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Global Connections

Turkish delight: Contemporary cool in Istanbul

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • A 2010 European Capital of Culture, Istanbul is a city of the moment
  • Its ancient sights are a must-see, but so are its modern art galleries and music clubs
  • Istanbul Modern and Garajinstanbul are at the forefront of the contemporary arts movement

Global Connections, a segment on CNN's Connect the World, takes very different countries and asks you to find the connections. Here we explore Istanbul, one of Turkey's most vibrant cities. Read more about Turkey and other featured countries on our site.

(CNN) -- Istanbul may be two millennia old, but there's nothing dated about its cultural scene. While the domed city is best known for its ancient attractions, it's also buzzing with a vibrant contemporary arts and design scene.

Modern galleries, late-night music venues and chic fashion boutiques have cropped up in recent years, and Istanbul's status as a 2010 European Capital of Culture has given it a platform to showcase its vitality.

CNN explores some of the most exciting hotspots of this global center of cool, from cutting-edge art galleries and boutiques to the clubs and lounges that make Istanbul a city that never sleeps.

SEE: The first private museum showing modern and contemporary art exhibitions in Turkey, the Istanbul Modern has been at the forefront of the city's contemporary art movement since it opened in 2004. Occupying a former warehouse on the shores of the Bosphorus, it displays work from its permanent collection as well as organizes temporary exhibitions. A retrospective of Turkish designer Hussein Chalayan is currently being shown as part of the city's Capital of Culture program.

Mixing old with new, Pera Museum is another must-stop. In addition to its permanent collection of traditional tiles and ceramics, it hosts a number of modern exhibitions throughout the year.

A number of smaller galleries in the city are fostering up-and-coming Turkish talent. Spaces to watch include x-ist and Dirimart, both of which are located in the trendy Nisantasi quarter.

Garajinstanbul, an international non-profit performing arts center, reflects the city's cosmopolitan bent. It collaborates with artists from around the world and is dedicated to fostering "the new" in theater, music and dance. A prime example is the company's production of "Cihangir Insomnia." Involving actors from across Europe, the show uses a mixture of dialogue, video and music to tell the story of Istanbul's funkiest district.

Read more about Istanbul's bohemian quarter of Cihangir

LISTEN: A resurgence of alternative music venues means there's no shortage of places to check out live gigs. For a hipster, world music vibe, chill out at Ghetto music lounge, which plays host to a number of local and international bands.

Visit Nardis for jazz beats, and for an eclectic mix of sounds, check out infamous cafe Badehane, which features everything from local gypsy music to edgy new rock bands.

If you aren't sure what you're in the mood for, there's always Salon. Located in a newly restored building, it hosts a variety of jazz, rock and classical concerts, as well as Monday night theater, art exhibitions and literary talks.

Have varied music tastes? So does Babylon. One of the most popular live music venues in Istanbul, it features a variety of acts, from electronica and jazz to world music, indie pop and reggae.

A guide to Istanbul's best Turkish restaurants

SHOP: Innovative Turkish designers have gained an international following in recent years, and their boutique fashion labels can easily be found in Istanbul.

Designer Umit Unal has established his private atelier in the city, while veteran of European runways Arzu Kaprol's couture showroom overlooks the Bosphorus.

For a twist on tradition, Gonul Paksoy uses naturally hand-dyed fabrics in his reinterpretations of classical Ottoman design.

CNN's Yesim Comert contributed to this report.