Frequently Strangers email me and ask for travel suggestions. I've been fortunate to be able to hit a decent portion of the world in my 20s. And besides writing, traveling is probably the thing that I enjoy most.
I thought today it would be fun to give you my top ten list of my favorite cities in the world to explore. This list is constantly fluctuating, but this is how I feel today. Full disclosure, I have never been to South America and my travels in Asia, Africa, and far western Europe are sparse. I have explored eastern and central Europe and Central America extensively and I've wandered through the Middle East and a few other places.
Also, I went through my photos to find a picture for each of the ten cities and it hit me once again how TERRIBLE I am at taking pictures. And I used to be worse. Anyone who reads this blog and sees the Pictures from my Phone on Fridays knows this. So, sorry about the photos below. These cities are much better than I've represented.
10. Hong Kong
I hit Hong Kong in September, 2013 and found it to be overwhelming in both good and bad ways. There is a great excitement there and you can't shake the feeling that the world was all thrown into a giant blender and spat out into this congested city. Also, the entire place is one GIANT shopping mall.
Pros: Fun shopping, exciting city life, fascinating blend of cultures.
Cons: VERY congested, chaotic, and I also got ringworm here. So . . .
9. Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua is a pretty little town in Guatemala that I visited in 2010. The city is fun to wander and shop and it is surrounded by inactive (?) jungle-covered volcanoes. What's more, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful and interesting countries I've ever visited, covered in mountains, jungle, and gorgeous ruins.
Pros: Beautiful, inexpensive, the nicest people you'll ever meet.
Cons: It's not really an exciting town, if that's what you're looking for.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
I hit Istanbul with Krishelle and Daniel in 2012. This city is gorgeous and overwhelming. The food is fantastic and, similar to Hong Kong but in a more "in your face" kind of way, there is a really fascinating blend of cultures and religions here.
Pros: SO much to see and do. You cannot possibly spend enough time here. And the food is FANTASTIC. Did I mention the food? It's FANTASTIC.
Cons: Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. Also, surprisingly difficult to navigate without some familiarity with the language. Not the most difficult of any place I've been. But more so than I expected.
7. Salzburg, Austria
I hit Salzburg with Matt in 2011. I cannot say enough good things about this wonderful place. The town is beautiful and clean and built into mountains and cliffs. We rode bikes all over it and stayed with some couchsurfing hosts who had a funky little cabin in the woods. One of my favorite travel memories of my life.
Pros: The hills are alive with the sound of music.
6. Jerusalem, Israel
You guys. Go to Jerusalem if you can. This place is magical. In the interesting/terrifying/confusing/getmeoutofhere/Iwanttostayforever kind of way. I visited Israel in 2008 with Krishelle, Will, and my grandma. I loved every second of it.
Pros: An infinite amount of stuff to see and explore.
Cons: You might get blown up in a bus.
5. Rome, Italy
Sometimes I tell people that Rome is my favorite city in the world. So I'm a little surprised that's only number 5 on my list. I guess I exaggerated. I'LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. I visited Rome in 2011 with Matt, Krishelle, Heather, and Jonathan. And I loved EVERY second. Anyone who tells you that Rome isn't a wonderful place just wants to stop you from being happy.
Pros: The food, the churches, the architecture, the Vatican. But mostly the Pieta. And the food.
Cons: Maybe it was just a bad year, but we had an abnormal amount of negative run-ins with people in Rome.
4. Kyiv, Ukraine
I absolutely love this city. I have special feelings for it having lived here almost a decade ago and having traveled back to it half a dozen times since then. From a purely traveler's perspective, you can't find many cities in the world that are as exciting to explore as this one. It has been beautifully preserved and somehow has both a peaceful and exciting sense to it. My heart is breaking over the riots and tragedies occurring in the heart of this city now.
Pros: Gorgeous churches, efficient infrastructure, very inexpensive, the best food you will ever have in your whole freaking life.
Cons: Not the easiest city to navigate without some familiarity with Ukrainian or Russian.
3. Krakow, Poland
The best word to describe Krakow is "enchanting." I visited Krakow with Matt in 2011 and then again with Daniel in 2012. And I plan to visit it many more times in my life. The central part of the city is closed off to vehicles. It is a peaceful, clean, and gorgeous place, with a beautiful castle on top of a tall hill overlooking the old part of the city.
Pros: Wonderful food, gorgeous churches to explore, close proximity to Auschwitz.
Cons: Starting to get a little overrun by tourists--enough that it doesn't really feel "off the beaten path" like it probably did twenty years ago.
2. Moscow, Russia
I lived in Moscow in 2009. It was a life-changing experience. I absolutely love this city. The largest city in Europe, Moscow has an unlimited amount of nooks and crannies to explore. There is a sense there that you are at the very center of the universe. But the very center of a universe that is totally unaware that any other place exists. It is a grand and glorious city, with chandeliers in the grocery stores, and breathtaking mosaics covering the ceilings of the underground metro stations. I dream of the day I can move back and stay forever.
Pros: See above.
Cons: It is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in (often comes in number 1). Also, the people aren't exactly what you might call "friendly."
1. L'viv, Ukraine
I have a very special place in my heart for this city. I lived in it in 2004-2005. It is an enchanting place like Krakow, but sort of hard like Kyiv, and off the beaten path. It is full of culture and hospitality, but there is also a strong feeling of mystery and skepticism when you wander the streets. The oldest and most gorgeous churches I've ever seen are in this city. And the best food I've ever had in my life is here. I could never grow tired of wandering the streets. I have brought many friends and family members to L'viv over the years and each time they comment how surprised they are to find that they really don't want to leave.
Pros: Food, people, churches. Also, incredibly inexpensive.
Cons: Sort of difficult to get to. Also, somewhat difficult to navigate without some familiarity with Ukrainian.
Ok, that's it for my list. You go now. What are your favorite cities you've ever visited?
~It Just Gets Stranger