The Holiday Guide: Great Gift Ideas from Istanbul & Turkey
Giving each other gifts and small tokens of appreciation is a time old tradition, especially during festivals, the winter/holiday season and special celebrations such as Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s. Check out our article to the holidays in Istanbul! If you’re in the city during this time and want to take home gifts from the city, then read on to find out what you can find to take home for your loved ones. Buy something unique and cultural souvenirs or presents for your friends and family.
Tourism is a big draw for the country and in some of the most popular places you won’t have any trouble finding a few unique gifts you can take home for yourself and your loved ones. These especially include magnets of various cities or historical sites such as Maiden’s Tower or the Galata Tower.
You can take back such as beautifully decorated ceramic bowls in various sizes, coffee making pots, Nazar boncuk magnets and keychains, traditional and modern scarves and shawls and natural soaps. Wander around Eminönü near the New Mosque before entering the Egyptian Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar! Check out our guide on these markets and more in our article on the best bazaars /markets in the city!
Furthermore, there’s also, Nargile or a hookah/shisha smoking instrument in beautiful colours and designs, such as those below, can be found at the Grand Bazaar. There’s a colourful history of the Nargile going back to the 17th century and Ottoman Turkey.
We’ve gathered the 10 best gifts you can take home from your trip to Istanbul. Here’s the ultimate gift and souvenir guide for all your gift-giving needs. Let’s check it out!
1. Turkish Kilims
A beautiful kilim is a great gift or souvenir you can take from your trip to the city. Some shopowners even arrange to have it air-mailed to your home address so do ask. And, don’t forget to bargain or take a Turkish friend along to help with the process!
Geometric patterns, designs and motifs in beautiful colours is a great reminder of the history of the land – as some motifs and designs have meanings attached to them. Today, a lively tradition of Kilim-weaving exists in the country, especially passed down by women, going back thousands of years. If you’re interested, visit the Carpet Musuem near Sultanahmet and learn more about this ancient craft! Check out our article on the must-see museums in the city!
2. Turkish Desserts
Turkish delight or Lokum, baklava or Tahini helva all come to mind when one thinks of Turkish desserts. These and some other interesting desserts when packed in your suitcase can be amazing gifts for your sweet-tooth.
Lokum come in some amazing flavours such as rosewater, mastic and peppermint, but you can also find them with pistachios, hazelnuts or apricots and powdered sugar on top. Hacı Bekir — he’s the inventor of this dessert — and his family still operates the small original shop called Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Lokumları in Fatih, very close to the Egyptian Bazaar. Try some of the lesser-known lokum flavours here.
On the other hand, tahini helva is a sweet dish of sesame seed paste, sugar or honey and flour and oil. Homemade versions are prepared in small terracotta ramekins and baked in the oven. Most supermarkets also sell it. However, you can also find it in popular confectionaries such as Koska in Taksim.
You can find more info in our article on the top 10 desserts here.
Books, especially ones with stories and photographs of the city are in our humble opinion some of the best souvenirs and gifts that you can give yourself, let alone your loved ones! Some you can collect in the native language but there are also a few who write in English! So check out some or all of Istanbul’s top 10 unmissable bookstores and browse and grab a few of the following recommendations! You can alternatively try some of the most common bookshops such as D&R or Remzi, for instance.
For instance, if you love photography, then world famous photojournalist Ara Güler’s Istanbul coffee table books with black and white photographs are an excellent addition to your suitcase. Ara Güler is Turkey’s only internationally known photographer. He’s known for his photographs of Istanbul (and Anatolia and much more) and hence he’s known as “the Eye of Istanbul“. A unique photographic record of life in this dazzling city, his photos will transport you back to the smells and sights of Istanbul! If you’ve got time, then do visit Ara’s Cafe or his Museum in Bomontiada.
Other writers such as Turkey’s only Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar, Elif Shafak, Kaya Genç, Sabahattin Ali, Yaşar Kemal, Bilge Karasu, Ece Temelkuran and Ayşe Kulin also offer some amazing insights into their country’s culture, politics and society through their fiction. There are also foreigners who’ve also written about the city’s long history. These authors include Bernard Lewis, Philip Mansel, John Freely, Edmondo de Amicis and Thomas Madden. Then, of course, there’s Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express — with the Orient Express’s easternmost stop being Constantinople or present-day Istanbul! For the academically curious, grab Dr. İlber Ortaylı or Dr. Halil İnalcık for historical insights into the city and its sultans. Do check all these authors out if you’re a booklover or want to gift some of these books!
4. Turkish Coffee & Herbal Teas
Turkish coffee culture is a big part of the culture of the country and indeed its history — going all the way back to Sultan Selim I. It was during his reign when the governor of Yemen brought the coffee beans to the capital of the empire and the rest is history!
It is prepared in a copper pot called ‘cezve’ and served in beautifully decorated cups. You should definitely take home some coffee grinds from the popular Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi brand which has its historical location in Eminönü.
