Skip the touristic capitals and head to some of these equally iconic cities around the world.
Capital cities such as Paris, London, and Tokyo typically attract more attention than their neighbors. This leaves many picture-perfect cities forgotten or at the tail end of everyone's itinerary. But many of these secondary cities may actually be more worthy of a visit, and some are quite a bit bigger than their countries' seats of government. Here's our list of 10 cities that shine brighter than their capitals.
Unlike Italy's capital, Rome, Milan isn't known for its architecture or grandeur. But what Milan lacks in beauty, it definitely makes up for in design and style as one of the world's four fashion capitals. Why go back in time and spend your trip wrapped up in the disorganization of Rome when you can visit the future? Despite being a younger city, Milan still offers lavish landmarks including Sforza Castle and Teatro alla Scala, just minus the chaos you hope to leave at home while on vacation. In essence, Milan offers a more modern take on Italian culture.
Having missed out on capital city status to Brasília in the '60s, Rio de Janeiro has since put itself on the map hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Instantly, people around the globe fell head over heels in love with Brazil's vibrant culture, perfectly summarized by the bustling city of Rio. Live like a local as you wander through the colorful streets of the city's neighborhoods. Visit the bohemian Santa Teresa by day, and by night get lost in the sexy samba of Lapa. However, it's not all hustle and bustle. Explore the city's nature with a visit to Tijuca National Park, or spend a day relaxing on the sandy shores of Copacabana Beach.
Although Zagreb is the official capital of Croatia, the medieval city of Dubrovnik definitely puts up a good fight. Positioned perfectly on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a beautiful pedestrian-only old town. Wander through a maze of cobblestone streets to discover a host of monasteries, baroque churches and Renaissance fountains, all surrounded by the city's stone walls dating back to the 11th century. Zagreb may be the capital of Croatia, but Dubrovnik is definitely its capital of culture.
Lagging behind both Toronto and Montreal in population size, Vancouver is often overlooked, which is a shame. It has more than enough to offer curious travelers. From its cosmopolitan galleries and ornate Orpheum to the surrounding North Shore Mountains and Pacific coastline, Vancouver has everything Toronto has and more. Whether you visit during the winter or summer, choosing Vancouver as your vacation destination will not disappoint.
Unlike the trendy capital city of Stockholm, Sweden's Gothenburg is often missing from travel itineraries. But why? This Scandinavian seaside city is over 10 percent cheaper than Stockholm, and with hotels and restaurants at wallet-friendly prices, you won't be strapped for cash when it's time to explore. Get lost in Gothenburg's wealth of art and music, from the Gothenburg Museum of Art and its colorful street art to the city's numerous Jazz bars. Looking to see more? Take a picturesque boat tour through the canals and along the Göta älv. It's the perfect way to see the city's port, dockyards and museum ships.
The majority of tourists in Greece stop in Athens before touring the islands, missing out on the gem that is the city of Thessaloniki. Located in the north on the Thermaic Gulf, not only is this port city a major transportation center for Greece and southeastern Europe, but it's also a vibrant metropolis overflowing with culture and history. Delve deep into the past and explore the architectural history of Ano Poli, one of the few areas to survive the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, or visit the city's iconic White Tower dating back to the 15th century. Don't forget the city's lively nightlife. Enjoy its endless restaurants and cocktail bars, or escape with a visit to one of the picture-perfect beaches nearby on the Aegean Sea. This city is the perfect mix of chaos and beauty.
Although no longer Japan's capital city, today Kyoto is considered the country's capital of culture. Bursting at the seams with beauty, Kyoto rightfully declined the rest of Japan's invitation to adopt modernity, remaining faithful to its roots. This dedication to tradition is evident everywhere in present-day Kyoto, from streets lined with classic Japanese townhouses to vendors selling handcrafted textiles and ornaments. If you want to truly experience Japanese culture, Kyoto is your best bet! Be sure to explore its famously beautiful temples and shrines, numbering over 1,000. Start with the city's Honen-in Temple. Established in 1680, this temple is best known for its fall foliage and cherry blossom trees.
As the largest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, it's somewhat surprising that Varna is not the most popular location in Bulgaria. It's certainly the most interesting. Also known as Bulgaria's maritime capital, Varna is a port city, a naval base, and a seaside resort. Not only does Varna boast beautiful lengthy beaches such as Sveti Konstantin, but it's full of history. Visitors should check out the city's ancient Roman baths, the largest in the Balkans, as well as the city's Museum of Archaeology. Varna is the perfect destination for those looking for more than your average beach holiday.
Although normally only an overnight stop en route to Machu Picchu, Cusco deserves to be a vacation destination in itself. Nestled in the Peruvian Andes with its collection of baroque churches, palaces, and plazas, it's no surprise that Cusco was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. Tourists can wander through the streets of the city that was once the capital of the Inca Empire, stumbling upon sights such as the Cusco Cathedral and the Qorikancha Temple. Cusco's restaurants serving up traditional Peruvian cuisine are also worth a trip. It's possible that choosing Cusco over Peru's capital, Lima, is the best way to discover the real Peru.
You would think that a city as vibrant and diverse as Tel Aviv would be considered a capital, but think again. Israel's capital is Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest cities, but Tel Aviv's modernity offers a whole new perspective on the ancient land. Also known as the Mediterranean capital of cool, Tel Aviv doesn't fail to live up to its name. With beautiful weather across the calendar year, Tel Aviv is never dull. From trendy restaurants, bars, and clubs to diverse beaches, this city caters to everyone. Searching for culture? Look out for the city's Bauhaus, or White City, architecture and its renowned Tel Aviv Museum of Art. This center of culture is bound to wind up on your wanderlust list.