The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, viewed from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

Over the holidays and in anticipation of my upcoming annual list of the Top Ten D&O stories, I am publishing a series of alternative Top Ten lists. Yesterday, I posted a list of the top places that you might not think of to visit. Today, I am posting my list of the Top Ten Top Destinations. These are the places that make most people’s own lists of places to go, but ranked according to my view of the most worth visiting.


Because no one needs to be told that London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, and Rome are favorite and preferred destinations, I am concentrating here on the other top destinations. (I plan to deal with London and Paris separately, in later posts as part of this Top Ten series.) Some may call that cheating, but by creating a list without those iconic cities, I have given myself some room to include some other also worthwhile destinations. Please note that below the Top Ten Top Destinations list I have included another bonus Top Ten list.


A lakeside beer garden in the Englischer Garten, Munich

10. Munich: Munich is a prosperous and pleasant city in southern Germany, full of green space and with an outdoor-oriented culture. Along the Isar River and adjacent to the central business district is the city’s famous Englischer Garten (English Garden), so called because it is designed in the informal English style rather than the formal and more ornate French or Italian style. Just outside the city is the Nymphenburg Palace and its adjoining gardens, a massive and beautiful structure set in sprawling parklands. Of course, Munich is best known for its many beer gardens, and to be fair little can beat sitting at an outdoor park on a summer evening enjoying the atmosphere and the local brew. My posts about Munich can be found here and here.



Schloss Nymphenberg, Munich



Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) beer garden, in the Englischer Garten, Munich



9. Singapore: Singapore is a prosperous city-state in South-East Asia located just about 80 miles from the equator. Because of its tidy, well-ordered streets and culture, it is often said of Singapore that it is Asia for beginners. Most westerners would be quite comfortable there. The city’s Marina Bay area is dominated by the unique Casino buildings. Near the Casino are the Gardens by the Bay with its famous Super Trees. Along the Singapore River are the several Quays, lined with restaurants, bars and cafes. Among the best reasons to visit Singapore is the food. There are a number of outdoor market areas affording an opportunity to sample an incredible array of street food. Singapore is a surprisingly interesting destination. My most recent post about Singapore can be found here.




Boat Quay, along the Singapore River



The famous Super Trees in the Gardens by the Bay,with the Casino in the background


8. Barcelona: Located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, the Catalan city of Barcelona has sea, mountains, culture, architecture, and charm. The central part of Barcelona is dense and bustling. But the city also has a great deal of green space, some spectacular parks and, of course, an absolutely stunning beach. The narrow alleyways of the Bari Gòtic, the medieval district inside Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, its old city, are full of well-preserved medieval buildings. Among the city’s parks is Parc Guell, an interesting and beautiful urban park sitting on a ridge above the city and full of fantastic buildings designed by the famous local architect, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí is also the architect of the city’s famous cathedral, the Sagrada Familia.  A beautiful sand beach lines the sea side close to the central business district. And of course, Barcelona has an absolutely first-class night life. My post about Barcelona can be found here.


A view of the Mediterranean from Parc Guell in Barcelona



The Sagrada Familia cathedral, which bursts upward out of a quiet residential neighborhood like some sort of surreal volcano



The sand-covered beach in Barcelona



World-class nightlife in Barcelona



7. Tokyo: Japan’s massive capital city can be daunting, but it is a city in which it is remarkably easy to get around owing to its excellent subway system. Tokyo is also a fascinating place. It is such a study in contrast, between the traditional and the modern, and between incredible organization and the disorder of its massive crowds. At the city’s center is the Imperial Palace and its gardens. The Palace itself is not open to visitors but the palace’s beautiful gardens are open to the public. There are a number of other beautiful parks in Tokyo as well, including the Koishikawa Korakuren Garden, an island of peacefulness and calm inside the huge city (about which see more in the second top ten list below). The city’s sites include the famous Ginza shopping district and more youth fashion-oriented Harijuku district. There are a number of atmospheric cultural sites as well, including the Senso-ji , a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district. Tokyo is also a great destination for food; eating there is a cultural experience all on its own. My post about Tokyo is here.


Imperial Palace and Nijubashi Bridge


The Senso-ji , a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district



A massive Torii at the park entrance to the Meiji Shrine



A traditional Japanese lunch with sliced Mackerel, steamed vegetables, and sesame sauce.



