We all have our bucket list of places to visit and historical landmarks to see or beaches to explore. Here is a list of the top 10 cities you should definitely visit -if you cannot see them all this year, then at least in your lifetime! They are in no particular order or ranking because they are all fantastic, unique, miraculous, and wonderful in their own ways.
1. Istanbul, Turkey
This stunning city, previously known as Constantinople in the times of the Crusades, is not only the capital of Turkey, but a capital in religious history! It is home to the stunning Hagia Sophia and sits on both the European and Asian continents. It was previously the hub from which the Christian Crusades were controlled, and later home to the Ottoman Empire – two powerful entities saw this strategic location as home to their religious beliefs and incredible architecture. That architecture still stands today and Istanbul is home to so much culture and history, that every place you walk should be an archaelogical site! Istanbul has this overwhelming, buzzing energy that fills everyone with life and is constantly propelling forward with beautiful art galleries and fantastic new hotels, but still somehow manages to maintain a strong hold on its old tradition and history. On the European side you can see the pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants and shops, called the Istiklal Caddesi, which means Independence Avenue and symbolizes the center of modern Istanbul. From this main street shoot out many small alleyways with great coffee shops and bars to check out. All of the “modern” European Embassies were built on this street, away from the Old City, so it has a more modern vibe to it. If you go to the Asian side of the city, referred to as Kadikoy, there are more casual and “hip” restaurants and bars to visit and a great night life. When visiting, make sure to try some of the local food, wander the old city, and hop on a boat ride up the Bosphorus. A great time for this is sunset, perhaps a great way to wind down from a day of walking around the city, before you head out to dinner. You can see candlelit restaurants, beautiful houses, and just an overall view of this ancient, stunning city. The best time of year to visit is probably late spring or early autumn, while it’s still warm out, but not too hot like the summer. That is also when the flowers bloom on the Princes Island – also a must see. There are also great food and art festivals in the spring and summer.
2. Margate, England
Recently, named “romantic, sexy, and weird” by local Tracy Emin, this seaside city is filled with quaint charm. It is filled with indie art galleries, retro shops, and contemporary artwork throughout the city which is set against a beautiful backdrop of a dilapidated seafront. The coffee shops are fantastically charming, and once you go you will understand why this city appears as a highlight on the forthcoming guide to Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. If you want a lovely, relaxation vacation filled with beautiful views, relaxing and romantic vibes, and a lot of culture, then Margate is the place for you! The best time to visit would definitely have to be late spring and summer in order to avoid the rains and cold winds.
3. San Francisco, California (USA)
“The Darling of America’s West Coast”, this funky city has so much charm, you may not be able to handle it! Its colorful and creative houses built side by side along rolling hills fill this roller-coaster city seem small and charming considering its size. From the tops of these hills you can catch glimpses of the bay, and maybe even the glistening Golden Gate Bridge (which may surprise you with its bright red color) or the Alcatraz Prison Island which is now a fun tourist attraction. While it tends to be covered up in fog most days, this life filled city is stuffed and crammed with ethnic restaurants and interesting characters. If you wander the Mission district, you will come across large wall murals of the struggles of minorities. Union Square and the downtown area are the place to be if you’re into shopping. The Embarcadero is a lovely stroll on the water front with beautiful artwork. Most weekends there is an antique and artwork fair across from Peir 1, and a couple piers up you can find a large, artistic fountain which you can climb! Pier 39 is the tourist hub, filled with small shops, street performers, local foods, and sea lions! From here you can catch a ferry to Alcatraz or take a tour of the bay. You can also go to the Bubba Gump Restaurant if you are a big fan of Forrest Gump. Fisherman’s Wharf is where you should grab yourself a sourdough breadbowl with calm chowder before visiting the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, or the famous Wax Museum to take pictures with all the stars. You can continue strolling down the same street along the water in order to find a museum of ships and fantastic views of the famous bridge. Take an old-style trolley back to downtown or climb up the hill to taste some delicious Ghirardelli chocolate at the original factory! Another great place to spend time is the Golden Gate Park – filled with museums like the Cal Academy of Arts and the Exploratorium, or the beautiful Japanese Botanical Gardens. You can also just sit around and have a picnic in this beautiful park, or check the local listings and see whether there is a concert going on. The best times to visit San Francisco are late Spring to Late Fall – the warmer months – where you may get several sunny days in a row in this life filled, colorful city.
