Be it Fez or Venice, Barcelona or Bruges, these second cities are undoubtedly worth a look.
Yesterday the Rough Guide tweeted their top 20 global recommendations for second cities that, in their own words, “you need to visit” and the list made for some interesting reading. Amongst the far flung destinations such as Montréal in Canada, Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam, Medellín in Colombia, Mumbai in India, Hobart in Australia, Chicago in the USA, Shanghai in China and Johannesburg in South Africa, there were a good number of European cities that not only tick the boxes perfectly for fabulous city break options, but also rank as some of our most popular destinations. Here’s some of their selection…
One of my personal favourites having spent time there as a student, Barcelona not only offers something for everyone but is also incredibly easy to get to from the UK. This is a city that doesn’t stand still for long, with art, architecture, culture, gastronomy, sport, shopping, sunbathing all in plentiful supply. Whether you’re up for a spot of art appreciation at the Picasso Museum or want to be awestruck by the architectural genius of Antoni Gaudí, fancy soaking up the atmosphere of a La Liga match at Camp Nou or the sun’s rays on the beach as the water of the Mediterranean laps against Barcelona’s shoreline, you won’t fail to be impressed and entranced by this vibrant, cosmopolitan city.
Perhaps our most popular and best-selling destination, Krakow enjoys a timeless appeal with heritage, culture and charm in endless abundance. Amongst the oldest and largest of cities in Poland – for 500 years it served as the royal capital – Krakow has long boasted a proud association as the spiritual heart of the country and today retains a magical allure for all those who visit, effortlessly combining a proud history, enduring traditions and beautifully-preserved architectural gems with the more modern attractions of the 21st century, yet all the while respectfully paying homage to the more sombre and often horrific chapters of its more recent past.
Just a mere sub-two-hour train ride away from London aboard the Eurostar to Brussels (with onward connections via local train), the charms of Bruges are as numerous as they are accessible, a tangled maze of peaceful canals, cobbled streets lined with gabled medieval townhouses and impressive market squares dominated with soaring bell towers and historic buildings with their distinctive Flemish façades steeped in history. Aptly described as the ‘Venice of the North’, unsurprisingly Bruges – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is no secret on the tourist map and so visitors flock to this small city in their droves to soak up the atmosphere and picturesque panoramas seemingly at every canal bridge crossed.
Following its successful stint as the 2014 Commonwealth Games’ host city, Glasgow is enjoying a renewed vigour and energy with visitors flocking to visit its cultural and historical offerings and soak up the buzzing Glaswegian atmosphere. Absorb the architectural delights of George Square, or perhaps take in one of Glasgow’s many museums and galleries, marvelling at the distinctive works of Jack Vettriano and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the city’s most prominent artistic sons. And of course, sample the legendary Glaswegian hospitality on an evening amidst the cocktail bars and traditional watering holes and for which the city is so renowned.
Set at the eastern tip of the Baltic Sea on the banks of the Neva River, St Petersburg draws many comparisons with Venice and Bruges – albeit on a grander scale – for it’s a city where a network of canals criss-cross the city centre, lined along the way by beautiful baroque and neoclassical buildings reminiscent of Europe. Designed and built (on a swamp, no less) for Peter the Great, St Petersburg became Russia’s ‘window to the west’ and today abounds in majestic architectural, historical, religious and cultural treasures. From the cathedrals of St Isaac and St Nicholas and the distinctive Church of the Saviour of the Spilt Blood to the magnificent State Hermitage Museum, housed in the beautiful Winter Palace, and the majestic palaces of Yusupov and Peterhof, dubbed the Russian Versailles, there’s no shortage of awe-inspiring landmarks to discover.
Porto enjoys global renown for its longstanding association with port production and indeed for many, this is reason enough to visit. And yet Portugal’s second city is a glorious and picturesque city break destination, set as it is on the banks of the River Douro, its medieval streets brim full with Baroque churches and neoclassical buildings, decorated with distinctive azulejo tiles. The atmospheric Ribeira district, Porto’s Old Town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an absolute must, as is a visit (or two!) to the riverside wine lodges occupying the Douro’s southern bank. And if music’s your thing, check out the schedule at the Casa della Musica, dubbed one of the world’s greatest concert venues.
One of the world’s best preserved medieval cities and indeed the oldest of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, Fez sits at the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Yet whilst Fez is becoming increasingly popular on the touristic circuit, tradition and heritage continue to pervade, with centuries-old landmarks and customs still in evidence at every turn. Divided into three distinctive parts, Fez-el-Bali, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is undoubtedly its most well-known, for it is here that you’ll find the medina, a rabbit warren of over 9,000 narrow, people-packed lanes jostling for the best buys at the bazaar, the air punctuated with spicy scents. And once you’ve soaked up the atmosphere of old Fez, take time too to visit Ville Nouvelle, the more contemporary side of the city.
Following the mass hype surrounding George Clooney’s recent wedding, I’ve literally just written a dedicated blog to Venice which is linked here. Suffice to say however that this is one show-stopping destination that never tires to sweep you off your feet. Simply stunning.