10 of the coolest “third party” cities in the world
There is a familiar pattern in tourism. Everyone rushes to the biggest and most well-known city, then it gets crowded, so savvy travelers turn to the second city. Alas, it often gets deluge too, as once-hip Porto, Antwerp and Barcelona can attest. So why not take a look a little further at the cool third-party towns that are eagerly awaiting their moment in the spotlight?
The spiritual house of paella has a lot of heritage – the central market and the cathedral are magnificent. But Valencia is carving out a niche for modern architecture, with the City of Arts and Sciences offering bold architecture and a string of museums and cultural attractions. It’s also a beach town – the big and wide Playa de la Malvarossa is the best place for swimming, sunbathing and people-watching.
Where? South Africa
Durban offers something Johannesburg and Cape Town cannot: miles and miles of Indian Ocean beaches. There are also strong Zulu and Indian influences. If you’re heading downtown, try some Bunny Chow – basically a curry in a bread bowl. Durban’s main attractions – uShaka Marine World Aquarium and Umgeni River Bird Park are fairly generic animal parks. But the Kwa Muhle Museum gives a fascinating insight into local history and how the precursor to the apartheid system was tested in Durban. See visitdurban.travel
Prettier than Brussels and Antwerp, Ghent manages to retain a sense of canalside reality. It’s a hotbed of vegan food, while the 10th-century Gravensteen Castle might as well have come straight from children’s storybooks. There are also beautiful cathedrals and churches, but it’s a city made for wandering between ridiculously strong beers. See visit.gent.be
Where? UNITED STATES
Sorry New York and Los Angeles, you don’t look as cool as Chicago. Here, skyscrapers soar around the Chicago River as El trains rattle overhead on elevated tracks.
Chicago also retains the energy of the big city while ditching the attitude. It’s just a fun city to hang out in. Key items to tick off the list include a visit to the Second City Comedy Club, giant dinosaur encounters at the Field Museum, world-class outdoor art installations at Millennium Park, and ogling the glittering towers on an architectural cruise. See choosechicago.com
Haiphong feels much more relaxed than Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and still has plenty of French colonial influence in the boulevards and buildings. There’s also a strong café culture, which is just as well considering it’s a city to hang out rather than rush to tourist attractions. It is arguably best used as a gateway to Cat Ba Island, a wildlife-rich nature reserve.
Toronto and Montreal may surpass Vancouver in population, but not in natural beauty. Vancouver is known for being ‘pleasant’, with a walk or bike ride around the Stanley Park Seawall as a mandatory introduction to the city. But that can be followed by taking the small ferries to the Granville Island Market, teetering on the Capilano Suspension Bridge surrounded by forests, and sampling craft beers in historic Gastown. See destinationvancouver.com
Paris and Marseille may be bigger, but Lyon has carved out a niche as the culinary capital of France. This is best explored in the many restaurants, but the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie is an interactive museum dedicated to all things food. Meanwhile, the Musée des Confluences specializes in anthropology, while the Roman theater is the largest of several clues to a Roman past. See en.lyon-france.com
Few cities are as beach-focused as Fortaleza, Brazil’s third-largest city after Sao Paulo and Rio. 5km long, Praia do Futuro is arguably the most spectacular of these beaches, but there are dozens to choose from. On the wholesome and educational side, the Centro Cultural Dragão do Mar brings art and a glimpse into traditional life in northeast Brazil. See visitbrasil.com
Naples doesn’t have the history of Rome or the art and style of Milan, but it more than makes up for that with a fiery character. There is no shortage of grand and monumental buildings, with the fearsome Castel Novo now housing an art gallery and the Royal Palace featuring lushly decorated apartments. But the personality comes from the culinary scene – it’s the home of pizza – and the looming volcanic backdrop provided by Mount Vesuvius. See visitnaples.eu
Australia’s third-largest city is confidently edging its way out of the shadows of Sydney and Melbourne, including securing the 2032 Olympics. The backstreet scene in the CBD and Fortitude Valley brings the chill, but Brisbane is at its best as an outdoor city. The man-made beach on the south shore, the botanical gardens at the tip of the CBD and the walking path along the river provide the perfect introduction. See visitbrisbane.com.au
Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest at local tourist boards in Brisbane, Chicago, Vancouver and Ghent.
See also: The 10 weird capitals you didn’t know about
See also: 10 Great Cities You’ve Never Heard Of