4. Valparaiso, Chile
This seaside city was the first port city in all of Chile. About an hour and a half bus ride away from the capital, Valparaiso has so much character and personality, it is one of the most distinctive cities in South America. The city walls are covered with colorful graffiti, some even done by very well-known artists. It has beautiful, colorful houses, built atop steep hills. There are public elevators to help the elderly or sick get from the bottom of the city to the top of one of the major hills. The views of the pacific ocean from atop the winding roads on the hills are breathtaking, as you gaze down the colorful homes and painted stairs and streets. The Bohemian atmosphere with the colorful walls and cobbled streets is filled with some of the best restaurants and bars in all of Chile. Be sure to try the local Chorillana – fries or potatoes topped with pieces of meat topped with fried onions and a fried egg- in different variations, from the cheap style at El Domino, to the fancy El Pimenton. You should also definitely try the unique, large enchiladas in Chile. Their unique meat enchilada is different from the Mexican and Argentinian enchiladas not just in their immense size but also because the meat is accompanied by onions, black olives, and a hard boiled egg – yes. A hard-boiled egg inside the enchilada. The local beers are also fantastic – and after a lovely lunch in the city, stroll to the sea front to see some sea lions lounging on old broken down buildings in the harbor. Maybe you can lick up some ice cream for dessert in the warm, summer sun. The streets are filled with lovely street dogs that might accompany you on your city explorations. Hit up the ancient cemetery for cool graves, or Pablo Neruda’s house. The Pisco Sours are great if you’re looking to go out, and an alfajor is a fantastic afternoon snack of a light buttery cookie sandwich with sweet, creamy dulce de leche in the middle, rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate. There are free walking tours available and are a great way to discover the city. Summer in Valparaiso is during Januar y and February. A recommended time to go is March, as summer ends and fall starts – still warm but not overwhelming. For those of you looking for an escape from your Northern Hemisphere winter cold – travelling to Valparaiso will add a week, or month (however long you choose to stay!) of summer to your year.
5. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
This city is definitely one to visit this year, being the host of the World Cup in 2014. This city will be getting a major facelift – not that it really needs one. Rio de Janeiro may be the most stunning city, with its hilltops and valleys, white beaches, green islands, and marinas. It is varied and filled with life. If you want the experience of a lifetime, go in early February to see the Carnaval. It may be pricey, and filled with people, and hot as the hottest day of summer – but there are people on the streets celebrating life every single day for almost a month. There is live music, costumed performers, and street parties every way you turn. There are entire streets worth of street vendors, like a mini city of street food. If you are a culinary explorer, be sure to try the Farofa – ground manioc root that is served as a powdery addition to many dishes adding some crisp texture and salty taste. You can travel anywhere with the bus and subway system, and it is not very expensive. Be sure to visit the statue of Christ overseeing the stunning city -Corcovado. You will have to take a bus or taxi up to the train up to the trolley that will take you all the way up to the peak. From there you can see the entire city laid out beneath you. You can see the Marina, Copacobana, Ipanema, and the Barra. After visiting Corcovado, go wander around the stunning botanical gardens. Sunset is the best time to take the trolley up to Sugarloaf and watch the sun’s orange rays cover the sparkling waters and the crowded streets. You should definitely take a day to explore the beaches – Ipanema and Copacobana. Another local dish to try is the Acai. We know the Acai as an omega-3 and antioxidant filled berry. But acai is served in several ways in brazil. It can be made into an energy drink – mixed in with protein powder and some other fruit (DELICIOUS!) or it can be served in an acai berry sorbet form – sometimes just served to you plain, and sometimes with added pieces of fruit, granola, and even honey on top. Every form of acai is delicious so you should definitely try all of them. You can take a tour of the favellas but do not try to go in their on your own. You can also take the trolley that flies above the favellas for a very small price and get a birds eye view. Extreme sports are also available – yes, inside the city. You can go sky diving and take surfing lessons. If you do decide to go for Carnaval – try to arrive two weeks early so that you can join a Samba School and even march in the parade one night. Rio is stunning and will be filled with excitement this coming 2014 with the Olympics and the World Cup taking place so it should definitely be at the top of your list!
