London’s skyline seen from Waterloo Bridge by David Iliff.
The Palais du Louvre, Cour Carré. Photo by Benh Lieu Song.
Paris city centre lines both banks of the Seine River and offers long, tranquil, easy walks from staggering sight to the next staggering sight. We started walking one day from the Notre Dame cathedral, ended at the Eiffel Tower after a visit en route to the superb old Louvre and new-ish Branly Museum and hopped the Batobus (ferry) back to Notre Dame. We did three days of walks, walk, walk and the sight just kept on coming. Paris Map
One of a number of very weird sculptures scattered around Paris. This gunner was, err, firing off beside the River Seine.
Paris sights are superb although there’s little interesting contemporary architecture. Centre Pompidou is the most outstanding but not exactly modern (1977), Musée du quai Branly is controversial but we loved it both inside and out (2006). Otherwise Paris structures seem to be varied monuments to La Gloire (Glory is a popular concept in France) along with Gothic churches e. g. Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, Neo-classical buildings e. g. the Louvre and the Panthéon, and Art Nouveau e. g. Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower.
Restaurant and bar staff can be quite sniffy about serving tourists.
That being said the city centre is magnificent on a sunny day, the attractions are immense and Paris deserves to be the world’s number one tourist city, which statistically it is. Or was before the 2015 terrorist attacks. We shall have to wait to see the impact on tourism. Go in the summertime! Paris Photos and more Information
Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Photo by Diliff.
Rome is quite straightforward to navigate on foot tho’ there are a couple of must-see churches and one art gallery a short subway ride away. Rome sights range from stunning Rome structures – the Colosseum, The Pantheon and The Forum, to magnificent 18thC monuments – Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and of course stunning churches – St. Peter’s Basilica (The Vatican), Santa Maria della Vittoria (photo below), Santa Maria sopra Minerva etc. , all packed with Bernini and Michelangelo statues and spectacular ceilings.
A trompe l’oeuil painting of the Triumph of St. Ignatius on the ceiling of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria dating from 1674. Photo by Livioandronico.
With a few stumbling words of Italian at my disposal the local people I attempted communication with in Rome expressed absolutely no desire to help out, even waiters, who were impatient and careless.
Attendants in and around major sights were far more interested in their smart phones than in helping foreign tourists. Rome was worse in this respect (personal experience, remember! ) than any other city in the developed world. And we spent three weeks there so we knew our way around. Rome Map
On my only subway ride in Rome I discovered a male hand in my pocket during a crowded ride, grabbed it and shouted “thief! “, “voleur! ” and “ratero! ” in the absence of an Italian version. Nobody in the carriage even looked at me, or him. I didn’t pursue the matter in case there was a knife in his pocket, and he got off at the next stop empty-handed. For future reference thief in Italian is “ladro! ” while pickpocket is “borsaiolo“! Rome Pictures and more Information
Kathmandu’s main street, leading to one of the valley’s three Durbar Squares (one in each town).
Here we stray from our page paradigm of one city, one walk as the Kathmandu Valley is so small, special and integrated. Ancient Kathmandu (the city, capital of Nepal) and the other two medieval towns in the Kathmandu Valley – Bhaktapur (30 mins by car, 3 hours on foot) and Patan (15 mins by car) – are often described as ‘living museums’ they are so awash with aged wooden shops, houses and religious monuments, many exceedingly bizarre with Kali-related shrines pretty high on the list of must-photograph.
Local people are gentle and patient, shopping is unusually interesting with odd jewellery and colorful clothes, and prices are low.
Having been to India shortly before I thought Nepal is almost a synthesis of the best of India – people, lifestyles, religious beliefs, clothing – without India’s appalling crowds and pollution.
Bhaktapur’s Golden Gate.
The 2015 earthquake hit Nepal hard. Kathmandu is up and running, albeit with far fewer tourists and quite a few piles of rubble where there used to be medieval buildings, such as the Royal Palace and temples around Durbar Square. Developing countries like this have a natural tendency to favour people over artefacts so I imagine much of the ancient purity of brick and carved wood design will be spoilt by intrusive concrete poured in a rush to repair damaged buildings, even though UNESCO has been subsidising renovation for years. The country’s road and pwer infrastructures were also damaged by the 7.8 magnitude ‘quake. However, it is still a marvelously exotic city to visit.
When we were there Nepal’s food hygiene was questionable and variety very limited, while flights out of Nepal were iffy as heavy cloud could suddenly descend on the airport with little warning and air traffic control was not equipped to handle it so serious flight delays (e. g. postponed to the next day) were commonplace. Things have hopefully improved since then. Kathmandu Pictures Guide
A view over Cusco from the Inca fortress, Sacsayhuaman, Peru. Around Cusco are South America’s Andes mountains and the city is gateway to the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, Machu Picchu. Photo by Martin St. Amant.
Cuzco is a very small city with a fascinating architectural mix of superb Inca stonework, lovely Spanish colonial uppers and white-washed rustic local housing in the suburbs. The city has a handful of interesting attractions such as churches, museums, street markets and very colourful local people.
