Istanbul

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This historically important and culturally rich city of 12.6 million people is the fifth largest in the world. Because Istanbul spreads on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, which separates Europe and Asia, it’s the only city in the world to exist on two continents.

Remnants of past civilizations like mosques, palaces, and tombs abound, as do museums with artefacts from the times when Istanbul served as the capital of three empires: Roman (from 330 to 395), Byzantine (from 395 to 1204 and again from 1261-1453) and Ottoman (from 1453 to 1922). Historic buildings can literally be found around every corner.

 Some of the most famous historical sites include Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern, each centrally located around Sultanahmet Square. Also in the old city is the Church of St Savior in Chora, with its intricate mosaics and stunning frescoes. Next to the church is a section of the Theodosian Walls, which mark the boundary between east and west.

History buffs will also like strolling the streets of the historical districts Kadikoy and Uskudar, on the Asian side of the strait. Modern Istanbul is a hopping place. Trendy bars, clubs and a growing music scene have given rise to a vibrant nightlife, while art galleries and attention from the international fashion community have thrust this city into modern times.

 On the waterfront of Karakoy is Istanbul Modern with exhibits on contemporary Turkish art. Visitors to Istanbul during the summer will want to head to The Princes’ Islands, an archipelago in the Sea of Marmara where Byzantine princes (and now, Istanbul’s elite) escaped the heat.

Ferry boats run from the nine islands to the mainland, and a seabus service runs from Kabatas in the summer. Kilyos, 25 km from the city, is another popular beach spot in summer. The Belgrade Forest is another popular escape for picnickers on weekends.