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Must See Cities

From a person that loves a city atmosphere, the list of cities around the world that fall into the category of “must see” is so extensive that it could never fit into a single article. To narrow it down, I’ve chosen some of my absolute favorite cities, as well as those that I think might get overlooked and deserve more attention.

1. Vienna, Austria: While Vienna is certainly popular enough, I think it tends to get overlooked as a “must see”. Why? Name ten major attractions in Vienna (no internet searching allowed). Have you thought of them yet? How about five? Three? Exactly. Maybe you’ve come up with the Opera House, and a palace or two. Beer gardens and cafes don’t count as major attractions, sorry. They are, however, shining examples of the character of the city. Vienna is a living, breathing, working city. It has some magnificent palaces including Schoenbrunn and Belvedere, and the Opera House is certainly beautiful. The real “attractions” in Vienna, though, are walking up the vibrant pedestrian street where people sit at beer gardens and coffee houses, sitting in the park enjoying one of it’s many festivals (film, art, theater), wandering in and out of the numerous shops that line the streets. There are plenty of cathedrals and museums, and they are worth a visit. They just aren’t the “soul” of the city.

2. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Buenos Aires’ charm lies in its neighborhoods. Like Vienna, it doesn’t have numerous sites that call out to tourists (though do visit the La Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron and several other famous Argentineans are buried). Instead, dine along the waterfront of Puerto Madero, wander through the markets in Palermo and take in a tango show in San Telmo (the non-tourist version). It’s not the cleanest city, so be prepared for some graffiti and litter. Also be prepared to stay up late – virtually no one goes out to dinner until at least 10 PM, and it’s not uncommon to be eating dinner until close to midnight. Most of all, let go of your expectations and enjoy the city like a local.

3. Cape Town, South Africa: Dine on the promenade overlooking the water, take a private tour of the lush vineyards, hike (or drive) up Table Mountain for an unobstructed birds eye view of the harbor and the city, walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela. This is the Cape Town experience. If you’re willing to travel a couple of hours outside of the city, you can even explore a game park. Cape Town truly has a little bit of everything, in a picturesque setting with friendly people and pleasant weather. What more could you ask for?

4. Amsterdam, Netherlands: No, not for the reasons you might suspect – though if that’s your thing, there’s plenty of opportunity. The images portrayed of Amsterdam on TV with canals running through the cities, bicyclists riding along the streets, lively restaurants, shops and bars – this really is Amsterdam. If you have the opportunity, visit in the spring when the tulips are in bloom, though it’s an attractive and fun-loving city any time of year.

5. Venice, Italy: People seem to have a love/hate relationship with Venice – they either love it or hate it. Both sides have to admit, though, that it’s like no other city in the world. There are no cars allowed on Venice so you’ll travel by foot or water taxi (I strongly suggest the former). Its winding streets are easy to get lost in, especially at night, but also alluring. The locals live right in the city center, so its not unusual to watch them hanging their laundry, smell their sauces and spices cooking or see them wave at you as you pass by. The canals throughout the city, the local produce and fish stands, the shops and restaurants tucked into every corner and of course the famous St. Mark’s square and the bell tower come together to create a city that’s one-of-a-kind, and for that reason alone is a must see.

6. Barcelona, Spain: It’s difficult to find a city in Spain that I would not recommend, but Barcelona tops the must see list. The city’s distinct “Spanish” feel but with an international flair differentiates it from the rest of Spain. The bustling Las Ramblas pedestrian street, the plazas surrounded by restaurants and cafes, the sparkling harbor, the cathedrals with their intricate architecture and Olympic Village overlooking the rest of the city are some of the highlights (ignore guide books, the village is worth seeing). As in Buenos Aires, be prepared for late evenings – dinner generally starts around 10 PM at the earliest.

7. Paris, France: Like Venice, people seem to either love or hate Paris. I love it. It has nearly everything I could possibly want in a city. The most enthralling feature of Paris is its neighborhoods. Each section of the city has it’s own distinct feel. Many could be their own little town worth visiting independent of the rest of the neighborhoods. The literary and artistic district of St. Germain, lively Latin Quarter, Montemarte’s famous Sacre Couer, the history of Bastille and of course the popular center of shopping, attractions, museums and more with which most visitors are quite familiar all converge to form Paris. Add in fantastic wines, cheeses and baked goods, people watching and gorgeous green spaces and you have a city that it’s almost impossible not to love.

8. Seoul, South Korea: Bright, busy, and booming, Seoul surprises visitors with its combination of cutting edge technology, modern style and historic influence. As with Paris and Buenos Aires, Seoul is divided into sectors, which range from the local artists district to the bustling shopping center with a wide variety in between. Seoul’s character is further sculpted by its friendly residents and distinct cuisine. To read more on Seoul, check out this recent post which describes in further detail the features that make this city a must visit.

9. Brussels, Belgium: It’s tough to turn down a city that’s known for it’s chocolate, frittes (fries), beer and waffles, isn’t it? All kidding – and food – aside, Brussels tends to be passed over for cities like Paris and Amsterdam. Brussels is a walk-able city, and in fact a large part of the downtown area is a pedestrian zone. Shops, restaurants and cafes line the stone streets, which are filled with locals and visitors after work and on weekends. At the center lies the Grand Market, a large pedestrian square surrounded by eateries and exquisite cathedrals, which have now been transformed into museums. At night, the square is beautifully lit and becomes quite lively, the local hang out for the young and young at heart. Brussels is filled with museums, ranging from the more tradition such as art and history to the Museum of Musical Instruments, Museum of Belgian Brewers and the Toy Museum.

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