6. Prague: Located in the Vlatava River valley, Prague is the Czech republic’s capital and largest city, a bustling metropolis with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant night life. Prague has one of the best preserved center cities in all of central Europe. The Royal Way of Prague traverses the Staroměstské Náměstí (the Old Town Square), crosses the river at the venerable Karlův Most (Charles Bridge), and then climbs the hill on the river’s left bank to Pražský hrad (the Prague Castle, as depicted in the picture at the top of the post). On the far side of the Charles Bridge are the quieter neighborhoods of the Malá Strana (or Little Quarter as area below the Castle is known). Adjacent to Malá Strana is Petřín, a wooded hill that rises abruptly up from the river’s left bank and that affords breathtaking view across to the Old Town, of the Castle, and up and down the river valley. The Castle grounds encompass a huge number of buildings and it represents a veritable catalog of Western architectural styles. I have to say, of all the places I have visited, Prague is one of my favorites. The architecture is rich and varied, the people are warm and friendly. And on a warm summer evening it is a wonderful thing to sit at a sidewalk café and drink excellent Czech beer. My post about Prague is here.


The Vlatava River and the Charles Bridge (note the crowds on the bridge), viewed from Petřín.



Prague Castle, above the Vlatava River



The Old Town Square, in Prague



5. Lisbon: On the Rio Tejo is the beautiful, historic, and sun-drenched city of Lisbon, or Lisboa as the locals call it, Portugal’s capital city. History is layered deep in Lisbon. Rising above the city in the Alfama district is the Castelo de São Jorge, originally a Visigoth fortification, later held by the Moors until they were thrown out of Portugal in 1147. The castle ramparts provide a scenic overview of the central city and river below. Down below to the South of the Castelo is the Baixa District, beautifully built in a rigid grid system after the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The central artery in the Baixa district leads to the beautiful open square of the Praca Do Comercio. The narrow streets and steep hills of the Bairro Alto are lined with  restaurants serving excellent Portuguese cuisine and clubs featuring fado, the traditional local music. To the west of the city center is the famous Torre de Belém, where the river meets the ocean at the embarkation point for the voyages of discovery. Lisbon is perhaps not as well-known as many of the other European capital cities, but it is an absolutely terrific place to visit. My blog posts about Lisbon are here and here.


The Castel de São Jorge, viewed from the Bairro Alto, in Lisbon



Rua Augusta in the Baixa district, looking toward the Rua Augusta archway and toward the river


Praca Do Comercio, Lisbon



Torre de Belém, near Lisbon


4. Beijing: Beijing, China’s capital city, is a vast, sprawling, teeming city. At first blush, it is a thoroughly modern city, its wide boulevards lined with ranks of modern steel and glass office towers. Yet with its many famous cultural sites, Beijing reveals itself as an ancient city with a long and fascinating history. At the city’s center is Tiananmen Square, facing the entrance to the Forbidden City, the enormous portrait of Chairman Mao hanging over the entry. The Forbidden City itself is an enormous complex of buildings, courtyards, and temples that defies easy description. Its grounds are larger than those of the Palace at Versailles. Many of the buildings were dazzlingly restored for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the spring, the courtyards are full of blooming fruit trees and blossoming flowers. The Temple of Heaven is another huge park with walkways, pavilions and gardens, as well as the actual temple buildings where Ming and Qing emperors fasted and prayed annually for a bountiful harvest. (See the next list below for more about The Temple of Heaven). In the Back Lakes area, there are a number of restaurants serving spicy, delicious food. A short bus ride outside the city is the famous Great Wall of China. Beijing is also a massive, crowded city virtually choked on traffic. The city is in many ways an immense puzzle of conflicting impressions. Just the same, it is a fascinating, distinctive place. My post about Beijing can be found here.


