Bogotá, Colombia: Notorious B.O.G.
Shakira’s native Colombia is fast shaking off its deadly rep and Bogotá is emerging as the new ultra-cool South American cultural capital. Perched at 2,640 metres on an Andean plateau, it’s a city that knows how to live the high life and then some. When things get going, well-heeled Bogotános like to party at altitude: the hottest club in town, Cha Cha, is 41 floors up. By day, Bogotá isn’t short on bling either. Check out El Museo Del Oro or art with serious booty in bronze form, at the Botero Museum.
If you only do one thing: Take a Bogotá bike tour and stop off in the colonial quarter, La Candelaria.
Key phrase: ‘Esta mañana tengo mal de altura’ (‘I seem to have come down with altitude sickness this morning’).
Chengdu, China: Parks, pandas and placid teahouses
Most Chinese cities live life on fast-forward, but Chengdu is a delightfully slow-mo exception. The capital of Sichuan Province and the gateway to the country’s beautiful south-west region, it has the skyscrapers and fashion boutiques that you’ll find in any modern Chinese city, but also an ancient teahouse culture that brings with it a chilled-out and decidedly old-fashioned way of life. It’s a city that lends itself to leisurely strolls – through verdant bamboo parks (River Viewing Pavilion Park) and traditional streets (Jinli). After building up an appetite, tuck into the Sichuan hot pot, a fiery local dish
that, unlike Chengdu, is not at all chilled out.
If you only do one thing: Take a bus out of town to the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, home to nearly 120 of the cute creatures.
Key phrase: ‘Wo huì qù zuò yin wèi hen kuài jiù wéi wo jié shù mò li hua chá’ (‘I will do it as soon as I finish my jasmine tea’).
Colombo, Sri Lanka: A South Asian metropolis for beginners
The Sri Lankan capital has all the bustle, tussle and full sensory onslaught of Mumbai or Bangalore, but at a much more manageable scale for first-timers. Expect exquisite cuisine, notably seafood (try the upscale-yet-weirdly-cheap restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand hotel and heady, aromatic curry dishes endemic to the island (the wonderfully manicured Gallery Café in Colombo 3 is the place to go. Right now, Colombo is a sapphire in the rough for urban adventurers and pleasantly affordable. But with Indian hotel chains and Chinese infrastructure investing heavily in Sri Lanka’s postwar boom, it won’t be long before that glossy, global gentrification settles in.
If you only do one thing: Eat a crustacean. Head to Ministry of Crab in the Dutch Hospital to do so.
Key phrase: ‘Alai ætauna sandahaa maeana paætataada?…’ (‘Which way to the elephants?’).
St Petersburg, Russia: Fairy tale elegance and decadent summer nights
It’s a shame so few Westerners make it to Eastern Europe’s greatest city. St Petersburg is one of the most gorgeous metropolises in Europe, full of fairy tale churches and palaces, plus some great shopping – you’d have to go to some lengths to miss its central retail street, Nevsky Prospect, and would be mad to do so. Plus, its art gallery, The State Hermitage, is the equal of any in the world. Don’t be put off by needing a visa (most hotels will be able to arrange one for you), or Putin’s sabre-rattling: this city reminds you that there’s also a civilised and cultured Russia to be discovered.
If you only do one thing: Head there in May or June for the White Nights Festival, a rolling celebration of the arts that takes place at all hours during the 24-hour daylight of the city’s summer.
Key phrase: ‘Zabud’te Putina, davayte partiya!’ (‘Forget Putin, let’s party!’).
Malmö, Sweden: Bikes and a big bridge
You won’t catch Malmö gazing enviously toward its larger Swedish cousins Stockholm and Gothenburg, or Danish capital Copenhagen, which is just 35 minutes away by train and accessible 24 hours a day via the Øresund Bridge (yes, the one in TV series The Bridge). With cool cultural attractions such as art gallery Moderna Museet, Malmö is a vibrant and laid-back city. Live like the locals do and you’ll be cycling everywhere, supping coffee at Solde, dining out at restaurants like Smak and Spoonery and partying in nightspots such as Boulebar, hip Möllevången’s Tempo, Belle Epoque and Debaser. The next day, take a dip in the sea at Ribersborgs kallbadhus.
If you only do one thing: Pedal out to the docks and eat in a former salt warehouse at Saltimporten Canteen.
Key phrase: ‘Nej, jag tycker inte om att kolla på skandinaviska deckare’ (‘No, I don’t like Scandi crime drama’).