10 Underrated Cities to Visit in 2018

Travel tips

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Looking to go somewhere a little different in 2018? In the shadow of big “must see” destinations, here are ten cities that don’t get near the props they deserve, ideal for your next urban adventure.

Adelaide, Australia

There’s no denying the small town look, feel, and pace of Adelaide. This comparatively low-rise Australian state capital can feel almost a little too laid back at times, but look closer. Step into the wine and cocktail bars that tempt anyone curious enough to linger downtown after dark. Settle in for an atmospheric cabaret performance – Adelaide’s annual cabaret festival is the largest of its kind in the world. Take a tour of the Haigh’s factory to taste some of Australia’s most coveted chocolates. As tasty as Adelaide is, you’ll also want to take a day trip into at least one of the city’s two nearby wine regions, McLaren Vale, or the better known Barossa Valley. Find out first hand why South Australian Shiraz is considered the best in the world, and learn about the history of German immigration that has made the region what it is today.

Adelaide at sunset, Australia
Adelaide at sunset

Birmingham, England

Poor Brum has become the byword for “ugly” English cities. “Why would you go there?” ask tourists bound for Bath, York, or Birmingham’s biggest rival, Manchester, on UK vacations. Foodies might want to start with four Michelin-starred restaurants, plus two just outside the city (Manchester currently has none). Those on a budget might prefer some of Britain’s best Indian cuisine in the famous Balti-Triangle. Either way, not bad eats for an unabashedly working class city undergoing a massive urban facelift. Expect to see cutting edge architecture and renewed public spaces spring up over the next few years, as Birmingham revs up for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. In the meantime, the city boasts a thriving multicultural community, unpretentious nightlife, and a music scene that has launched some of Britain’s biggest acts. If you’d prefer a more traditional style of culture, Birmingham’s Royal Ballet and Symphony Hall are world renowned. If you’d rather just stroll the city, more canals than Venice make Birmingham an urban explorer’s dream.

Birmingham Canals, Birmingham, England, UK (United Kingdom)
Birmingham canals in Birmingham

Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane tends to be bypassed, as Southeast Queensland travellers head for the Gold or Sunshine Coasts. Too long dismissed as “provincial,” Brisbane has spent the last thirty years proving how much it has going for it. From cutting-edge art galleries (Hello, GOMA) to year-round al fresco dining that makes the most of the city’s ‘almost tropical’ climate, to wildlife sanctuaries tucked right into the city’s leafy suburbs. It can also be argued that no city in Australia makes better use of its outdoors than Brisbane. Southbank Parklands has transformed the former grounds of 1988’s World Exposition into one of the city’s favourite outdoor escapes, an easy walk across the river from the CBD. That river, of course, is the Brisbane River, and a CityCat ride, zipping between the cliffs of Kangaroo Point and the gleaming towers of the CBD, is one of the most enjoyable ways to see Brisbane at a glance.

Aerial View of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Aerial view of Brisbane

Cologne, Germany

You can follow in the footsteps of thousands of tourists – disembark from your Rhine cruise, snap your photos of the Dom (cathedral), maybe do a quick tour of the fragrance museum, then leave – or you can stay a while and discover just what makes Cologne one of Germany’s coolest cities. Art aficionados will happily lose a few hours in the Museum Ludwig and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, while chocoholics won’t want to miss Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Interested in Roman history? Let the Roman-German Museum capture your imagination. Alternatively, just order up a Kolsch (the local brew) or some Rhine Valley wine, and watch Western Germany’s cultural heart at play. Cologne is also recognized by many as Germany’s gayest city, with a vast and incredibly active LGBT nightlife, daytime life, and Pride celebration. Oh, and the Dom and fragrance museum aren’t bad for a visit either.

Heinrich-Boell Square with Cologne Philarmonie Hall, Ludwig Museum, and Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany
Heinrich-Boell Square at night, with Cologne Philarmonie Hall, Ludwig Museum, and Cologne Cathedral, Cologne

Lima, Peru

If you’re visiting Peru, you’re going to pass through Lima anyway, so why skip what is fast emerging as one of the must-visit cities of South America? Atop dramatic cliffs that swoop down to the Pacific, Lima is a city filled with cultural sights and top notch restaurants. The Museo Larco is one of half a dozen great museums in the city, filled with mummies and ancient artworks. The San Francisco Monastery is not only a beautiful and important religious building in its own right, but the gateway to the world’s largest network of catacombs outside of Paris. There is even an adobe brick pyramid right in the heart of trendy Miraflores. Dating back to sometime between 300 and 700 AD, Huaca Pucllana’s origins are still something of a mystery today! Surrounding it, Miraflores is undoubtedly the place to dine and party in Lima. Be sure to sample some top notch ceviche in the country that defined the dish, perhaps before a night out in Bohemian Barranco.

