I have lived in two countries and traveled to several others, and while I have generally had great experience no matter where I went, there are a few cities I have been to that definitely stood out and left their mark compared to the rest. I typically travel to do photography, which the interest is usually brought on my the history of the country and city, but I also like to experience the local culture.
Alternatively, I have listed my 5 Places for Travel or Photography in another post.
The following I have ranked as my top 5 cities.
This city immediately surpassed my former number one, which is now actually sitting at number three. It is easy to fall in love with this city; between the history, architecture, city lights, art, food and festivities hosted in Paris, there is always a reason for a return visit. I have actually been to the city five times now and each time I see something new and have new experiences.
Paris is by far one of the greatest cities for photography, or for traditional art in the world. Just to name a few of the local iconic landmarks. The Eiffel Tower, Arc Du Triumph or the Louvre, but there are other sights in Paris that are equally as impressive yet not as widely visited as these; my favourites, Saint Michel, Sacré-Couer, The Pantheon and The Luxembour Gardens. Paris has a lot to offer. I could sit here and write about the city and things to do, but that would be better served as an article on its own.
Any food lover has been to France at least once in their lives, and if not, then they should. Paris has an assortment of restaurants that cater to any taste buds, in any price range, and a range of selections from regional French all the way to the American hamburger. While you can find a number of great places to eat in all the major and minor touristy areas like Champs-Elysées or Montparnasse, at surprisingly prices, some of the best dishes are to be had off the main streets and in less touristy areas, sometimes even the best photography opportunities for both dishes and scenery can be found off the beaten path. Two of my favourite areas to eat at when in Paris are on Rue Mouffetard and Japan Town near the Opera.
Another beautiful part of Paris, especially as a tourist, is the proximity of all the attractions, so long as you aren’t afraid to get a little mileage from your feet. You can easily walk from the Notre Dame, to the Louvre and explore it, up the Toulieries and the Champs-Elysées straight to the Arc Du Triomphe in one day. If walking isn’t your thing, there are a host of Metro and tram lines that encompass the entirety of the city. This is why I typically stay at Montparnasse. It is situated on major Metro lines that give me almost direct access to all the points of interest in Paris, and about a ten minute walk to the train that takes you directly to Charles De Gaulle airport.
Over all, I know Paris is a city that you either love or are just not that fond of. I have heard a number of complaints between it is expensive, it smells horrible, it is dirty, and so on. In reality, it is a city that is over a thousand years old and has a local population of about 5 million, so being pricey, smelly and dirty is only inevitable. I can safely say, though, out of all the European cities that I have been to, Paris was not the most expensive at all. That honor is with number two on this list.
I did not think that I would like Vienna as much as I did. I was mainly going to see a friend from University, but I have to admit, Vienna had stolen my heart. The architecture, the history, the classical music, and to a lesser extent, the food. In my opinion, Vienna is the Paris of Eastern Europe, and considering that at it’s peak the Austrian Empire rivaled any European power, that could hold true.
If you are into Baroque architecture, sometimes a little ostentatious, then Vienna is definitely the city to visit. You will also get your fair share of artwork and museums as the Museum quarter has a variety of museum types to choose from. But the one thing that anyone must see while in Vienna, is the Opera House. The single most famous Opera House, and quite possibly one of the most impressive, even more so than Sydney’s. If you do enjoy a musical show or play, make sure to plan your trip around their schedule, as the season does not run all year round.
Though not as old as Paris, there certainly are things around every corner that serve for random photography or sightseeing. The city is also well planned out, I was there for three full days and with the exception of the airport or to the main train station when leaving, I only took the subway to get to Schönbrunn Palace, everything else I went to see was no more than a thirty minutes walk away from where I stayed.
Let’s face it, the Germanic peoples are not world leaders at the culinary arts. Their core staples often include sausages or cabbage. Though I do love my sauerkraut, it certainly is not something that you need to travel thousands of kilometers for. Vienna, on the other hand, is different. In fact, Vienesse is known as its own culinary style, setting itself apart from the rest of the Germanic region. The most popular of all their dishes, the Schnitzel. Now while I certainly ate a smorgasbord of food on my trip in Vienna, mostly chocolates and pastries, I would exercise caution when looking for places to eat: Vienna is expensive! I spent approximately €120 a day while in Vienna. But if you are looking for an incredible meal and ambiance, I strongly recommend Figlmüller at Lugeck. It is a hefty price tag, but you will definitely not regret it.
Over all, I have been told that Vienna is a drab place to visit, and I can understand why as there is not that much colour to the city. However, I found that it had many redeeming qualities, and a city that is definitely worth visiting more than once. But as mentioned before, be prepared to spend a lot of money, as Vienna is very expensive, but a very worthy of a city to visit.
I have not been in Australia for nearly a decade, and it is safe to say that all the cities there have changed quite a bit, but I will always remember Melbourne as one of my favourite cities in Australia. I am sure that anyone from Sydney reading this will immediately hate me considering the ever lasting rivalry between the two, but Melbourne beats Sydney out in one area, it did not remind me of a larger Toronto.
