It always baffles me when people are surprised I don’t like beaches or the woods. People are truly shocked. I’m a city boy. I grew up amongst the chaos of American big cities. The bright lights of New York, the multiculturalism of Cleveland, the size of Dallas. Big cities are where I thrive socially and professionally. The epicenters of “cool”. The bastions of culture. The protectors of dopeness. Big cities are the lifeblood of culture and identity for me. Keeping the wheels of civilization turning. As I consistently defend myself I realized I’ve never talked about my favorite cities and why I love them. So let’s take a deep dive into the cities around the world I think everyone should check out at least once.
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Las Vegas is the entertainment center of the universe. Let’s be clear, Vegas exists only to extract money from your wallet. But what it offers in return will leave you awestruck. You’ll find some of the worlds best shows featuring talents like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Elton John. Michelin starred dining options from the likes of Tom Colicchio, Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsey, and Joël Robuchon to name a few. And of course, the best gambling on the planet. But don’t worry if you’re trying to keep costs down. A common misconception about Las Vegas is that it’s expensive. Las Vegas has something to offer everyone in all price ranges. And if I’m being honest, the most fun in Vegas comes when you aren’t spending a dime………well maybe pennies. Wink Wink.
Only Here Special Experience: Walk The Las Vegas Strip at Night
What to Do: While the Las Vegas Strip is a must do for any gambler, I think Las Vegas has a few special experiences for the non-gamblers as well. Check out a Cirque du Soleil Show. I highly recommend Ka at The MGM Grand. A stroll down Fremont Street is also high on my list. Something I don’t hear a lot of people talk about are lounge singers. My god, Las Vegas has some amazing smaller acts and lounge singers. I can’t tell you how many afternoons I’ve just grabbed a seat and listened to brilliant musicians. Check out the Prince Tribute Band, Purple Reign.
Bangkok is quite possibly one of the most underrated big cities in the world. It doesn’t get the press that NYC, London, or Tokyo do but offers the same variety of it’s more popular rivals and then some. I’ve gone on record as saying Bangkok is NOT a great tourist city. Because it’s not. It’s an amazing ex-pat city. With that said, the variety of things you can do in Bangkok certainly rivals the best tourist destinations in the world.
Only Here Special Experience: Eat The World’s Best Street Food pretty much everywhere.
What to Do: Bangkok is going through a massive modernization and redevelopment phase since early 2015. Condos, new shopping experiences, and infrastructure renovations are everywhere. With this development comes the closing/relocation of street food staples. Making it harder than it used to be to find gems. But street food isn’t going anywhere. Shop at Siam Paragon and Chatuchak Weekend Market. Eat at Chinatown after sunset. And Visit Wat Pho.
New York City,New York, USA
The rumors are true. New York City is the greatest city on earth. #bias. While it can be overbearing and expensive at times, New York City is an excellent travel destination. Combining multiculturalism, opulence, and style all in one place. There has been a massive drop in the NYC crime rate in the last decade, making it one of the safest places to travel in the US. While this piece is actually an unranked list, I would have to say that NYC is probably the #1 city in the world from a pure tourism stand point.
Only Here Special Experience: EVERYTHING
What to Do: My favorite tour company in the world is Context Travel, hands down. And if there’s one thing about New York City that defines it, the Architecture. And Context Travel has the best tour NYC offers. Aside from that, just walk. NYC is an amazing city to just walk in. Of course, plan your route safely but it’s a place where a couple hours of walking can take you around the world and back again.
Venice has become a victim of its own success. As a “must-see” Italian destination for many tourists, it’s becoming overrun with tour groups and weekenders. This has resulted in many residents and politicians calling for a culling of the crowds through taxation and outright tourist bans. The reason Venice is such a popular destination is the fact it’s one of the worlds most unique and beautiful cities.
Only Here Special Experience: Gondola Rides
What to Do: Walk the canals at night. Not only will you escape the crowds, but you’ll get a look at the stunning lighting that lines the canals of Venice. You’ll see where locals live and play. A different view of Venice altogether. And possibly one of the most romantic experiences around. Some will tell you that a Gondola ride is mandatory. Mehhhhhh. I say walk and you’ll be fine. Spend the 80 Euro on Gelato.
Istanbul is the bridge between Europe and Asia. Figuratively and literally. It feels that Istanbul is still shrouded in mystery for many western travelers. But let me tell you as an avid visitor, it’s a brilliant place to travel. Amazing food, welcoming people, and beautiful architecture combine to create an experience like no other. Istanbul is one of Europe/Asia’s most important travel destinations.
