If you are a city person and a traveller, you probably already have more than a few of the world’s capitals ticked off. There’s just as much to discover in cities that often aren’t under the spotlight. Here’s our list of our top alternative cities.
Thessaloniki – Greece
A fusion of traditional and modern architecture, Thessaloniki sits high on our list of top alternative cities. It has a vibrant cafe, bar and nightlife scene and hosts its own international film festival. There is something for all visitors to sink their teeth into in Thessaloniki. From Byzantine and Ottoman architecture to the Folk and Ethnographic Museum, traditional tavernas or the port and nearby beaches. Famously avant-guard through the centuries, trace the civilizations and people that have left their mark on this great city as you explore the streets for yourself.
Arequipa – Peru
The white city, many of Arequipa’s baroque buildings carved from local white ‘sillar’ rock. Arequipa is a tenth of the size of sprawling Lima and dwarfed by the sheer number of visitors to Cusco making their way to Machu Picchu. If anything, Arequipa is the perfect tonic to the difficult altitude travellers have to overcome in Cusco. It is easier to manage a slice of Peruvian city life than the capital, Lima. Arequipa, much like the rest of Peru has fantastic artisan markets tucked in arcades lining the city’s squares.
Whilst you have to head to Cusco to trek the Inca trail, the nearby Colca Canyon offers fantastic hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities. It is famously, one of the best places on the continent for close-range sightings of Andean Condors. If you are more interested in the city scene, Arequipa has great cafe and bar culture and with ‘El Misti’ and two other volcanoes guarding the city, the scenery from within the city centre is just as good as that of the nearby Colca Canyon.
Kotor – Montenegro
Another of the world’s alternative cities is Kotor. A picturesque, fortified medieval town, complete with a maze of narrow cobbled streets and traditional mediterranean, shuttered stone buildings. The tranquil waters of the sheltered bay is actually a submerged river canyon. Hike up the mountains along Venetian city walls for views over the terracotta tiled roofs at sunset and watch the boats make their way in and out of the marina. Dine on fresh seafood at one of the many cafe-strewn squares. Make the trip to ‘Our Lady of the Rocks,’ a manmade island in the middle of the bay. If you believe in legends, here sailors saw the Virgin Mary perched on a rock.
Jaisalmer – India
One of Rajasthan’s biggest tourist destinations the fort of Jaisalmer appears to be an enormous sandcastle rising out of the desert. It is a breath-taking sight. A gateway to the Thar desert and starting point for camel safaris over the desert dunes, Jaisalmer was once on the camel-train trade route. It’s impossible not to fall for the enchanting feel of this city.
Antigua – Guatemala
Antigua has the best cultural offerings without any of the fuss of being the capital. It’s a lot safer and more tourist-friendly than its capital Guatemala City. Until 1773, when an earthquake destroyed much of the city, it was a thriving colonial capital. Visitors are welcomed by quaint cobbled streets and colourful rustic spanish colonial buildings hanging with bougainvillea. Wander the streets and see the innumerate, intricately stone-carved churches in various states of disrepair. The churches tell the story of Antigua’s past. Volcanoes reach into clear blue skies with clouds crowning their peaks.
Cali – Colombia
The salsa capital of Colombia, Cali is by no means as pretty. It is as colonially interesting as the rest of Colombia’s cities and it has a proud and rich Afro-Colombia heritage. It deserves to be on the list of alternative cities. Whilst it can’t compete with the beauty of the colonial Cartagena or sprawling, scenic and gritty Medellin, this unassuming city with it’s Parque de los Poetas, an open square where men sit at typewriters, and its vibrant night-long salsa scene is well worth experiencing for yourself. Cali has a cultural heartbeat that other Colombia cities struggle to outshine.
Oaxaca City – Mexico
Colourful, dynamic, Oaxaca City is a mecca for foodies and art enthusiasts alike. The sun beats down fiercely on Oaxaca slowing the pace of life there to a gentle ebb and flow. Don’t be mislead by the relaxed atmosphere. There’s so much to see in Oaxaca. Taste a cup of Oaxacan spiced hot chocolate in one of the shady squares, amble around the artesan markets, then head over to the textile museum stopping at any of the many shops and galleries that tempt you along the way. Oaxaca state is the main producer of mezcal. The city centre has plenty of bars where you can sample the best locally distilled agave. And don’t forget to try grasshopper at Benito Juarez market!
Galle – Sri Lanka
Bohemian Galle welcomes those travelling along the Southern Sri Lankan circuit offering a change in pace after the sleepy fishing villages that follow Yala National park in the loop back to the capital. The last on our list of alternative cities, a walk along the old Dutch Fort views over the cerulean Indian Ocean in one direction and the city’s crumbling rooftops in the other. Galle has craft, antique and jewelry shops aplenty and cosmopolitan cuisine if you have had enough of curry. You will be tempted to extend your stay.