Ascending the Basilica Cistern for its breathtaking views is one of Istanbul’s undisputed thrills—just ask the 7 million visitors who do it each year. Though a sweeping view of Istanbul from one of the city’s emblematic sites—the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace a must for a vast majority of tourists, oppressive crowds and ridiculously long waits can diminish the experience and squander valuable vacation hours. If you’re willing to try something new, or push a little farther afield, there are spectacular views to be had with fewer (or no) crowds, and unparalleled cultural or dining experiences thrown in as well.

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