2010's Top City Breaks
With all the financial insecurity in the air lots of people opted to take shorter breaks in 2009, and to take a few more of them. It was a revival of the city break over the beach break. And many people are planning to do the same thing in 2010.
So here's World Reviewer's list of 2010's Best City Break Destinations:
Copenhagen has been getting cooler for a few years now. First some cool people moved in – probably because they thought all the canals and beautiful, clean, cobbled squares made it a nice place to live - and then the locals realised they were pretty cool as well, which in turn made them happy – people like to be cool. And Copenhagen is supposed to be home to some of the happiest people in the world.
Before all the fuss was made over COP 15 they already had free bikes and extensive bike paths, some fairly brave new architecture and an ever expanding restaurant and cafe scene.
As far as a city break goes it's got more than its fair share of castles, palaces and gardens. It's also very easy to get around and there's a lot of additional accommodation gone in for COP 15 that's now going empty so will go cheap some time soon...
Hanoi celebrates its 1000th birthday in 2010, and if you're a graceful old French colonial city in Asia then there's nothing at all wrong with looking your age. Its grand and golden pagodas, ancient temples and historic architecture make it a beautiful, as well as old city, but it's a living museum still evolving rather than stagnating and there's plenty of life happening amongst the monuments. The Old Quarter has been the busy commercial district for about a thousand years and is still the best place to shop and go out, the Night Bazaar and Dong Xuan Market are worth checking out as well.
There's extra events going on all year to celebrate the city's birthday. And last year the Dong lost about 5% of its value compared to other currencies so it's reasonable value as well.
In 2009 Cuba started sidling back towards to list of potential American holiday destinations and made itself seem a little friendlier to the rest of us by the relaxing of some rules and a more laid back approach to the future. Santiago de Cuba has a less famous name than Havana, but it's the second largest city, and anyone with even a passing interest in the politics of the place will know its part in the politics, history and culture of Cuba.
Santiago de Cuba has a very clear identity, just like so many of its famous past inhabitants, influenced by its proximity to the added thumping colour of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Visually it's held in check by the Caribbean on one side the the Sierra Maestra on the other, the historic centre of this provincial capital still the most worn and urban area. But Santiago de Cuba is also still the kind of place Wim Wenders would love – men sit outside in their shirtsleeves playing dominoes against rusting but colourful cars, then women breeze out of the bar next door and top up their drinks in time to the music, colourful skirts swirling...
For ages Sarajevo was that place in that U2 song, thought of as being scared by war – but what European city hasn't bounced back from the point of destruction? And Sarajevo has done so with aplomb. Its impressive architecture, crowned by spires, domes and minarets, and contributed to by the Ottoman Turks and Austro Hungarians is arranged within comfortable walking distance on the edge of the green Miljacka River valley; but the old trams will help you round Baščaršija: the old city, packed with coffee dens, bazaars and stores, artisans workshops, restaurants and bars. This area has long been the haunt of the poet, musician and authoring sets, so sitting in a cafe here is an entertainment in itself.
Sarajevo is quickly becoming popular as an inexpensive destination, but that niche will only last until the locals put the prices up.
Rio might seem like it spends all its days lying around on sandy beaches drinking mojitos surrounded by people in skimpy swimming costumes playing beach volleyball before going out dancing 'till dawn, but there's a lot of activity going on in this town at the moment – more than you'd usually get in the lead up to Carnival. Rio is getting ready to host the 2014 World Cup followed by the 2016 Summer Olympics, so there's a lot of building work and a lot of new accommodation going in that needs to be filled in the lead up to these events... So get in early for some sun, samba, shopping and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Once you've European city breaked in Paris, Rome, London and Berlin you might start asking yourself which classic destination to do next. Here's a hint, in 2010, grand, imperial Vienna is supposed to be extra competitive, as well as benefiting from all the usual reasons to visit, one of them being the hardly rivalled classical music scene and another being that it's where The Third Man was filmed. The Opera Ball is the main event but it's in February. After that there will be a great deal of celebrations around the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's birth. If you're not a Mahler fan you'll not find yourself wanting as there's also Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms and Schönberg to accompany your visit.
If you get a Wien Kart (Vienna Card) – which costs less than €20 you'll get a discount off the entrance fee at more than 200 local attractions, plus money off guided tours, theatre tickets, restaurant bills and potentially even on your shopping. Of course you also get free transport – which is the original point of the card.
