There are 5,500-odd vendors in the Grand Bazaar. Shopkeepers cajole and entreat passers-by in a dozen languages, determined not to permit visitors to indulge in such a non-commercial activity as sightseeing. Remember, you're not dealing with sales clerks but most likely the owners themselves, or at least a trusted brother or nephew. Many still pay their rent in gold - a hefty seven kilos per year for shops on the main avenue.
Fortunately, the perception that hardcore hustling is bad for long-term trade has finally started to sink in among the bazaar traders. Visitors will find the Grand Bazaar a kinder, gentler place than it was years ago. But even the sagacious Mehmed the Conqueror, who founded the covered bazaar in the 1460s, would have been surprised by the plasma screens overhead in the bazaar's 65 alleys.
Serious shoppers should come armed with a notepad, a calculator for working out exchange rates and plenty of time - three hours is about the minimum needed for a purchasing expedition here. When you find something you like, jot down the price and the location of the seller. Then find the item elsewhere and get more quotes. Continue for as long as you have the patience.
Don't assume that wildly varying prices for the same item means the higher price you're quoted is a rip-off. Shopkeepers price their goods according to their needs. You may be lucky: someone may require ready cash to pay overheads or buy new stock and will be happy to settle for a quick, cheap sale. Also, it's not true that large, sleek shops in busy central locations always charge more. Even though they pay higher rents, higher turnover often allows them to lower prices.
When bargaining, start somewhere well below your ideal price, because the shop owner will start well above his. Hopefully, you can meet in the middle. Remember that it's considered bad form to enter into an elaborate bargaining process if you're not really interested in buying.
WHERE TO BUY WHAT
There are over a dozen main gates into the Grand Bazaar. At least five of them open on to Kalpakçılar Caddesi, an opulent east-west thoroughfare lined with gleaming jewellery shops. On this street, you'll also find Pako (at No.87), the place for some of the city's best handbags and purses.
South of Kalpakçılar is the Kürkcüler Çarşısı, filled with leather jackets and coats. It's also where you'll find Yörük, a good carpet shop, located at the base of some steps leading up and out of the bazaar.
For more carpets visit the Rabia Hanı at the eastern end of Kürkcüler Çarşısı. Tradition at No.11 is another well-stocked and hassle-free option.
Running north from Kalpakçılar Caddesi, Kolonçılar Sokak is lined with shops that peddle a typical mix of souvenirs, ceramics, tea sets, silks, water pipes, chess sets and carved wood. It crosses Keseciler Caddesi (location of the quality rural crafts shop Derviş) before making a beeline for the ancient heart of the bazaar, the Old Bedesten. (Check out the Byzantine eagle carved into the stone on the outside face of its eastern entrance.) In here, the atmosphere is hushed, almost scholarly - a suitable setting for dealers in Ottoman-era prayer beads, icons, chess sets, firearms, pocket watches, painted miniatures, snuff boxes and Soviet memorabilia and art nouveau jewellery.
On the north side of the Bedesten is Halıcılar Caddesi, no longer 'the Street of the Carpet Sellers', but instead the front line of gentrification, with quaint Café Fes and Café Sultan selling Illy coffee and fresh flowers, plus Abdulla, which uses chic packaging to shift traditional products.
West along Halıcılar are some more alternatives to carpets, notably at Galeri Apollo (No.22-6), a shop stocked with silky soft goat-hair rugs and calf-skin hides, hand-stitched into patchwork designs.
Halıcılar connects to Yaĸlıkçılar Sokaĸı, a long, wide, street running north-south and the place for bellydancing costumes, incredible fabrics, lamps, knitwear and more unnecessary souvenirs.
Off Yaĸlıkcılar is the tranquil Cebeci Hanı and, beyond, the Iç Cebeci, where a large open courtyard is ringed by a second floor, lined with antique and metalwork shops, plus a few places selling fabulous Central Asian fabrics and garments.
To visit the most beautiful han in the bazaar, head east from Yaĸlıkcılar along Perdahçılar Sokaĸı; at the end follow the signs for Zincirli Hanı, the lair of the Grand Bazaar's most famous carpet dealer, Sisko Osman.
FOOD & DRINK
Outside the southern entrance to the Old Bedesten are Julia's Kitchen (Keseciler Caddesi 92), a great breakfast stop, and Köşk (Keseciler Caddesi 98-100), which serves traditional sulu yemek ('home-cooked dishes'), served up from bains-marie. Şark Kahvesi, at the corner of Yaĸlıkçılar and Fesciler Caddesi, is an old-style coffee-house decorated with wonderful pictures of old fellows on flying carpets. The courtyard of the Iç Cebeci Hanı has an excellent kebab shop and a tea house where off-duty merchants spend a serious amount of time over games of cards. Havuzlu Lokantasi (Gani Çelebi Sokak 3) is a basic, old fashioned joint that does fine kebabs. Remember that all cafés and restaurants in the bazaar shut by 6.30pm.