It is quite a different experience to shop in Turkey. I am surprised that Istanbul has not obtained a shopping city status such as NYC since there are so many shopping centres and markets.
The experience from the beginning is different. What stood out was the level of security at shopping centres. Your car boot is checked by a security guard before you enter the car park and when you enter the main doors, you walk through a scanner similar to what you see in an airport. It is strange at first because you wonder why it is necessary and aftertime it seems quite pointless.
The Turkish culture of welcoming strangers is present while shopping as you are greeted with ‘hosgeldiniz’ (welcome) when you enter a shop. Istanbul is known for its oriental shopping markets but less known for its modern shopping malls. These are the places where you can avoid all that haggling. The main issue is that such shops aren’t usually in the areas where tourists go, so you need to know where to go and plan in advance.
Firstly before you know about the shopping centres/areas, know some of the Turkish brands. If you are going to shop in Istanbul don’t limit yourself to the known western brands. Turkish designers are just as good.
High budget/designer labels – Vakko, Beymen, Pasabahce
Mid budget – Mavi Jeans, Koton, adL
Low budget – De facto, Lc Waikiki
There are two areas which I will state firstly because they are not shopping centres but they are the location of many good shops. Bagdat caddesi is located on the asian side of Istanbul and it really does have a different vibe. It is the only place in Istanbul where I have seen Topshop. You will find many Turkish shops here but also many western shops from Zara to Louis Vuitton. If you are staying on the asian side its a must to visit here not even for shopping but for the cafe’s.
The second area is Abdi Ipekci Street, in Nisantasi. This is a street of luxury brands. Not for the shopper on a budget, it hosts shops such as Prada, Cartier, Chanel and Burberry.
Now onto the shopping centres. Wherever you stay in Istanbul you will be near one but they aren’t all alike. Istanbul is so vast and expands way beyond what most tourists get to see such as the sultanahmet area. It is important to plan ahead and know which are for you.
Akmerkez – located in Etiler. It is a complex of shopping centres and private residences like a lot of shopping centres in Turkey. This makes the most of land in a city which is running out of land to build on. Of course this has come at a social cost and causes concern amongst many groups in society. It is mostly expensive and is located in an expensive neighbourhood. There is a lot of hype surrounding this shopping centre which I personally don’t understand. It has a mix of shops but unless you can afford to splash I would go elsewhere.
Istinye Park – I find this is really the perfect combination of high priced stores and low priced stores. I love the whole design and architecture of the centre. Outside the shopping centre there is an area with the designer shops like Louis Vuitton. Inside you will find everything from Mavi Jeans to H&M. The only disadvantage is that it is quite far being in the north of Istanbul in an area called Sariyer. Yet it does have a metro link nearby so if you are in an area where the metro is then it is really useful. Avoid the busy hours of commuting though because Istanbul is hectic at those times.
Kanyon – I have never been but it is known for its architecture. The name kanyon comes from the English for canyon due to its architectural design. It is located in the Levent area.
Forum Istanbul – I love this shopping centre. It is big and is host to many shops. The design inside feels airy but because it is so big everything seems a bit confusing at first with all the turns and different levels. It is great for transport as the metro leaves you outside. If you want to visit IKEA it is just located across from the centre.
Marmara Forum – probably my favourite mainly because I go there a lot. It is one of the biggest. I read before that it is also host to the largest Carrefour in Europe and I don’t think it has changed since. This shopping centre is located in Bakirkoy near Merter.
Olivium – this one is for the bargain hunters. It is an outlet centre and has great reductions on last seasons wear. You will find Turkish brand shops as well as western shops like Mango and Nike. A lot of tourists seem to go there and there is a currency exchange inside the centre. It is located in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul.
Fly Inn – I have such good memories of Fly Inn because I often go there with my partner . It is so great because not only can you do some shopping but you have a great view of the airport. Shopping wise it is small but there are good shops like nine west and marks and spencers. There are cafes you can sit in which gives you a view of the runway. Be warned though that when the plane takes off, its noisy and you have to stop your conversation for a minute. Lovely place for an afternoon lunch break. It is located in Yesilkoy right next to the airport! It is a bit tricky by transport since it is on the other side of the airport where the metro doesn’t go. Best to go by bus.
Galleria – it is one of the older shopping centres but also one of the first big shopping centres so it is an important part of the history of shopping centres in Istanbul. It is a sophisticated mall and inside the layout is spacious. This centre is host to mostly Turkish brands and the few foreign brands are on the high scale of budgets like Armani Jeans. It is located in Atakoy beside the Sheraton hotel and near the seaside so it is worthwhile staying in this area.
There are other great shopping centres too like Capacity in Bakirkoy. Bakirkoy in itself is a hub for shopping centres. The Levent area is so urbanised that there seems to be a shopping centre every few feet. Be aware that a lot of skyscrapers contain shopping centres on their ground floors but they are extensive like other shopping centres.
One thing about the shopping centres in Turkey is that they are open to late. Most people from Europe will probably be used to seeing shops close on the weekdays at 7. Not in Istanbul. Shops generally stay open until 10 and sometimes 11. Of course it is good for us but hard for the workers. On the weekend Turkish people love to go to shopping centres so if you have no patience for crowds plan accordingly. The best time to go is on a weekday in the early afternoon so that way you avoid morning and evening traffic. Of course if you don’t need to use public transport or a taxi then you are more flexible in your times. Keep in mind every year in the summer there is an Istanbul Shopping Fest which is a big sale season. Great for the shopaholics. Other important sale seasons are generally after ramadan and after eid ul adha (known as kurban bayrami in Turkey).
I will write a separate post for the markets in Turkey because that is a whole different shopping experience.