Tucked along a deep sheltered bay on the European side of Istanbul, between the first and second bridges, the charming neighbourhood of Bebek offers some of the most beautiful views to be had of the city and of the Bosphorus Strait. The area is said to have been named after Bebek Çelebi, who was appointed head of law enforcement for the district by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, but whatever the origins of the name, today Bebek – which means ‘baby’ in Turkish – is fondly considered by locals to be ‘as beautiful as a baby’.
On the rise
Due to its sheltered and scenic Bosphorus location, Bebek was an especially desirable residential area during the Ottoman Empire, and its popularity has continued. Alongside long-established families, the neighbourhood is home to a cosmopolitan mix of newer residents who are attracted to the area’s natural beauty and sophisticated dining and nightlife options.
When the sun sets, Bebek continues to thrive. Especially popular is Lucca, whose colourful awning has been a landmark on Cevdetpaşa Caddesi, Bebek’s main street, since 2004. The restaurant-bar is known for its award-winning cocktails and tapas dreamt up by its Spanish chef, Willy Moya. During the day, Lucca is a bustling dining destination and at night its patrons spill out beyond the venue’s doors.
Cuisine by the coast
On the other side of Cevdetpaşa Caddesi and facing the water is Poseidon. The renowned fish restaurant, which also has a good selection of wines, has a stunning terrace with a view of the Bosphorus. The restaurant review website Zagat rates the food at Poseidon as 25 out of 30, and it has been featured in the New York Times’ travel guide. The spot is perfect for lunch, where diners can also enjoy the sun glistening on the water.
For visitors looking for pastries or sweets, Bebek offers a number of interesting options. Baylan Pastanesi is one of the city’s oldest and most famous patisseries; it is probably best known for its kupgriye, a delicious mixture of ice cream, caramel sauce, nuts, whipped cream and sponge fingers. No visit to Istanbul would be complete without trying some lokum (Turkish delight) and Divan Pastanesi offers many tempting varieties. In business since 1904, the family-run marzipan specialist Meshur Bebek Badem Ezmesi is one of Istanbul’s best spots for these almond treats, all of which are made by hand.
Of course, gastronomy is only one reason to visit Bebek. Midnight Express, hidden on Küçük Bebek Caddesi, is a fashion enclave tucked away from the bustle. The space describes itself as ‘a concept store that has developed out of an architect and fashion designer’s desire to create a boutique that reflects their common interests’. The shop showcases a variety of high-end, independent fashion labels including Reiko and Zeynep Erdoğan alongside the work of in-house designer and store founder Banu Bora who designs the boutique’s urban and ready-to-wear collections. Just one street over is Midnight Express’s jewellery branch, with statement rings, necklaces and earrings from designers such as Yallah and Selim Mouzanar.
Nearby, on Cevdet Paşa Caddesi, Yargıcı is one of Turkey’s premier womenswear brands, offering elegant daywear and sophisticated evening gowns; it also has an accessories store on this street. Next door to Yargıcı’s clothing store is Mapa, a local design brand that produces limited-edition women’s clothing and accessories and which has two other stores in the city. The small shop is a treat to visit, with chic alternatives for daywear and eveningwear.
For a break from shopping, a walk along the Bosphorus, accompanied by the sound of the water lapping against the boardwalk, is the perfect activity. A short stroll will take you past bobbing sailing boats and the manicured gardens of sumptuous homes overlooking Istanbul’s most picturesque bay. Visitors can rent a boat for a private or semi-private tour and among the many sights to enjoy are the historic wooden mansions that can be found on both the European and Asian shorelines.
Just a 15-minute walk along the water and above Bebek is Rumelian Fortress (Rumeli Hisarı). This 15th-century structure was used during the Ottomans’ conquest of the city. Once it has been climbed, the views of the strait and the surrounding city are positively cinematic – it’s clear why the most recent James Bond film Skyfall was partly set in Istanbul.
On the way back to Bebek, reward yourself with a Turkish coffee at one of the cafés next to Bebek Park, a great place in which to take in the city’s calm and beauty. A reflective moment is surely the best way to appreciate this centuries-old neighbourhood, which is as integral to Istanbul life today as it was in the past.