The square visible in both photos, Plaza de Armas, is gorgeous and the scene of many indigenous festivals. A steep walk up the hill gets tourists to the sensational Inca fort of Sacsuhuayman.
Nearby in the Urubamba Valley, accessible by tourist bus or train, there are more small, cute towns dominated by mountains and Inca terraces, while the star attractions of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are a few hours down the line. Cusco Pictures and Information
Cusco’s Plaza de Armas during the Inti Raymi festival. Photo by Cynthia Motta.
The first thing to bear in mind is Cusco’s altitude of 3, 400m, hard to acclimatise to if a tourist is pushed for time and flies in directly from Lima (almost sea level). Shortage of breath and bad/excruciating headaches are one of the downsides of sudden arrival at high altitude (exactly my experience after a flight from Chengdu in China to Lhasa in Tibet, 3, 650m).
Fitness helps avoid this trip spoiler, as does youth. A doctor might prescribe Diamoxin to help out (serious mountaineers use this if they’re short of time). More Altitude Sickness advice.
The very best solution is to approach Cuzco slowly, for example by ascending via beautiful Arequipa (alt. 2, 328m) and spend a few days there getting fit (hike Colca Canyon! ) and acclimatising.
Other Cusco issues are a possible overload of package tourists, not a big variety of eating places (when we were there it was mostly pizzerias), and rateros – thieves that specialise in sneak or snatch stealing. We lost a camera when a teen snatched my alternative camera and ran off with it, hotly pursued by enraged bugcrew who were, unfortunately, wearing unsuitable footwear for a chase. Cowboy boots! Duh. We had been going to dinner and were diverted by a random street parade that wound past a kaleidoscopic street market. So it goes. Avoiding thievery
Sydney Harbor aerial photo by Andrew Xu.
Watsons Bay, Camp Cove Beach, Sydney. Photo by Diliff.
Slightly outside our original parameter for best cities (walk, walk, walk) but we loved Sydney, Australia. So relaxed, warm and sunny (well, compared to the UK! ), with beautiful central walks from the mad birds of the Botanic Gardens (yes, that’s my leg decorated with cockatoos, not tattoos) through to the touristy attractions of the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and Darling Harbour. Then hop a ferry across to Manly beach or a train to Bondi beach for a spot of surfing, or brunch, or a beautiful coastal walk. Sydney beaches photos. This is a unique city, no question, and local Aussies match the tranquil and uplifting ambience perfectly. Sydney Pictures Guide
Very few problems that we can think of other than stingers in the seas around here (mostly ‘bluebottle’ Portuguese Man O’ War jellyfish, not deadly) and the occasional shark. Surfers should pay attention to warnings! Sydney is also a little deficient in great museums.
The other thing, of course, is that for Americans or Europeans Australia is a very long and pricey flight so make the most of it. However, the country is so large that heading up to Cairns, for example, brings you into a different climatic zone, either way one destination is going to be not so good weatherwise. It’s a tricky choice when go!
Las Vegas, USA
Indoors at Caesar’s Palace. Photo by Fastily.
The US has some fascinating cities but is slightly hampered by lack of genuinely ancient buildings and street ‘furniture’. We enjoyed New York City enormously but found it a little cavernous, raucous and lacking in odd little sights to be a recommended place for lengthy, stimulating walks and excitable photo-snapping.
Santa Barbara (California) city center on the other hand is an adobe delight, but on the small side, while our San Francisco experience had potential but it kept being interrupted by sudden cold fogs while the hills are not exactly foot-friendly, though you can hop a tram on many of the streets of course.
So it’s down to Las Vegas Nevada, to fly the flag for the US, which it does in a completely over-the-top style, with mega-fantasies along The Strip, which is 4 miles long so that’s a day’s walk if you take time off for sights. Much of the year Vegas is quite hot so long-distance walks don’t work too well, but the sights are extraordinary as are the entrances and lobbies of some of the casinos so it’s well worth diving into the most spectacular places. For example take a stroll through the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, it’s like wandering the pathways of Venice with gondolas floating by.
There’s an increasing amount of wild contemporary architecture in Las Vegas these days in addition to the mega-casino impersonations of world-famous attractions (Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid, Venice gondolas at work etc) and just plain fantasies (Mirage, Treasure Island).
At night dramatic shows (free) take place in front of many casinos, ranging from almost life-size pirate ships in action (Treasure Island) to exploding volcanoes (Mirage) while Fremont Street puts on a long and mesmerizing light show ‘Experience’.
If that isn’t enough Las Vegas is also home to brilliant arena shows and concerts featuring some of America’s top stars (albeit often past their sell-by date). Sadly these are not free, nor even cheap.
Finally, when it all gets too crazy it’s a doddle to rent a car and head over to the canyon country. The Grand Canyon is 4 hours away (275. 3 mi), Zion Canyon 2 hours 35 min (159. 7 mi), Death Valley 2 h 18 min (149. 4 mi) and Red Rock Canyon only 27 min (20. 5 mi) away. Las Vegas Pictures
The Gehry designed building above is the Lou Ruvo Brain Health center. Just arriving there will boot up the acid flashbacks for sure! Or imagine LA clients suffering from earthquake paranoia. Ooh, I can feel a wobble coming on. . . Photo by Monster4711.
