On the coast of the Bosphorus – the strait that marks the divide between Europe and Asia – Besiktas is one of the most dynamic parts of Istanbul. Cosmopolitan cafes and fashion boutiques make it a great place to wander all day, while a major landmark is Dolmabahce Palace, a formidable fortress of Baroque and Rococo grandeur, with opulent sights such like the Crystal Staircase, fashioned from Baccarat crystal and mahogany.
Separated from the Old City by the shimmering stretch of the Golden Horn, Beyoglu is a cosmopolitan quarter crammed with tempting cafes, bars, and restaurants – especially along the famed Istiklal Avenue, one of Istanbul's busiest streets. Look out for the ornate Art Deco and Neo-Gothic buildings all around as you head down to Taksim Square, the hub of modern Istanbul, which is home to the Republic Monument.
Get a taste of Ancient Rome in Turkey by visiting Beyazit. The ruins of the columns of the Forum of Theodosius still stand, while next to Beyazit Square is one of Istanbul's great attractions: the Grand Bazaar. Dating back to the 15th Century, its ancient warren of shops sell everything from glowing lanterns to ornate rugs, while the vintage fountains and tiled, arched ceiling make the market itself a must-see.
Sirkeci's train station is famous, and with good reason. It was the last stop of the Orient Express, and with its stained-glass decor and Ottoman architecture, it still exudes the glamor of a lost age. Sirkeci has plenty of hotels to choose from, and it's only a short walk to the Spice Bazaar, with its striking vaulted walkways lined with shops selling colorful heaps of sumac, paprika, and red peppercorns.
All the splendor of old Istanbul can be found in Sultanahmet. A stunning fusion of Islamic and Ottoman architecture, the Blue Mosque is a stand-out sight. Then there's Topkapi Palace, which with its stone towers, sprawling courtyards, and inner buildings is a city in itself – it houses some of Islam's holiest relics. For a classic Turkish experience, bask in the heat of one of the area's traditional baths, or hamams.