Turkey is the world’s sixth-largest producer of tea. This symbolizes its importance in Turkish society. Freshly brewed black tea is prepared in a double teapot (similar to a samovar) and allowed to steep for a long. It allows the leaves (usually with bergamot) to unfurl and infuse the water thoroughly. The infusion produces red-mahogany coloured tea. It’s typically served in tulip-shaped glasses. You can get some local black teas in a supermarket to take home as a souvenir! Plus, since they’re dried, they’re easier to pack! Moreover, you can browse a ton of loose-leaf herbal teas called ‘Bitki çayı‘. You can find linden, chamomile, lime, rosehip, sage, lemon balm and some seasonal ones too, such as a winter tea mix.
The Spice Market from the mid-1600s is a paradise for camera-wielding foodies and souvenir enthusiasts! This is where you’ll find fresh coffee, spices, herbal teas, dried nuts and fruits. Take home some ‘flowering tea’ or better yet some ‘love tea’. Here you can also take a break and enjoy a Turkish coffee!
5. Turkish Peshtemel Towel & Soaps
Made of 100% Turkish cotton, silk or linen, a Peshtemal towel is a bath towel used in Turkish hammams. They are lightweight and come in some minimal patterns and muted, vegetable-dyed colours. They are an important part of the hammam culture of the country and indeed many other countries of the Mediterranean. A hammam is the best way to relax after a long day of sightseeing, so make sure you book an appointment and take part in the experience. We recommend the the historical Ağa hammam for its historical importance and its location in the heart of Beyoğlu, near Taksim. If you want to know more about the hammams in Istanbul, then look no further than our guide on the 7 best Turkish baths.
Along with the towels, you can also grab some bathrobes made of the same cloth as the peshtemal. In addition, you can buy natural soaps made of olive oil or lavendar, for instance in some of the shops called ‘aktar‘. Find a nice range of shops selling these lovely towels in street leading away from Istiklal to the Galata Tower or at Arasta Bazaar. Check out Jennifer’s hammam here offering linens, bath towels and other textiles.
6. Pottery & Ceramics
Colourful tiles and ceramics in red, blue and white are produced in Iznik in Western Turkey not far from Istanbul. The town of Iznik has been producing its Iznik Çini pottery since the 15th century.
These tiles are found all over the Mediterranean, especially where the Ottoman empire left its mark. They’re different than the more well-known Chinese blue and white tradition, from which the Ottoman artists borrowed and included Ottoman designs.
This pottery tradition features floral motifs. The ceramics and tiles feature tulips, roses, cypress and vines, among other natural motifs and also geometric patterns, for example.
While authentic Iznik ceramics are out of reach for normal folks, you can still grab some of the “inspired” products. Ceramic bowls and coffee sets produced with similar floral motifs and geometric patterns are on display at the Grand Bazaar!
Of course, if you just want to know more about this artistic tradition and get inspired, then head to some of the city’s tourist attractions. For instance, Topkapı Palace has a huge collection of Iznik ceramics! Alternatively head to some of the city’s mosques such as Suleymaniye Mosque, not far from Sultanahmet.
7. Mosaic & Gourd Lamps
Any trip the Grand Bazaar and seeing numerous shops with lanterns and lightning in beautiful colours. The brass chandeliers lamps in colourful glass can be a great addition to a balcony back home. Alternatively, you can also buy table lamps or tealight holders in the same designs. In recent years, they’ve become quite popular with the tourists and come in a variety of colours, designs and sizes! Spend some time browsing at the different shops, ask prices and don’t forget to negotiate! If you think the prices are too high, they probably are so ask for a lower price or walk away!
8. Religious Souvenirs
With a huge population following Islam, it’s no surprise that you’ll find many religious souvenirs. For example, you can find beautifully coloured rosary beads, religious plaques with beautiful calligraphy and prayers that are hung from the walls of homes. Of course, you’ll find the Quran, but also fridge magnets with prayers or names, and botanical essence oils turned into beautiful perfumes such as rose. So take some time or a friend along to look around the Grand Bazaar’s shops selling these specific things!
9. Turkish Olives & Olive oil
Olives are an important component of Mediterranean cuisine and that includes Turkey as well. It’s the largest producer outside the European Union. Olive oil is produced in Western Turkey in Balıkesir. A variety of olives are served with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkling of dried thyme at Turkish breakfasts. You can buy some pastries at the bakeries filled with green and black olives paste at the open markets or supermarkets. At the markets, you can find many varieties of olives with their origins marked on the labels in an open display. They are sold by weight and you can ask to try a few before you buy them. These shops have a great selection of olive oils too. Find such shops at the fresh produce markets around the city, such as at Eminönü or at the Kadıköy Çarşi.
If you’re a jewellery enthusiast, Istanbul’s jewelry shops should be on your radar. Start small by browsing for a simple but beautiful rings or some earrings. You can also check the gold prices on a screen or online so you don’t get cheated on with an exorbitant price. Most jewelry is 14k gold or the cheaper ones are gold plating. You can also find gemstones such as moonstones and zirconium, for instance. Most commercial parts of the city have a few jewellery shops. But if you want to be dazzled, head straight to the Grand Bazaar!