Here's the thing about flights: A seven-hour hop from New York to Amsterdam feels no shorter than a 10-hour jump to Istanbul. This is especially true on Turkish Airlines, which offers excellent service on its long-haul straight shot between the Big Apple and the remains of Byzantium. Strangely, travelers won't find themselves sharing a row with tourists. Istanbul gets quiet in winter, which is why the holidays are a perfect time to visit. On New Year's Eve, the lines to get into the Hagia Sophia (once Aghia Sofia, a Greek Orthodox basilica, and later a mosque) and the Blue Mosque (named for its incredible blue tiles) - twin monuments to the Muslim present and what was once the center of the Holy Roman Empire - turn into short processions. Then, too, the gem, gold, and leather dealers in the Grand Bazaar are more likely to cut you a deal. Come evening, count down with the young people on Istiklal Street in the trendy Beyoglu neighborhood, where singing and dancing in the streets is strongly encouraged by wandering accordion players.
Take advantage of the off-season rates on hotels in tony Sultanahmet and spend the big night in luxury at the Four Seasons for $700, then head to your appointment at Acemoglu Hamam, one of the city's more respected baths. On your way between your comfy bed and a century-old steam room, be sure to grab a sahlep from one of the vendors yelling happily at the well-mannered street dogs in Sultanahmet Park. The creamy winter drink, an Ottoman remnant made with ground orchid root, is incredibly tasty and the perfect antidote to the chilly wind blowing off the Sea of Marmara. If snow falls, consider it a scenic bonus.