Galata Bridge & Yeni Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Renaud Visage/Photodisc/Getty)

Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey (Laurence Dutton/Photodisc/Getty)

Galata Tower in Istanbul, Turkey (PhotoDisc)

View of the Golden Horn & skyline at sunset, Istanbul, Turkey (Richard Nowitz/National Geographic/Getty)

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (PhotoDisc)

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What to do in Istanbul

Labeled the “City of the World’s Desire” in a history of Constantinople, Istanbul, today, fuses the chic and secular with the sacred. It’s home to the world’s greatest Byzantine architecture (read: the Aya Sofya), the Grand Bazaar with more than 4,000 shops, opulent palaces like Topkapi, and a skyline pricked with minarets. The streets breathe traces of its Greek, Roman, Crusader, and Ottoman past. But there’s a hip, modern layer on top of it all: the city’s population has grown to 15 million and shiny skyscrapers taller than mosques have sprouted up. Still, the sidewalks pulse with locals drinking raki in taverns and vendors selling traditional sesame-coated breads. The women here—some in short shorts and carrying Prada bags, some wearing full chadri —capture the city’s contradictions best of all. 

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