in the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a must-visit spectacle of glittering merchandise and thick crowds — which makes it a paradise for pickpockets. Here’s how to keep your money and valuables safe.
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A visit to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a must — though it can be a somewhat overwhelming experience. You will find it can be a joy or a nightmare, depending very much on your own attitude and preparations.
Let me start with a few statistics. The huge domed building covers:
- 60 streets, not counting numerous side alleys,
- 5,000 shops, stalls, cafes and restaurants,
- two mosques,
- one hamam,
- and an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 daily visitors.
These figures alone give you an idea of what to expect: an assault on all the senses, mounds of glittering gold, the scent of spices, dazzling artifacts, hand-made carpets, a wide variety of ceramics and lots of everyday items as well — because the Grand Bazaar is not only a tourist attraction, but also a shopping centre for locals.
Naturally, a crowded place like this, where money changes hands every second, is a paradise for pickpockets. The bazaar is heavily policed, which accounts for the rarity of bag snatching (where would the thieves run?), but pickpockets are rife. They have their nefarious “art” down to a T.
1. Don’t give pickpockets an opportunity
Although credit cards are accepted and you may want to pay for expensive items by using your card, trade in Turkey is very much a cash business. Cash also gives you better bargaining power, so do bring cash with you — but remember, this is the reason pickpockets thrive at the Grand Bazaar.
So, the question is how do pickpockets operate and how do you protect your cash, cards and valuables?
The overflow of merchandise, the noise and hustle and bustle are distracting. Pickpockets watch closely. You may bend down to taste a sliver of Turkish Delight or to touch an embroidered pillow, not noticing that your bag is still open from a previous purchase. And your wallet will be gone. Pickpockets also love razor blades. Money belts, even closed bags and trouser pockets, are no protection.
2. Hide larger sums of money
I visit often, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. We all carry nothing. Money and cards go into a pouch worn around the neck and under the clothing. The pouch only comes out inside a shop or stall, never in the alley. And it gets safely stowed away before we leave the shop.
I have a very small purse with a zipper, hardly bigger than the palm of my hand. In this I carry a few coins and rolled up bills to pay for some almonds, small purchases or a Turkish coffee in one of the colourful cafes. This allows me to avoid getting out the pouch hidden in my clothes, gives pickpockets the signal I am not carrying much money and if it is stolen, I haven’t lost a great deal.
So far, I have been lucky and, if you follow my advice, hopefully, you will be too.