Bebek is widely regarded as Istanbul’s classiest neighbourhood, but this has not always been the case. Once a humble fisherman’s village dating back to the days of early Christianity. Developing from such distant origins, Bebek’s popularity increased rapidly from the early 18th century, when commerce brought new vigour to the area.
Ottoman records from the time paint Bebek as a lively neighbourhood with Turk, Greek, Georgian, Armenian and Jewish residents, all of whom owned numerous 'yalı' (seaside mansions) built to look on to the picturesque Bebek Bay. The area continued to serve as an ideal location for summer homes until the mid-1900s, when ferry services were introduced, making Bebek more feasible as a residential area.
Today, most of the action in Bebek is centred around the main avenue, Cevdet Paşa Caddesi. Million-dollar yachts and sailboats grace the harbour on one side, while a string of cafes, restaurants and boutiques across the shore lend colour and liveliness to the avenue.
Where to pick up a new favourite book
One of the first shops you’ll see as you make your way to Bebek from Arnavutköy is Assouline, the NYC-based luxury publishing house whose Bebek branch has been a hit with local bibliophiles since 2010. Unlike regular bookstores, the handpicked variety of exquisite, hardcover volumes at Assouline’s Ottoman court-inspired shop makes you feel as if you’re in a true book savant’s personal library.
Where to eat and drink
As you approach the lively hub of cafes and eateries right across from Bebek Park, you’ll undoubtedly see Lucca (Cevdet Paşa Caddesi, 51/B), the perennial favourite of stylish Istanbulites. With its commanding view of Bebek traffic, Lucca is the perfect place to sample award-winning international fare, cool cocktails and as of late, select artworks by local artists. For something more local, Bebek Balıkçısı is another option. Established in 1998, this restaurant excels in light Turkish and Mediterranean meze (appetizers) served in an upscale atmosphere. Its waterside location makes it the best place to try seafood in the neighbourhood.
Those with a sweet tooth cannot pass up a visit to Meşhur Bebek Badem Ezmesi. Since 1904, this small shop has been beckoning its visitors with a colourful array of candies and chocolates. The real draw here, however, is the namesake badem ezmesi, a Turkish variant of marzipan that’s slightly less sweet. Located a couple of doors down from Meşhur Bebek Badem Ezmesi, is every macaroon lover’s paradise: Ladurée (Cevdet Paşa Caddesi, 61/A). Opened in 2010, this chic French patisserie boasts not only the delicate, colourful confections, but also a collection of chocolates, candles and home fragrances.
A relative newcomer to the Bebek dining scene is Baylan Bebek, the latest branch of Turkey’s oldest patisserie, dating back to 1923 and still thriving today. Just as in Baylan’s KadIkoy location (the oldest establishment), you’ll find the classic Kup Griye here – a mouth-watering blend of vanilla and caramel ice cream, whipped cream, honey-almond and caramel sauce that’s almost too overwhelming for one person. What sets Baylan Bebek apart, however, is its three-storey restaurant area. Opened in late 2011, this elegant eatery offers an impressive menu, overseen by famous chef Alain Ducasse.
Another Bebek classic, Mangerie has grown to be the definitive breakfast destination overlooking a spectacular Bosphorus view. With a casual dining menu of international favourites as well as renowned cocktails and delectable desserts, it’s not hard to see why Mangerie is popular at all hours of the day.
Where to go shopping
In terms of shopping Bebek is home to numerous clothing boutiques. Midnight Express stands a cut above the rest in the neighbourhood with its impeccably-curated collection, all year round. Established by designer Banu Bora and architect Tayfun Mumcu, the boutique reflects the duo’s personal tastes and has grown into one of Istanbul’s most popular destinations for ready-to-wear urban lifestyle items and accessories. After Bora and Mumcu teamed up with partner Daniela İpekel, the Midnight Express phenomenon has evolved to encompass another shop in Alaçatı Izmir as well as a branch in Bebek solely dedicated to jewellery.