I’ve written about it before, but the fact is that there are just some cities that we don’t like. It can be for a host of reasons, maybe we were in a bad mood, we were robbed or maybe the city just wasn’t that great. Since I have written about this before, I also know the very strong feelings that a dislike of a city can engender. My essay on Toronto is still creating furor in the Queen City and my intense dislike of Athens I freely share with anyone who asks. That’s not to say I won’t like them one day. Maybe I was in a bad place and just need to experience the cities again. Regardless of the reasons, they are cities that I don’t like. There are some other cities around the world that while not engendering intense feelings of hate, they may create other feelings – like that of ambivalence. Maybe travelers have heard that these cities are nothing special and they skip them. Or maybe they’ve never even heard of them. It’s a big world after all, and no one is familiar with every city in the world. With all of this in mind, I thought I’d defend a few cities that I think everyone should visit and hopefully enjoy experiencing. Some of these cities suffer from not being a household name while others have gotten a bad rap for being boring or otherwise uninteresting. I’m not going to say which ones are which, but what I will do is share with you just a few reasons why I personally enjoy visiting these cities and why I think they should be heralded in the pantheon of tourist destinations right alongside New York, Paris and London.
In no particular order:
I loved most of my adventures in Croatia, but Zadar was one city that simply blew me away. It’s not only one of my favorite cities in Croatia, but easily the world. And yet it’s really hard for me to say why, exactly. Sure it’s beautiful and the mix of architecture from Roman times through today makes walking around a fascinating adventure, but it’s more than that. While in Zadar I felt connected to the town in a way that’s hard to replicate. I loved everything from watching one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world to hanging out with new friends at a local cafe. Everything worked for me, everything just seemed right. I’m not alone either, Zadar is quickly rising on ‘must-visit’ lists and it won’t be long until the masses discover this amazing town, so be sure to include a visit in your travel plans sooner rather than later.
One doesn’t normally think that a German city will be inherently weird. I mean, it’s Germany after all, a country known for its stoic adherence to orderliness and things that just make sense. Hamburg has always been a little different though, and this fringe attitude is on proud display for all who look for it. Hamburg has occupied a precarious position for centuries. As a free city-state and one of the most profitable ports in the world, it has drawn upon influences from around the world and most notably from nearby Scandinavian cousins. In fact ask a Hamburger and they’ll more readily identify with Scandinavia and not necessarily Germany. Because of that, people who live there are their own unique beings, and this proclivity towards the odd is seen all around town, but especially in the St. Pauli neighborhood. One of my favorite neighborhoods, St. Pauli effuses a certain Bohemian air. Hipsters, punk rockers and cultural eschewers all call St.Pauli home, creating a part of Hamburg known for its graffiti art, independent businesses and a general liberal attitude towards life. One of the oddest things I’ve seen anywhere though are small shack villages, hidden down lanes and back alleys, where people have established homes of dubious legality and where even more dubious activities undeniably take place. It’s strange, it’s odd but it’s Hamburg. Of course there are more mainstream reasons to visit Hamburg, from the UNESCO Speicherstadt district to the massive Miniatur Wunderland. No matter why you go, just make sure you go.
I love Australia and while I’ve never had a bad experience in an Australian city, I’ve also learned that they’re not all made the same. Some enjoy a distinct personality and vibe whereas others are a little more humdrum. Not bad, just a little boring. I honestly expected Brisbane to fall into the boring category, but after visiting for the first time a few months ago I soon realized how very wrong I was. Aside from the pedestrian zones and the museums, the one over-arching thought I had leaving Brisbane is just how incredibly livable it is. That’s saying a lot for a country like Australia, whose cities routinely rank in the top tier when it comes to judging the happiness of residents. I first noticed it when, after a couple of hours of walking with a guide, we hadn’t actually crossed a street. We ambled from one pedestrian-zone to the next, from park to promenade, enjoying the sights of the city without dealing with the typical city problems like cars and crosswalks. The city’s main pedestrian zone, Queen Street Mall, is a delightful circus of sights and sounds, restaurants, shops, cafes and people. It was the middle of the week and yet it was packed with folks out enjoying the wonderfully warm temperatures of a mild Queensland winter. But it was crossing the Kurilpa Bridge, and seeing the city from the Southbank that truly drove home just how nice Brisbane is to be in. The lengthy promenade was dotted with joggers and families and nearly every bench was occupied with folks enjoying the day. Brisbane is blessed with a lot of great weather, and everything about the city encourages residents and visitors alike to get out and enjoy that natural gift. At the risk of sounding infantile, Brisbane is just a fun city to be in and sometimes that’s enough.
I love visiting Scandinavia and while the region isn’t very big and the countries have a significant shared history, they couldn’t be more different from each other. For whatever reason, whether it’s true or not, Norwegians aren’t typically known as being the warmest of people and I honestly expected Oslo to be an ok place to visit, filled with polite but not overly friendly people and uninteresting sites. Once again, the reality couldn’t have been more different. Right from the beginning, as I walked around town I was met with kind smiles and offers of help whenever I needed them. Instead of keeping to themselves, people welcomed me into their lives, sharing nuggets of cultural information that was priceless in my indoctrination into all things Norwegian. I obviously grossly mischaracterized them before my trip, allowing a few gruff personalities color my image of an entire populace. It was another great lesson on how important is it NOT to prejudge an entire nation and to always keep an open mind. Lesson learned and duly noted; sorry about that Norway. Throw into the mix amazing cultural activities, fantastic museums and stunning scenery and you have a wonderful city to visit.
Poor Milan. In a country rich with history, culture and amazing cities, it’s sometimes tough to be noticed. Whether it’s Rome, Venice or Florence, Milan does seem to be overshadowed by its cousins. Add to that the fact that it’s an important business hub, full of people going to work and doing typical businessy things and it’s easy to think why some people consider Milan to be boring. They are, I am happy to say, very wrong however. I’ve visited Milan twice now, spending a week there each time. So, while I’m certainly no expert, I do have a little bit of experience from which to draw upon. First, let’s address the obvious. There is, in fact, a lot to do in Milan itself. The massive Duomo is one of the most architecturally interesting cathedrals you will ever see and surrounded by a massive public square and the nearby 19th century shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, it’s at the heart of any visitor’s experience. There’s also a certain famous painting you may have heard about – “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, which is available for public viewing. But that’s just the beginning; all around town you’ll not only find places of historic interest, but cultural interest as well from the city’s famous fashion industry to the beautiful canals you can still find in certain areas of town. On the off chance you do get bored, there are many – many – fantastic day trips outside of the city, from quiet mountain villages to the famously delicious food region of Emilia-Romagna. So no, Milan is not boring in fact it’s one of the most interesting cities in the world.
These are just a few cities that I think have received an unfair reputation over the years, what are some others?