Las Vegas gets hot in summertime so walks outdoors become overheated endurance tests. Avoid June, July, August, when temperatures frequently go into the mid 90’s F (30C+).
Vegas is big on bling but lacks charm, authenticity and respect for the real world so although service personal are generally delightful (and well trained) there are many stupid drunks and drunk drivers (visitors and locals) in this 24 hour drinking town. Nice bars or modest restaurants with style and without video poker games are very thin on the ground. And on the subject of style, Vegas visitors and residents are usually sorely lacking in refinement, bling and skin being primary items of dress for women. Class acts are rare. Read the inside story from resident Joie Pena: Reasons Why Las Vegas Is the Worst Place Ever
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s Charles Bridge. Photo by Petar Milošević.
Prague city center has a delicately ancient beauty and is very walkable (if crowds permit) with massed ranks of stunning historic buildings as well as some special attractions such as the Charles Bridge (sort of photo above), the glorious Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, Prague Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter and more. Interior attractions are also extensive with some fine museums, art galleries and theatre (puppet shows are an ancient tradition).
The best time to visit Prague to avoid bleating herds of sheeple is mid-week (3/4 days could be enough) May, June, September, October unless you’re cold-resistant in which case winter should be crowd-free outside the Christmas holidays (expect snow and temperatures below zero).
Finally, Prague is very good value, beer is superb (taste a real Budweiser! ). Traditional Czech food is hearty and heavy. Prague Pictures and more Information
Prague’s Old Town Square with the intricate and fully working Astronomical Clock on the left at the base of the tower. Photo by Diliff.
Apart from tourist crowds we can’t think of any downsides. Tourists need to choose their season to visit the fairytale streets of Prague as it gets hellishly crowded with city-break and packaged people at high times e. g. avoid mid-summer, school holidays and weekends. Winters can get extremely cold (well below zero).
English is not the native language of course, but just about everyone in the city center speaks it to a greater or lesser extent.
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, known officially as Sultan Ahmed (Ahmet) Mosque. It’s in the Sultanahmet tourist area. Photo by wallpaperscraft.
Istanbul forms a bridge between Asia and Europe, though it isn’t a member of the EU (its application to join the European Union divided existing members, some of whom questioned whether a Muslim country could fit in).
Istanbul is home to many outstanding sights that differ considerably from the usual Western Europe offerings as this has been a cultural, political and religious crossroad for 2, 000 years. More recently Istanbul was the base of the extensive Ottoman Empire from 1453 until it was dissolved in 1923. In early times Istanbul was known as Byzantium and then Constantinople after the Roman Emperor Constantine.
So plenty of history there. In particular, the Palace of Topkapi and the Süleymaniye Mosque complex with its caravanserai, madrasa, medical school, library, bath building, hospice and imperial tombs, provide superb examples of palaces and religious complexes of the Ottoman period.
The key tourist area in Istanbul is Sultanahmet, a lush green peninsula dotted with historic magnificence (photo below) such as the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed), Topkapi Palace Museum, Hagia Sofia Basilica (Aya Sofia, 532 AD), 6th century Süleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome chariot race track (in Roman times), the Grand Bazaar (a massive and colorful underground market), traditional pretty little hotels and houses/apartments (restored and conveniently rentable by tourists). Sultanahmet Google Map.
After a day or two trotting around Sultanahmet tourists can hop a cruise boat for a relaxing and interesting tour along the coast – many ancient wooden mansions line the banks of the Bosphoros. Official city cruises are the most reliable in terms of value-for-money, 2 hours or 3 hours, with a stop off.
Alternatively walk across the bridge to Galata, a busy suburb for shopping, a couple of sights, some outstanding foods, bars and night clubs.
One experience that works really well after a long walk is a good scrub and soak in a Hamam (Turkish Bath). Pick a traditional one for value-for-money, half the price of a tourist establishment though their hygiene standards vary.
Istanbul is best in the warmer, drier months May-August when low temperatures are 12-18C and highs 20-27C. Istanbul Pictures and more Information
Topkapi Palace on the Sultanahmet peninsula. It’s in Europe but across the water in the background is Turkish Asia. Photo by Carlos Delgado.
Shopping in Istanbul is fantastic, with exceptional goods such as leather and jewellery at low prices. BUT, be prepared to haggle for best prices and don’t believe everything you hear from the shopkeeper. Two pinches of salt!
As the majority of the Turkish population are Muslim, attitudes to women are unsophisticated. Women, particularly single women, should cover up in Istanbul or expect unfavourable and unpleasant reactions from men. C’est la vie.
Turkey now hosts the world’s largest community of Syrians displaced by the ongoing conflict. According to United Nations estimates, Turkey’s Syrian refugee population was more than 1. 7 million as of mid-2015 but the true figure is larger. More from MPI (Migration Policy Institute). We haven’t been to Turkey for a few years but suspect that migrant numbers must be having a negative effect on life there.