Straightaway, when cities worth a vacation visit are discussed, the mind inevitably wanders to destinations that are at the forefront of tourist attractions. Walking down the paved path, which has been worn out by other travelers, perhaps promotes safety, certain assurances against you being hassled or endangered. But, for the fervent globetrotter, excitement lies in the hidden gems, less-promoted cities that are packed with their own delights and sights. Not to say that there is a problem with your first instinct of a trip to Varadero, Cuba or the Bahamas. Just know that there is an entire, inviting world out there for you to deeply experience. Jean Danhong Chen has cast a light onto a few cities that, despite the miniscule chatter they receive in traditional travelling circles, rank atop her favorites to tour.
Norway's second most populous city is seen as the gateway to the fjords, the country's lengthy, narrow inlets that are surrounded by steep cliffs. Mountains encompass Norway's western shore, making Bergen one of Europe's biggest ship ports of call. At the Bergen Museum, you can learn of the city's Viking heritage, a background that any neutral bystander will be intrigued by. Or you can visit Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the eastern side of the Vågen harbor that includes shops, restaurants and museums nearby. Jean Danhong Chen explains that Bergen is ideally situated for travelers to explore the fjords, glaciers and waterfalls that form the picturesque landscape that Norway is famous for. Mount Ulriken, Bergen's highest mountain, promises a tremendous view of the city; you'll only have to decide if you wish to hike up or wait for a cable car to carry you.
Birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is a popular destination for travelers, with the city's UNESCO-listed Old Town, Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and Bräustübl zu Mülln – Austria's largest beer hall – impressing all tourists. The city is divided by the Salzach River, so tourists can opt for the Old City on the left or head to the newer side on the right. So much for the thought of getting lost, with such rudimentary directions anyway. As for the Bräustübl zu Mülln, the beer is drawn directly from wooden barrels, which makes it a great complimentary beverage alongside traditional and regional dishes. Try them at the Schmankerlgang, an Old-World food court with selections that are sure to satisfy your taste buds.
Québec City, Canada
Québec City's hilltop always dazzles, according to Jean Danhong Chen, as the ambience from 17th-century castles and cathedrals is barely disrupted by the winter snowfalls in the region. In fact, the snow adds an extra layer of beauty to the scenery, so don't let the chilling temperatures deter your interest. Old Québec, another site on the UNESCO World Heritage list, has its share of cobblestone streets, stunning church towers, 17th-century and 18th-century homes, classic bistros, sidewalk cafes and polished squares, flawlessly recreating the feel of Old Europe. A fortress atop Cap Diamant welcomes those who want to further their military history prowess, and the Quartier Petit-Champlain boasts streets restricted for pedestrians only and artisan boutiques. Splendid and seductive, North America's oldest French-speaking city is bound to leave you speechless.
Architectural aficionados are urged to visit Mérida, the cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula. Mixing provincial and cosmopolitan aspects together, the town remains rich in its colonial history. Mérida is also very close to the ancient cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza, that you can visit them as a day trip. Locals suggest a visit to Fundación de Artistas, a non-profit that holds art exhibits in a 19th-century home, or Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, one of the region's cherished museums. As with any new location, Jean Danhong Chen recommends that you experiment with the local cuisine and visit Mérida's robust markets. Mérida’s plazas are a prime spot for the city's numerous events, so don't let the spirited commotion fall on deaf ears or dare miss out on the festivities.