Top 5 big city breaks for independently-minded travellers

Anyone reading this doesn’t need to be told where to go. On the contrary – the savvy traveller knows exactly where to go. But at the heart of it all, exploring and discovering is something we all crave when planning our holidays. Travel can refresh your senses and revitalise your take on the world, shaking you back to life with the unexpected razzle dazzle of an unexplored city, the intoxicating introduction into a fresh new culture, and the shocking realisation that it’s taken you so long to discover your latest location. There’s nothing more exciting than uncovering a place not always frequented by hoards of tourists, so here’s a list of the top 5 city break suggestions for independently minded travellers.

1. Riga, Latvia

The rich history, intriguing present and vibrant future of the biggest city in the Baltic States is evident from the get-go – Riga has seen it all. The beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the city centre and its more than 800 revered Art Nouveau buildings is a stark contrast to the relics of the city’s Soviet past, seen in hidden architectural treasures dotted around the city. A burgeoning café scene leaves many European capitals for dead, with a quirky style and a true penchant for quality coffee. For a tasty treat in a contemporary setting in the heart of the city, head to Restaurant Bergs for stylish décor, a varied menu and an extensive wine list.

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2. Guangzhou, China

Don’t let the regal beauty of Beijing or the fast-paced pizazz of Shanghai overshadow the up-and-coming tourist hotspot of Guangzhou, which is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in Chinese tourism. From the imposing contemporary architecture of the colourful Canton Tower and the surrounding high-rises to the serene natural beauty of Conghua, there’s nothing that can’t be experienced in Guangzhou. The cuisine of the city is famed for being the best in China, known for its elaborate recipes and somewhat experimental flare. Favourites include the intrepid (steamed frogs legs on lotus leaves and snow fungus soup) to the classic (deep fried sweet and sour chicken and traditional chow mein).

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3. Mexico City, Mexico

With over 20 million inhabitants in the greater urban area, Mexico City is more than just a capital. The Centro Historico offers insight into the city’s beginnings, Polanco is an affluent neighbourhood full of the most exclusive entertainment in the city, San Angel offers a gentrified upscale neighbourhood with delightful restaurants, Xochimilco is known as Mexican Venice for its canals and colourful gondolas, Coyoacán provides world-class museums and an authentic colonial town lost in the urban sprawl, Zona Rosa is the heart of the city with the CBD, the gay district and Little Seoul…and the list goes on.

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4. Porto, Portugal

Nestled quietly on the northern coast of Portugal, this city packs a punch with its drastic hills that create spectacular views from almost everywhere in the city. And there’s no better place to enjoy the vistas – not only is the city anchored by the winding currents of the Douro River, but the architecture was made to be marvelled. The historic centre ensured the city was awarded with World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996, but the modern architecture is what really impresses. Check out some local music at the Casa da Musica, which is home to the National Orchestra of Porto and stands proudly as one of the city’s remarkable gems of contemporary design.

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5. Perth, Australia

If you want a getaway and to really get away, there’s no better place to visit than Perth. All on its lonesome in Western Australia, this cosmopolitan metropolis offers all the cultural attractions of a big city in an isolated location surrounded by untouched beaches. Explore the cityscape and stunning coastline of the city, and venture out to the Margaret River wine region, which offers and abundance of boutique-size winemakers. Alternatively, a morning exploring Perth’s coastal strip before lunch in the buzz of the city centre and an afternoon of rejuvenation at the Shambhala Urban Escape Spa.

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Filip Boyen is Chief Executive Officer of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Chris says:

    I just got back from Riga, and had a fantastic time. The city is full of great architecture and 20th century history. Do not miss the Museum of the Occupations and the Corner building which housed the KGB during the Soviet occupation.

  2. Laura says:

    Porto is high on my list of cities of the world to see. It is obviously stunning.
    The inclusion of Mexico made me wonder though … just how safe is it for the independent traveller these days?

  3. Filip Boyen says:

    Hi Laura, thank you for your question. Travellers should research the city they’re going to for up-to-date safety information and always be vigilant, especially when travelling alone. Always be sure to book a hotel in a good location to ensure you are not staying in an undesirable area. Mexico City has a number of areas that require extra care, but with a great hotel that offers excellent concierge services, you are likely to travel without incident.

  4. Andrea says:

    Definitely agree with Mexico City Xochimilco is a great day out! Mexican wrestling is a also must :)

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