9 ‘Second’ Cities That Are Just As Good As Their Capitals
When the support act is on par with the headliner.
We’re talking the Sonny to your Cher. The Stevie van Zandt to your Springsteen. The other two in Destiny’s Child – those equally talented shining stars that never get quite as much wrap as the big shots.
Like showbiz, like tourism: each country has its headliner city, and so too, its backup waiting in the shadows. We really ought to spare a thought (and a few extra days on the road) for these second cities – they’re often just as fabulous as their stage-hogging siblings, and waiting to impress the pants off us.
Behold some of the world’s finest “tourism Garfunkels”.
1 / 9
A creative haven with excellent food? Check. Good wine and weather? Check. A hub of mesmerising baroque architecture, all proximate to an incredible beach coastline? Check, mate. What isn’t there to adore about the northern Portuguese city of Porto? Sure, it might play second fiddle to the majestic hilly peaks of Lisboa, but few who pass through would doubt that Porto is a leading lady in its own right.
The Pasteis de Natas (Portuguese tarts) and cardiac-inducing Francesinhas will well and truly keep your appetite whet, while the Northern Iberian charm, friendliness and character of this fine city will keep you coming back time and time again.
2 / 9
A decade ago, Hobart was a long way off “second city” status, and a long way from anything. The ongoing spar between Melbourne and Sydney cemented the two pole positions, as other state capitals ogled from stage rear like the dutiful rhythm section. Today, the band has grown and the dynamic is different – hell, Canberra is apparently the nations’ most liveable city, and Adelaide’s not far behind.
Hobart, too, has begun to claim its share of the limelight, with rousing hits like MONA giving fresh appeal to back-catalogue ditties, Salamanca Place and Battery Point. Pulsing with culture, creativity, incredible fresh food and drink, historical Hobart’s got a brand new bag, and it’s aching to be heard.
3 / 9
It’s been called eccentric, a colourful mess and a quirky seaside nook just an hour and a half drive from capital Santiago. There is a lot to love about Valparaiso – its peculiar layout, its charming colourful clifftop homes, its vintage funicular railways, or ascensores, connecting the harbour to the hills.
All this natural historical beauty gives the place UNESCO World Heritage status, and it’s worth a look for this reason alone (if not the incredible New Year’s firework display over stunning Puerto Magia).
4 / 9
Bruges: a beautiful medieval city “almost untouched by time,” in the words of actor James Frain. The man speaks truth – here, you’ll find ample historical wonder, so too jazz, chocolate and, for the tipplers, an incredible array of tantalising and demonstrably potent beers. Add to the mix a tapestry of stunning canals, cobbled streets and downright beautiful medieval buildings, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a real-world fairy-tale to frolic within.
5 / 9
Frank Lloyd Wright once said Chicago “just might be the most beautiful great city left in world”. Sinatra dug it too: “… And each time I roam, Chicago is calling me home, Chicago is why I just grin like a clown – It’s my kind of town…” Indeed, for those seeking for an alternative big-metro flavour to the ritz and romp of Manhattan and the boroughs, Chicago is America’s prime go-to.
Dotted by a stunning lakeside cityscape, home of blues and gangsters, the pizza is deeper in Chi-town, the wind, windier, and the soul, all the more rich for the experience.
6 / 9
Given that Barcelona is typically viewed as the more flamboyant, and probably more seductive sibling to big bro Madrid, we might be pushing the envelope with second city status here. Still, being the smaller city population-wise, Barca carries the status, and one a heck of a second city it is.
You only need to climb the vertiginous spirals of Gaudi’s 150-year-old La Sagrada Familia, or sip crisp cerveza and vinto tinto post-siesta along Las Ramblas to feel the exotic embrace of this flamenco-flamed wonder hub. Catalonia, Catalonia all the way!
7 / 9
Luang Prabang, Laos
Perched on the confluence of the golden brown Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northern Laos, Luang Prabang provides Laos’s exotic, spiritual centre point. Here, the vibe simmers with markets and prayer, as orange-clad monks roam in the sultry twilights.
While capital Vientiane provides a fine resting point, Luang Prabang instils in the wayfarer a deeper Laotian experience, this ancient royal capital coddled by dramatic peaks, rushing waterfalls, and incredible jungle wilderness.
8 / 9
Get your Viking on in Bergen! Norway’s second largest city, a 900-year-old gem surrounded by incredible mountains, seaside and wilderness. With its roots in the Viking age, Bergen remains the gateway to the fjords: a gorgeous city combining historical flavour with modern panache. Soak up the incredible views from Mount Floyen, get your hike on around Mount Ulriken, and breathe in some of the cleanest air on earth.
9 / 9
In the eyes of the Québécoise, there’s nothing “second city” about their prized main city. But in a nation-wide context, Montreal is Canada’s sophomore, and a magnetic one at that. There’s a little extra je ne sai quoi here – the perfect fusion of buzzing North American city and French-European inflection.
It’s aesthetic beauty, historical neighbourhoods and bustling nightlife is second to none, and if all that doesn’t float your boat, one word – poutine (…and a dangerous, unregulated amount of it).
Now check out some of the best hidden gems of Europe.