If you are thinking of what souvenirs to buy in Turkey, get ready for masses of choice. Straddling Asia and Europe, Turkey's cultural heritage is rich and varied, with the Middle East and the Mediterranean influencing everything from fabric to food. One of the most attractive aspects of visiting Turkey is the chance to take a little slice of this heritage home. Any tourist will find something authentic to take-home, whether rummaging through boutique shops, looking for memorabilia, searching for one-of-a-kind crafts or hitting up the artisans' sector for a bit of Turkish creativity.
From pottery to magnets, postcards, sweets, ornaments, mugs, stationery, collectables, apparel, glassware, handicrafts and much more, souvenir shopping in Turkey is a delightful way to spend your cash. But if you are unsure where to start, here are our suggestions for when you buy souvenirs and where to find the items on sale.
Great Souvenirs to Buy in Turkey
1: Artisan Copper
In the Ottoman era, copper bowls, plates, cups, and utensils were everyday household items. Now, Turkey's bazaars, markets, and antique shops sell them as souvenirs. Some shops sell original, heavy copper pieces but most modern versions, made of thinner copper are inexpensive items with decent quality. Remember copper is poisonous, and items not covered with silver-coloured tin will be unsafe for serving food or cooking, so ask a tinner (kalayci) to apply a tin coating. For the best prices and selection in Istanbul, head to Cadircilar Caddesi, near the Grand Bazaar, to find everything from beautiful tea services to cute spice grinders for ideal gifts.
2: Nazar Bonjuk - Evil Eye
The Nazar Bonjuk is a good luck charm to ward off one person's envy casting a spell on another. For more than a thousand years, Turks carried the evil eye to look back at the spell-caster and protect its owner. Few people believe in the superstition now, but most Turkish homes have at least one evil eye watching over its inhabitants - and if a baby is born, relatives will pin one to their blanket. Handcrafted, blown glass charms come in all shapes and sizes. The pretty little trinkets make a great souvenir to take home and give to friends. Any souvenir store sells the evil eye in various assortments including novelty fridge magnet, bracelets, arts-and-crafts, postcard, keychains, and posters.
3: Woven Kilims, Rugs and Carpets
Turkish carpets and kilims receive admiration from all over the world. However, buyers need to be smart because some markets sell fake, machine-made copies. Although the quality is often good, they're not the real thing. When looking for the right carpet, visit a few stores to get an idea of the quality. Avoid buying while on a tour or touts because you will pay a high commission. Turkish carpets are a rarity. Locals spend months at this handicraft which involves weaving wool in and out to produce sturdy rugs for the home. The Anatolia region is mainly known for their excellence and motifs on carpets like the typical tulip reflecting ancient beliefs and traditions. Don't worry about fitting one in your suitcase because vendors will ship them for you.
4: Buy Quality Leather
The Turkish diet of lamb and mutton means there is plenty of leather in Turkey, including suede. Istanbul is the best place to pick up leather goods, but every large centre has handmade leather jackets, clothing, hats, gloves, bags, and wallets. As with buying carpets, do your research well, checking out several shops. In Istanbul, start at the Kurkculer Carsisi - the furrier's market - in the Grand Bazaar, then check out surrounding shops with lower rents, which means lower prices. Again, beware of touts and tours. Also consider something custom made, which will not cost much more than buying something off-the-rack. When buying leather, be sure to haggle like the locals so that you can pick up a bargain piece of clothing.
5: Stunning Jewellery
Turkey's bold items of jewellery, like delicate handcrafted silver and goldwork, stand out as exceptional. Grand Bazaar is the number one place to pick up reasonably priced gold and silver souvenirs. Head to Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, the east street lined with jewellery shops. The Spice Market now also has a few shops. When buying silver or gold, make sure the maker's hallmark is stamped onto the item, demonstrating its authenticity. Although Istanbul has the best variety of gold jewellery, any store in Turkey sells good quality gold, silver, and watches.
6: Clothing and Textiles
Turkey exports masses of textiles and supplies large fashion companies like Calvin Klein, Disney and XOXO with raw materials for their factories. Two top producing spots, Bursa and Pamukkale also host Turks heading here to buy luxurious towels and bathrobes. However, find fabrics and textiles sold everywhere in Istanbul, especially in the Grand Bazaar. Buy silks, cotton fabrics and all sorts of locally made textiles and finished items. Another option is to buy a set of towels and robes from a hammam. Turkish hammams use high-quality cotton towels, and sometimes sell them as elegant keepsakes.
7: Spicy Souvenirs from Turkey
The Turks could teach the rest of the world a thing or two about Turkish cuisine spices. At your local weekly market, and of course, in Istanbul, head to the Spice Bazaar for freshly ground spices, not the pre-packaged combos for travellers. Red pepper flakes (pul biber) a versatile, mildly spicy go great with savoury dishes; dry oregano (kekik) is fragrant with a bitter note, used to finish soups. Look for zahter, the wild oregano particular to Turkey; dry mint (nane), used for lentil soups and pilafs; cumin (kimyon), ideal in meatballs, legumes and hummus; sumac (sumak), a sweet-and-sour dried berry used to season salads, tomato dishes and red peppers; Urfa pepper (isot), a dark, chocolatey pepper used in savoury dishes; and nigella seeds (corek otu), sprinkled on pastry and added to cheeses. Read more about souvenir spices to buy in Turkey.
8: Ottoman Books and Prints
The Ottomans were expert - and extravagant - calligraphers, adding the dust from gemstones like sapphires, lapis lazuli and gold to their work. Miniature prints often represent the sultan and his family, depicting scenes from his everyday life - somewhat removed from the daily life most of us experience. Shops in Cukurcuma and Calipdede Caddesi sell items like old maps, books, prints, engravings, and lithographs. The best place is the Old Book market (Sahaflar Carsisi), located between the Grand Bazaar and the Beyazit Mosque.
9: Food: A Slice of Turkish Culture
Sticky Turkish delight, or lokum, makes an excellent gift for those back home. Made with dried fruit, nuts, syrup, and corn-starch, it is a global favourite. Find the original version in the shop Haci Bekir, where one story has the sweet treat originating from here. Turkey is also the world's largest hazelnuts producer and is among the world's top producers of dried fruits and nuts, including figs, apricots, and raisins. Turks refer to their favourite drink as black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love. Indeed Turkish coffee isn't like the western version. It is strong and velvety, with grounds left in the bottom of the cup. Not everyone likes it, but some tourists fall for it hard and haul ground coffee back home with them. Buy direct from small Turkish coffee vendors, who do their roasting, or buy pre-packaged. The most popular Turkish coffee brand is Mehmet Efendi, sold everywhere but avoid it at duty-free, where it is at its most expensive.
- The history behind Turkish coffee
- All about sweet Turkish delight and why you should try it
- Beginners guide to Turkish food customs and traditions
Beware of Antiques
Rummaging through Turkey's bazaars might yield some old treasures. But when looking at souvenirs to buy in Turkey, be aware it is illegal to buy, sell, or own antiquities - and authorities especially do not look kindly upon those who take them out of the country. This includes, but is not limited to, coins, icons, tiles and ceramics, paintings, statues, and sculptures. It is unlikely you will buy antiquity (more or less, an object older than two centuries) without knowing – they are usually costly. Reputable vendors issue certificates demonstrating if the item is antique and if it can be purchased, sold, and exported.
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