Whether it’s the culinary joy of a steaming pot of Moroccan tagine, a walk through history in Nepal’s old town of Bhaktapur or learning the art of meditation in a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, the world has much to offer to the culture loving traveller. Here is a list of culturally rich cities in no particular order that offer rich, meaningful and diverse cultural experiences.
1.Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand has many gems to offer to the tourist, whether it’s the vibrant nightlife of Bangkok or an escape to paradise on one of its many islands like Koh Tao or Koh Samui. The culture loving traveller needs to head to Chiang Mai, often called the ‘Rose of the North’. Chiang Mai is a treat for all the right reasons; many Buddhist temples (Wats) line the streets, the food is simply delectable and the markets are buzzing with crowds even at night. The city is incredibly friendly to tourists. A few temples in the city hold ‘monk chat’ sessions where you can ask a Buddhist monk questions about the religion and culture. Yoga, meditation and therapeutic massage sessions are commonly held at various Wats and other venues. Getting to witness festivals such as Yi Peng when a million tiny lamps light up the night sky is an added bonus.
Nepal is most famous for Everest and the base camp treks that are the stuff of most mountaineers’ and hikers’ dreams. But the Kathmandu valley has much to offer to the culture lover. Head to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square to walk through the royal palace grounds, the courtyard of Kumari Bahal, the home of Nepal’s Living Goddess or sit down at one of the many viewpoints on the multi roofed temples. The nearby village of Boudhanath is home to the Boudha Stupa, an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. All around the Stupa, tiny lanes lead to monasteries which are a great place to learn about the culture or simply meditate. Take a day trip from Kathmandu to the old town of Bhaktapur to be truly transported to a different time and amazed by the red brick style Newari architecture. End the day listening to the sound of devotional chants in Taumadhi Tole (Square).
Much loved by the brave tourist who musters up the courage to venture into India, Udaipur is a pleasant respite from the crazy pace of cities like Delhi and Mumbai. In Udaipur, you could be forgiven for mistaking that you’ve travelled back in time into an Indian fairytale. Set beside the glittering Lake Pichola, Udaipur charms you with its palaces, courtyards and temples. Settle down on one of the viewpoints and watch people as they buzz about in the tiny narrow lanes and alleys. Whether it’s the old crumbling havelis that hold your interest or the picture perfect Lake Palace, Udaipur does not fail to impress with its cultural grandeur.
Berlin is undoubtedly the cultural champion of Germany, known for its fashion, art galleries, museums, music and edgy street art. Trendy and experimental are words often used to describe Berlin today however landmarks such as the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the remnants of the Berlin Wall are constant reminders of the significant role played by the city in the history of the world. The East Side gallery is a must for art lovers for its politically motivated graffiti art and murals. Explore Museum Island, a complex of five museums for its architectural grandeur, the Schloss Charlottenburg palace in all its opulence or visit the Holocaust Memorial for a taste of history that is all around in Berlin.
5.Prague, Czech Republic
This European city ranks highly among lovers of art, craftsmanship, gothic architecture and history. Quirky sculptures adorn public spaces and there’s plenty of wandering to be done in the maze like lanes of the Old Town. Architecture here is a grand smorgasbord of Roman, Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical styles as a result of cultural development spanning centuries. Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century and is home to the gothic St Vitus Cathedral, baroque St. Nicholas Church and the fairytale like Prague Castle complex of museums and galleries among many other beautiful historical structures. The city is also known for its contribution to the world of classical music and opera.
The city of Florence is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Since centuries, art and culture have flourished here and the city has been home to some of world’s greatest artists such as Michelangelo. The city is full of Renaissance architecture; palaces, cathedrals and chapels with their frescoed ceilings, art galleries and museums. Marble sculptures and works of art beckon to you at street corners and you can’t help but be amazed by it all. It seems like this mastery of the arts is undeniably the essence of this city. To begin your cultural tour, visit the Duomo, a neo Gothic style cathedral that is the city’s most famous landmark and climb all the way up inside the inner dome to get a rewarding viewpoint over the city.
It’s not for nothing that multicultural Melbourne is famous for its cool, edgy and arty vibe. Ask any Melbourner and they won’t fall short of reasons why Melbourne is the coolest city to live in. They can’t be blamed; Melbourne’s cultural landscape is like an urban work of art. Victorian era architecture coexists side by side with trendy installations on street corners, experimental art spaces and Federation Square, the city’s favorite open entertainment venue. The area comes alive with street artists; magicians, singers and pianists as crowds of people gather to be entertained. Melbourne is home to many art galleries and hosts countless culture and art festivals through the year. The city also has a very bohemian culture with visually striking street art in many laneways. Graffiti art brings an extraordinary personality to Melbourne’s cityscape. The theater and live entertainment scene is especially vibrant with plenty of alternative gigs through the week. Whether it’s the touristy pursuits of Collins Street, the kitschy charms of St. Kilda, the vintage treasures of Chapel Street and Windsor or the cool hipster cafés and pubs in Brunswick, one thing is clear; Melbourne does not like to put culture in a box.
Amman surprises many a first time visitor with its cosmopolitan culture that beautifully blends contemporary and traditional influences. Amman, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world has much to offer to the history lover: the Amman Citadel which provides a fantastic view over the city, the Temple of Hercules and the 8th century Umayyad Palace. Darat Al Funun is an art gallery housed in 1920s mansions and is much loved by the city’s artists and creative types. Head to Rainbow Street and explore the area around to get a sense of what culture means today in Amman. This area is home to cafés, boutiques, galleries and bars and hosts a weekly market for artists and craftsmen. To get a taste of tradition, head to Jabal Amman, also called ‘downtown’ where the air is thick with the smoke of shisha from the many cafés and there are plenty of traditional Arabic eateries for local cuisine.
Get a little lost in the maze like alleys of Marrakesh and explore the many offerings of souqs in the old city. Rejuvenate your senses in one of the city’s traditional hammams after walking around in Djemaa El-Fna, the central square. The square brings together snake charmers, henna artists, musicians, street artists, potion sellers and food vendors and provides an experience like no other. Satisfy your cultural curiosity by visiting mosques, palaces, shrines, tombs and castles such as Palais el-Badi, Palais de la Bahia, Koubba Ba’adiyn, Saadian Tombs and the many museums and art galleries in the New Town.
Cultural treats in the friendly capital of Vietnam include the highly popular Dancing Water Puppets Show which depicts ancient fables with an impressive display of lighting, song and dance, shopping for everything from shoes and souvenirs to traditional medicinal oils in the Old Quarter of the city, having suits and dresses tailored for a bargain from one of Hanoi’s world famous tailoring shops, hanging around the glittering Hoan Kiem Lake in the evenings and visiting the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Eating in Hanoi’s street kitchens is a fun and offbeat way to truly experience the culture of communal dining that’s so typical of the locals.
Featured photo credit: Natasha Amar via thebohochica.com