You have read the travel magazines and the blogs, seen the TV shows, and thousands upon thousands of Facebook photos, but there are still some places out there that you don’t really know. You may think you know them, I bet you’ve heard about them many times but here are nine cities that may surprise you.
1.) Manchester, UK
Why is it surprising? Manchester is not just a dreary Northern city.
Manchester is one of the UK’s northern cities built on industry. Hulking abandoned warehouses, shady canals and other fading industrial detritus used to blight the landscape. But now, those same warehouses are million pound flats, trendy bars and gentrification is sweeping the city.
From Gay Village to the Northern Quarter, Manchester is now a haven of hipsters, trendy young professionals and those newly relocated media types. The BBC moved lots of its operation up here in 2011. This was just another boost for the UK’s “Northern Powerhouse”. You can now stroll through town and stop at wonderfully exciting cocktail bars (The Apotheca makes me a very happy girl), utterly bohemian coffee shops and vintage clothing shops that haven’t been emptied of all the good stuff like their London counterparts.
If you are after some high culture, you can visit the Imperial War Museum’s Northern branch. Then there is The Lowry which is a huge arts centre sporting three stages and arts spaces galore. Finally, if you think sport is high culture….ever heard of Manchester United!!?
2.) Marseille, France
Why is it surprising? You won’t get murdered in Marseille.
I bet you have heard that Marseille is rough. It has always had a scrappy reputation, as with many port towns, but the crime statistics are pretty news-worthy.
As with any trip to other cities with less than perfect murder rates (Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, New Orleans) you just need to know what you are dealing with. Most of the trouble is gang-related and takes place on the very Northern edge of the city, or in other small towns near by. If you are taking in the wonderful delights of the town centre, you don’t need to worry.
So what can you do in Marseille?
- Take a trip up to the Notre Dame de la Guarde, Marseille’s beautiful hill-top church and enjoy the view.
- You can spend a day on the beach in the French sunshine.
- Stroll the 19th century avenues dipping in and out of the shops.
- Wander through the produce markets spilling over with delicious French fruit, veg and flowers. The smells are amazing!
- Sit and sip a drink at the port and watch the boats sailing across the sunset.
Want to read more bout Marseille? Check out Marseille, France – Protests, Puffing and Panting
3.) Atlanta, USA
Why is it surprising? Atlanta isn’t all boring skyscrapers, big companies and seven lane freeways.
Atlanta, Georgia in the USA has long been known as the capital of the South, but it can seem a little “blah”. Beyond the huge conference hotels, the gargantuan Delta-filled airport and the giant tourist attractions, this city actually has a lot of soul!
Sweet Auburn is the place for history buffs. Martin Luther King Jr was born, and grew up in this neighbourhood. You can visit his childhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church where he ministered, his memorial which contains his crypt and a beautiful reflecting pool, and the Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Around the entire surrounding area are incredibly interesting info boards that are all about the history of black commerce and industry in the city. You can grab lunch at a gorgeous covered market, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
Little Five Points is Atlanta’s hipster spot, one of the few areas that will actually enjoy a walk. Surrounded by traditional southern houses with those gorgeous porches, you will find a cluster of vintage shops, self-aware dive bars and alternative performance venue 7 Stages. If you want one of the USA’s best burgers, take a trip to The Vortex, the bad-assest pub in Atlanta.
You know what….we actually enjoy the giant tourist attractions too. One of the world’s largest aquariums had us entertained for a whole day, the World of Coca-cola had us vibrating with sugar-fuelled joy and Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint restaurant….well that filled us with sugar too. It’s all lots of fun!
4.) Kyoto, Japan
Why is it surprising? Japan is full of history.
Japan is a country that whizzes ahead with its Shinkansen trains, world-leading robotics and mystifyingly complicated toilets. However, it is not all microprocessors and heattech under layers, Japan is actually full of echoes from the past.
On the east side of the Kamo River in Kyoto, there are a few blocks that remain untouched by Japan’s strides towards the future. The entertainment district of Gion is steeped in history. The traditional thin wooden house frontages hide houses that disappear 20 metres behind them. Interspersed within these accommodations are the long-established tea houses. Businessmen come here to entertain and be entertained by Geisha, a ritual that has been taking place for centuries.
