36 Istanbul

PopulationMetro: 13,995,000
The embattled gateway between two continents will rise again.

Istanbul is a city of contradictions if there ever was one: minarets and church spires dot the colorful skyline while down at street level women dressed in black abayas walk side by side pretty young things in tight-fitting Armani dresses.

A few more steps, Arabic house music from sidewalk cafes and bars all but drowns out the call to prayer. Last year was a particularly strenuous one for the Turkish capital, mired in political unrest and attacked by waves of terrorism.

Tourist visits may be down but they’ve not entirely vanished. Istanbul is the only major city that straddles two continents, and globetrotters have long praised it for its incomparable blend of East and West, for its Museums (#9 globally), Attractions (#8), Shopping (#6), and Nightlife (#12).

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Programming 32
People 19
Prosperity 17
Promotion 31

Get your bearings with a walk down Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian avenue in the Beyoglu district that fuses modern with tradition to great effect. Here, impressive 19th-century buildings house cultural centers, shops, restaurants, and cafes, such as Urban, a good spot for a midday coffee or a pre-club drink. Also in the neighborhood is Unter, a restaurant-cum-bar set in a three-storey 1960s building.

The vibe changes from laidback at brunch to buzzy and loud at cocktail time. Get your culture on at Istanbul Modern, a museum that focuses on local contemporary art. Set in a converted warehouse on the Bosporus, it features a sculpture garden, library and restaurant. Galerist also exhibits some pretty provocative works of art, some of which deal with the country’s current social and political issues.