Only Here Special Experience: Sultanahmet Square
What to Do: Shop at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. Many have never had the pleasure of haggling with vendors. In Istanbul, it’s almost expected. Haggling was a central part of Ottoman culture. This practice is fully maintained to this day. When it was Constantinople, Istanbul was actually the economic center of Silk Road trade. Keep the culture alive by grabbing some silk, spices, or delicious Turkish coffee.
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
You might be asking yourself where in the world is Georgetown Penang? Georgetown might not be on your travel radar but it should be. Georgetown is on the island of Penang in Malaysia. While not as diverse as other parts of Malaysia, Georgetown offers an interesting look at Chinese and Indian immigration and culture in Malaysia. Not to mention the architecture. The entire city of Georgetown is actually a UNESCO World Heritage SIte
Only Here Special Experience: Street Art Tour and Indian Street Food
What to Do: Eat Eat and Eat. My friends over at Simply Enak have you covered with one of the most in-depth food tours you’ll ever have. Not only covering the wide range of food but the three distinct cultures you’ll find in Georgetown. Chinese, Indian, and Malay.
Japan might be the most misrepresented nation by western media. Japan is an extreme mix of the modern and traditional. It’s a place where Japanese culture has seamlessly merged with innovative technology and ideas. This marriage of culture and technology has resulted in a country with stunningly beautiful architecture, delicious food, and a distinct identity. And nowhere is this fusion more evident than Tokyo.
Only Here Special Experience: There’s a simple truth. The world standard in fine dining, Tokyo. While the PR wizards in France have created a wonderful mystique around Paris, the simple truth remains they don’t even come close to Tokyo. Of all the cities Michelin covers, Tokyo restaurants have the most stars by far with 302. Second place is Paris with 141. Meaning Tokyo could lose half of their stars and still be the best. Quite impressive.
While fine dining in Tokyo takes many forms, there’s one dish you must try. Ramen. And Tokyo is home to Tsuta and Nakiryu. The only Ramen restaurants in the world with Michelin stars. But don’t worry, there are plenty of amazing Ramen places for those not willing to wait in line.
What to Do: If there’s one place that sums up the organized chaos of Tokyo it’s Shibuya. And something everyone must try is a Pachinko Parlor. Head over to Pachinko Maruhan for a crash course in Tokyo’s favorite guilty pleasure.
I believe Budapest is the perfect hybrid city. Many will tell you that if you’ve seen one European city, you’ve seen them all. And sure, that’s true to some extent. But it’s almost right on the money in regards to Central Europe. Castle, Bridge, Old Town, Bars, repeat. Prague, Bratislava, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest. Relatively similar. Especially in regards to how they promote their tourism. But Budapest is different. Not only do they trump everyone with their Thermal Baths, but they have a youthful and welcoming culture which has resulted in an eclectic nightlife. The envy of its central European neighbors.
Only Here Special Experience: Thermal Baths
What to Do: I used to live in Budapest. And one of my favorite things to do after a night out was walk up to Buda Castle and watch the sunrise and city wake. Buda Castle offers some of the best views of Budapest and it’s sprawling skyline. Also, check out the amazing music scene. Budapest is seriously underrated when it comes to musical offerings. And given the fact that some of the greatest composers ever hail from here, that’s a shame.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires feels extremely European. From the attitudes of it’s citizens to the eurocentric architecture. BA almost feels out of place in South America. And that’s part of its charm. While Buenos Aires can be difficult to break into, once you get past a layer of elitism, it’s a cool city to explore. And don’t get me started on the food scene here. Some of the best meat and wine on the planet earth. And this is a debate I would happily have with anyone.
Only Here Special Experience: Asado, Wine, and Tango
What to Do: A Milonga is essentially a Tango dance party. There’s no better way to experience this beautiful cultural dance than with a live band and people who have danced for decades. The crowd tends to comprise older Argentines. Many who are more than willing to share a bottle of wine and good conversation with you.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is a place I’m conflicted on. On one side, it’s natural beauty and laid-back vibe make it an amazing place to relax. On the other hand, the clear socioeconomic disparity between black and white South African’s is front and center everytime you leave your hotel room. It’s impossible to not notice most of the patrons are white and servers/workers are black. While disheartening and confusing, this is something I think everyone needs to observe and learn about. The vestiges of marginalization during the Apartheid are very real. Also, Table Mountain is absolutely stunning.
Only Here Special Experience: Visiting Table Mountain
What to Do: Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is truly something special. The harbor reminds me of the East Coast US cities. With its architecture and seafood heavy cuisine. Watching boats come and go under the shadow of Table Mountain is a special experience. And be sure to check out Old Biscuit Mill if you’re in town on the weekend. Delicious.