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Dubai is a destination that mixes modern culture with history, adventure with world-class shopping and entertainment. Catch a show at the Dubai Opera, see downtown from atop the Burj Khalifa and spend an afternoon along Dubai Creek exploring the gold, textile and spice souks. If you’re looking for thrills, you can float above the desert dunes in a hot air balloon, climb aboard a high-speed ride at IMG Worlds of Adventure or skydive over the Palm Jumeirah.
Want to make your co-workers insanely jealous? Just casually drop "I’m vacationing in the Maldives this year" into conversation, preferably in the dead of winter. Or better yet, go there without mentioning it to anyone—then send them a "Wish you were here!" postcard.
Once known for smog, traffic and tacky architecture, Athens is a city reformed thanks to fortunes brought by the 2004 Summer Olympics. Spotless parks and streets, an ultra-modern subway, new freeways, an accessible airport and all signs in perfect English make the city easily negotiable. Meriting more than a stopover en route to the islands, sophisticated Athens sites include many pillars of Western history, from the Acropolis to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, as well as treasures in the National Archaeological Museum.
Over the centuries, many cultures have added their mark to this prized piece of land. Today, you can experience those influences firsthand by exploring Istanbul’s mahalles (neighborhoods). From the holy sites of Sultanahmet and the 19th-century European elegance of Beyoğlu to the high fashion of Nişantaşı, the vibrant café society of Kadıköy and the football-loving streets of Beşiktaş, it’s easy to see why travelers say that Istanbul isn’t just one city, but many cities within one.
In Vienna, the coffee house isn’t just a hangout: it’s an institution. Lingering over a newspaper with a pastry and a strong espresso drink is, according to UNESCO, officially a Viennese cultural pastime. Walk off your slice of Sachertorte with a self-guided tour of the city’s stunning traditional, Secessionist, and modern architecture, such as the Imperial Palace, the State Opera House, the Kirche am Steinhof, or the Kunsthistorisches Museum, an exercise in ornate geometry.
So many of Madrid’s buildings look like castles, you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a fairytale. Even City Hall is astounding, with its white pinnacles and neo-Gothic features. A self-guided architecture tour can begin by the great bear statue in the central Puerta del Sol. Wander by the fanciful Royal Palace before absorbing the natural beauty of Retiro Park, then visit one of the city’s many museums. You could happily cap off each day by nibbling on forkfuls of paella while sipping Spanish rioja.
Lingering over pain au chocolat in a sidewalk café, relaxing after a day of strolling along the Seine and marveling at icons like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe… the perfect Paris experience combines leisure and liveliness with enough time to savor both an exquisite meal and exhibits at the Louvre. Awaken your spirit at Notre Dame, bargain hunt at the Marché aux Puces de Montreuil or for goodies at the Marché Biologique Raspail, then cap it all off with a risqué show at the Moulin Rouge.
Golden palaces, floating markets, majestic porcelain-laid spires…you've never seen a capital city quite like Bangkok. Visit Pratunam or Siam Square for premium shopping, then unwind in the European-style gardens of Dusit. Thon Buri is home to the awesome Wat Arun temple, and over in Phra Nakhon, you’ll find the Wat Pho temple of the Reclining Buddha. Savor mango sticky rice at a food stall before taking in the gilded splendor of the Grand Palace.
This city, full of colorful homes, canals and bridges, is one of Europe's most picturesque capitals. Must-sees on any visitor's itinerary include the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the world's only floating flower market. Rent a bike and join thousands of locals navigating Amsterdam's labyrinthine streets, or just take in the sights on foot. For an unusual and memorable alternative to hotels, consider staying in a houseboat.
Chaotic, crowded, and cosmopolitan, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is a city of contrasts. Home to millions of people from around the world, the city is a mixture of languages and cultures, poverty and wealth. The city boasts some of the best nightlife in Asia and some of the worst traffic. Every holiday, the locals escape the pollution and the crowds to enjoy relaxing diversions like Ancol Dreamland, an amusement area featuring water parks, beaches, golf courses, and a SeaWorld.