Travel tips for your first time in Istanbul – dancer’s perspective


I was lucky enough to have friends that had been to Turkey, to question about things like where to stay etc. It was a great help so I thought I would make a few quick notes about what I enjoyed, to help those of you that are travelling there and haven’t access to insider tips. So here are a few things that helped me on my way during my 2013 Istanbul at ramadan experience.

Hagia Sophia fountain

Hagia Sophia



This is a no brainer. If its the first time you are visiting Istanbul, then Sultanahmet is where you should stay. Yep, it is a bit touristy but for a reason. It is a decent area and is easy walking distance to the major sites like the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, Sophia Hagia, the Basilica cistern, the palace, the main museums.

Personally I stayed at   the Anatolia Suites and had a 2 bedroom apartment that I shared with my friends. The position had a a bit of an ocean view and was in a quiet street. The night staff was particularly awesome and the info I learnt off him made my stay that much easier.

Accommodation turkey view

Room with a view

One thing I learnt was how to use the trams and transport cheaply!


Trams, etc

Apparently getting around Istanbul used to be tricky but the tram has made getting about the european side of the  city easy as pie. I had never caught a tram before in my life or indeed all that much of any kind of public transport.  I have lived most of my life in rural areas where things like that don’t exist, so if I can sort it out, then anyone can. I found it easier to find my way around Istanbul than I do Sydney! The only potentially off-putting thing is that the trams could be very crowded at times – so be prepared to get squished at certain times of day. The journeys were cheap and short though so I didn’t find it a real issue.

If you are going to be in the city for more than a day or 2 and especially if you are with family, The way to use public transport cheaply is to buy an Istanbulkart card. You can buy one at the kiosk selling news papers etc just a little up from the tram stop at sultanahmet. They are probably elsewhere too but this is the only one I can steer you too. They cost 6TL and you load them up. I think I paid 20TL at first but that included 14TL credit. This cards makes tram, bus, metro, ferries & funiculars much cheaper and you don’t have to keep buying tickets all the time. (note this is for local ferries not the tourist ones that are much dearer). You can use the one card for multiple people too, just keep scanning it at the gates. I think it works out that you are saving money after about 6 trips or so. – so worth it for a single on a longer trip and way cheaper for a group after only a few uses. The 3 of us used the one card and we looked totally like we were in the know. (Or maybe i was just imagining the admiring glances of other tourists)  🙂 In my mind I felt like quite the legend.



Until it came to recharge the card, i did this in askaray….. my hesitance in working out the english version and in inserting notes into a machine obviously showed,  a trendy young gum chewing local girl grabbed my card, loaded the cash and handed it back with a half exasperated, half welcome to turkey kind of grin. A big thank you to that beautiful unknown helper.


General notes on shopping.

I didn’t find the shopping all that spectacular or cheap but there were some notable exceptions.

If you think of leather jackets as belonging to motorcyclists only then you are in for a pleasant surprise. There were the nicest leather jackets I have ever seen. I don’t know abut the ethics involved in the leather trade in Turkey but I was very much seduced by all   of the stylish cuts and colours. If i hadn’t such a strong limit on my bag weight (I had gotten a budget flight on air ariana via slovenia) it had a much smaller weight limit than what i had travelled  to switzerland on, so souvenirs were limited. There is a whole leather area in the grand bazaar and many shops in sultanahmet are devoted to them too. Not sure where the locals buy them but in terms of researching a variety of styles, the grand bazaar is worth a look. Gulserins and the leather jackets were what took my attention in the bazaar , otherwise it was just a bit of fun having a look around. I really wish they had maps available though as even with the signage, it is tricky to find your back to any particular store. Outside of the grand bazaar had a lot of road side stands and shops. I found the prices were generally better here and got some cute little necklaces for my daughter at one. Jade leather

