Istanbul, Turkey

The hottest European destination is actually in Asia. Turkey sits on the border between the East and the West. Much of the country remains seeped in tradition. But its largest city, Istanbul–the financial and the commercial center–has embraced contemporary design and modern culture. Some say the change began in the 1980s, when the city tripled in size and education expanded. Others claim that the new era was ushered in by the opening of Istanbul Modern, as a former warehouse was turned into a contemporary art museum. The new identity was firmly in place by 2010 though, when the city was named the European Capital of Culture.

Photo: N Preseault
Photo: N Preseault

Many trips to Istanbul begin in Sultanahmet, the historic heart of the city. Here you’ll find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. Smell roasted chestnuts. Visit a Turkish bath house. Shop for rugs–and anything else you can imagine–at the Grand Bazaar. Listen for the call to prayer. You can’t miss it. Sip tea or smoke a hookah. You’ll be consumed by the humidity and look toward the Bosphorus for a respite.

Photo: N Preseault
Photo: N Preseault

The Bosphorus, which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, is the continental divider between Asia and Europe. It’s also one of the busiest waterways in the world. Ferries are the most popular method of transportation, and for visitors, an ideal way to see the city. At first glance, historical sites dominate the waterfront. Palaces, mosques, forts, and towers. Look closer though.

New buildings are mixed in with the Byzantine and Ottoman architecture. Boutique hotels, art galleries, and cafes. SuAda, a nightclub, is in the middle of the water. High-end stores keep opening on Istiklal Caddesi. Turkish fashion designers are showing in Paris. Their shops are tucked around Beyoglu. Vogue now has a Turkish edition. Restaurants like Mimolett are vying for Michelin stars. Cihangir is filled with coffee shops. And hipsters. Water views at sunset are prime real estate. Drink champagne cocktails at 360 Istanbul. Eat freshly caught seafood in Ortakoy. It’s the perfect combination of the ancient and the modern.

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