Istanbul, Turkey : Europe and Asia meet in Istanbul, where breathtaking ancient architecture coexists with modern restaurants and nightlife. The city's mosques, bazaars, and hammams (Turkish baths) could keep you happily occupied for your entire trip. Start with the awe-inspiring Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), visible from many points of the city. Stroll the Galata Bridge and stop by the Miniaturk Park to see its tiny artifacts. The Grand Bazaar has thousands of shops to browse, while the Egyptian Bazaar is a fragrant trove of spices and fruits.
Rome, Italy : Rome can’t be toured in a day, either. The city feels like the exhibit halls of a giant outdoor museum, a real-life collage of piazzas, open-air markets, and mind-boggling historic sites. Toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, drop your jaw at the Colosseum and the Pantheon, and fuel up on cappuccino for an afternoon of shopping at the Campo de’Fiori or Via Veneto. Dig into a plate of fresh pasta, some succulent fried artichokes, or a tender oxtail stew for one of the best meals of your life.
|London, United Kingdom|
London, United Kingdom : The crown jewels, Buckingham Palace, Camden Market… In London, history collides with art, fashion, food, and good British ale. A perfect day is different for everyone: culture hounds should hit the Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House. Clotheshorses will drool over Oxford Street shops. For foodies, cream tea at Harrod’s or crispy fish from a proper chippy offers classic London flavor. Music and book buffs will freak out over Abbey Road and the Sherlock Holmes Museum (at 221B Baker Street, natch)
Beijing, China : Move over, Haussmann and l'Enfant. Beijing's urban planner beat you by a couple of centuries. His name is Kublai Khan. Here, you'll find a wealth of history, both ancient (the Hall of Preserving Harmony, Summer Palace, Forbidden City) and more recent (Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, Tiananmen Square). For the best market experience, choose the Dirt Market over the touristy Silk Market.
|Prague, Czech Republic|
Prague, Czech Republic : The bohemian allure and fairytale features of Prague make it a perfect destination for beach-weary vacationers who want to immerse themselves in culture. You could devote an entire day to exploring Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle), then refueling over a hearty dinner at a classic Czech tavern. Spend some time wandering the Old Town Square before heading over to gape at The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. Prague’s best bars are found in cellars, where historic pubs set the scene for a night of traditional tippling.
Marrakech, Morocco : The “Red City” of Marrakesh is a magical place, brimming with markets, gardens, palaces, and mosques. Exploring the intimate courtyards and snaking alleyways of the historic Medina can easily eat up a day. Find inner peace at the serene Jardin Majorelle or take in the beauty of one of the city’s historic mosques (taking note that, unless you are Muslim, you are not allowed to enter).
Paris, France : 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.
Hanoi, Vietnam : The charming Vietnamese capital has aged well, preserving the Old Quarter, monuments and colonial architecture, while making room for modern developments alongside. Hanoi may have shrugged off several former names, including Thang Long, or "ascending dragon," but it hasn't forgotten its past, as sites such as Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Hoa Lo Prison attest. Lakes, parks, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city, which is easily explored by taxi.
|Siem Reap, Cambodia|
Siem Reap, Cambodia : When the morning light washes over the overgrown temples and ruins of Angkor Wat, a simple Siem Reap sunrise becomes a profound event. The ancient structures are contained within one of the largest religious complexes in the world. The complex and the 12th century Angkor Thom royal city are considered the main reasons to visit Siem Reap. Get a lesson in national history at the Cambodian Cultural Village, and a lesson in bargaining at the Angkor Night Market, a bonanza of shopping stalls, food vendors, and bars.
Shanghai, China : The largest city in China is also its most cosmopolitan, offering visitors a chance to experience the past, present, and future all at once. The Huangpu River splits Shanghai into two districts: Pudong and Puxi. The Pudong skyline looks like it was ripped from the Jetsons, with the bulbous Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower looking a bit like a two headed lollipop. On the Puxi side, you can walk the Bund riverside district to get a taste of old Shanghai.
Berlin, Germany : Berlin is an edgy city, from its fashion to its architecture to its charged political history. The Berlin Wall is a sobering reminder of the hyper-charged postwar atmosphere, and yet the graffiti art that now covers its remnants has become symbolic of social progress. Check out the Weltzeituhr (world time) Clock, topped by a model of the solar system, then turn back time by dining at the historic Zur Letzten Instanz, a 16th century restaurant that was frequented by Napoleon and Beethoven.
|New York City, New York|
New York City, New York : You know New York City from film, TV and song. But visit it in person—for a weekend or a month—and you'll find a restless, energetic city with culture, sports, history, restaurants and shopping in abundance. Once you've visited well-loved landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can step off the beaten path in thousands of directions: the medieval Cloisters museum in upper Manhattan, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a tour of pizzerias in Brooklyn. just to name a few.