Jade green leatherIf super high and fabulously outrageous heels are your thing then leave plenty of space in your suitcase, because Turkey is the place to shop for these. In general though the sizing of shoes only goes up to 40 for ladies at best (38 in some places), one lady told me women’s feet don’t get any bigger than that. I just didn’t know how to respond… I just looked at my feet and left the shop. Heels are not my thing but the roman sandals I had packed with me started to feel more like a roman torture device. After i had spent a few hours walking in them and I was desperate for something less painful. Just outside the entrance to the grand bazaar pretty much directly between the tram stop and one of the front entrances, I finally found a shop with ladies shoes in larger sizes. I am a 41 european (thats 10 in australian sizes) but they even had 42s for ladies. I found a very comfortable pair of leather sandals that saved my poor feet from more blisters. I was so happy that i bought 2 pairs which was silly as they were not that spectacular to look at but they were comfy and i will pack a pair again for my trip to Morocco in a few weeks. I highly recommend them if you end up in the same predicament.







This is a lot less touristy an area and was useful in getting some idea on how much locals pay for t-shirts etc as the roadside stands frequently had marked prices. I also bought a red leather hand bag while in this part of town, some sweets from the awesome turkish sweet shops and a few other bits and pieces. I don’t even have a sweet tooth but everything looked so inviting and there were several things worth tasting that were gluten free eg turkish delight, halava etc. i didn’t get the tourist trap vibe as strongly here but it was also somewhere i might not feel comfortable hanging around at night by myself. The weirdest shop i saw was a butcher slash clothing store.

Food and drinks

Water, if you are buying water and not filtering it yourself then it is cheapest from the little corner stores everywhere. There is not a lot of english spoken in the shops as a rule but enough to make the basic transactions. Most things have prices on them too, so whatever your language you should be able to figure it out.

Cafe pallet was my favourite eating spot in istanbul. Sure, there were cheaper places but this one was very reasonable for sultanahment and the food was a cut above every where else i tried for breakfast and lunch. They did freshly squeezed juices in a number of varieties like apple and carrot – not just orange like most other places.  The omelettes that were my staple gluten free fare while there were lovely and beautifully presented. The lovely owner made little changes every day with decorating the plates and was really super friendly. Wifi was also available. We became regulars.

Nearby was another evening spot to eat the hippodrome. A touch above prices is some other spots but still extremely cheap by australian standards. They were willing to alter dishes for me (make them gluten free) and the waist staff was very personable.consequently i ate here at least 3 times.P1110398 P1110401

I also tried a cheap, more local -oriented restaurant on the other side of the tram line. Prices were amazing and they had one waiter that spoke some english. The food wasn’t anything to rave about but at that price i was happy. Thre was one place that was a complete tourist trap – rip off. It was a fish restaurant on a triangular corner near our suite. They promosed all this free stuff but then charged an arm and a leg for it. They served water without asking and then charged twice the going restaurant rate ( which is substantially higher than the retail price as it is). Avoid it.


There is so much more I could say and so many more photos I could post but I have to post this and catch a plane in a few hours – back to Egypt!! If you have any questions, please comment below.






The Best Place for a Belly Dance Costume in Istanbul

My favourite shop was in The Grand Bazaar! It makes no sense to me. Usually the main tourist drag is exactly the wrong place to get something nice and affordable. I was so impressed that I felt Gulseren’s shop deserved an entire post on its own. 



Belly dance costume in turkey

The lovely Gulseren and her work

I went to the Grand Bazaar twice and it wasn’t until the second trip in the afternoon of my last day in Istanbul that I found it. Maybe I appreciated it all the more because I had given up on finding a costume in Turkey but I feel it was more than that.

It was in an alley way off a main street and not the easiest to find but well worth persisting in your hunt through the maze that is the grand bazaar. All I had to go on was again the very helpful meissoun’s description

Gülseren Giyim
Yaglikçilar Cad.
Cukur Han No: 63  /11

In a small side street. If in doubt, just ask in another shop. Good for skirts, accessories and costumes, moderate prices.”

Go to the approximate location (there are street signs in the bazaar overhead) and ask around. Gulseren is quite well known and someone is sure to point you in the right direction if you can’t find it.


