Istanbul: the ultimate souvenir guide Nahil, Istanbul

Istanbul: the ultimate souvenir guide

Many visitors to Istanbul never make it past the grand bazaar, but look further afield and you will discover and realm of treasures.

No trip to Istanbul is complete without picking up a memento to remember your time in the city. But with entire bazaars dedicated to selling souvenirs, you can be overwhelmed with choice, and the competing vendors can making shopping feel more like going into battle. The stores listed below don’t just deliver high-quality goods, they also offer you a more personalised and laid-back shopping experience.

Handicrafts: Nahıl

Located off Istiklal Caddesi on a small side street, Nahıl is not your typical souvenir shop. This tranquil shop (no sellers shouting in nonsensical English to get your attention) is the commercial enterprise of the Foundation of the Support of Women’s Work (Kadın Emeğini Değerlendirme Vakfı, or KEDV), a non-profit organisation that focuses on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship; the majority of the artisanal goods on sale are handmade by Turkish women.

While some of the handicrafts feel a bit dated, the Turkish bath towels (peştemal) are soft and simply decorated with white and coloured stripes. Paired with a bar of homemade olive soap, it’s a perfect reminder of your trip to a traditional Turkish bath. Not to mention, you have the added benefit of knowing that you’re supporting local artisans.

Rugs: Hazal Kilim

Hazal-Kilim-2Hazal Kilim

The thought of purchasing a rug in Istanbul can seem daunting - between the touts in Sultanahmet and the multitude of shops in the Grand Bazaar, it’s hard to know whom you should trust. The trick is to go beyond the Golden Horn and make your way to Hazal Kilim in Ortaköy, a neighbourhood further up on the Bosphorus, where you’ll have a much more relaxed and pleasant buying experience.

Here, Engin will listen as you explain what you’re interested in and guide you through the process of selecting a rug or pillowcase that best fits your needs and taste. She’s a calming presence and you’ll never feel rushed or pressured to buy. Plus, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of their stock and an impeccable sense of style (she designs and makes a majority of the pillowcases for sale), Engin is sure to find just the right piece for you. There may be some negotiation involved, but her prices are fair and she’ll happily explain why a piece is priced a certain way.

Jewellery: Seyahan Jewellery

Seyahan-MainSeyahan Jewellery

Jewellery in Turkey can at first glance seem to be all gold and evil eyes, especially if your only jewellery-buying experience has been a walk through the Grand Bazaar. But the country’s regional variety in terms of food, dress and customs also extends to jewellery. Seyahan Jewellery, with stores in Galata and off Taksim Caddesi, works directly with artisans from several regions in Turkey to offer distinctive pieces that are made according to local practice and materials.

The intricate mother-of-pearl (sedef) jewellery, which is handcrafted by a specialist in Çanakkale who has worked in mother-of-pearl restoration for twenty-five years, is particularly exquisite. Their shops almost always have a knowledgeable English speaker on hand who can explain the different types of jewellery and answer any questions you may have.

Miscellaneous: IKSV Design Shop

Crazy-Composers-CoastersCrazy Composers Coasters, avaiable at IKSV Design Shop

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İstanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfı, or IKSV) is the driving force behind the Istanbul arts scene, organising events such as the Istanbul Jazz Festival and the Istanbul Biennial. It’s no wonder, then, that their design shop (IKSV Tasarım) produces objects for your home, stationery goods, accessories and jewellery of the highest quality that marry function and design.

Much of what they produce is inspired by the events they put on; “Mom, am I barbarian?” t-shirts and cloth bags could be seen all over Istanbul after the 2013 Istanbul Biennial of the same name. Some of their collections take their inspiration from famous Turkish artists. The use of motifs and images created by Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu and others of his ilk on notebooks and mugs allows you to integrate a piece of the city into your everyday life.

1 Hazal Kilim
2 Nahıl
3 Seyahan Istiklal
4 Seyahan Galata
5 IKSV Design Shop