Istanbul's Secondhand Book Bazaar: A Visitor's Guide
Updated: Jan 3
Istanbul, Turkey can be an exciting, if overwhelming city to visit, from the notoriously crazy drivers to the insistent sales people, to the general noise and hustle of a city of nearly 15.5 million people. It is massive, sprawling, and loud. It’s a place that keeps you on your toes, and rightly so, because it’s a hot spot for thefts and scams (keep that wallet close at all times!).
I was lucky enough to visit Turkey this year, and after days of visiting impressive churches and mosques, palaces, cisterns, and archaeological sites, I was ready for a touch of something quiet and slow-paced.
Enter: the Istanbul Secondhand Book Bazaar, also known as the Sahaflar Carsisi or Sahaflar Bazaar.
When most tourists go to Istanbul, visiting the world famous Grand Bazaar is at the top of their bucket list, and not without reason. The Grand Bazaar is both iconic and impressive and has been a part of Istanbul life since 1455, when Mehmed the Conquerer ordered its construction. It’s certainly worth a visit.
But why have I never heard anyone talk about the Second Hand Book Bazaar located literally next door to the Grand Bazaar? I was amazed when searching Google Maps to find it located in the corner of the Grand Bazaar, right beside the Beyazit Mosque.
Istanbul’s hidden book market ended up being one of the highlights of my time in the city. It's such a hidden gem that I feel compelled to let more traveling book lovers know about it.
So, here's what you need to know about visiting the Istanbul book bazaar.
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How old is Istanbul’s Secondhand Book Bazaar?
Located in the shadow of the Beyazit Mosque, the Second Hand Book Bazaar, or Sahaflar Carsisi, is one of the oldest markets in the city.
Though its exact location and function have changed a bit over the years, there has been a book and paper market roughly in this spot since Byzantine times (1400s).
During the Ottoman era, the book bazaar became an intellectual meeting place and also a site where books were published and distributed.
In the 1950s, the entire market had to be rebuilt after much of it was destroyed in a large fire. The book market you see today is virtually unchanged since the 1950s rebuild.
What to expect when you visit Istanbul’s Book Bazaar
Much like the Grand Bazaar and other markets in Istanbul, the Sahaflar Carsisi is made up of individual vendors in a series of stalls, each one selling a different selection of items.
At the Secondhand Book Bazaar you will find new, used, and antiquarian books not just in Turkish but also in English and French and sometimes other languages as well. You’ll also find antiquarian copies of the Quran and truly unique prints and excerpts from handwritten books on handmade paper, all for very reasonable prices.
The booksellers are unpushy and friendlier than any I met elsewhere in Istanbul. They are passionate about what they are selling and are very pleasant to chat with (I don’t speak Turkish, so I was limited to talking with the booksellers who spoke English). I got some great personalized recommendations on Turkish authors from one seller, who gave me a really good price for the three books I bought and even threw in some free simit, a common Turkish snack.
Overall, the atmosphere is relaxed and usually uncrowded (even if you don’t buy books, that’s reason enough to visit in my opinion!). It’s a place where you can browse books and antique book pages and prints at your leisure, without pressure to buy but perhaps some friendly conversation and recommendations along the way.
If you’re looking for where to buy books in Istanbul, or even just a retreat from the general commotion of this enormous city, definitely make the secondhand book bazaar a priority destination.
Tips for visiting Istanbul’s Sahaflar Carsisi
While most vendors will accept a card payment, they greatly prefer cash and are more likely to give you a good price if they know you have the cash to pay for it. Specifically, bring Turkish Lira, but as always, avoid carrying an excessive amount of cash with you anywhere in Istanbul. ATMs are abundant should you need to get more.
Expect to bargain — to a point
Bargaining is relatively standard in Istanbul, so expect prices to be flexible. That being said, the books and other souvenirs you’ll find at the secondhand book bazaar are already well-priced, and the shop owners aren’t as pushy or as in-your-face as other sellers at the bazaars. So work the price a little, and enjoy a more laid-back bargaining experience here than you’ll get anywhere else in Istanbul.
Watch your bags
While I felt safer in the secondhand book bazaar than perhaps anywhere else in Istanbul, it’s still a busy city known for theft, and you’re still a stone’s throw from one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. As always, keep your money safely secured in a zippered bag that you wear on your front, preferably in a cross-body bag to make it harder to snatch.
Know the hours
The bazaar is open 7 days a week, typically from 7:30 am - 7 pm, but it closes earlier on Sundays (5:30 pm). Also note that individual vendors may keep their own hours.
Come ready to converse
The Book Bazaar is not just a place to buy books but a place to exchange ideas. Many booksellers do speak some English, and with the help of Google translate, you can go a long way toward conversing with some of the many knowledgeable booksellers here.
This was one of the most enjoyable aspects of shopping here, hearing the opinions and guidance of the booksellers to learn what books they love, particularly from Turkish writers.
Souvenir shop here!
The Secondhand Book Bazaar is a great place to buy unique souvenirs in Istanbul. Rather than buying a mass-produced item of low quality, why not spend your money here finding unique treasures that you won’t find in your regular souvenir shop or even next door in the Grand Bazaar.
Look for the bust of Ibrahim Muteferrika
Toward one of the entrances to the book bazaar, you will find a bust of Ibrahim Muteferrika, the person who first brought publishing via a printing press to Turkey in 1732.
How to find Istanbul’s Second Hand Book Bazaar
The book market of Istanbul is located literally in the shadow of the Beyazit Mosque and on the corner of the Grand Bazaar. You can find an entrance on Çadırcılar Caddesi near the Grand Bazaar’s Beyazit Gate, numbered 7. It will appear on Google maps as well if you search for it.
Thanks for reading this guide to visiting Istanbul's book bazaar! What other book markets and bookstores are on your travel bucket list?
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