the shops on the left are odd numbers, while shops on the right are even numbers. You can track these numbers to avoid getting lost.
Open between 8.30am and 7pm, the bazaar is busy at all hours of the day, but less so in in the early hours, when the tour groups are visiting the historical sites – they usually visit the bazaar later in the day, after 3pm. The bazaar is closed on Sundays, which makes Saturdays the busiest day of the week.
You can find peace in the bazaar's hans, which are courtyards traditionally dedicated to one craft; I recommend 'Kucuk Valide Han' and 'Buyuk Valide Han, built in 1651, while Zincinli Han, with its marble fountain, is regarded as the most authentic han in the Grand Bazaar.
Gramofon Baba (Gramophone Dad) is a store that absolutely must be kept alive: Mr Mehmet is the last gramophone repairman in İstanbul and it's the most admirable place in Grand Bazaar (Lütfullah Sokak, No. 16, G). Sağtan is where Mr Hayrullah makes jewelleries for movies such as Troya, The Other Boleyn Girl and Magnificent Suleyman. It's difficult to find, but it's an oasis for the enthusiast, (No. 25/3 in the Astarcı Han). Handmade Turkish carpets are the most memorable gifts from Turkey, but be very careful as generally there are no price tags and not so serious shops may give random prices after looking at your shoes or watch.
Be sure to take a coffee break; Şark Kahvesi (literally, 'Orient Coffeehouse') is the most authentic café in the bazaar, and serves Turkish coffee, of course (Nuruosmaniye No. 75-77). You should also taste Şahin Usta's döner (beside the Kılıçlar entrance), the meatballs in famous Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Divan Yolu St, No. 12), and for kebabs, I suggest Sura Kebap (Divan Yolu St, No. 45).