Following on from my recent post “An island for every month of the year” I thought the planners among you might be thinking ahead to your travels in 2017. You can read the earlier blog post here, by the way:
On the basis of my own travels, here are my picks for city breaks. And don’t forget, if your favourite city doesn’t make the cut, let me know which part of the year you’d recommend for visitors.
January: Cape Town
I was lucky when I visited Cape Town in July a few years ago to be blessed with sunshine on all but one of my five days in the city, but for a return visit I’d leave less to chance and time my visit for the new year. The beaches of Camps Bay – great for brunch – and Bloubergstrand – great for views – would be even better in the higher temperatures of the southern hemisphere summer.
The colourful former capital of Guatemala is just the tonic to break the dull grey of a British winter. The ochre yellow of Santa Catalina arch perfectly frames the conical shape of Volcan Agua which looms over the city. An afternoon’s stroll through its streets uncovers a plethora of brightly painted homes and commercial premises: chalky colbalt blues, salmon pinks and tangerines competing to out-brighten each other.
March: New York
I love the Big Apple but I’m less of a fan of the sultry weather that plagues the city during the summer months. Instead, I prefer to visit off-season when New York’s tourist attractions are less busy but (with luck) the frigid winters with their heavy dumping of snow and biting winds have eased into the milder days of early spring. And if you are unlucky with the weather, there are plenty of ways you can escape the cold and stay indoors.
I’ll admit, I visited Kyoto in July. In the throes of midsummer, it was hot and humid, but nevertheless the city quickly established itself as one of my favourites on our Japanese tour. Walking the Philosopher’s Walk from the temples of Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji was a delight. But April is cherry blossom season in Kyoto, and although this tree-lined canal walk would be rammed, I can’t think of a prettier sight than when those cherry trees are covered in pink blossom.
Winter might add a picturesque dusting of snow to the streets of the Swedish capital but I prefer a touch of Scandi sunshine. Late spring is the perfect time to board one of the ferries to the outlying islands of the Stockholm archipelago. The weather is good enough for an al fresco lunch at the Feather Islands and a gentle ramble amongst the spring flowers to walk it off.
In the southern hemisphere winter, nights in the Peruvian Andes are chilly at best and usually downright cold. But days are characterised by warm sunshine and cloudless ultramarine skies. Add to that the celebrations for Inti Raymi, the festival commemorating the Sun God (Inti) just as the Incas would have done. It seems like the whole city turns out for the parade that makes its way to the Plaza de Armas and the reenactment at Sacsayhuaman is one show I’d happily travel halfway round the world for.
This attractive city lies at the heart of the Indonesian island of Bali and a visit at this time of year should be characterised by low rainfall totals. Surrounded by verdant rice terraces punctuated by palm trees, the slight increase in altitude makes this a more pleasant place to walk than along the island’s coastline. There is plenty in the way of cultural attractions such as museums, galleries and temples to fill your days should you tire of the physical landscape, not that it’s likely.
Plagued by heat and flies, summer in Australia’s largest city in my mind is not as pleasant as a bit of winter sun. With August temperatures regularly topping the averages of 16°C and often reaching the low twenties, that’s perfect sightseeing weather. Sling a sweater over your shoulders and go have a look at the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and more – in comfort.
The intense heat of the Portuguese summer is starting to lose its potency by early autumn, yet sunny days are still the norm. This fascinating maritime city begs to be explored and this is the time to do so. From the lofty panoramas of the Alfama to the wide open squares of the Baixa, the glittering of the Tagus to the yummy Pastéis of Belem, there are myriad reasons to get yourself over to the most westerly of continental Europe’s capitals.
When the soggy UK autumn rears its ugly head but your budget won’t stretch to a long haul trip, then the warmth of the southern Moroccan city of Marrakesh is just too tempting to resist. It’s getting chilly in the nearby Atlas Mountains but warm enough in the city to ditch the coats and wander the souks and palaces of this enchanting place. If you’re lucky, you should still get to sunbathe on the rooftop terrace of your riad.
The first few days of November are festive times in Oaxaca, coinciding with the city’s Day of the Dead celebrations. From family visits to cemeteries festooned with marigolds and candles to fancy dress parades through the streets, there’s a typically Mexican pop of colour and a party atmosphere. I’d advise arriving several days early to make sure you’re part of the preparations too.
For my pick of the December city breaks, it has to be a German one – I’m a big fan of the Christmas markets and my choice is Regensburg. During my recent visit I was wowed by the market in the Thurn und Taxis Palace where the courtyard and surrounding gardens provided the perfect setting for this, my favourite of German traditions. With three other markets scattered throughout the Altstadt there are plenty of stalls to detain you between visits to the historic Sausage Kitchen.
The end of 2015 is fast approaching, so it’s time to look back at the best of this year’s travels.
Blessed with clear blue skies and a touch of snow underfoot, a trip to Glasgow in January was my first stay in Scotland’s largest city. Architecturally splendid, the highlight was a trip to the Merchant Quarter for a chance to taste haggis, neeps and tatties in the wood panelled setting of the Cafe Gandolfi. A timely reminder, should I need it, that I don’t have to travel abroad for a memorable travel experience.
The old coffee town of Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast has a languid charm for most of the year. For a few frenetic days in February, all that changes as Carnaval comes to town and the city pulses to the soundtrack of a throbbing bass. Clad in sequins, feathers and masks, everyone’s invited. The people of Jacmel prove to the capital Port au Prince that they might be a sleepy backwater, but they know how to throw a party.
This northern German city is anything but grim, yet walking Bremen’s streets, Grimm was never far from my mind thanks to the brothers’ famous fairytale. The four sad old creatures who set off to seek a better life in retirement ironically never made it to the city that adopted them as its mascot. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful city to wander around looking for the sculptures that commemorate this heartwarming story. Definitely one I’d like to revisit.
Going back to Salzburg was like visiting an old friend. Decades had passed since my previous visit, but passing through the beautiful Old Town, I wondered on numerous occasions why I’d left it so long to go back. Fräulein Maria’s cycling tour gave me the opportunity to cover a lot of ground and belt out some Sound of Music classics along the way. Sing it with me: High on a hill was a lonely goatherd; Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo…
Many of the Italian cities I visited for a work trip in 2015 were old favourites, but the city of Bologna was a new one on me. I’d heard it was renowned for its towers and its food, so chose to climb its tallest to ease the guilt of that calorie overload. The exertion of climbing the 498 steps to the top of Torre Asinelli meant I could indulge in the evening buffet which accompanied my Aperol Spritz without a second thought.
June gave me a second chance to visit New Orleans, albeit in temperatures considerably more sultry than for my first visit a few autumns ago. Despite thunder, lightning and heavy rain, I enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of the Garden District, met up with guide Sandy again for a cemetery tour and, of course, enjoyed plenty of ice cream cocktails to keep me cool. Love, love, love this city!
So what city impressed you in 2015? Please share, I’d love to hear.