World’s 10 most underrated cities

World’s 10 most underrated cities

Too often consigned as merely stopovers, it's time these so-called "secondary" destinations got some front-of-mind time

Perhaps because of their proximity to better known locales, these cities are too often neglected by travelers

Call us sentimental, but that's an oversight we can't condone.

These places are livable, creative hubs, championed by friendly locals, and they’re worth way more than a transit stop. 

Queens, New York City, United States

A "city" within a city.OK, officially it’s a part of NYC, but this borough has a population of 2.3 million and virtually qualifies as a city in itself.

It might lack the glitz and glamour of Manhattan, first port of call for visitors, but it is one of the most diverse places on the globe. More than 170 languages and dialects are spoken in the borough -- residents say it’s like going around the world without ever leaving.

First stop? Jackson Heights gives a subcontinental vibe. It’s the place for saris and gold jewelry and South Asian restaurants. Then there’s Flushing, home to the second largest Chinatown in NYC, and Jamaica, with its jazz heritage.

Other fun "musts"  include a the Museum of Moving Image and the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden -- a relaxed neighborhood park and watering hole, serving Czech beer and food, with live music -- perfect in the warmer months.

Queens boasts plenty of beaches and forested parks too -- including Rockaway, a surfing beach, and Flushing Meadows Corona, with a zoo, lake, theater, and Shea Stadium, if you fancy watching the Mets play baseball. 

Bergen, Norway

bergen norwaySmall-town charm in the mountains.As Norway itself tends not to be on the radar of most holiday makers it’s not surprising Bergen gets overlooked. Which is a pity: surrounded by mountains and the gateway to the Norwegian fjords, this pretty city on the west coast is the ideal destination for a break that’ll tempt even die-hard nature lovers.  

By European standards it’s compact, and locals are proud of Bergen’s small-town charm and laid-back atmosphere. Attractions include the old quarter of Bryggen, a UNESCO heritage site with picturesque alleyways and harbor buildings.

Music lovers will be drawn to the The Edvard Grieg Museum, once home of Norway’s most famous composer, while foodies will want to sniff out the Bergen Fish Market.

There's also a funicular to the top of Floien Mountain to catch views of the city and a selection of hikes on well-marked trails.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto RicoThe beaches are great, but the city's not bad either.Given Puerto Rico's stunning beaches and coastal highlights, including the Bioluminescent (phosphorescent) Bays and El Yunque Rainforest, people sometimes assume the capital will not have much to offer.

They couldn’t be more wrong.  

There’s the dramatic El Morro Fortress, high above the sea, and the charming, cobbled streets of Old San Juan, with their 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings -- but the city is also in the throes of a revival.

From chic new hotels, to trendy nightspots, boutiques, dance venues (salsa rules here), art galleries, urban sophisticates will find much to whet their appetites: for starters, there’s the newly revamped Museo de Arte, featuring Puerto Rican artists, a two-hectare garden and theater.

Night owls will love sleek hotel The Water Club, with its waterfalls, blue-lit rooms, bars, restaurants and minimalist decor, and the Nyuorican Café, which boasts a live salsa orchestra.

And if you’re craving a midnight curry you’ll find it at the Latino-Hindu fusion restaurant, Tantra. 

Darwin, Australia

Darwin, AustraliaOvershadowed by Sydney, but should it be?Too often in the shadow of iconic metropolis Sydney, Darwin is a balmy, tropical city, with a chilled-out vibe. It’s also just four hours by air from Singapore, and two from Bali.

Robbie Mills, a traditional Larrakia guide (his people are the traditional owners of Darwin), offers cultural walking tours along the city’s esplanade.

You’ll learn about aboriginal history and culture, bush tucker and plants. Mindil Beach has some great open-air markets, open from April to October, from sunset till late.

Here you’ll find a range of food stalls serving global fare and everything from indigenous art to pottery. There are live beats too.

Harbor cruises and, if you’re a fan of the late Steve Irwin, the Cage of Death -- an underwater crocodile viewing cage -- at Crocosaurus Cove, are also part of the fun.

Isfahan, Iran

Zayandeh riverIran can be romantic -- try a walk along Zayandeh river to the beautiful Khaju bridge. Isfahan is one of Iran's great treasures, breathtakingly elegant, perched at the foot of the Zagros mountains.

Its star attraction? That honor goes to  Imam Square. It’s one of the world’s largest, and dominated by the Imam Mosque complex which twists towards Mecca -- though it’s the smaller Sheik Lotfollah mosque with its stunning dome that silences visitors.

