Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, New York: They’re the huge metropolises in their respective countries that get the most attention and the most visitors. They’re wonderful cities, full of vibrancy and culture. Often, though, a country’s second-largest city, that’s worth a look. Perhaps like a younger sibling that is simultaneously trying to impress and free from the expectations placed on its older counterpart, these second cities do things a little bit differently. This week, let’s celebrate a few favorites.
It’s hard to imagine Barcelona being second to anywhere, but Madrid is both Spain’s capital and its largest city and metro area. As the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, Barcelona has a longstanding rivalry with Madrid that has played out in everything from politics to sports. Compared to its classically styled counterpart, Barcelona has a flair all its own, evidenced by the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. The Catalan language, banned from official use under the Franco regime from 1939-75, is also a fierce point of pride. Plus, while Madrid is landlocked, Barcelona has some of Europe’s best urban beaches.
Built under the reign of Peter the Great in the early 1700s, St. Petersburg actually supplanted Moscow as the Russian capital for about 200 years before the Communist Revolution. Strategically situated on the Baltic Sea, it was purposely designed to be a showcase to the rest of the world and impresses with its mix of baroque and neoclassical buildings. The Hermitage is today the world’s second-largest art museum (behind the Louvre), and the city is often the highlight of Baltic cruises, many of which overnight in St. Petersburg.
Slightly smaller than the much-celebrated Sydney, Melbourne became a boomtown during a Victorian-era gold rush and was once Australia’s capital (Canberra took over in 1927). Today it remains a financial center as well as a melting pot of cultures, with large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Europe. Melbourne is home to the Australian Open, one of tennis’ four major tournaments, and is the gateway to Phillip Island, famed for its nightly procession of little penguins.
Dwarfed by Tokyo, just 25 miles away, Yokohama has been Japan’s most important port since the trade with the West was opened in the mid-1800s. As such, it has been the site of cultural diversity and rejuvenation. Rebuilt after heavy bombing during World War II, Yokohama is a modern city of close to 4 million people with an eye toward the future. The Minato Mirai 21 area (the name means “future port”) is emblematic of the spirit of Yokohama, a melange of industry, trendy shops and museums.
Though its metropolitan area has a greater population, Tel Aviv doesn’t have the historical and religious importance that Jerusalem does. What it does have instead is nightlife, beach parties, and a modern skyline. Whereas Jerusalem is the place to pray, Tel Aviv is the place to play. Consider it the Miami of the eastern Mediterranean. The food is great, the hotels are swanky and the clubs open at midnight. Just an hour from Jerusalem and next to the ancient port of Jaffa, Tel Aviv is a modern city of technology and youthful spirit juxtaposed against some of the oldest attractions in the world.