6. Rangoon, Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has just recently opened its doors to tourism after decades of political isolation. Few countries have shot up to the top of the traveler’s bucklist as this stunning, mysterious country for that exact reason. Of course, some people have gone and travelled in Burma during its years of isolation, but it is still unmarred by the over tourism that some other countries in South East Asia have suffered from. This land is filled with epic sunrise vistas of pagodas at Bagan, rustic floating villages on Inle Lake, timeless traditions and a deep Buddhist Culture. The food is a scintillating combination of Chinese, Thai, and Indian flavors into something you’ve never experienced but always dreamed of. A great way to travel in Myanmar is via small cruise ships, from which you can visit the different floating islands, but if you want a more land-based trip, then the Governor’s Residence is the place to stay in Rangoon, the capital. If you are travelling to Bagan (which shouldn’t even be an if, but rather a when), find yourself a knowledgeable guide and a horse-drawn carriage – it is definitely the most memorable experience. Rangoon is just the capital hub of this country-less-traveled so be sure to visit it soon in order to experience the raw, beautiful, stunning, untouched tradition and beauty of this fascinating country! Best times to visit: The Winter – November through February are the driest months to go. The longest rainy season starts in July and continues through to October so try to avoid those times.
7. Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town has become a popular destination in recent years. Not only is it stunning, on the water front, and filled with culture and undeniable natural beauty, but it is also a spot from which you can take fantastic tours to other parts of South Africa. A home-base for a trip throughout the country-if you will. But the reason you should definitely visit it this coming year is that it has been named the World Design Capital of 2014! This means that designers from all over the word will be regenerating, decorating, and doing sustainable projects throughout the former industrial districts, parks, and other areas in the city. There will be sculpture lined green spaces and fun trendy events to see. The main goal of this project is to bridge the gap between Cape Town’s disparate population, so be sure to go out of town on a tour and see if and how the innovation is turning things around. You should also check out the swanky bus system that has been recently developed and turning Cape Town feasible to travel in with public transport! Sit on the dock for the sunset, and take a tour out to see some lions in the wild! When you visit Cape Town you can balance a cultural trip, historical trip, sunsets, views and natural hikes trip, animal adventure, and calm and classy all into one vacation!! This is the southern hemisphere so best times to visit are spring and fall, which would be April through June and October through December.
