Forever my favourite city in the world and yes, I’ll never not be unashamedly biased about it. It is my city, after all. Like Rome, Lisbon’s most common nickname is the City of Seven Hills and anyone who’s visited will surely remember them. On top of providing an excellent leg workout, they also give access to some of the best views of the city.
I have a few favourite viewpoints but the view from the castle’s walls is the one that always takes my breath away. It’s beyond gorgeous. From up there you can see the river, the Cristo Rei statue, the bridge, and a never ending sea of orange roofs covering most of the downtown. It’s like being in a postcard, and that’s probably why I like it so much.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas was by far the part of Peru that impressed me the most. There is something magical about the whole region, like it’s stuck in time. From the narrow cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo to the Maras salt mines and the unique circular ruins at Moray, there’s enough to keep anyone with an interest in Inca culture occupied for days.
The region’s big draw is obviously the UNESCO-listed Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel that dates back to the 15th century. It’s not the easiest of places to reach, especially when on a budget, but it’s undeniably worth it. It has many areas to explore and several views to enjoy but the one of the ruins with the picturesque Huayna Picchu in the back is the most popular for a reason.
When it comes to the old European capitals I’m sure Brussels is the most underrated of the lot. It is often frowned upon, for some reason. However, I must say that I’ve always had a great time there. It’s not Paris or Amsterdam but it sure has a lot to offer. The Centre is as splendorous as you’d expect, filled with architectural goodness and dripping with culture. Not to mention the irresistible gaufres around every corner!
Now, while the UNESCO-listed Grand Place – the gorgeous main square – is still the main attraction, I’ve always been more fascinated by the Atomium. It’s one of those landmarks that really stand out for being so… odd, I guess. Built in 1958 for the World Fair it now hosts a few exhibitions and an observatory. Is it worth a visit? Despite being located a bit far from the centre I’d say so. It’s not like there are many atom-shaped landmarks out there to enjoy.
While I don’t consider myself a fan of Dubai as a tourist destination, I’d be lying if I said it has nothing to see. It has, and most of it is quite extravagant. Too extravagant, maybe. I once saw someone refer to it as Vegas without the casinos and couldn’t agree more with that statement. For all it’s lavishness it seems to lack a bit of soul.
Still, among the petrodollar madness, there is one building that certainly stands out from the all rest: the Burj Khalifa! At nearly 830 metres it is the highest building in the world and one that is likely to impress anyone who lays their eyes on it. For reference, it is nearly three times the size of the Eiffel Tower. A colossus of our modern era, no doubt.
When people think of Mauritania, the desert train is unlikely to be the first thing that comes to mind. In fairness, nothing usually does as most people don’t even know where Mauritania is! However, despite its many natural attractions, the desert train was the one thing that made me really want to go there.
Departing daily from Nouadhibou, this cargo train – one of the longest in the world, measuring up to 2 km in length – makes its way across the Sahara carrying iron ore from the mines at Zouerate. Sleeping under the stars as you ride 450 km into the desert make this a truly unique adventure. A wild ride, you could say.
Easily one of the most charming towns in all of Central America, Antigua is the sort of place that wastes no time conquering the hearts of those who set foot in it. From the colourful colonial architecture to the gorgeous churches and the cobbled streets, this UNESCO-listed destination is well worth a prolonged visit.
While I wouldn’t call Cerro de la Cruz a hidden gem because hidden it is not, I have no doubt it provides one of the best (if not the best) view of the town and the towering volcano behind it. The volcano is usually enshrouded in cloud for most of the day but visiting in the early morning tends to guarantee a clear view.
There are many good reasons to visit Stockholm, from eating your weight in delicious cardamom buns to seeing the extravagant metro stations or even visiting the splendid ABBA Museum (yes, I’m a fan!). It’s a pleasant city to explore, let’s put it that way. Especially on a clear summer day, when the spirits are high and the Swedes come out in droves.
The city is built on 14 islands and connected by 57 bridges, which makes it unique in its own right. Gamla Stan, a tiny island, is by far my favourite of the lot. It boasts one of the most well-preserved medieval old towns in Europe and, despite its small size, there’s no better plan than spending a morning getting purposely lost in its gorgeous narrow cobbled streets.
One thing most people don’t realise is how big Pyongyang actually is. It’s huge! As with most cities with 3 million people, it has its share of massive towers and plenty of residential areas. The most interesting neighbourhood features the usual blocky architecture of the Soviet era and is painted in colourful shades allegedly to keep morale high amongst the residents.
The best view you can get of it is from the top of the iconic Jechu Tower nearby. What I find most fascinating about it is that if you look closely you can see the imposing Workers’ Party Foundation Monument (featuring a hammer, a sickle, and a brush) tucked in between the buildings. We didn’t get a chance to go there but this view sure made up for it.
Talk about hidden gems! Located in Ipiales, next to the border with Ecuador, the Santuario de Las Lajas has got to be one of the most spectacular shrines not just in Colombia but the whole world. It truly is a sight to behold. Sadly (or maybe not) most tourists miss it because they choose to fly between the two countries. Is it more convenient? Sure, but they are missing out.
Founded in 1916 and built over the next few decades, part of what makes this shrine so special is its highly unusual and extremely dramatic location: on a bridge across a canyon. The altar actually stands in front of the blessed canyon wall, which makes it even more spectacular. Despite the convenience of flying, it’s worth travelling to Ecuador by land just to see this gorgeous church.
The world is full of overrated attractions, but Angkor Wat is not one of them. I mean, the temple complex alone – which dates back to the 12th century and is considered the largest religious structure in the world – is a sight to behold and I doubt anyone would ever even try to deny it. There’s so much to explore. However, its biggest attraction is watching the sunrise in front of the main temple building.
As with most of these sort of events, there’s a slight tendency for overcrowding. Angkor Wat is no exception. I usually joke that sunrise at Angkor Wat is an intimate experience in the company of hundreds of other people! Still, it’s worth it. I guess the trick is to try and get there early and claim a good spot. As soon as the sunlight starts painting the sky in pastel shades, you’ll quickly forget about everyone around you.