Sun, Sea & Sangria In My Favourite Cities

 In Blog, Destination guides

I was recently asked what my favourite city was.  What a tough question!  I’ve been privileged to travel to many places. To me, the beauty of travelling is seeing new places for the first time and experiencing different cultures.

Experiences like those will be influenced by many things: The people, the weather, the stage of life you’ve reached and much more.

Often, during our globe-trotting – be it business or pleasure – a place just sticks in our mind.  Maybe you’ve had an amazing experience recently; or have a burning desire to try somewhere new.  Perhaps you lived somewhere and moved on but feel that you’ve never left there at all.  We’re all different.  What cities would be on your list?

Here’s my list, in alphabetical order.  How did I choose them?  I didn’t use any hard and fast rule – I followed my heart!  I’ve included them because I’ve been there more than once; have lived there; or would like to live there one day.

AGRA

I’d read about it.  I’d seen it on TV.  And I’d heard stories from people who’d been there.  But nothing can compare to actually being there.  It’s one unique place and is the only city that boasts 3 UNESCO sites!

The Taj Mahal

Of course, the jewel in its crown is the Taj Mahal, which needs no introduction.  And I don’t have enough room here to write about how stunning it is.  I first visited The Taj Mahal in 2009 but went again earlier this year with my son and we celebrated his 17th Birthday watching the sun rise on the Taj’s steps.

The 2 other UNESCO sites are well worth a visit:  Agra Fort (also, called the Red Fort is a powerful red sandstone fortress with 2.5-km-long enclosure walls) and Fatehpur Sikri (the imperial city built by the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, between 1571 and 1584).

I can truly say that I could go and see these over and over again.  But if it wasn’t for these 3 sites, Agra city would not make my top 500.  It’s dirty, crowded, and noisy.  But truly memorable!

Highlights: The Taj Mahal and sharing my son’s 17th Birthday; Agra Fort & Fatehpur Sikri

AUCKLAND

Auckland is blessed with so many natural assets that there is no reason to ever be bored there.  Being the only city in the world to boast two harbours, it’s no wonder that the “City of Sails” offers some of the best boating and fishing in the world.

Common Dolphins

If I’m not taking a lunch-time stroll along Takapuna beach (or one of so many others within 5 kms of my home) looking for a convenient spot to throw my towel down and read a book whilst listening to the waves break, I’m probably sitting in my home office, planning what to do next.  I love Auckland’s open spaces, mild all year round climate, fresh air and excellent choice of wine and seafood.  Living on Auckland’s North Shore, in less than an hour I can be in the Waitakere Rainforest swimming under a waterfall; or hopping on a ferry to one of Auckland’s idyllic islands in the Hauraki Gulf; or driving the short 20 minute coastline route to soak in naturally heated thermal hot-pools.

I’m proud to call Auckland “home” since moving here in 2001.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Auckland is repeatedly ranked as one of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world.  I can’t think of a better place to raise a family.

Highlights: BBQs with friends & families; Dolphin Explorer; All Blacks games at Eden park; Christmas morning on Castor Bay beach.

CARDIFF

The Millennium Stadium

When I think of Cardiff, I think of belting out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (“Land Of My Fathers”) at the top of my voice on match day at the Millennium Stadium.  On match day, Cardiff transforms into a sea of red jerseys, large inflatable leeks & daffodils and non-stop singing.  Anyone who knows me will know that I’m extremely proud of my Welsh heritage.

Cardiff is a city that’s proud of its culture, language and history.  Welsh is the oldest surviving language in Europe and also boasts the oldest flag (although the Danes dispute this).  It’s the capital and most populated city in Wales & the 10th largest city the UK.

Cardiff Castle, with a proud 2,000 year history, sits impressively in the city centre, close to Millennium Stadium (the national stadium) and the River Taff.  But Cardiff isn’t all about rugby, singing and castles.  Its recently developed Cardiff Bay has been transformed from Docklands and now boasts world class waterfront bars & restaurants.

Highlights: Match day at the Millennium Stadium and pre-match wander around the castle; visiting friends and family in nearby Bridgend.

DUBLIN

O'Connell Street

Dublin, the capital of Ireland, has a population of approximately 1.2 million.  Three words spring to mind when I think about Ireland: Green, friendly & Guinness.

The Irish rank as one of the friendliest people on earth.  I found navigating in and around Dublin to be extremely easy and the city boasts of having more park area per square kilometre than any other European capital.  The Temple Bar area is worth a visit to sample a pint or two of Black Gold.