8. Venice, Italy
This floating city in northern Italy has been named the most beautiful city in the world time and time again. This stunning location is characterized by its colorful buildings sitting on the water’s edge. It is one of those cities that truly deserves the term “unique”, where the streets are canals and the main form of transport is by boat. The mixture of Byzantine, Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque architecture leaves visitors in awe and fills the curious with knowledge and questions simultaneously. Everywhere you turn, you can sense the theatrical, almost fairytale like atmosphere only enhanced by the carnival mask shops, the singing gondola guides, and the stunning palazzos. You may think you know what to expect after reading your guidebooks and seeing it in movies, but nothing truly compares to the experience of being there. The history of Venice is also overwhelming and fills one with inspiration and trepidation, awe and wonder. Whether you are visiting for the museums, the carnival, or the atmosphere, prepare to enjoy all three no matter what! There are so many designer shops, sophisticated bars, classy restaurants, stunning art galleries, and historical museums but make sure you spend at least a few hours of your trip wandering the city and sitting on the piazza, enjoying a huge scoop of gelato and people watching from a coffee shop. As part of your trip, make sure to take at least one ride in a gondola, definitely go see the Piazza San Marco and marvel at the Basilica, the Accademia Galleria, cross the iconic Rialto Bridge and peruse through the market on the other side, stand under the dome of the Santa Maria Della Salute Church, check out the Scuola Grande di San Rocco for its impressive paintings, and admire the art in the Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari Church. Between these landmarks and visits, avoid the touristy locations and hit the backstreets to find the true local dishes, which are truly delicious. The best time to visit, weather-wise, is late spring and early summer. In the summer there are summer festivals with feasting, fireworks, and a gondola regatta – for the Festa del Redentore, which takes place on the third week of July. Although the streets are crowded with tourists at this time of the year, the waters are at their lowest and the warm weather is pleasant and allows for much gelato consumption. If you are looking to experience the masked and costumed revelry of Carnival, it takes place in February or early March (important to check the dates ahead of time). It will be colder, but filled with tourists, and fun activities. Dress warm! The waters are high starting in October and on through January, which means there is flooding and can hamper sightseeing, so avoid those months. As years go by, waters are rising, and soon Venice will not be as beautiful or accessible, so make sure you go visit it soon!
9. Seville, Spain
While Madrid and Barcelona are the hot-spots of Spain tourism, Seville (and all of Southern Spain) have remained a more authentic, historic slice of the country with great prices, less tourists, and delicious traditional food. If you are looking for Old Spain, you will find it here, with its looming, stately fortress, its ancient cathedral, and traditional plazas. But just because it is old, does not mean it is not filled with exuberant life. Restaurants are filled with diners til the very early hours of the morning, the night-life is hopping, and the coffee shops are stuffed full. This vibrant city has festivals, especially around Easter time. It is quite an experience to see the parades through town, and the adornment at the church. You can go out and enjoy tapas and watch flamenco performances at all hours with the locals and other travelers. This city is not only historically and culturally beautiful, but it is also filled with natural beauty, with bougainvillea and orange trees adorning the streets. You should definitely try sitting at a coffee shop in a plaza and enjoying a hot cup of ciocollata, which is something between a hot chocolate and a warm chocolate pudding. While in the south of Spain, you can go see the Alhambra, an Islamic palace that is a remnant of the Ottomans and Muslim take over in Spain years ago. The artichecture of the palace stands out in the old European country. You can also go to Ronda, a quaint mountain-top town about an hour out of the city. For a farther excursion, travel out to Gibraltar. Technically no longer Spain, this British settlement is a tiny island swarming with adorable monkeys. The best times to visit are Spring and Fall because the summer is miserably hot, and those times have fun festivals and cultural events you can enjoy.
10. Riga, Latvia
This city is finally getting the attention it deserves for being a cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic two decades after the full of the USSR. It sits at the crossroads of two great empires of Europe’s elaborate history and had been a strategic linchpin in the annexation of important lands for centuries. Now it has a renewed status as Latvia’s capital and has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2014. Its crumbling facades have been restored to their brilliant, art nouveau lustre, and the city is teaming with hipster-chic cafes. Due to its title as the Culture Capital of Europe this year, there will definitely be great festivals, exhibitions, and activities to partake in. Be sure to try out the pork-and-potato dinners of old time along with the new, Nordic-inspired dishes that are now growing to be more popular in the area. Sit at the cafe and enjoy the happiness, splendor, and positive vibes that are filling this stunning and once again flourishing city! In the winter months, it is very cold. So shoot for a visit in late spring or early summer. You have a lot of trips to plan and a long year of adventure ahead of you, so go! Enjoy the culture, the beauty, and the food and discover this incredible planet and all of the wonders that await. Have fun!
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