Elsewhere you will find the ancient temples of Kyoto, some of which date back to the 1100s. After a week in the glitz of Tokyo, it is wonderful to see whole streets full of timeless elegance.
5.) Bratislava, Slovakia
Why is it surprising? There is lots to see in Bratislava.
Bratislava was, for a while, just known as the Ryanair airport that wasn’t even the same country as it’s named destination, Vienna. Being just down the river from its fancy neighbour, it was often overlooked but Bratislava is a wonderful destination.
Bratislava’s old town is your quintessential European capital city. You can find a lovely main square, cobbled alleys and a castle that has been around for over 1000 years. Down on the river you can take to the water and either go sightseeing or just enjoy a nice drink. The beer is cheap, the garlic soup is incredibly potent and the fries at Orbis street food (that come with loads of awesome sauces) are the perfect hangover cure!
Then we come to the modern architecture, and I couldn’t leave out the UFO! This bridge is often cited as a soviet monstrosity but we totally loved it…and the overpriced cocktails at the top!
6.) Dubrovnik, Croatia
Why is it surprising? Dubrovnik is totally full!
I bet you think you know Dubrovnik, shiny marble floors, old churches and street cafes. However, did you know that there is a population crisis happening there? There are only 1500 actual residents left, a fifth of the population 50 years ago, with 500 lost in just five years! SO why are they leaving? It is the huge influx of cruise ships and tourists that they experience every single day.
In August 2017 over 10,000 people bought tickets to walk the city’s ramparts….and who knows how many other people were there but didn’t buy tickets!? Drastic measures are being put in place to limit the number of tourists allowed within the old city walls per day to 4,000.
Dubrovnik is stunning but you may need to visit in the off-season to really enjoy it.
Want to see more of Dubrovnik? Read Sunset at the Dubrovnik Cable Car.
7.) Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Why is it surprising? It is a little slice of the Ottoman Empire in Europe.
Bang smack in the middle of the events that started WWI, you would expect the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina to be distinctly European but it beats to a totally different drum.
The centre of Sarajevo is a maze of pedestrianised alleyways, like a middle eastern souk. You will find church towers and mosque minarets within a one minute walk of each other. We got some wonderful Bosnian food in a restaurant that looked just like it had been transplanted straight from Oman. Then there was the coffee. Bosnian coffee is made in just the same way as Turkish coffee (without being too ferocious). The city hall, on the banks of river Miljacka, may just look like a slightly quirky European structure. However, through the doors you will find a Moorish-style interior that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Marrakesh.
8.) Delhi, India
Why is it surprising? Your nose will be surprised.
It is not the sights of Delhi that will surprise you, it is not the speeding tuk tuks, the noisy streets or the attention of the touts that will surprise you. You’ve read about all of that. The thing that is most surprising, and the thing you can’t prepare for is the cacophony of smells. You’ll have to expand your imagination for this one.
- Top notes of cheap gasoline
- Whiffs of cow pat
- Wafts of curry powder
- Occasional pongs of pee
- Aromas of rotting rubbish
- Odours of hot, sweaty people
- Sweet perfume of Jasmine flowers
- Bottom notes of incense
Now imagine experiencing all of these within a one minute stroll down a Delhi road.
Want to know more about Delhi? Check out our other Delhi articles.
9.) Reykjavik, Iceland
Why is it surprising? You can afford to visit.
Everyone knows that Iceland is expensive….don’t they? Well travelling to Reykjavik needn’t be. You will find that you can have a fantastic time in Reykjavik without completely breaking the bank.
You will find local swimming pools that have lap pools and slides. They also have steam rooms and multiple plunge pools from frankly freezing to just bearably boiling. This budget spa experience will set you back just £2.50! Then there are the fantastic happy hour deals available throughout the city and the yummy cheap eats sold from the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stall (this literally means £the best hotdog in town£ hehe).
Final Thoughts on Cities That May Surprise You
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. – Aldous Huxley
Travel is the most wonderful thing. You never know when somewhere will completely surprise you, especially when you think you already know it. That is probably why we continue to scramble our way across the globe.
Have you visited anywhere that completely surprised you? Let us know!