The entrance to the Forbidden City



Inside the Forbidden City



The Back Lakes area, in Beijing



The Great Wall on a rainy, misty day



3. Amsterdam: If you are really lucky, if you live your life right, if the travel gods are with you, then you will be fortunate enough to find yourself in Amsterdam on a warm October day. If you are even more fortunate, you will rent a bicycle and enjoy a day of sunshine pedaling around Amsterdam’s historic and beautiful center city. The most distinctive feature of Amsterdam is its canals. The canals form a semicircle around the center city, and are lined with classic seventeenth century houses with their ornate four-story facades. There are innumerable cross streets spanning the canals on gently curving bridges. At many of the corners where the cross streets and the canals meet there are cafes and coffee shops. The Canal District represents the distilled essence of civilized urban living. The central city also includes Vondelpark, which is sort of like Central Park but without the roads or the surrounding tall buildings. The city’s excellent night life is centered on Leidseplein, an open square ringed with bars and cafes. On a warm evening, it is full of music and young people drinking beer. Amsterdam, my friends, is just an excellent place to visit. My post about Amsterdam is here.










2. Hong Kong: If Beijing is a Chinese city wearing a new Western-style business suit, then Hong Kong is a Western city with a Chinese heart. Hong Kong is topographically complicated; it is divided by bays, harbors and waterways; and it includes islands, peninsulas and even a bit of the mainland. Despite the density and slope, however, Hong Kong is still a surprisingly walkable city. At the second story level, a network of walkways connects much of the central city, by-passing the busy city streets. The Peak Tram ferries passengers to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, which affords glorious panoramic views of the harbor and the Kowloon Peninsula to the North and of the South China Sea to the South. The famous Star Ferry crosses the harbor to Kowloon, with great views back to the central business district. Near the central business district, between the main avenues are narrow pedestrian lanes and alleyways lined with shops and vendors selling clothes, toys, leather goods and shoes, and vegetables and fruit. Hong Kong is a dynamic city of incredible charm as well as a seemingly endless supply of diverse sights and sounds. My posts about Hong Kong are here and here.


Hong Kong, and across the harbor, Kowloon, viewed from Victoria Peak



Looking back toward Hong Kong Island from Kowloon







1. Sydney: Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is huge – it is larger than Chicago or Los Angeles. At the city’s center is its vast harbor, which Captain Arthur Phillip, who led the famous First Fleet to Australia in 1788, described as “without exception the finest harbor in the world.” The city’s modern skyline looks over the beautiful harbor. Along the harbor is the iconic and photogenic Sydney Opera House and the adjacent Sydney Harbor Bridge. Along the harbor next to the central business district are the distinctive, lush Royal Botanical Gardens. Ferries run from the Circular Quay in the central city to the city’s Pacific Ocean beaches, including in particular, Manly Beach. A path from Manly leads to Cabbage Tree Bay, an aquatic reserve, on to Shelly Beach, and then eventually to the Sydney Harbor National Park, with spectacular views of the rugged coastline and the ocean beyond. In addition, from the central business district, it is a 15-minute cab ride Bondi, another Pacific Ocean beach. An oceanside trail connects Bondi to a number of other small beaches along the shore. I have been fortunate enough to visit Sydney a number of times. I have found I like it more and more each time I visit. My posts about Sydney are here, here, here, and here.


Sydney’s iconic and photogenic Opera House



Downtown Sydney



The Sydney skyline, viewed from the Royal Botanical Gardens



A view of the Pacific Ocean from the Sydney Harbor National Park


Top Ten Urban Parks: As is probably apparent from the list above, I like cities with a lot of green space. I am drawn to city parks, and after many years I have developed a list of my favorites. Some may find this list a little bit quirky; there is no doubt that it is a subjective list. But all of the parks on the list are great, and worth a visit.


10. Parque Ibirapuera (São Paulo): São Paulo is a massive, sprawling urban conglomeration. Nestled within the city, to the south of the central business district, is the Parque Ibirapuera, which has the same urban oasis feel as Central Park. At 545 acres, Ibirapuera is one of the largest urban parks in South America, though it is smaller than New York’s 778 acre version. There are numerous views across the city’s lakes back toward the central city. The park itself is laced with paths and trails.





9. Tiergarten (Berlin): Berlin is another massive city, but it has a beautiful green heart — the Tiergarten, a 500-acre park built by the Hohenzollerns as a hunting preserve. The Tiergarten is heavily wooded, but lacing through the park are a number of canals. Bicycle paths line the canals and link up to the River Spree. The Berlin Zoo is inside the park, as are a number of other interesting features, including the Schleusenkrug beer garden, a sun-dappled oasis that can only be reached by bicycle or on foot.





