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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.
Approximately 60 miles east of Antalya lies Side, another once important port town in antiquity. Side has become a popular holiday destination all by itself, but is well worth a day trip from Antalya. The village offers picturesque, narrow streets and lovely gardens while the long, white beaches invite swimming. Imposing monuments of antiquity, such as the Roman bath and the columns of the Apollo temple by the sea, complete the picture of a perfect combination of modern-day vacation pleasure and the treasures of history.
Once a cozy fishing village of only a few thousand people, Bodrum has experienced a renaissance in the last half century that has transformed this once-sleepy community into one of Turkey's most popular vacation hotspots. Writers, intellectuals, artists and musicians have long called this Aegean town home, or second-home, attracting a vibrant cultural scene paralleled only by the town's nightlife. Windswept beaches and glittering waters provide the backdrop to the perfect beach getaway.
Cairo’s an ancient city that also happens to be a modern metropolis—it’s one of the biggest cities in the Middle East and has the traffic and noise issues to prove it. But as long as you’re not looking for solitude, Cairo—the City of the Thousand Minarets—is a splendid place to explore Egyptian history and culture. (Editor's note: Our list was compiled before political unrest prompted many countries to issue travel warnings for Egypt. If you're currently planning a trip to Egypt, please consider the risks and monitor your government's travel alerts.)
Manama, capital of the island nation of Bahrain, is a major financial center with a thriving economy. A surplus of money has decorated the skyline with glass and steel spires, and plans for the tallest tower in the world. Although Bahrain is an Islamic country, alcohol is legal, and Manama has a thriving nightlife, with clubs and bars popular with visitors from all over the world. The narrow rows of stalls at the Bab el-Bahrain souk are famous for their vast array of perfumes, spices, and gold.
The shining jewel of Qatar, Doha is a multicultural city, home to most of the country's population as well as expatriate communities from a range of origins. Shopping abounds in the city's plentiful malls, while the Corniche impresses visitors with picturesque architecture and dazzling views of the harbor. Doha boasts myriad cultural facilities, including the futuristic Education City and the National Museum.
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.
Atmospheric backstreets paint a very different picture to first impressions of Abu Dhabi. The often slick and modern capital of the U.A.E. presents a fascinating mixture of tradition and progression. Tracing its rich history back to around 3000 B.C., Abu Dhabi maintains a more distinctly Arabian ambiance than glitzy Dubai. Taxis are a safe, reliable way to get around sites such as The Corniche Park, the White Fort, the Heritage Village, which offers glimpses into Bedouin life, and the Women's Craft Centre.
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.