5 Cities Everyone Should Experience During Their Lifetime
Taking the time to travel the world and observe different cultures is a valuable part of your personal growth. There are some things you can’t learn from books. They have to be experienced to be understood. It could be something as simple as the way the sand feels under your feet at the beach in Spain or the way the northern lights swirl in the sky over Iceland in winter.
Or it could be something bigger. Traveling to other countries can give you a new sense of perspective, and it can also spur ideas about how things can be done differently back home.
When I was younger, I traveled all over the world. I stayed in furnished rentals, and it was those experiences that led me to found HomeSuite, a curated marketplace allowing people like me to find the perfect accommodation, wherever life may take us. I don’t know where I’d be now had I not taken that plunge, packed my bags, and gone out into the world.
Experience as much as you can
A new place can feel overwhelming at first, but that feeling can be the best in the world. It means you have so much to look forward to. Cherish the scale of the task before you, and see as much as you can; you never know when you’ll get the chance to do it again.
You might be bouncing between hostels, or you might have found a furnished rental to serve as your base. But whichever way you choose to travel, you have to immerse yourself. Cities are so much more than just buildings — they’re defined by their people, and you can find true beauty in learning their styles of cooking, drinking, eating, relaxing, and socializing.
Learn the customs. Learn the music. Learn the dances. Experience as much as you can in every city you visit.
Wondering where to start? Here are my five top cities to check off of your bucket list.
1. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona should be a required stop for anyone traveling to Europe. It’s chock-full of ancient and modern art, gourmet food, cool cafes, bars, and discotecas that stay packed and open until sunrise.
My must-see in Barcelona is Mercado de La Boqueria on Las Ramblas in the Ciutat Vella district. It’s a giant public bazaar that serves as both a tourist attraction and functioning market. Fresh juices are only a few euros, and I haven’t had many that are better.
The nightlife in Barcelona is always buzzing, and there is always somewhere new and exciting to go. One of my favorite nightspots is the Bar Dow Jones, where the prices rise and fall based on their popularity that evening — time your ordering well, and you’ll have a great night.
2. San Juan, Puerto Rico
A little closer to home, San Juan is the ideal Caribbean city. Experience the classy Condado with its upscale beachfront bars and restaurants, or Santurce’s hip art scene and vintage clothing shops, as well as the cobblestone streets and pastel-colored buildings of Viejo San Juan. There is something for every person and every mood.
Going out here means a lot of drinking and dancing to all different kinds of music, including Puerto Rican indie rock, traditional “bomba y plena,” and urban reggaeton. To finish your night, I recommend a refreshing 3 a.m. dip in the Caribbean Sea.
3. Auckland/Queenstown, New Zealand
I’m cheating a little by combining these two cities as one, but their differences complement each other. Queenstown is the most naturally beautiful place I have ever seen, and its landscapes gave the Lord of the Rings films their beauty. It’s also the home of bungee jumping and other extreme sports, so if you’re looking for a thrill, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Auckland, by contrast, is a more entrepreneurial city and is the center of business activity in New Zealand. The culture there is totally different from our own. While every person I met there was very ambitious, nobody wanted to become overwhelmingly wealthy. They all wanted the “3 Bs” — a BMW, a boat, and a beach house — but anything more than that seemed almost embarrassing.
There’s a humility to their ambition that I found completely refreshing, and it might have something to do with New Zealand’s own indigenous traditions, as the Maori are once again having a significant impact on the country’s economy and political atmosphere.
4. Varanasi, India
Varanasi is not a big city. Its population is dwarfed by those of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore, but it offers a glimpse of the incredibly rich and colorful culture of India with an added dose of spirituality.
Located on the Ganges River, Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism and Jainism, and is famed for its “ghats,” which are stone stairways that lead down to the banks of the river where people perform all kinds of rituals.
The streets are narrow, winding, and full of people, dirt, and cows, and sometimes this makes exploring the city tiring, but the local culture makes it all worthwhile. There are shops selling real silk scarves, restaurants offering chai, mango lassi, and all kinds of other delicious northern Indian dishes. Varanasi may not be the most geographically distant city on my list, but it’s certainly the most culturally different.
5. Budapest, Hungary
Returning to Europe, Budapest offers the perfect blend of Western and Eastern European culture. Old-world buildings and churches in the angular Eastern style sit cheek-by-jowl with more modern structures. Take a night boat on the River Danube to see them all lit up. The parliament building steals the show, but the whole vista is incredible.
In the evenings, head to one of the city’s “ruin bars.” These are completely unique places, haphazardly opened in abandoned buildings with crumbling walls or no ceilings. They can sometimes be hard to spot, but they are great places to meet and mingle with locals.
The city has a lot of winter holiday attractions, but I recommend visiting in the summer when balmy weather lasts all through the night, and the conditions are perfect for exploring “ruin bars.”
So don’t just see the world through your web browser. Get out there and experience other cultures, and once you’ve visited the top five cities on this list, find ones of your own. Do so, and you’ll find yourself to be a more rounded, grounded, and cultured individual.
David Adams is the founder of HomeSuite, an online marketplace for temporary furnished housing that uses technology, data, and customer service to provide the best possible experience for tenants and landlords. Connect with David on Twitter.