Istanbul, Turkey, was just ranked the most popular travel destination in the world by TripAdvisor.
Millions of TripAdvisor users voted on their favourite destinations around the world, and Istanbul took the top spot. This is surprising because the Middle Eastern city jumped 11 spots from the previous year, surpassing perennial favourites like London and Rome.
So why are travellers flocking to Istanbul? Perhaps it’s because the vibrant city embodies both ancient and modern. It’s chock-full of historic mosques and monuments, but it also has tons of hip boutiques, cool restaurants, and design-savvy boutique hotels that hipsters, foodies, artists and fashionistas love. The city feels decidedly hip — and travellers from all over the world are taking note.
Located in a former warehouse on the Bosphorus, the Istanbul Modern showcases cutting-edge contemporary art from Turkish artists.
The restaurant at the Istanbul Modern serves modern international cuisine in a sleek design-conscious setting.
Nearby, the neighbourhood of Cihangir is quickly becoming one of the coolest areas in Istanbul, attracting hipsters and artists with its Bohemian chic vibe and its cafes, shops and galleries.
There's a bustling Sunday brunch scene in Cihangir, where people linger at leafy outdoor cafes over coffee and baklava.
The Witt Istanbul is a modern all-suites boutique hotel with 18 giant and stylish suites in Cihangir.
Istiklal Caddesi is Istanbul's main pedestrian artery. Here, shops pandering to tourists -- touting Turkish delights, ceramics and other souvenirs -- sit beside trendy cafes and Western imports like Starbucks, Nike and Burger King.
Vendors sell simits, Turkish bagels that are covered in sesame seeds, all over the city. The iconic street food costs about 1 Turkish Lira (50 cents).
Tünel Pasaji is a quiet arcade-style passageway at the end of Istiklal Caddesi that's filled with happening cafes, antique shops and used book stores.
At night, this passage fills up with young Istanbulites who linger at cafe tables over cigarettes and drinks.
The House Cafe is a local chain in Istanbul where trendy Istanbulites gather for cay (Turkish tea) and mezze. There's a branch on Istiklal Caddesi.
The House Hotel, affiliated with The House Cafe restaurants, is a local chain of trendy boutique hotels with several locations in Istanbul.
The 19th-century Misir Apartment building, on Istiklal Caddesi, is home to edgy art galleries, like Galeri Nev.
On top of the Misir Apartment building is 360, an uber-trendy restaurant and bar. It's open for meals, but the best time to go is probably for sunset.
At the end of the day, everyone retreats to rooftop bars, like the one atop the sleek Marmara Pera hotel, to catch the incredible views.
Local beers like Efes and Turkish wines abound at these happy hours, along with Turkish bar snacks like olives and spiced nuts.
At night, the area around the Galata Tower becomes a meeting place for students and hippies, who sit around the base of the historic tower with beers, guitars and drums.
For a more sophisticated nightlife scene, the neighbourhood of Ortaköy has chic nightclubs right on the Bosphorus, like the legendary Reina, which is frequented by trendy Istanbulites and celebrities like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.
There's an incredible array of late-night eats available, but one of the best spots for a midnight snack is along the Bosphorus at the Galata Bridge near the Karaköy fish market, where vendors sell fresh grilled fish sandwiches made to order.
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