These cities are second to none when it comes to culture, food, wine, and history.
London, Barcelona, Paris, New York City. Superstar cities such as these tend to get so much press, it’s hard to see beyond the hype when planning your vacation time.
Whether they’re second in size, population, or reputation, we’ve profiled a few of the world’s best “second cities” that are a must-visit in 2020.
Valencia, Spain – Barcelona without the tourist traps
Located 2.5 hours by train south of Barcelona, Valencia is often referred to as the little sister of the Catalan capital, offering similar draws, such as beautiful beaches, fabulous weather, and excellent gastronomy, but in a style that is more laid back and manageable.
Barcelona has done a stellar job of marketing paella as a local delicacy, but the truth is that the quintessential Spanish rice dish was born and bred in Valencia.
Traditional Valencian paella is made with rabbit, chicken, snails, white beans, and vegetables, and the city is packed full of excellent spots to try it.
Beach is life in Valencia, especially during the summer months. Join the crowds at the city’s main stretch of beach, Malvarossa, or head 10 kilometers south to local favorites El Saler or La Devesa, where you’ll enjoy white sand beaches and crystal blue waters with fewer tourists.
Evenings are best spent exploring Valencia’s gorgeous historic center or enjoying a glass of wine at Plaza de la Virgen with views of the cathedral.
Birmingham, UK – For an independent spirit that has London beat
Located just 90 minutes by train from London, Birmingham has an independent spirit which gives holidaymakers the opportunity to experience the UK’s rebellious side. It’s also one of the nation’s more affordable cities, meaning you’re unlikely to find yourself forking out 7 pounds for a pint (Yes, London. I’m looking at you).
Once the center of the UK’s industrial revolution, Birmingham is brimming with entrepreneurs and creatives, who have opened unique, locally-owned and operated businesses.
If you’re looking for a night out, the creative neighborhood of Digbeth is a great start, packed with quirky bars, music venues, theaters, and creative spaces in which you can soak up the essence of the city’s heart.
Food is another fantastic reason to visit Birmingham, whether you’re into classic British pub grub, or looking for a transformative high-end culinary experience.
It’s also considered the birthplace of the “balti”, a British-style Indian curry which is best sampled within Birmingham’s curry-house-packed Balti Triangle neighborhood.
Boston, U.S. – A down-to-earth antidote to white-collar NYC
Boston and New York City might both be located on the U.S. northeast coastline, but they feel worlds apart.
NYC is home to Wall Street and the island of Manhattan, the playground of billionaires and real-estate moguls, while Boston is a historically working-class city, with a friendly, down-to-earth attitude.
If you’re looking to see a different side of the American East, then Boston is a must-visit.
Bostonites live and breathe sports, so it’s a great destination for sports lovers. The city is home to both the Boston Redsox and America’s oldest and most beloved softball arena – Fenway Park.
If you’re visiting out of season, there’s plenty of other sports-centric spots to visit, including the Boston Marathon finish line and the Boston Sports Museum.
Boston is also perfect for history buffs, as it’s one of the country’s oldest cities. From its puritan beginnings through to the American Revolution, the city has played an important role in the nation’s history. Spend a day following the city’s Freedom Trail which winds through the CBD, and passes by 16 important historical landmarks.
Boston is also home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university, Harvard. Book in for a guided tour to explore the grand campus and its fascinating history.
Marseille, France – For a gritty charm you’ll miss in Paris
The bustling port city of Marseille has a reputation for being a little rough and tumble, but this is exactly what makes it such an intriguing travel destination – especially for those who’ve grown tired of Paris’ relative perfection.
Wandering the narrow interlacing streets of Marseille’s old quarter, Le Panier, you’ll find a mish-mash of charmingly dilapidated heritage buildings, quaint chapels, cobblestone squares, and rough facades, many of which play canvas to the city’s thriving street art scene.
Compared to the French capital, Marseille is relaxed and dressed-down, meaning you can explore the city, sip wine, and dine out in your travel gear without fear of being labeled “démodé”, unfashionable.
The fishing industry has always been central to life in Marseille, making it the best place in the world to sample bouillabaisse, a traditional French fish stew. Chez Fonfon is one of the city’s most well-respected restaurants to enjoy a bowl of saffron, thyme, and fennel infused bouillabaisse with views out to the port.
Porto, Portugal – An edge over Lisbon in the drinks department
Portugal is well-known for its incredible gastronomy, in particular for serving up some of the world’s freshest and most delicious seafood.
But if you’re looking for the best of the best when it comes to wine pairings, then Porto is a cut above. The city even gets its name from the fortified wine for which it’s famous – port!
Porto is located nearby the world-famous (and UNESCO protected) Douro wine region, so if you have more than a few days in Porto, consider taking a day trip or booking a tour to a few of the region’s standout wineries.
Aside from port, of which there are myriad styles to sample, the region is famous for its Alvarinho grape variety, which is used to make full-bodied, fragrant, and fruity whites.
You can find first-rate bars and restaurants on every street corner in Porto and the city is small enough that you can walk from one side to the other, wine tasting as you go.
The two best areas to explore by foot are Ribeira, the riverside neighborhood known for its pastel-colored houses, cobblestone streets, and thriving bar scene, and the downtown area of Baixa, home to many of Porto’s most beautiful buildings and historical landmarks.