Welcome to our list of Cinderella’s of Cities—cities that aren’t on the radar for most travelers. Some, like Slovakia’s capital of Bratislava, might be overlooked because of their proximity to better-known cities. If undiscovered art scenes, experimental cuisine, great architecture, and interesting neighborhoods are on your travel checklist, then these cities deserve a second look. Sure, popular cities have their place. But if you like exploring, there’s interesting stuff in the world’s most underrated cities.
In the 1980s and ’90s, this city of 3 million was choked in smog. Today, Taipei is one of Asia’s most pleasant capitals, with acres of green space and an easy-to-use public transport system. And there’s plenty to do for outdoor enthusiasts: Yangmingshan National Park, a hot springs in Beitou, hiking trails throughout the surrounding mountains, and riverside bike paths. But the biggest draw is the cuisine. Taipei has some of the best Chinese food in the world, from humble holes-in-the-wall to culinary temples. Don’t fret if you can’t speak or read the lingo—friendly locals are eager to help visitors.
London and Manchester might dispute this claim, but Glasgow has the best music scene in Great Britain. Acts like Belle and Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand got their start in clubs like King Tut’s and the Barrowland Ballroom. And there’s much more to experience in Scotland’s largest city. Take your pick of innovative restaurants such as the mod-Scottish Cail Bruich or the seafood-centric Crabshakk. Architecture buffs shouldn’t miss the Glasgow School of Art, an Art Nouveau gem designed by native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A new Zaha Hadid–designed transport museum opening this spring seals the city’s reputation for forward-looking design.
Fairy-tale buildings, charming squares, a medieval castle looming over the city. No, we’re not talking about Prague, but its Slovak counterpart down the Danube. Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, its once-sleepy capital has transformed into a buzzing hot spot. Nowhere is this more evident than the revitalized Old Town, where locals pack the many atmospheric cafés, bars, and restaurants. Though the dining scene has become more international, a new wave of old-school beer halls is finding favor among Bratislava’s hipsters. Check out Beer Palace near the opera house and Kolkovna in the new, riverside Eurovea complex.
Move over, Boston. A renewed waterfront, vibrant arts scene, and sophisticated dining have turned this small college town into New England‘s most exciting city. Edgy galleries like New Urban Arts and AS220 host parties as well as exhibitions, while the RISD Museum shows French Impressionists, 20th-century masters, and rising young artists (including alums). The once-derelict West End neighborhood is now the city’s epicenter of cool, with friendly dive bars, vintage stores, terrific eateries, and indie record stores. Swill cocktails at The Avery before moving on to the E&O Tap, a local institution.
Ceský Krumlov is located in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The city is famous for its Old Town, with 300 protected medieval buildings, and its castle complex, the second largest in the country. The cosy inns, coffee shops, and ancient taverns entertain a diverse international crowd. Being a world-renowned country for beer, Ceský Krumlov is also home to the Pivovar Eggenberg brewery.
There is much more to Ukraine than news stories of political tyranny and military submarines. The country gained its independence from Moscow, in 1991. Today its bustling capital Kiev has over 3 million residents and is considered an important centre of Eastern Europe. With a skyline defined by the golden domes of numerous churches and monasteries, the streets of Kiev, one of Europe’s oldest cities, exude a sense of permanence. It has stood here for centuries, its fortunes rising and falling, and now exists as a striking modern city which preserves its past, to the delight of visitors.
Native blue crabs seasoned with Old Bay are reason enough to visit Baltimore, but there’s much more to experience in this waterfront town. Take, for example, this underrated city’s revitalized Inner Harbor area, where you’ll find where you’ll find Kimpton’s new Hotel Monaco (opened in July 2009); the upscale neighborhood of Mount Vernon, home to the nation’s first large-scale Washington Monument and the 29-room boutique Hotel Brexton (opened in March 2010); and Harbor East, where a number of hotels and restaurants are opening their doors. Its new, contemporary look aside, you can still discover some 300 years of American history along Baltimore’s cobblestone streets (not only was the “Star Spangled Banner” written here, but abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived and worked in the historic waterfront community of Fells Point in the 1830s) and track down the settings for John Waters’s films (Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, and Female Trouble, among many others, were all shot here). Sports fans will also find no shortage of outlets, since Baltimore is also home to the Orioles baseball team, Ravens football team, and the Preakness (the second leg of the Triple Crown).
When you think “Midwest architectural mecca” the first city that springs to mind is probably Chicago. But a burst of new buildings from the world’s top architects – Herzog & de Meuron’s Walker Art Center expansion, Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater, Michael Graves’ addition to the Institute of Arts, and Frank Gehry’s add-on to the Weisman Museum (scheduled to open in fall 2011) – reinforces the fact that Minneapolis’s cultural cachet doesn’t entirely depend upon Prince (the city’s most notorious native son). The underrated city’s revitalization has spread to banks of the Mississippi, where the booming Mill District has shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels catering to style-savvy travelers, many of whom come for the tax-free shopping. Finally, even baseball fans can find reason to like the town: The brand-new Target Field opened for the 2010 season to replace the indoor (and much ridiculed) Metrodome as the Twins’ ballpark.
Nobody could say that Copenhagen is unpopular or unknown. Still, I think, that the city deserves more attention and popularity. And why not, the city is absolutely fantastic – beautiful canals and cobbled squares, copper spires and narrow streets, quaint old homes and blooming gardens, cozy sidewalk cafes and tempting pastry shops. Certainly the most famous attraction is Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park and pleasure garden right in the heart of Copenhagen. Best known for its flower gardens, Tivoli Gardens is also home for one of world’s oldest wooden roller coaster and the world’s tallest carousel. And of course another reason to visit Copenhagen is beer. Now Copenhagen is becoming one of top beer-drinking destinations in Europe. The city has many top class beer bars, brewpubs and beer shops. Here you can even easily find beers even from Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Italy unquestionably is most desirable travel destination in the world. Everyone dreams to see Rome, Venice and Florence at least once in a lifetime. The country is full of popular vacation spots and attractions. But even the savviest of travelers exploring Italy could miss Siena, Italian capital of the Middle Ages. ‘The Beloved’, the jewel under the Tuscan sun, Siena is a unique city with historic architectural treasures and traditions which go back to the thirteen century, to the times when the city flourished as one of the major cities of Europe. And now sites like Piazza del Campo, the Duomo, Palazzo Pubblico and Palazzo Sansedoni, remind us of long history of the city. The Palio, the traditional horse race, which is held twice during the summer, is one of the most famous attractions of the city. And if you decided to visit Siena, better plan your visit around the Palio race, and you will enjoy best of Siena at the same time: the city under the sun, the Palio, Sienes specialties and great Tuscan wines!
- Cesky Krumlov – Australian Party. – Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic (travelpod.com)
- Near Bratislava’s Old Town, a Modern Hive of Activity (nytimes.com)
- Cycling in Bratislava: Slovakia offers a scenic backdrop for two-wheeled adventures (independent.co.uk)