Melbourne was a surprisingly green city for it’s size. A city of 3 million and yet it maintained a wonderfully green core, this was a great feat for someone who frequented Toronto prior to moving to Australia – though has started to change in Toronto. Melbourne has its fair share of sky scrapers, but even along the narrow city streets tall trees lined the curb sides. I love city skylines, but i feel that cities should incorporate nature into their design, both for the environment and aesthetics.
The culture in Melbourne is fantastic. Museums, plays, art shows, street performing, food, it has it all. Sydney obviously offers the same, being the other cultural player in the country, but Melbourne had a very European meets Asian vibe to it. While Australian cities typically have an abundant selection of eating options in general, Melbourne definitely stood apart from the rest. Quality vs cost was much better than Sydney, or at least in the affordable range, and the diversity of options was much higher than other Australian cities.
Australia is generally an expensive country for a tourist, and Melbourne is no exception. But if you are flying all the way down to Australia, then Melbourne should be on your list of stops. There is always an something going on in the city, and the surrounding region – 12 apostles and Yarra Valley wine region to name two – also provides a lot of nearby sights to see.
Bavaria in general is a fantastic place to travel to for photography or history, but if you only have time for one stop then make it Munich. History, shopping, athletics and greenery are all within the regions capital, and some of the best beer houses you will ever visit.
Germany is known for its castles, and the most iconic castle of them all, Neuschwanstein, is a couple hours out of the city by train. There are many tours that operate out of the city to that part of Bavaria, but I strongly recommend just getting there on your own, it takes just as long to get there and it will cost you much less. And thanks to the German transit system, it is easy to get there. Do not skip this, even though it is not part of Munich, it is close enough to consider the day trip.
There is also plenty to see or do in Munich. Shopping. Architecture. History. Munich is an old city, and much has happened in this part of Germany. You can see the old palace of Maximilian – which provides an amazing sunset photography opportunity – or remnants of the old city walls, both medieval and renaissance. There are plenty of cathedrals, public squares, and even unique museums that you can visit all within a twenty minute walk from the center, Marienplatz – this one being a must see in the city as the Glockenspiel chimes two to three times a day depending on the season; 11am, noon and 5pm. Of course, don’t forget to visit one of the many Beer Houses in Munich; if you only have time for one, then go to the worlds largest, Hofbräuhaus.
Possibly the most incredible part of Munich, the gardens. Any nature lover will fall in love with this city as there are gardens aplenty here. Along the river Isar, there are several parks. One of which actually has an amazing statue of the Angel of Peace. The Hofgarten is also a must see garden as it is a true representation of the Baroque period of Munich, however, the Englischer Garten is the single most impressive garden I have ever seen. You can easily spend an entire day in this garden alone. I spent four hours walking through taking random photos, having a lunch and soaking in the scenery, and I must have walked through only a third of it.
Munich is a city that I will definitely return to, as I feel I did not see as much as I could have, but if and when I decide to return, I will do so during Oktoberfest. This is the worlds largest harvest festival, and for anyone that loves beer, this would be an incredible event for you – be prepared to pay a pretty price during this time though. Of course it would also be nice to see a Bayern Munich football match.
The fifth spot was very difficult to pick. I had a number of great choices, but in the end I felt that Bordeaux deserved to be in my top five. Not only does the city have a rich history, it has such diversity of new and old architecture and cultures that allow for incredible photography opportunities, as well as adventure.
Bordeaux is known as the international city of wine production, which is somewhat untrue. The region of France it is in is the wine producer, Bordeaux is the capital of the region and the distributor for all it’s outlying areas. However, you can easily access all of these areas from the city either as day trips or as a way station. Any wine lover needs to go to Bordeaux, you will not be disappointed by it or its wine regions, and if you do plan on going to the wine capital of France, plan your trip around a fantastic celebration of wine, the Fête le Vin, which runs in June.
Bordeaux has a storied past, and a huge part of it surprisingly English. The city has seen it’s ups and its downs and this is evident throughout the city. You can still see the gates from the old Renaissance town, which seems almost like a fairy tale. The industrial and French Gothic era is evident along the Quay, especially in the Palais de la Bourse. And even the modern era has its representation in the northern and the southern suburbs of the city. You can walk through history in this amazing city.
Bordeaux not only has its wine region, but is accessible to a number of other amazing sights in the region. The Dune du Pilat (Pyla sur Mer) is Europe’s largest sand dune, standing about 110 meters high – currently since this fluctuates – and runs for about 2.7 km’s north to south and 500 meters east to west. Another nearby sight, which I unfortunately did not have the chance to go see, the Cave of Lascaux, which houses one of Europe’s oldest known cave paintings.
Simply put, Bordeaux warrants a return visit just for it’s accessibility to the sights in the region alone, especially for anyone that loves to drink their wine. There is a reason why Victor Hugo admired the city, and while it may not always be in the top five, Bordeaux is definitely a city worthy of anyone’s attention. And while I did not mention much about it, this region of France is home to one of my favourite culinary styles of the country.
And there you have my 5 favourite cities for photography and for a great travel experience; or at least that I have been to thus far. I am sure that with time I will see new cities that may supplant these – Athens potentially being one of them.
I hope that you enjoyed reading, and I would love to hear your thoughts on these cities, or if you have any that you have been to that you would have listed in a top five. Everyone has different adventures and different takes on each city, so leave a comment with your opinions below.