Highlights: The people; freshly pulled Guinness at St James Gate brewery

GOLD COAST

With its catch-phrase of “Beautiful one day; perfect the next!” I’ve never doubted Queensland’s jewel in its crown.  Bathed in 300+ days of glorious sunshine each year, the Gold Coast’s subtropical climate is perfect for enjoying 57 kilometres of golden sun-kissed beaches, theme-parks and abundant night-life.

I’ve been several times.  I’ve witnessed my children progress from playing in paddling pools & on carousels to become adrenalin junkies kamikaze down Wet ‘n’ Wild’s Mammoth Falls; and defy gravity on Movie World’s Lethal Weapon.

But the Gold Coast isn’t just a wallet sapping myriad theme parks and beaches.

A short drive away, you can enjoy the Gold Coast Hinterland, where three national parks, mountains, waterfalls and natural rock formations add to the menu of activities.  And an easy 40km drive north is Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.  Brisbane, centred on its river, offers an extremely laid back and friendly city life – it even has city centre man-made beach for a lunch-time dip!

It’s not surprising that the Gold Coast is a favourite overseas destination for Kiwis.  I’m certainly looking forward to my next trip.

Highlights: Cuddling koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary; a trip on a Cloud 9 seaplane; strolls along Brisbane River; hand feeding kangaroos at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary; Wet ‘n’ Wild; Shark bay at Sea World.

HAMBURG

The Inner Alster Lakes

I used to commute to Hamburg once or twice per month for 2 years on business, so I’m pretty familiar with Germany’s second largest city.  It’s cosmopolitan and affluent and certainly has a lot to offer.

Hamburg has a unique maritime charm and combines this cleverly with wide open spaces and abundant greenery.  The city boasts an array of quaint canals but its centrepiece has to be its lakes, the inner and outer Alster Lakes, which provide the perfect meeting point.  At Christmas, a huge Christmas tree is lavishly decorated and erected in the middle of the inner lake.  The city’s Town Hall (The Rathaus) is an impressive building and survived unscathed from bombing in WWII and shoulders the many canals.

I recall shopping in the Mönckebergstrasse shopping precinct (how could I forget that name); hailing down cream coloured Mercedes Benz taxis, and vast quantities of German beer.  I also recall Hamburg being where I first announced to colleagues that I was emigrating to the other side of the world.

Highlights: “Working hard & playing harder” with colleagues; walking around the city in the evenings.

JAIPUR

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Jaipur – the 3rd link in India’s “Golden Triangle” – must be the dictionary definition of “Melting Pot”.  I have a love-hate relationship with Jaipur, having been twice.  It’s fast, congested & noisy but easily makes up for it with some of the most spectacular monuments and cuisine in a country full of superlatives and surprises.

Dubbed the “Pink City” because so many of its buildings are made from orange-pink sandstone, Jaipur is both a fort and palace connoisseur’s paradise.  It’s easy to get “drunk” on the sheer scale and size of Amber, Jaigarh and Nahargarh Forts.

I vividly recall my first “traffic-jam” In Jaipur.  Waiting to cross a roundabout, my driver and I were jockeying 4 to a lane with streams of rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, buses with people hanging off/on top of, peddlers carrying their wares and even camels and elephants.  You had to be there to believe it!

Highlights: An elephant ride to Amber Fort and the fort itself; Choki Dhani Cultural Village; and the food!

MADRID

La Plaza Mayor

Madrid is easily my favourite European city and possibly my favourite city in the world.  Spain is a remarkable country and one I miss since moving to New Zealand.  I was fortunate to have worked in Madrid a few years ago, in my corporate days, and it still evokes strong memories to this very day.  It’s a city full of colour, wide streets and atmosphere.

I recall the long, leisurely, lunches (“la comida”) that Spaniards are renowned for – a chance to meet with colleagues over several courses of typical Spanish food, accompanied by a glass or two of vino tinto.  The food is nothing short of remarkable.

I found that Madrid is an easy city to walk around but was thankful for its excellent Metro and bus system on hot sticky summer days.  I particularly enjoyed strolling around Madrid with no real destination in mind.  Whether ambling up the impressive Gran Via, meandering through courtyards, back-streets or squares, Madrid is steeped with history, culture and impressive monuments.

I did pluck up the courage to see a bull-fight in Las Ventas bull-ring.  It wouldn’t be everyone’s “cup-of-tea” but at least I can say that I’ve been – I’m not sure I’ll do it again though.  As a football fan, watching FIFA’s “Team of the 20th Century” Real Madrid in front of 92,000 screaming madrileños was always worth the ticket price.