Being off the main drag had extra advantages – you didn’t feel that you were the subject of speculation by bored nearby shop keepers and their mates. Also the shop was staffed by Gulseren and her lovely daughter. Women!! Yes Women!! Such a wonderful change from the men running all other belly dance stores I have ever been in. The men that gleefully tell you they can help adjust your costumes.

As someone that is not really busty and of quite a small frame, my tops always need adjusting, they don’t stay on at all without adjustment. They always say with ‘silicon’ and changing the clasps that they will make it fit. But that means strangers fiddling with your breasts and I don’t feel comfortable with that. I much preferred it to be women that matter of factly made the adjustments. The perv factor was eliminated.

Gulseren’s daughter (whose name I have forgotten, I am ashamed to say) came behind the curtain with me and made the adjustment’s as we went, with no need to awkwardly parade out into public view holding the costume with both your hands so it doesn’t fall off and you end up flashing everyone. The change room / curtained off area was also large, so you had plenty of room and if you were traveling with a friend or 2 you could change at the same time and help each other out too.


The  price these lovely ladies offered were more realistic and because of that they made 2 costume sales off me rather than one plus I bought a few other bits and pieces too.

I know you can bargain but I was being offered some quite old tired costumes for starting prices of 700€ in other shops! That translated to roughly $1400 AUD. That wasn’t even in top costumiers. Better places (better designs) started bargaining around 1200€ which is just way, way too high for this belly dancer from rural Australia. I was shocked, really lovely professional egyptian costumes seemed to go for around $300-$400US when I was there 3 years ago.

The Turkish sellers told me Egyptian quality was crap but frankly I couldn’t see the difference. Some of the dearer ones used some lovely silks and that justified a higher price but not 4 times the price. Prices did eventually drop but not by a lot and I was traveling with a pretty good bargainer. The one exception was Gulseren. She didn’t budge a lot on price but she also didn’t start ridiculously high. Plus she offered prices in Turkish lira which I appreciated.


I have only performed in these costumes a few times but they are holding up well, no damage as yet and no need to repair. They seem well made. The style is what I associate with a classic turkish look with lots of beaded fringing. I liked this though as I already had Egyptian costumes and wanted something different.


The service was fantastic, I had planned to come in early in the week, shop and pick up any purchases when they were adjusted, but things didn’t go to plan.  On my first trip to the grand bazaar I found the shop only 5mins before I had to leave. I didn’t get back until my last day and yet they did all the adjustments on the spot and stayed late so I could have a costume from Turkey.  I had given up on finding anything suitable by this stage but they were so welcoming that as I waited for the first to be adjusted, I found a second that I had to own.

Now please, if you can possibly avoid it don’t leave costumes to the last minute, I don’t want you to take advantage of this kindness extended to me but I think that it shows a dedication to the costumer that goes beyond the usual.

gulseren's daughter and jade

Good English and efficient sewing – thank you so much for making my trip to the market so much fun!

While I was waiting for the adjustments to be completed, I got a phone call from my travel companions. The little girl had bought a salt and pepper shaker set that she adored but had dropped it and broken it on her way back to the apartment. She was very distressed and asked me if I could buy another. The bazaar was very close to closing at this point with many shops already packed up. I described the piece and asked Gulseren and her daughter if they knew where I could find one. It took a bit of miming and drawing as their English was not perfect but they eventually understood what I was after and  Gulseren took me straight to a shop that sold them, saving me a lot of time. While her daughter was sewing frantically on my outfits.

We stayed so late that the bazaar was closed and locked and security escorted us from the building when we emerged. Gulseren paid for my tram back to Sultanahment too which was a lovely touch.

I just can’t imagine better people to do business with. They were likely to have been ravenously hungry by the time we finished too as it was Ramadan, instead of being grumpy they were lovely. Gulseren said she was the first designer in the grand bazaar and I can see why she has lasted. She also has another smaller shop in the bazaar too that has more of the kids folk costumes.