Florence, Italy : Florence is an art historian’s dream. The Galleria dell'Accademia bursts with works by Michelangelo, who is entombed within the frescoed walls of the Basilica di Santa Croce. Budding photographers can snap pics of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and serious shoppers can spend a blissful afternoon wandering the shops of Piazza Santo Spirito. Tuscan cuisine pays homage to the region’s bounty. Swipe a hunk of crusty bread across a pool of local olive oil and you’ll be instantly transported to your happiest place.
|Buenos Aires, Argentina|
Buenos Aires, Argentina : The birthplace of the tango is, like the dance itself, captivating, seductive and bustling with excited energy. Atmospheric old neighborhoods are rife with romantic restaurants and thumping nightlife, and Buenos Aires' European heritage is evident in its architecture, boulevards and parks. Cafe Tortoni, the city's oldest bar, will transport you back to 1858, and the spectacular Teatro Colon impresses just as it did in 1908. Latin America's shopping capital offers the promise of premium retail therapy along its grand, wide boulevards.
Barcelona, Spain : Barcelona feels a bit surreal – appropriate, since Salvador Dali spent time here and Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí designed several of the city’s buildings. Stepping into Gaudí’s Church of the Sacred Family is a bit like falling through the looking glass - a journey that you can continue with a visit to Park Güell. Sip sangria at a sidewalk café in Las Ramblas while watching flamboyant street performers, then create your own moveable feast by floating from tapas bar to tapas bar.
|St. Petersburg, Russia|
St. Petersburg, Russia : The second largest city in Russia, St. Petersburg is the country’s cultural heart. View splendid architectural gems like the Winter Palace and the Kazan Cathedral, and give yourself plenty of time to browse the world-renowned art collection of the Hermitage. Sprawling across the Neva River delta, St. Petersburg offers enough art, nightlife, fine dining and cultural destinations for many repeat visits.
|Dubai, United Arab Emirates|
Dubai, United Arab Emirates : Dubai is a cosmopolitan oasis, a futuristic cityscape that towers over the Arabian Desert. This is a city of superlatives, home to the world’s largest dancing fountain; tallest building (Burj Khalifa); only 7-star hotel (the Burj al-Arab); largest artificial islands (the Palm Islands); and largest natural flower garden (the Miracle Garden). Rent a dune buggy for a desert adventure, bargain at the open-air market, or cheer on your favorite humped hoofer at the Camel Race Track.
Chicago, Illinois : The windy city is a cornucopia of modern art, fine dining, cutting edge comedy, and die-hard sports fans. Snap a photo of your reflection in the silver Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park before heading to Grant Park to get hit with the refreshing spray of Buckingham Fountain. There are dozens of museums and theater companies in Chicago, so a cultural experience is never hard to find. You’re sure to laugh your head off at the Second City Theater, the professional launch pad of many famous comedians.
|Cape Town Central, South Africa|
Cape Town Central, South Africa : Cape Town glistens at the southern toe of the African continent. Tourist brochure-views at Blaauwberg Beach and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are within easy driving distance of "The Mother City." The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve provides sweeping sea vistas, hiking trails and wildlife encounters. On a more somber note, travelers can visit Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years.
Bangkok, Thailand : Golden palaces, floating markets, majestic porcelain-laid spires… is it a magical fairyland? Close. It’s Bangkok. Thailand's capital is split into 50 unique districts. Hit up 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.
Budapest, Hungary : Over 15 million gallons of water bubble daily into Budapest's 118 springs and boreholes. The city of spas offers an astounding array of baths, from the sparkling Gellert Baths to the vast 1913 neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa to Rudas Spa, a dramatic 16th-century Turkish pool with original Ottoman architecture. The "Queen of the Danube" is also steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. Get your camera ready for the Roman ruins of the Aquincum Museum, Heroes' Square and Statue Park, and the 300-foot dome of St. Stephen's Basilica.
Sydney, Australia : Sydney offers plenty of historical and contemporary Australian flavor. The marvelous Sydney Opera House looks like a great origami sailboat, floating peacefully in a harbor. Wander the narrow cobblestone streets of The Rocks and then take in a street performance on the Circular Quay before heading into the Museum of Contemporary Art. The views from the Sydney Tower Eye observatory are epic – use this chance to get to know the layout of the city from high above.
Lisbon, Portugal : The museums of Lisbon celebrate the rich history and culture of this Portuguese capital city. The Maritime Museum is perfect for kids (and grown-ups!) who adore all things nautical, while the Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves is a hidden gem of colorful artwork. To fully appreciate the city’s dramatic stone architecture you can take a guided walking tour, or customize your own tour, making sure to visit the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, and the UNESCO World Heritage site the Torre de Belem.
|Chiang Mai, Thailand|
Chiang Mai, Thailand : You could spend your whole Chiang Mai vacation exploring the famous Night Bazaar. Once you’ve exhausted the art of the cheerful haggle, however, there’s plenty more to explore. The National Museum and Botanic Garden are great places to soak up some local culture and to breathe in the delicate fragrance of Thai orchids. In the city’s center, the remains of ancient walls embrace over 30 temples. Limber travelers can climb 300 stairs to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an ornate Buddhist temple in the hills.
|San Francisco, California|
San Francisco, California : Every neighborhood in San Francisco has its own personality, from the hippie chic of the Upper Haight to the hipster grit of the Mission. The Marina district boasts trendy bistros and postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge, while Noe Valley offers quaint and quiet boutiques. Wave hello to the sea lions at Pier 39, and sample local cheese and charcuterie at the Ferry Building. Sit in on a yoga session in Dolores Park or marvel at the Dutch Windmill across from Ocean Beach.