Ancient Istanbul has been the capital of three great empires, but Europe has finally 'recognised the skills' and in 2010 Istanbul is the European Capital of Culture. 2009 was a good year for travelling to Turkey, but it was the relative bargains along the Mediterranean coastline that got most of the attention, and this year Istanbul is on the map as a city break destination. And instead of the organised society of the Romans, the wealth of the Byzantines or the glory of the Ottomans, in 2010 Istanbul will be celebrating its more modern culture – with loads of urban events, art shows, performing arts programs and literary events – and that's before you consider all the treasures that this city has had on display for the last two thousand odd years...
You need a lot more than four days to 'do' any city properly, but this itinerary is a good place to start, for 'doing' Turkey's cultural highlights.
Cuenca is a careful Spanish colonial beauty, its charms reflected both in its look: all narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed or red tiled buildings and old plazas, and in its traditional manners and ways: its shops close for long siestas of varying length and traditional dishes served on plates made using ancient potting techniques are still the most popular. It's not an unappreciated beauty, 2010 marks the city's 10th year of Unesco World Heritage status, but to celebrate this and remind the rest of us that there's more to Ecuador than Quito, the place is being spruced up to its best. It's also not stuck in its glory days, there are modern art galleries and cool cafes and bars – many of which pride themselves on fusing modern tastes onto traditional designs, or traditional flavours into modern dishes.
It even has its own small ruin – though most of the Incan city was destroyed long ago.
Schadenfreude due to Iceland's collapse is starting to get a bit old, but it's easier to justify if you do your bit towards helping it get back on its collective feet by spending your travel funds there. Reykjavík is as cool a city break destination as the name sounds: it's got colourful buildings, colourful people, very colourful night life and all the craziness that goes with living in a place that gets 22 hours of daylight in summer and 2 hours a day in winter. The architecture is unique – the citizens may have a reputation for cynicism, but they're also artistic – , the music scene demands international respect, the restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, galleries and museums are equal to those in many other city break destinations and from here you can venture out to see the Northern Lights – can't do that out of Paris or Rome can you...
Iceland was the most publicised loser in the economic brew-ha-ha that was 2009, but poor Argentina suffered as well. But their loss is again the travelling public's gain, and while Iceland's prices may be climbing back upwards, the cost of a flight or package to Buenos Aires is still slipping... Which means in 2010 you can get more passionately fought soccer matches, tango music, tango dancing, theatre, shopping, fantastic steaks served with perfect Malbecs - followed by nights on the town - and Evita memorabilia for your buck, quid or other slang term for currency.
Buenos Aires is singled out in particular for 2010 because in May the Teatro Colón Opera House will re-open with much fanfare, coinciding with the celebrations to remember the Argentinian War of Independence which is always a big street party.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Dubai crashed and burned but Abu Dhabi kept its head – but more importantly it didn't spend all its oil wealth on indoor ski resorts and palm shaped islands to begin with. The beaches are just as beautiful, the shopping is just as outrageous, but with lower prices, and there's less traffic on the roads.
In 2008 it was Beijing's turn, but in 2010 Shanghai is getting all the attention, as the host of the World Expo. Shanghai used to have a dirty reputation, but while the evocative stories and many of the winding streets, Chinese gardens and beautiful old buildings of the centre of town remain, these days the money is clean, as is the European style skyline. As a city break Shanghai is far more Hong Kong than Beijing. And in 2010 it's going to be a bit more Tokyo.
Mexico is bouncing back from the whole swine flu thing to become an even cheaper destination than it was before – and it's had a reputation for being good value for dollar holders for the last few decades. Mexico City is a good option for a city break with a bit of culinary colour, exotic shopping, archaeological treasures and artistic flair. What's more the climate is pretty decent all year round and the people and culture have a reputation for colour and culture that you only get a hint of from the art. And the drinks are cheap and flowing.
Sofia is one of Europe's oldest cities, but you might not guess it from all the neoclassical Stalin era architecture obstructing your view of the tree lined boulevards on which stand the older and more graceful balconied buildings designed by Viennese and Russian architects in the 19th Century. It's also one of the least well known of the up-and-comer Eastern European city break destination cities so it's much cheaper. Lots of visitors to Bulgaria skip it and head straight to the coast.
Sofia is a city you can walk around. It's one of the few cities where the old east meets west feeling lingers, and in 2010 the sense of opposing forces at play is augmented by new technologies fuelling the economy and ramping up the construction of the five star hotels and bars full of fashionably dressed people beside the museums, art galleries and theatres.
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