Istanbul has been a shopper's town for, well, centuries—the sprawling Grand Bazaar, open since 1461, could easily be called the world's oldest shopping mall—but this is not to say that the city is stuck in the past. Along with its colorful bazaars and outdoor markets, Istanbul also has a wide range of modern shopping options, from the enormous new malls that seem to be sprouting up everywhere to small independent boutiques. Either way, it's almost impossible to leave Istanbul without buying something and some say you haven't truly experienced the city until you take a whirl through the Grand Bazaar or Spice Bazaar. Whether you're looking for trinkets and souvenirs, kilims and carpets, brass and silverware, jewelry, leather goods, old books, prints, and maps, or furnishings and clothes (Turkish textiles are among the best in the world), you can find them in this city. Shopping in Istanbul also provides a snapshot of the city's contrasts and contradictions: migrants from rural Turkey haggle with tourists and sell their wares on the streets while wealthy shoppers browse the designer goods found in plush, upscale Western-style department stores.
İstiklal Caddesi is a pedestrian-only boulevard with everything from global brands like Levi's and big-name Turkish companies like Mavi to small bookshops and old-school shoe stores—though, sadly, increasingly high rent prices mean there are fewer and fewer independent local stores located on İstiklal these days. Down the hill from İstiklal, Çukurcuma Caddesi is home to a miscellany of antiques dealers carrying everything from small, Ottoman-era knickknacks to enormous antique marble tubs. Meanwhile, the character-filled Galata and Karaköy neighborhoods are becoming the places to find independent boutiques and intriguing shops selling clothing, jewelry, housewares, and objets d’art created by up-and-coming local designers.
The high-fashion district is the upscale Nişantaşı neighborhood, 1 km (½ mile) north of İstiklal Caddesi. This is where you'll find the boutiques of established Turkish fashion designers, such as Özlem Süer, Arzu Kaprol, and Atıl Kutoğlu, as well as the flagship stores of high-end international brands like Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton—though because of high import taxes and unfavorable exchange rates, these labels are usually considerably more expensive in Turkey than they are in the United States.
Istanbul is also a good place to buy jewelry, as Turkey has a long tradition of jewelry making, and many jewelers are skilled at working with both gold and silver. While local brands often tend to copy European designs in their collections, recently there has been a trend towards creating beautiful pieces with a local flavor, using traditional motifs or taking Ottoman-era charms and setting them in silver or gold. The jewelry sold in the Grand Bazaar and in high-end boutiques in Nişantaşı tends to be fairly classic and high quality; if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual or easier on the wallet, try the smaller-scale boutiques in Beyoğlu or Galata.