Madrid is a special place and I can’t wait to return.

Highlights: Sipping wine and eating tapas in Plaza Mayor; strolling through El Retiro Park.

MEXICO CITY

Teotihuacan

Mexico City has much more to offer than a stop-over destination for Mexico’s beach resorts.

It’s the oldest city in the Americas and is perched 2,240 metres above sea level and has few rivals for its rich history.  Ruled by The Aztecs before the Spanish conquered it, the city has a chequered history.

I arrived in Mexico City in 1993 and it was a total novelty as I didn’t know anyone who had been – many of my friends and family were still booking holidays to Spain, Portugal or Greece for summer holidays.  But I wanted to be different.  It finds its way on to my list, as I spent the first few days of my honeymoon there!

I vividly recall the thousands of iconic green VW Beetle taxis (“Los Vochos”), chillies for breakfast and exploring the ancient Aztec ruins.

Highlights: The ancient city of Teotihuacán; The Zocalo

PALMA DE MALLORCA

La Seu

I’ve already mentioned my love of Spain and for those who didn’t know, Palma de Mallorca is the main city on the Balearic island of Majorca, off the east coast of Spain.  I don’t recall how many times I’ve been – many – and I still dream of living there one day.  Perhaps during a New Zealand winter.

Palma is a city of modern hotels, chic bars & restaurants and up-market shops and yet retains its old architecture.  I’ve lost count of the number of steps I’ve walked on its narrow cobbled streets, packed with charm and full of character.

I recall the scenic single track train journeys to Sóller and can still smell the fruit and nuts as the train climbed and wound its way through the Serra de Tramuntanthe and surrounding orange & almond groves.  I still carry a photo in my wallet of Karen & me with our 5 month old son, Rhys, on our laps on one of those journeys.

Palma Cathedral (La Seu) dominates the City and offers an amazing introduction as you drive into the city.  Palma is such a warm & friendly city; the food is amazing and it’s a perfect location for a family holiday.

Spain’s national dish, Paella, is particularly good here and is one of my all-time favourites, which is why I cook it every Christmas Day on the BBQ at home!

Highlights: Getting “lost” around the back streets; lunch-time Paella and a bottle of chilled San Miguel.

QUEENSTOWN

The first time I visited Queenstown was in September 2001 for a conference.  I’d only been in New Zealand for 3 months so didn’t know what to expect in the depths of New Zealand’s South Island.  I needn’t have worried.   I was hooked from the very first moment.  Queenstown is probably my favourite holiday destination on the planet!

Lake Wakatipu & The Remarkables

Queenstown isn’t technically a ‘city’ but anyone who has been there will know why I couldn’t leave it out!  Billed the Southern Hemisphere’s “adventure capital” it has so much to do – rain or shine; summer or winter.  But it’s not all about bungy jumping, jet-boating, para-gliding and skiing.  Its compact little centre, on the shores of the majestic Lake Wakatipu, is ideal for a gentle stroll before a dip in the crystal clear lake; or a game of free Frisbee Golf in the Botanical Gardens.

I’m not much of a skier, so we generally fly down to our timeshare that overlooks the lake for some serious “R&R” during our summer holidays in January.  It’s a perfect base to explore the surrounding picture-postcard scenery that Queenstown is famous for.  With both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound within a day’s drive, Queenstown really is the ultimate lake & alpine destination.

Highlights: Sitting in the spa with a glass of wine watching the sun set over the Remarkables Mountain range; a fly/cruise trip to Milford Sound; and the views overlooking Lake Wakatipu.

SINGAPORE CITY

Merlion

Singapore was probably the 1st city I sub-consciously added to my list – I was born there!

I have visited several times since and just can’t get enough of the place.  On a recent stop-over from Mumbai to Auckland, I quickly compared it to Mumbai’s chaos, poverty and noise – Singapore is the exact opposite!  The city is spotlessly clean, surprisingly green and openly affluent.

Its atmosphere, cuisine & cultural diversity make it a special place and evidence that people of all religions can live together peacefully.  Its excellent Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system ensures that everyone has easy access to all areas of the city.  And the MRT also provides welcome relief from the hot and humid weather!

Clark & Robertson Quays are a great way to while away a few hours in the evening.  I’ve witnessed many changes to the Lion City over the years –  Sentosa Island has been transformed from a sleepy annex to the city to a resort style destination, complete with hotels, casinos and theme park.