8. Mount Victoria (Wellington): Just to the east of the central district in Wellington, New Zealand’s beautiful capital city, is Mount Victoria, a steep hillside covered with parklands and hiking trails, with viewpoints at the top looking back to the city and its harbor, and on the far side, out toward the Cook Strait. The thick woodlands are full of the buzzing, whirring, clicking of cicadas and crickets. The view of Wellington from the top of Mount Vic alone is worth the trip.



The Wellington harbor viewed from the top of Mt. Vic



A view of Wellington from Mt. Vic



7. Djurgården (Stockholm): Djurgården is a pleasant oasis adjacent to the city’s central district. Many of the city’s most famous museums (including the museum housing the salvaged Vasa warship) are located in the park. On the park’s northern side is the Djurgårdsbrunnsviken bay; a footpath runs around the bay, affording pleasant views of the park, of the city’s elegant boulevards, and of the quiet nearby residential areas. A true urban oasis.






6. Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (Tokyo): The Koishikawa Korakuen is one of the few remaining Edo-era gardens in Tokyo. The garden contains a series of carefully constructed landscapes, composed of ponds, stones, trees and man-made hills. A series of trails winds through the park, which, despite the large buildings looming nearby (and the noise from the adjacent amusement park) is peaceful and quiet. Not many visitors come to the park on a rainy day, making it an ideal time to visit.







5. Schönbrunn (Vienna): The Empress Maria Theresa’s famous summer palace is located just a few U-Bahn stops from the Vienna city center. The magnificent palace dominates the grounds. The smaller Gloriette palace sits on a hilltop above the main palace, overlooking the beautiful manicured gardens, the parklands nearby, and the city beyond. The gardens include a number of magnificent fountains. A series of walkways winds through the woodlands. A great place to spend a day.


The Schönbrunn Palace, viewed from the Gloriette Palace



The Gloriette Palace and gardens


4. Parque del Buen Retiro (Madrid): The Retiro park was once a royal garden for the Spanish monarchy. It is now a large and delightful green space nearby to the famous Prado museum. The park includes several ornate alleyways lined with sculptures and a number of ponds, including the Estanque del Retiro (“Retiro Pond”), which is dominated by the a monument to King Alfonso XII. The Retiro is a perfect place for a promenade or a picnic on a warm summer evening.



Monument to Alfonso XII in the Retiro




3. Green Park/St. James’s Park (London): Green Park and St. James’s Park are physically separated by a busy road, but in all other respects they represent a continuous green space next to Buckingham Palace. The dominant feature of St. James’s Park is the St. James’s Park Lake, a tree-lined basin crowded with waterfowl. The quieter and more sedate Green Park has long pedestrian alleyways leading uphill to Piccadilly and also toward Hyde Park, nearby. Both parks are full of huge, mature trees and large, green lawns. Weather permitting, I begin every visit to London with a picnic lunch in Green Park.



Sunset in St. James’s Park



A walkway in Green Park



2. Temple of Heaven (Beijing): The Temple of Heaven is now a huge park with walkways, pavilions and gardens, as well as the actual temple buildings where Ming and Qing emperors fasted and prayed annually for a bountiful harvest. The temple buildings, though 19th century restorations, are beautiful, but the grounds and gardens are the main attraction. Throughout the grounds are ornate pavilions, which in the spring are surrounded by blooming trees. Walking through the beautiful park is easy to believe that you are indeed in a blessed place.



The Temple of Heaven, Beijing





1. Jardin du Luxembourg (Paris): The Jardin originally was the garden for the Luxembourg Palace (now the seat of the French Senate). The Jardin encompasses lawns, tree-lined promenades, statuary, flowerbeds, and a circular basin where children sail model sailboats. But this physical description does not come close to describing the beauty and atmosphere of this special place. The Jardin represents to me the very essence of the idea of Paris. When I arrive in Paris, the first thing I do, before unpacking or even changing clothes, is to walk around the Jardin’s pebble-gravel paths and take in the air, the spirit, and the mood. There are very few places anywhere for which all of the associations are so good and so right.