The Best Shopping in Istanbul Turkey

The Best Shopping in Istanbul Turkey

Shopping for Turkish souvenirs in Istanbul, Turkey can be fun, cheap, historic, and delicious. Street vendors, shopping malls and centuries-old markets sell treasures that will remind you of your travels. Whether it’s something fun, edible or just pretty, shopping in Istanbul is an adventure you won’t soon forget.

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The Best Shopping in Istanbul Turkey
VAT Tax Exemptions


Although Turkey is not a full member of the EU (European Union) they do have a European VAT (value added tax) rate of 18%. And as a foreigner, you are not required to pay that on many goods that will leave the country. Unfortunately, this does not include food or hotel. But, if you spend more than 118 TL ($19.24) in one shop you may be eligible for a VAT refund. Many people don’t know, don’t care or don’t take the time to collect their refund.

Here’s the kicker. It can be an ordeal to get the refund. You have to fill out paperwork, take that paperwork to customs and possibly wait for months to receive a check in the mail or credit card credit. As a result, millions of refundable sales taxes dollars are left behind in Turkey and throughout Europe every single year. Look for tax-free signs. If you are making a large purchase, this might be worth the effort. You’ll have to make that decision for yourself.


High-Pressure Sales Tactics


Shopping in Istanbul is amazing– if not pressure-packed. No matter where you go, you are bound to encounter some high-pressure sales pitches. And you will find a set number of new friends, brothers, and sisters as you walk through the streets and markets. Just stay calm, don’t get frustrated. Take it as a challenge to get the best deal possible. If you don’t want it, say thank you and move on. Most of the small stalls are a remnant of traveling caravans. And the only means to make a living in the competitive tourist business.

Small souvenir shops sell a range of delights for you, your friends and family back home. The choices are overwhelming. So I’ve put together this list of souvenirs to narrow your choices and some helpful hints on where to buy them.

Carry cash. While some shops take credit cards and foreign currency, you’ll get the best deal with the local currency which is Turkish Lira (TL).


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Apple Tea, Coffee & Tea Sets


Apple tea tops the list of travel souvenirs in Istanbul. However, Turks really drink black tea and coffee. And apple tea is considered a children’s drink. There is a Turkish saying about coffee. Turkish coffee should be as black as hell, strong as death and as sweet as love. Tulip shaped glasses, traditional copper cups, and tea sets also make great souvenirs.



Turkish Delights & Baklava

Sold in packaged boxes all over the city, Turkish Delight is cheap and easy to pack. But I love the softer, rolled Turkish delights best. The small jelly-like gummy candy comes in lots of flavors rose, pistachio and lemon are some of the popular flavors. Check out Hacir Bekir Efendi. It’s a family-owned business in Istanbul. Make sure you ask to try before you buy.


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Turkish Lamps & Lanterns


Shopping in Istanbul most likely includes the Grand Bazaar. Mosaic glass lamps hang from the ceilings of the lighting shops. They range in shape, color, and design. They certainly are pretty but ask the seller to wrap it up well so that it does not break in your luggage.



Evil Eye, Jewelry & Sun Catchers


By far, one of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Turkey is the evil eye, known as the Nazar Boncugu. Used to ward off bad luck, the ancient talisman, used every single day. You’ll see it on key rings, bracelets, badges, and trinkets.



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Handmade Rugs, Leather Bags & Linens


Do you have a hefty budget?  You might want to consider buying a traditional Turkish carpet. Hand-made pieces of art that can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, an influx of cheap, copycat versions from China flood the market. Don’t rush your purchase. Enlist the help of an expert if you are unsure. Conversely, Turkish letter is high-quality leather and easy to recognize. You can purchase jackets, handbags, and wallets.



Nargile Pipes (Hookahs)


I love my hookah, but it’s really just a pretty reminder of my last trip to Turkey. I look forward to getting another one I can use. Nargile pipes, also called hookahs can be found all over Istanbul. If you don’t want to buy one, but want to try smoking a hookah, check out a nargile cafe.


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Spices and Essential Oils


Spices and essential oils have a long history in Turkish homes and cuisine. And the best place to find spices and essential oils is undoubtedly Istanbul’s Mısır Carsısı, aka the Spice Bazaar. The Turks use Pul Biber (red chili flakes) in their soups and also sprinkle Sumac (dried and ground red berries) on their salads. You can use them at home and be transported back to Istanbul in an instant.



Lastly, ceramic bowls, plates, and vases showcased on shelves in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors stem from a craft that started in Turkey during the 8th century. Ceramics were made popular during Silk Road days. And the beautiful tiles decorate the floor, walls, and ceiling of the local mosques.


Safety First, Second and Always


Istanbul shopping can be overwhelming to many. And it has to be said that like anywhere else, there are some shady characters in the bazaars, markets, and street stalls. Kindly decline any offers that sound too good to be true or encourage you to ignore rules or guidelines. And if at any time you feel unsafe, flag down a zapita or marketplace police for assistance. 


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