Aerial view of Miraflores and Lima in background, Peru
Aerial view of Miraflores, with Lima city in the background

Osaka, Japan

Tokyo, Kyoto… maybe Hiroshima and Hakone? All stellar cities, to be sure. But such a Japan itinerary leaves out Osaka. Arguably Tokyo’s grittier, more industrial, yet friendlier sister, Osaka reveals a side of Japanese culture that belongs distinctly to the Kansai region. For one, you’ll hear a different dialect. It’s often louder than that of Tokyo, usually with plenty of laughs, and will blow away many of those “reserved Japanese” stereotypes. It’s also possible to negotiate prices in some shops in Osaka, something you will never see in Tokyo. That devotion to good value drives Osaka’s restaurants as well, which proudly eschew upmarket chic in favour of the best taste at the best price. A city that loves food this much has its own delicacies, and there’s none more “Osaka” than takoyaki, battered octopus dumplings cooked to perfection, or okonimaiyaki, the Japanese pancake that is such a scramble of delicious ingredients, it’s as if the spirit of Osaka itself was being served up on your plate.

Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan
Osaka Castle

Oslo, Norway

When we talk about great city escapes, Stockholm and Copenhagen take the lion’s share of attention in Scandinavia. When we talk about Norway, travellers often make a beeline for the fjords, ignoring what is one of the north’s great cultural destinations. Norway’s unique aesthetic also means you’ll see museums, architecture, and artwork in Oslo unlike anything else in Europe. Remember, this is the country that produced Edvard Munch, whose masterpieces you can see at his namesake museum in Oslo. Explore the deck of the polar ship Fram, dive into the history of Norway’s Vikings, see the balsa wood Kon-Tiki, which crossed the Pacific in 1947, admire the oddball creations of Vigeland Sculpture Park, and admire arguably the world’s most beautiful and striking modern Opera House outside of Sydney. The country’s love of the outdoors doesn’t escape the capital either. Holmenkollen is the world’s most famous ski jump, and passes over the world’s oldest museum devoted to skiing.

Oslo Harbor on Oslo Fjord, Norway
Oslo Harbor

Sao Paulo, Brazil

The biggest city in the Americas by population, with tufts of greenery sprouting up between vast grey blocks, Sao Paulo, in Brazil, will reinvent your idea of a “concrete jungle.” While it isn’t winning any beauty contests, this is one of the most creative, lively, delicious, and just plain fun cities in the world. Stroll down grand Paulista Avenue, sample the cutting edge cuisine and friendly local restaurants of Augusta Street, and browse the museums in between catching some fresh air in Ibiraquera Park. Immerse yourself in the world’s largest Japanese community outside Japan in the Liberdade district. Hop between some of South America’s finest art galleries, and don’t forget to look up to admire the art that brightens up the sides of some of those concrete buildings. A shopping mall devoted purely to rock, punk, and pop culture? Sao Paulo has that. The world’s largest Pride parade? That’s Sao Paulo too. All of that’s before night falls, when the locals, known as Paulistas, head out to enjoy nightlife that ranks among the best in the world.

Ibirapuera Park with Fountain, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo

Valencia, Spain

Heard people argue endlessly over whether they prefer Barcelona or Madrid? Valencia converts just kind of shake their heads at the whole rivalry, then get back to wandering a city where the old doesn’t just meet the new, but also the innovative, the inspiring, and sometimes the just plain bizarre. Wander the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, visiting the oceanarium and L’Hemisferic planetarium. Climb the Miguelete bell tower atop the city’s beautiful architectural patchwork of a cathedral. The cathedral also houses the supposed Holy Grail, though numerous other cities dispute this claim. Wander and shop in Casco Historico or Barrio del Carmen, or relax in the park that now occupies the old Turia river bed, where a model of Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels doubles as a children’s play area. Valencia’s natural beaches are also some of the most beautiful in Spain, particularly if you’re prepared to go a little way out of the city.

Aerial view of Valencia at sunset, Spain
Aerial view of Valencia at sunset

Xi’an, China

Many Globetrotters add Xi’an to their China itinerary for just one reason – The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor. While that is an excellent reason to visit Xi’an, the city itself rewards at least a day of exploration. This former capital will offer you one of the most unclouded glimpses of ancient China available, from the towering City Wall to the 1,300 year-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda, thought to be the oldest structure in Xi’an. Just under half the pagoda’s age, the City Wall of Xi’an is one of its most striking attractions, and its most enjoyable bike ride! Get a unique perspective of the city while getting your exercise in over the 13.74 kilometer ride around the wall. Don’t miss the Muslim Quarter either, particularly when it’s time to eat. Thought to be the beginning of the Silk Road, Xi’an has been heavily influenced by Muslim immigration over the centuries. “Food Street” in the present neighbourhood ought to be a pilgrimage for lovers of street food.

Wall around the old Chinese city of Xian, China
Xian city wall