I’m not Johnny Cash, and I ain’t been everywhere, man. I haven’t been to Tallapoosa, Oskaloosa, Grand Lake or Crater Lake, for Pete’s sake. I have been to Fargo, but don’t ya know, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But I have been around the block a time or two, and I’ve visited some amazing cities along the way. Half of my job is photographing beautiful places; the other half is writing about them. These are the ten most inspiring cities I’ve ever visited, places that spur creativity unlike anywhere else I’ve tread.
No two places are the same, of course. I love Dublin and Yangon, but the reasons couldn’t be more disparate. Seoul has a very different vibe from Porto, and a weekend in Montreal is a totally different experience from ten days in Luang Prabang. Difference, of course, is what makes travel so exciting. In making this list, a city need only qualify under two criteria; it must inspire photographic curiosity, and it must stir literary ghosts.
Keep in mind that I’m focusing on cities alone – if it were a list of my ten favorite travel destinations, things would be different. But since most of my work begins and ends in large urban centers, I thought I’d kick off my first “Top 10” list with a bang.
I’ve included a trio of places you shouldn’t miss for each destination. Quirky cafés, world-class brew pubs, boutique hotels, secluded temples – that sort of jazz. Little things that help make a place unique.
Arguably the world’s finest literary legacy. Crumbling Georgian architecture. Noble Celtic heritage. St James Gate and Guinness by the barrel full. Atmospheric Liffey River. The green lung of St. Stephen, and the tortured liver of Temple Bar.
If you succeed in removing yourself from the pubs, cafes, and bookshops, Dublin’s hardscrabble streets hold plenty of intrigue for intrepid travelers.
1. The Porterhouse | Brew Pub
16-18 Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Dublin
2. The Winding Stair | Café & Bookshop
40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Dublin
3. Glasnevin Cemetery | Cemetery and Museum
Glasnevin Museum, Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Dublin
Seoul, South Korea
To the world Seoul is bright neon lights, fuel-efficient cars, genetic research, and mountains of kimchi. The Land of the Morning Calm is deservedly lauded as a spreading ground for future tech, and well known as the K-pop powerhouse, and rightfully so – just try and pretend you don’t sing Gangnam Style on your way to work – though Seoul is furiously rebranding as a design-centric, green-focused hub to East Asia, and a welcoming haven for the independent traveler.
Some of the world’s best street food, Korean BBQ, ancient palaces, bustling markets, and a furious nightlife scene make Seoul one of the most exciting places to visit in East Asia.
1. Namdaemun Market
49-1 Namchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Subway Line4, Hoehyeon Station
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
3. Anyang Art Park
Anyang 2-dong, Manan-gu, Anyang, Gyeonggi Province
Burma, Myanmar, the mystical python kingdom, is a place where nothing is ever as it seems, and expectations are shaped on the fly. There is a side of this country that few visitors ever get to experience, even though it exists right before their eyes. Yangon is a vast, quixotic city, home to busy thoroughfares that shoulder ancient pagodas, an absurd chicken market, a vibrant, colorful Indian Quarter, crumbling colonial architecture, and some of the world’s friendliest people.
Watch the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda come to life at night, dine on succulent Shan noodles at a hole-in-the-wall café, swap black-market currency in Chinatown, and walk among the ghosts along Strand Road at midnight.
1. Chicken Wholesale Market
Outside Yangon, near the airport
2. Shwedagon Paya
Dagon Township, Yangon
Daily: 5:00 pm–10:00 pm (closed on Saturday and Sunday)
3. 999 Shan Noodle Shop
No. 130 B 34th Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Montreal is more than just curds, fries, and gravy (if you’re not familiar with poutine, then I feel sorry for you). Montreal sits at the epicenter of one of the most unique cultural enclaves in all of North America. Old European charm, contemporary art and design, raucous nightlife, fine French dining, invigorating green spaces, and enthralling boutiques, galleries, and museums culminate in Quebec’s marvelous cultural capital, and imbue all who visit with a certain joie de vivre.
Montreal also serves as Canada’s craft beer capital, which may put a serious hurting on your early morning photographic designs.
1. Patati Patata
Dining in Montreal begins and ends with a trip to a local poutine shop. Poutine is a unique Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Patati Patata is a favorite among young locals. 4177 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. 9am-11pm.