As a child, I watched repeated slide-shows as my Dad poured slide after slide into his projector.  I dreamed of what Singapore was really like, as I turned page after page in my parents’ photo-albums.  I don’t have HG Well’s time-machine.  But I’m sure that both the old and modern day Singapore is/was a wonderful place to grow up.

Highlights: China Town, Night Safari, Kranji War Memorial , and of course enjoying a Singapore Slings at Raffles

I hope you enjoyed my list of favourite cities around the world.   Maybe you’ve been to some of them; perhaps some are on your own wish list.  We can’t buy experience – sometimes you just have to ‘give it a go’.  Grab yourself a globe, spin it and choose your next destination and then book your tickets.  Who knows, maybe your favourite city is out there just waiting to be discovered!

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Showing 27 comments
  • christian
    Reply

    Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

  • Jane Walton
    Reply

    I have not been to any part of Europe or New Zealand though I have relatives who live in that part of the globe. Because of Europe’s historical landmarks, quaint shops, architecture and such lively festivities, they are on my list of top places to visit. Oh! And not to mention the different delicacies and other food choices that these countries have to offer. I’m sure that my palates would savor every last morsel. And what better way to get to see and experience these countries? That would be with my loved ones, my family.

  • Katie Chalmers
    Reply

    Hi, you’ve certainly seen a fair bit of our beautiful planet. I have been to some of your favourites and would definitely agree with you about Palma. I love the island of Mallorca and this city is amazing. It’s been a while since I’ve been but one day I will be back …

  • Mary Gold Elevera
    Reply

    You’ve quite gone to many places there, Mark. Thanks for sharing your favorite cities, and for me I really really love SINGAPORE. Of all the cities you’ve mentioned, Singapore City is nearest to my country. Since I was young, Singapore is already in my list of the places I want to travel. Thanks for the small review about the city. 🙂

  • richmaldita
    Reply

    I would love to go to Singapore. I’ve been saving up to go there. I would like to visit Universal Studios and their Night Safari. I think it would really be a great adventure. It was nice to know that you we’re born there and visited the place back. Hopefully I’ll be able to go there next year.

  • Glow
    Reply

    Is there anything more to share about Dublin? I’ve always wanted to go there, and the rest of Ireland. Have been seeing many beautiful pictures of it as well. I’ve been to Europe twice but unfortunately never been to the ‘smaller’ islands like England or Ireland. Other than for short visit, is Dublin ‘friendly’ enough to stay on for education?

  • Harry O Peel
    Reply

    I’d love to go to Singapore but I haven’t had the time to visit such a marvellous place yet. They say it’s better than Hong Kong because most people know how to talk in English. My friend has been living there for 10 years now and she really loves the place because it’s clean and the sights are places worth recalling.

  • Charles Stanyon
    Reply

    I’d like to live in Madrid. I went there last year on a trip to Europe and agree with you that it’s the most beautiful city in Spain. The hot summer heat melted me though!

  • Richard Ng
    Reply

    I am living in the Singapore City! It’s a small country with clean environment. Commonly known as “Little Red Dot” as from the world map, we are just a little red dot.

    Singlish (localised version of English) is commonly used among the community.

    I just loved my country!

  • ronald
    Reply

    I’ve been in Cardiff for several years, one I must tell about this city is the weather is really friendly, even in summer or winter. I ever watched a FA Cup final match at The Millenium Stadium on 2006 before the Wembley finished 🙁 that was a great atmosphere there with all the fanatic football fans all over the UK especially in Wales. The people are really friendly too, they made me easily adapted there without many difficulties.

  • Axel Estrada
    Reply

    Mexico city I love for its beauty, its traditions, customs, foods of which there are many, in every state, every city, different food. Mexia is history, Mayan ruins, the Aztec civilization one of the largest in America, only surpassed by the Maya of Central America. I have traveled many times to Mexico and there is always somewhere new to know, there’s a new food to eat, always meet nice people, friendly, kind and honest.

  • Tammy
    Reply

    Auckland is absolutely amazing. Nice little islands surrounding it. Perfect for people who like to be near beaches. Great for those who like to fish as well. A trip to Auckland is always very relaxing. There are so many things to do and keep busy with.

  • David Quek
    Reply

    Singapore is of the best city in asia which is 90% safe to travel. Have the most wonderful and cleanest city of all time. Best place to shop is always near to residentials areas or when there is a warehouse sales.

