Many visitors to Istanbul, entranced by the antiquities of Sultanahmet and the contemporary attractions in neighbourhoods such as Nişantaşı and Bebek, never stray from the city’s European side. But they would do well to follow Istanbul’s most savvy residents across the Bosphorus to the resplendent Bağdat Caddesi (Baghdad Avenue). Located on the city’s Asian side, this six-kilometre-long road, with its broad sidewalks and swaying palm trees, is home to a dizzying array of upmarket Turkish and international boutiques.
Istanbul’s extravagant neighbourhood
Centuries ago, Bağdat Caddesi was the main route connecting Constantinople with empires in the East and was also the pilgrimage trail taken by Muslims making their way to Mecca. Some modern-day neighbourhoods along the avenue, such as Söğütlüçeşme (Willowy Fountain), are still named after stops that the Ottoman government built for travellers on their journeys. The avenue was given its current name in 1638, to honour Ottoman Sultan Murat IV’s conquest of Baghdad. Ottoman officials and rich merchants built extravagant residences, some of which have been preserved, and until the 1960s, Bağdat Caddesi was mainly a summer resort for the city’s wealthiest residents.
Nowadays, the avenue is lined with shops and eateries, some of which can’t be found elsewhere in the city. Major fashion houses prevail in the Suadiye neighbourhood, at the avenue’s eastern end. Global brands such as Zara, Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger and Aldo have outlets, some more than one, while Michael Kors and Longchamp opened in late 2012. Alongside these are top Turkish labels, including Vakko, which is housed in a restored, century-old wooden mansion. The five-floor store carries the brand’s menswear and womenswear, luxury leather bags and accessories, fine chocolates and home furnishings, and the distinctive street-style-inspired Vakkorama clothing line.
The district for indulgence
Another visually arresting venue at the Suadiye end of Bağdat Caddesi is Brandroom, opened in 2009 by the Demsa Group, which is also Turkey’s representative for brands including Harvey Nichols, Michael Kors and Longchamp. With its Bauhaus-esque exterior, the large boutique houses a variety of top international labels in men’s, women’s and children’s fashion. ‘Bağdat Caddesi is one of the most important shopping destinations in Istanbul,’ says Demsa public relations manager Nevin Kepenek. ‘It has an ageless, lively and attractive character and there is always a good crowd. The Demsa Group had to be at this location, and Brandroom is doing very well.’
Suadiye is a good neighbourhood for indulgence. Tucked amongst the designer shops is one of Istanbul’s three Mabel Çikolata stores, which offers the speciality handmade chocolates that Turks have enjoyed since 1947. Several taverns provide perfectly grilled steaks and burgers; Havelka even features a selection of beer cocktails.
Exciting local boutiques
Farther west on Bağdat Caddesi in the more artistic Erenköy and Şaşkınbakkal neighbourhoods, international brands become scarcer but the avenue’s charm remains – a street musician’s saxophone and the cries of a flower seller are common sounds. While some international brands including Swarovski, Kiehl’s, The Body Shop and L’Occitane have branches here, it is the ideal place in which to discover some of the area’s most exciting local boutiques, nestled amongst art stands and small cafés in the open-air passages below the main sidewalk.
Cassette carries distinctive shoes, jewellery and accessories influenced by vintage styles and contemporary Japanese fashions. Some of these eclectic but trend-setting little shops, such as accessories boutique Quqla, are unique to Bağdat Caddesi. Quqla sells its own dazzling creations featuring unusual colours and vintage icons as well as showcasing accessories by other Turkish designers. ‘Just as several accessories complete the whole outfit, Bağdat Caddesi is one of the key places that complete the charm of Istanbul,’ comments Sezgin Yıldırım, owner of Quqla, on his choice of location for the store.
One last surprise
Wedding apparel shops, along with quirky clothing and gift shops, line the stretch of the avenue that continues into Caddebostan. There are mystical Himalayan salt lamps at Yaşamın Gizemi, trendy items of footwear at Lastik Pabuç sneaker boutique, and bamboo mats, calligraphy sets and other elegant, unusual gifts at Japanese label Muji. Caddebostan also has the greatest diversity of cuisine on Bağdat Caddesi, from Polish sausage at Polonez Barbekü to Dardenia for sushi and tempura.
As the shops and restaurants dwindle toward the western end, the avenue has one last surprise: Göztepe Parkı, a gorgeous manicured green space with fountains and majestic topiary. This is the perfect place in which to relax after a day of shopping and it is sure to make one wonder why more visitors to Istanbul don’t make their own pilgrimage down Bağdat Caddesi.