2. Dieu du Ciel
Craft brewers like Le Cheval Blanc, and L’Amère à Boire have been brewing brilliantly for years, but Dieu du Ciel sets itself apart with masterpieces like the Corpus Christi Rye Ale and the Peche Mortel Imperial Stout. 29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Quebec. www.dieuduciel.com
3. Atwater Market
Shop for artisanal breads, cheeses, and chocolates at this robust market built in the 1930s. Dig a little deeper for gems like seaweed caviar, salted codfish, and fresh pig’s feet. 138 Avenue Atwater, Montreal, Quebec. www.marchespublics-mtl.com
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago is a city on the cutting edge of gastronomy, urban design, contemporary culture, and, well, gigantic metallic beans.
Chicago is unlike any other place in America. It’s more than the Midwest’s biggest hitching post; Chicago’s culinary dreamscape is every bit as nuanced as New York’s, and not half as pretentious. Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, formerly home to about a million slaughterhouses, is now the ultimate pit-stop for haute pub grub (Haymarket Brewery); the Market District has a fancy new tenant in the beloved Schwartz Pickle Factory (One Sixtyblue); and that notorious deep-dish
death sentence pizza is never more than a few blocks away (Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria).
Chicago is so enticing, in fact, that even Batman decided to relocate here on Christopher Nolan’s wishes. It may have been the skyline that brought the Dark Knight West; one look at the shimmering towers from Lincoln Park or Northerly Island at sunset is enough to make anyone want to pack a toothbrush into their utility belt.
1. Lincoln Park
For brilliant views of Chicago’s skyline.
2045 North Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL
2. Haymarket Brew Pub
737 W Randolph St Chicago, IL 60661
Tel. (312) 638-0700 haymarketbrewing.com
3. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
805 S. State Street, South Loop, Chicago, IL 60605
Tel. (312) 786-1000 loumalnatis.com
Hong Kong, SAR, China
Arriving in Hong Kong is to step into the future – at least how I’ve always dreamed the future may look, so long as the future is a curious blend of Bladerunner style and Disney-sponsored endorsement deals. HK is the financial wunderkind of the east, and the post-modern skyline reflects that; skyscrapers stretch from one island to the next in an infinite concrete and glass conflux. At times the city seems so foreign and impenetrable that it’s hard to wrap your head around – you want to see more than high-rise apartment blocks and shopping malls, but you can’t figure out how. That’s half the fun, of course; exploring this psedo-dystopia is one good time after the other, once you realize that you’re never too far away from world-class dim sum, a traditional Chinese Market, a 7-star hotel spa, planet earth’s wildest grey market, and an armada of traditional dragon boats built to cruise.
1. Fragrant Lotus | Restaurant
160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
2. Peninsula Hong Kong | Hotel
Salisbury Rd, Hong Kong
Tel. 852-2920-2888, peninsula.com
3. MacLehose Trail | Hiking Trail
Sai Kung District, New Territories East, Hong Kong
Luang Prabang, Laos
Tangerine-robed monks toting parasols through the mist. Elephants crashing through the jungle. Asia’s most underrated cuisine. Dark Beer Lao. Waterfalls demanding ill-advised cannonballs. An incredible open air night market (the best place in the city to sample traditional Lao food), a vibrant local arts scene, and more Buddhist temples than almost any other city on earth. Just thinking of our time in Luang Prabang has me yearning for hotpot by the Mekong River, sausages infused with lemongrass, canoe trips on the murky water, and chilly bottles of Dark Beer Laos – seriously, I can’t stress how much I love this beer.
Though it is not known as a land of superlatives – there is no highest mountain here, no longest river there, no park of pagodas anywhere – Laos offers opportunities to experience something different every day, whether you’re looking for excitement on the river, adventures in the jungle, or relief from the urgency of humanity in the most elegant of Asian cities. The slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is indeed a pilgrimage of a certain kind, while Luang Prabang itself is the sort of place where you can unwind until your visa runs dry.
1. Villa Deux Rivieres | Hotel
One of my favorite hotels in Asia; next door is a really unique vegan restaurant serving traditional Lao food with a veggie twist.
Kingkitsalath Rd 43 Unit 02, Luang Prabang
Tel. +8562077377571 villadeuxrivieres.com
2. Phou Si and Wat Chom Si
Climb to the top of the hill in the center of town for fantastic views of the city and her rivers. Evening views are spectacular, but remember a torch for the walk down.
3. Ock Pop Tok | Retail Shop
Handmade textiles, arresting bric-a-brac; runs textiles workshops and tours to local villages.
