Recently TripAdvisor announced its Top 10 Destinations in the world, as selected by users. That’s a pretty ambitious list if you think about it… How do you condense the entire world to just 10 stops? Let’s give it a try. Here’s what I think of the top 10 destinations in the world, as chosen by its largest online travel community.
#10. Ubud/Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is clearly what I missed when on the island of Bali. I know that because people love it there, and my time spent in Kuta and Denpasar was almost irredeemable.
I know that it’s no one’s fault that I caught food poisoning, or that I accidentally stayed in an open air guesthouse built next to some rice paddies (that’s what arriving at midnight will get you). That didn’t make it any less disgusting to wake up covered in bites, staring at an ineffective mosquito net dark with the bodies of crawling insects.
Kuta is an unpleasant, overbuilt town with an air of desperate, middle aged debauchery. Its endless beach bars (none particularly inventive) feel caught between hedonism and a hangover, and I’ll always remember it for illness, endless pirate DVD shops, timeshare pitch men and one absolutely killer Lebanese restaurant. On the other hand, Indonesia is one of the world’s great destinations. Hopefully Ubud is everything I missed by getting stuck in Kuta, because for me Bali is a distinctly sour memory.
#9. New York, United States
You know what? I couldn’t agree more. New York City is an amazing place to visit. From Bleeker Street and The Strand to can’t-miss monuments like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, it’s a great weekend.
New York also earns its reputation for one of the greatest food scenes in the United States, if not the world. In this country that’s really saying something, but the city earns its bragging rights with every hole in the wall that manages to survive by being the absolute best in a city that tolerates nothing less.
Now, how people actually live in those hyper-expensive, over crowded concrete canyons is beyond me. But this is a place everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
#8. Hanoi, Vietnam
There are only two stops on TripAdvisor’s list that I haven’t hit yet, and this is one of them.
It is, however, very high up on my list. Specifically, I have always wanted to ride the length of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. It looks like one of the world’s singular journeys, and I’ve known a lot of people who’ve loved it.
So, I can’t contribute many thoughts on Hanoi other than to say I can’t wait to get there, hopefully headed south on a trustworthy motorbike.
#7. Rome, Italy
Yes, visit Rome. By absolutely all means do not miss one of the cradles of Western civilization and a truly grand city in its own right. Be sure to have a meal, wander the Coliseum and check out the positively eerie underground temples of the Basilica di San Clemente. Rome is clearly a wonderful destination, but is it really a Top Ten in the world?
I’d argue not.
Look, this isn’t about what cities are good, or even indispensable. This is a game of traveler’s desert island. What cities are the absolute must-sees if you had only 10 plane tickets left ever? Rome is great, but in just Italy alone it lacks the art and food of Florence, the history of Venice or the landscape of Cinque Terre. I had fun there and look forward to going back, but it’s not making it into this writer’s Top Ten.
Prague, on the other hand, is like going on a hot date only to wake up the next morning and find they’re a PhD student with a thriving pet food business on the side. It was a wonderful surprise, and a city I could see moving to some day.
Between its Gothic old city, beautiful river, upbeat nightlife and surprisingly good Thai food, Prague kind of does everything, and does it right. This is a town to wander in the fall, when the air is just cool enough to notice, and sit outside with a glass of Czech beer and a good book. On my last trip, I spent most of my time simply taking walks around the center city or hanging out in the main plaza at night feeling like I had stepped into just the right kind of ghost story.
Then I wandered up to the bustling shopping mall a few blocks away, bought a new winter coat and poked around in the Apple Store. Prague owns its spot at #6.
#5. Siem Reap, Cambodia
You know those places that you’ve never heard of, until all of a sudden simply everyone is talking about them? Like how basically every other person in the United States right now is taking a vacation to Iceland?
Siem Reap is kind of like that for me. Until moving there years ago I’d never heard of it, and knew little of Cambodia. Now it seems like everyone is going.
By the way, so should you. Siem Reap is a busy tourist town at the outskirts of Angkor Wat, one of the most incredible monuments in the world. Words can’t describe this place, pictures barely scratch the surface. Exploring the ruins of this temple city is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like Indiana Jones, and it only gets better while wandering the old market or touring a local monastery Number five isn’t bad for Siem Reap, but I’d rank it higher.
Not higher than Paris though.
There are some things in life that are simply essential: Pepperoni pizza. That one friend who never forgets your birthday. Boarding an airplane for a new trip. The inestimable talent of John Cusack. Time spent in Paris.
Paris, as Audrey Hepburn once said, is always a good idea. She was right. This is a city, much like Prague, where you don’t go to do anything. You just go to be there. Yes, there are museums and architecture and a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the best time in Paris is spent sitting in a cafe over an endless cup of coffee, watching the people hustle by and imagining what it would be like to live in that little flat over the Seine. (On the other hand, if you lived there you’d have to fly in and out of Charles Du Gaul… so, silver linings.) Paris would be my Number Two.
#3. Marrakech, Morocco
Well played TripAdvisor… on a list of the top ten destinations in the world you found not one but two that I’ve never actually been to. As a professional, I’m wounded.
At least I can ease my pride by knowing that Hanoi and Marrakech have been high on my list for some time. On the other hand, I don’t know what it says about me that they’ve languished there for so long.
What’s not to want in Marrakech? This city of bazaars, twisted alleys and ancient mosques has a reputation that’s shrouded in centuries-old myth and 1960’s legend. It’ll be well worth getting to know the reality.
There’s a fish market down by the docks of Istanbul where they sell fresh sandwiches off moored boats. It is an evening place, one of lights, crowds and conversation after sundown, packaged (just enough) for tourists. It serves one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Be sure to have dinner there some time.
As a vacation spot, Istanbul’s Sultanameht district is a little overwhelming. Any one of the enormous mosques would, in another city, be a destination in and of themselves, but here they simply fade into the background, completely overshadowed by the awe inspiring (an apt cliche) Blue Mosque and Agia Sophia.
This is a town for haggling unnecessarily over the price of a tourist trinket and enjoying the kafte (meatballs) at a nameless cafe one moment, then having your breath taken away by ancient, Byzantine architecture in another. Stay someplace like the Bahaus Guesthouse and eat breakfast while watching the sun come up over the Bosphorus and perhaps you’ll agree with me: Istanbul should be number one.
I’m glad people like London, and I love it too. I wouldn’t put it in the top ten though.
My problem with London here is the same as with Rome: there are just better places to be if you’ve only got ten trips. Crushing expense aside, London may make one of my top ten cities to move to, but for a vacation? I’d keep going up the road to Oxford, Cambridge or far-off Edinburgh.
The money is a factor though. A city where dorm beds cost $50 a night and the food gets just as dear isn’t going to leave me feeling like I just had a whirlwind tour, it’ll leave me feeling penny pinched and washed out. That’s not to say that London isn’t packed. From the flea market of Portabello Road to Westminster’s commanding spot on the Thames and the odd pleasure of riding the Tube, this is a marvelous city and a hell of a mailing address. I just wouldn’t drop Bangkok for a visit.