Right next to Gulseren’s shop in the alley way was a positively beguiling shop with Indian and folkloric costumes and all sorts of things that would make a belly dancer or tribal dancer or just anyone that loves ethnic fabrics, loose track of time. Sigh!! Yet another reason to find Gulseren and shop with her!!

Gülseren Giyim
Yaglikçilar Cad.
Cukur Han No: 63  /11
Tel. 212 512 97 51

If you shop there tell them Jade sent you!

Have you shopped in the Grand Bazaar? What was your experience? Please share below.

Where to shop for belly dance costumes in Istanbul!

I was lucky enough to find myself in Istanbul, Turkey last August. I wrote up a chat about it and forgot to publish it -opps!! But here is part 1 of my new (expanded) Istanbul travel advice focussing on COSTUMES!

Turkish flag

Follow up posts will be a review of a dance show and some travel tips to make your visit just that bit easier and cheaper but for now lets let the sequins shine…..


I managed to hit 5 costumiers during my stay and spent quite some time not finding the 6th. I found the best reference for belly dance shopping was to be found at


This was a great resource, defiantly look it up, thank you so much Meissoun!


In this post I will outline 5 of the shops strengths and do a solo post on my ultimate favourite, you will never guess who it is!


The obvious place for a tourist to shop is in the Grand Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi – The Grand Basar – It is easy to find and a spectacle in itself. Its not too hard to walk to the grand bazaar from Sultanahmet but its best to save your legs for wandering the labyrinthine market and surrounds by taking the tram to Kapaliçarsi instead. (see soon to be published  post for details on riding the tram and where to stay).


The grand bazaar – or at least a tiny part of it. This place is big.

Bazar Ali Baba in the bazaar was easy to find stationed on a prominent corner. Meissoun describes it thus :-


Bazar Ali Baba
Fesciler Cad. No. 119 – 121
Tel. + fax 527 09 75

“Large range of costumes in every price category, special designs, friendly service. Has two more small shops in the basar. Also many souvenirs.”

The front mostly displayed tourist level costumes at very inflated prices. On enquiry I was shown upstairs by  a surly man of very short stature. The costumes upstairs were better but quite dated. Many appearing dusty and tired. I wondered if this would give a bit of bargaining power and I tried on a costume that was  decent enough. When it came to bargaining I got quite a shock. They only wanted to talk in euros and a lot of them at that. Now as an Aussie that  had just been traveling in switzerland, adding a fourth currency was plain confusing. I was happy to bargain in AUD, Swiss francs or turkish lira but I was not going to use euros, a currency I had never used or even held.


 A note here for any turkish vendors that find themselves reading this – just because i am white does not mean I am european! 


The upshot of all this was that this costume that was clearly inferior to the costumes I had bought in Egypt. From memory he was asking more than more than $800 EUR. And the tiny man was in no mood to bargain much off the price at all. I was traveling with a friend that had lived in India for 10 years and was no stranger to bargaining but we couldn’t get him to give a reasonable price so I left. Clearly he wasn’t keen on a sale because there was no follow up offer at all. I think the main street bazaar vendors are a bit jaded. I had a costume of similar quality that I bought online, from Egypt, custom made, for around $200 AUD. I was left wondering if the Turks have upped their prices due to more business since the Egyptian revolution made Egypt less attractive for travel or if they are just used to cashed up Europeans willing to splash out on huge prices?


Also in the bazaar was a small shop just around the corner from Bazaar Ali Baba, sporting some stunning and original looking designs with flowing silk skirts. These were truly beautiful, outside my price range though, with prices starting around $1000 AUD. In this case though you could see value, again they wouldn’t bargain all that much. The staff was nice too although photos were not allowed. If you are into bright colours and flowing silk, its worth checking out.


Unfortunately most shops forbade any pictures so I can’t let you see for yourself what they offered, so I guess you will just have to travel to turkey one day to see for yourself 🙂



There were many small shops with turkish folkloric/ tourist costumes to choose from. Some were willing to bargain more than others. I bought my daughter one in maroon from “Beyzade”  Yaglikcilar Cad. No 21 Oruculer -Kapalicarsi . They were up for some bargaining and offered reasonable prices.

belly dance costume aksaray

I think this one is SIM moda then again maybe it is San Eil Moda Evi



I did a big adventure to Aksaray catching the tram and feeling like quite the local.