73/5 Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang,
Tel. +856 71 253219
Porto is the birthplace of Port Wine. If that doesn’t do it for you, then you don’t like travel (or you’re not a raging alcoholic, I guess). If you manage to dig yourself out of a port cellar long enough to explore the city, you’ll find gorgeous medieval architecture in the form of ancient fishing apartments along the beautiful Duoro River; the Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage area done right. A river cruise is a great way to spend an evening, but you can’t go wrong exploring Porto’s litany of churches and cathedrals, testing your mettle on the city’s towering bridge during a storm, and rewarding your bravery with a sinfully delicious Francesinha sandwich.
The whole of Porto’s old center is a photographer’s dream; ferret warrens connecting one crumbling building to another, caves concealing quirky cafés, and hilly terrain marked by galleries, shops, and restaurants.
1. Bufete Fase | Restaurant
Rua de Santa Catarina 1147, 4000 Oporto
Tel. 351 222 052 118
2. Sandeman Port Cellars
Largo Miguel Bombarda 3, Vila Nova de Gaia
Tel. 351 223 740 534 sandeman.eu
3. Mercado do Bolhão | Market
Rua Fernandes Tomás, 4000-214 Oporto
Tel. 351 223 326 024
Hoi An, Vietnam
A sleepy Vietnamese town on the Thu Bon River, a place where colorful shops loom over ancient cobbled streets, lanterns illuminate the path through a grandiose covered bridge, and tiny men pilot tiny skiffs across the glassy surface of the water. At the river’s edge, crates have been turned upside down and stand in as tables, with tiny plastic stools nearby. A plump, jovial woman places a steaming bowl of Cao Lau before visitors – tongues wag in awe. Cao Lau is a regional dish made with hearty flat noodles, pork, and veggies. The noodles are made with water from an ancient Cham well, while the recipe is a closely guarded secret (if you believe what you hear on the road. I try to believe as much as I’m told).
Dining on the river in Hoi An is a quintessential Vietnamese experience. Foodies flock here to sample what may be the best-tasting noodle dish on the planet, But Hoi An is more than a place to stuff your face; it’s one of Asia’s most charming and laid back travel destinations (quite a feat for a country with roughly 400 million motorbikes). I’m a huge fan of sipping frosty beer by the river for pennies a glass, shooting the beautiful Japanese covered bridge (especially when there’s a local wedding taking place), sampling what seems like an endless array of local culinary delicacies, haggling over prices on shiny suits (none of which I ever buy), launching paper lanterns over the Thu Bon River as night falls, and reveling in the solitude of a slow boat ride out to sea.
1. Morning Glory | Restaurant
106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hội An
Tel. +84 510 3241 555
2. Hoi An Photo Tours
54 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hội An
Tel. 090567198, hoianphototour.com
3. Japanese Covered Bridge
At the West end of Tran Phu St., Hội An
Just about any city in India could have made this list, but I decided to go with the one that pissed me off the least. Delhi is insane, and a fantastic place to photographic, but a bit of an overwhelming, nightmarish glut of humanity. Agra has the Taj… and that’s about it. Udaipur’s stark whiteness is mesmerizing, but when we found a dead cow floating in our fishing hole, it was disqualified from this list. Jodhpur, then, takes the title! And why not? It’s as bright and vibrant as any other city in India.
Jodhpur’s market is a buzzing hive of human activity – but it’s unlikely that someone will grab your ass or touch your face at random the way they might in Delhi. Views of the Blue City from Mehrangarh Fort are sensational – so long as you brought a telephoto lens to compress the perspective. The giant clock tower at the center of town (in the middle of the market) may help you get orientated after wandering through the endless maze of ancient alleyways, while the shopping is apparently fantastic (I avoided it like the plague – which I think I got from a rat in one of the havelis. Learned my lesson about flip-flops in India).
1. Mehrangarh Fort
The Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 342006
Tel. 0291 254 8790
2. Sardar Market
You don’t need an address for this. Follow your nose – or look for the clock tower at the heart of the market.
3. Ice Cream Shop
We wandered down the main drag south of the clock tower for about 30 minutes to find this place – and for the life of me, I can’t find the name in my notes. Oops. The secret dies with me.
There you have it – the cities that have inspired me most. Some were a lock from the start (Dublin, Seoul, Yangon) while others made it in at the last second (Jodphur, Chicago). I’d love to know what cities have inspired you!
Chiang Mai, Thailand | Toronto, Canada | San Francisco, California | Galle, Sri Lanka
Beijing, China | Jogjakarta, Indonesia | Pokhara, Nepal
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