Then there’s the covered bazaar, just off the square, great for miniatures and decorative tiles and chaikhanas, or teahouses, offering fresh brews and flavored shisha pipes.

After dark belongs to the courtyard café and tearoom at the Abbasi, a five-star hotel and former caravanserai: it’s a magnet to the city’s movers and shakers, who are keen to practise their English on the all-too-rare tourists in their midst.

Final mention must go to the Zayandeh river and its exquisitely pretty, arched Khaju bridge.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon romanticAll the romance of Paris, without the aggro.When it comes to European cities, tourists usually look to Paris or Rome. But Lisbon is, arguably, just as characterful and flanked by beautiful, uncrowded beaches, making it a good alternative to the touristy Algarve.

The city is home to the Gulbenkian, one of the world’s great (largely unsung) museums, housing a collection of Egyptian, Green, Roman, Islamic, Asian and European art and the Belem tower, an iconic city landmark.

Portugal is renowned for the sweet, soft eggy confection known as Pasteis de Nata. So if you’re after the best custard tart in town, head for the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem.

The recipe is 170 years old and the sweet treats were originally thought to have been sold at the Jeronimos Monastery, across the road.

Glasgow, Scotland

Great music waiting to be unearthed.Travelers who make the journey north from London more often head to the much adored capital Edinburgh.

Glasgow, however, arguably has the best music scene in Britain (though Londoners might dispute this) with scores of clubs and concert halls, including the much raved-about Barrowland, which hosts all sorts of acts -- large, cool and up-and-coming.

There’s lots to mine here for those seeking non-aural diversions: for families, there’s the Science Centre, and the collections of curios at the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum -- it has everything from children’s toys to motorbikes.

If you’re looking for booty you can walk off with, rest assured, the city has some of the best shopping outside of London.

For designer bling there's Prince’s Square, while Willow Tearooms, designed by the influential Scottish architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh provides a great cuppa. The menu features Scots Porridge -- available all day -- and Scottish shortbread. 

Hoi An, Vietnam

The special kind of taxi you can only find in Vietnam. Technically not a city, but this seaside heritage spot on Vietnam’s Central Coast is such an enchanting contrast to hectic tourist magnet Hanoi that it’s worth a mention.

The former trading port is known for its historic architecture, a mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and European styles. Visitors rave about its fairytale lanterns, Vietnamese silk and custom tailoring -- it is the place to come if you’re looking to revamp your wardrobe.

A Japanese-designed bridge, old canals, are galleries and great street food -- local specialities include "white rose" seafood dumplings -- make this town memorable. You can learn to cook the dumplings at the Secret Garden, a restaurant and live music venue that runs classes.

Where to stay? Try the swish Nam Hai Hotel, seven kilometers up the coast on Ha Mai beach. It’s in immaculately landscaped grounds and the hotel runs a shuttle bus to the town.  

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

One of the fastest growing cities in Canada. Canada’s gateway to the Rockies is often viewed as little more than an airport pick-up point. But it’s special -- it has a cowboy heritage all of its own, and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities.

In winter, hockey team Calgary Flames roars into action, while in summer, their place is taken by the local football heroes, Calgary Stampeders and The Calgary Stampede -- one of North America's best loved sporting events.

If you’re more "do-er" than watcher, the Olympic park offers seasonal skiing, zip lines and mountain biking.

Calgary’s also home to the Glenbow Museum, Canada’s largest, housing a vast horde of art and artefacts documenting the history and culture of Western Canada.

There’s a growing foodie scene here too: at the Farmers' Market you can find specialities such as elk and bison or pick up a pie at the Saskatoon Berry Farm stall.

Durban, South Africa

A city with year-round sunshine. Perceived to be unsafe, it’s not surprising that the city, on the country’s eastern coast, isn’t exactly first port of call for visitors.

But, in large part thanks to its recent stint as World Cup host, tourist numbers are up. Locals rave about their city’s year-round sunshine and vibrant, cosmopolitan vibe.

Among cities, Durban is home to the highest concentration of Indians outside the subcontinent and it’s a blend of African and European cultures too.

Big draws include surf-friendly golden beaches, the many temples and mosques (including the beautiful -- and beautifully named -- Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding) the uShaka Marine World theme park, and the mammoth art deco style Sunset Casino, which doubles as a shopping mall and boasts a private beach out back.

Local speciality Bunny Chow -- piping hot curry in a scooped out bun -- is best had at The House of Curries, on Florida Road.

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