I eventually found the 2 shops San Eli Moda and SIM Moda Evi, one upstairs from the other.

San Eil Moda
Inebey mah. Inkilap cad.
Oto is hani No : 43 Kat : 1/53
Tel. 212 584 21 10

Tram to Aksaray, through the subterran shopping passage, down the Atatürk Blv runter, 2nd street to the right – opposite ISKI (blue building)
Professional costumes at good prices.

SIM Moda Evi


San Eil Moda Evi (I think, or is it SIM Moda … )

San Eil Moda Evi (I think, or is it SIM Moda … )

These were not easy to find from the directions on Meissoun’s website. I caught the tram from Sultanahmet in what in my mind was a westerly direction (as the maps didn’t have a north on them for me confirm but all the maps were similar so if you also assume the top of the map is north than these directions will make sense) and getting off at Aksaray.

This is a seriously busy area with large roads everywhere. I then crossed over the road to be on the south side. I walked down the road (I think the street was Valide Camii S.) a bit in order to go over the pedestrian overpass to be on the west side of the main street (there was no subterranean passage I could see). Then followed south a bit more and found the correct road (Inkilap Cad). The arcade was on the left and easy to miss but there were enough numbers on the shop fronts that I did eventually find it. Also on this street were the wildest platform heels i had ever seen. Sizes only go up to 40 in most turkish shoe shops for ladies at best, some only to 38, so not for the tall girls (but we don’t need the extra height 😉 )

Turkish costume

Selfie in change room – loved this wild thing!

These shops had great designs and quality workmanship but prices again were steep (around $1000 AUD and more). I did some amusing bargaining via google translate. I was close to purchasing a costume but it needed a lot of adjusting and there only men to do it. I decided to think about it. Notice how I am not saying which shop I am talking about here? I can’t remember which was which!! I liked one more than the other but forgot which that was. If you go there you will inevitably look in both so I guess it doesn’t matter too much.


Bellydancer banner Istanbul

Sign in Aksaray

The store i couldn’t find was this one.


“Istanbul Dreams
Alemdar Mah. Incilicavus Sok.
Ates Pasaji No: 33/5
Tel. 514 58 94

In a shopping passage by the Basilica Cistern. Mostly for skirts and training clothes”

I looked and looked and asked around but could not find it. Not sure if it has closed down or what. However the search was not entirely in vain – Instead I found ‘Les Arts Turcs” and found out about a true sufi display that was for spiritual practice not the standard tourist show. It had rave reviews by dance and sufi enthusiasts but i just didn’t have time to fit it in. I would try it out if i get the chance to go again. Belly dance classes are also available through here but they needed longer notice than the few days i had left of my stay.

I also regret not getting to the famous Boutique Bella. It was in another suburb (Sisli) and just didn’t fit into our time frame. While I hear American’s rave about the place, I have also been told they can be quite aloof if you are not famous and that the prices are high. Since I found costumiers in Turkey to be expensive compared to their Egyptian counterparts as it was, I decided not to kill myself getting there just so I could drop the name, especially as it was unlikely I would be able to pay the prices they were asking.

Old school zills

Retro Styling! These babies were for sale on the street.

I was traveling with a friend and their child and that limited my shopping time considerably. There is only so much time even the most patient friends and family are willing to tolerate hanging out in costume shops while you try things on. If dance is the main reason you are traveling to turkey then I have to recommend again the value of traveling with fellow dancers. If money is tight, get a few friends together and work out your own itinerary but if time is at a premium the few extra dollars are well worth spending to go with someone like soul dance tours (Australian based but other nationalities are welcome and frequently  join in).


The best costume shop of all (in my opinion) was …. drum roll ……. (next post 🙂 )


Have you been to any of these shops? What was your experience? What are your favourite costume shops in Istanbul? What prices did you find? Please comment below and share your knowledge.


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