  • Kei Himekawa
    Reply

    I have been to Singapore before and aside from the sights, what amazed me the most was the cleanliness and honesty of the people. My friend accidentally left her iTouch on one of the benches there. We returned an hour latr and we were so surprised to see that her iTouch was still there. Untouched. I haven’t been to a city as clean as Singapore. In terms of sightseeing, what I enjoyed the most was the Universal Studios. Maybe it’s the child in me that’s enjoying the sights but then, in the end, all that matters is that I enjoyed a lot.

  • pakdezaki
    Reply

    I live Indonesia. Actually I have only traveled as a domestic tourist. But, I really want make a trip to foreign country. Coz, I think I can see different cultures, men, landscapes and much more out there.

    I loved your article about Madrid.

  • Rob Kurn
    Reply

    A great place for a holiday in South East Asia is Singapore, where everything is clean and tidy.
    Take time to go Orchard Rd, which is a place for girls to walk and shop until they drop.

    The iconic Merlion is the must visit place to take a picture or enjoy the view of Marina Bay Sands and Esplanade. For kids there are zoos, like the night safari or bird park and universal studios theme park.

    Don’t wear thick clothes because it is hot there. The girls are hot too.

    Singapore is clean and tidy.
    😀

  • Connie Barker
    Reply

    Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal and the shopping is lovely.

    If you love to shop, Agra is the place you want
    to be. You will find souvenirs and so many gifts
    you can buy for your friends and family.

    Treat your family and friends like royalty because many
    of the gifts in Agra have sentimental value. The gifts are also rich
    in the cultural history of what India has to offer.

    You will have wonderful travels while visiting the
    city of Agra. Make sure you visit the extravagant Taj Mahal as well.

  • Ocu Bejan
    Reply

    I’ve been to Madrid and I must say it is one of the best cities in Europe and surely among the best capitals in the world. Even tough it’s outclassed by Barcelona for the number of tourists, Madrid still remains the home of Prada Museum and the city with the biggest football team in the world – Real Madrid! Viva Real!

  • monet
    Reply

    I was living in Jakarta and had a chance (finally) to stay overnight in Singapore.
    I fell in love immediately.
    The public transportation is sooooooo good it makes me reluctant to go back to Jakarta. Its cleanliness, and the bustling busy yet organised surroundings made me think that perhaps EVERYONE that lives in Singapore has “organised” as their middle name 🙂

  • goyz
    Reply

    Madrid is on my list of future destinations. Every time i open the net and search for a great vacation, i always search Spain. i tell myself that once i have enough money, i will go to Madrid and see the Palacio de Cristal, Retiro, Cibeles, Museum, etc…

  • David
    Reply

    This article brought back a lot of memories from my past. It was from the time when I lived in Madrid. I loved that city and the colorful atmosphere on its wide streets. This is definitely the most enjoyable city from all the cities I have visited.

  • Sandra Shirley
    Reply

    What a fantastic article! It’s obvious you love travel and you’ve been to few places. I disagree though with your comments about Dublin – I found it dark and damp! Cardiff sounds like a promising place to visit on my next trip to the UK. Keep blogging!

  • Simon Seedon
    Reply

    I’m a true blue Aussie, living in Asia at the moment, so loved your testimonial on the Gold Coast! I lived in Robina and went to Surfers Paradise regularly with my mates…awesome!!!!

  • maria donal
    Reply

    Choosing places to visit overseas in my holidays is always fun. I dream about Japan and Korea, though the cities in your article appear to be beautiful. Maybe you’ll write about Japan or Korea aand it will be my pleasure to read them.

  • frances
    Reply

    I echo your sentiments about Singapore. They say that if you want to travel to Asia, Singapore can be the easiest place to go to, it’s “Asia-Lite” so to speak – you get to experience a variety of cutures– Indian, Malay, and Chinese, in a terribly clean and urban setting. Happy travels! I wish I can go to the rest of the places you’ve been.

  • agus
    Reply

    I absolutely agree with everything you wrote about Hamburg. It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Germany and certainly worth a visit. And if you visit, you never know what to wear in Hamburg – don’t 4get your umbrella, although even the sun can be seen there, now and again!

  • ahmad ronald
    Reply

    Singapore is a food and shopping paradise that also has become a national entertainment Singaporeans. Singaporean cuisine is an example of cultural diversity and diffusion of this country with influences from Britain, China, India, Malay, Tamil, and Indonesia. General cuisine of Singapore is satay, nasi lemak, spicy crab and Hainanese chicken rice.

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