The 12 unique travel experiences you'll never replicate back home

There's a weird feeling these days when walk the streets of Shanghai, or London, or San Francisco, or Delhi, and you see the same things in each place: the same shops, the same restaurants, the same hotels. You see Starbucks and McDonald's and the Hilton and the Gap. You see fashion that's roughly the same, eat food that's the same, listen to music that's the same.

Globalisation has shrunk the world, but in doing so it has homogenised it, it has made it all recognisable and safe and easy to navigate. It's also made travel unnecessary in some ways. When the best of the world comes to you – when the shops and the cafes and the bars you love from overseas begin popping up in your own neighbourhood – there doesn't seem much point going to the source.

However, you can't get everything at home. Leaving aside the unique, physical attractions that can never be moved (Egypt's pyramids, Norway's fjords and the like) there are certain cultural experiences, certain scenes that, try as people might, will never be the same outside of their local environment. Globalisation will never replicate them. You'll always have to travel to find the good stuff.

Tokyo's bar scene

It seems like most modern cities have small bars now. They have music venues. They have places to get food. They might even be into whisky. But no city does all of those things to such perfection as Tokyo. This huge city is a warren of tiny drinking dens, where world-class drinks – beers, cocktails, sake, wine, spirits – are dished out, music is on point, food is incredible, and people are friendly. No one can replicate that.

See also: Twenty things that will surprise first-time visitors to Japan

Rome's trattorias

There are wannabe Roman-style trattorias around the world, from New York to Melbourne to Buenos Aires. But still, no one else does this style of casual Italian dining quite right. No one has captured the magic of actually being in Rome and feasting on carbonara and coda alla vaccinara and drinking cheap wine and yelling to be heard above the din.

See also: Twenty reasons to visit Rome

An Argentinian football match

Buenos Aires, Argentina. Boca Juniors Football Stadium. Credit Ente Turismo Buenos Aires SunApril2coverAmericas

Photo: Ente Turismo Buenos Aires

It's almost impossible to describe the sheer mania involved in an Argentinian football match. The fans sing, they dance, they cheer, they scream, they throw streamers and confetti, they light fireworks, they beat drums and blow trumpets. You can go to a football game pretty much anywhere in the world, but it won't be as good as Argentina.


See also: The 12 events every sport-hating traveller should attend

Turkey's hammams

This is another trend that's kicked off worldwide: Turkish style hammams, bathhouses in which you can soak and steam and scrub. These foreign iterations though don't even come close to replicating the experience of visiting a hamman in Turkey. Real Turkish hammams are often hundreds, if not thousands of years old; they're cultural institutions with their own sets of traditions and rules. And the scrubbing is like nothing you've ever felt before.

New York's speakeasies

<i>The Back Room</i>

The Back Room

The speakeasy is the bar style de jour, a catch-all term for any joint that's small and dark and retro-styled. You'll find at least one in almost every city in the world. However, you'll rarely discover an actual, Prohibition-era speakeasy, the type that was set up to peddle sly grog in the 1920a, a legit slice of drinking history. To visit one of these, try the Back Room, or 21 Club, in NYC.

See also: The best places to stay in New York

A Brazilian festival

Again, many have tried to replicate the colour and pageantry of Carnival, but no one has quite nailed it. To do that you'd have to instil a nationwide fervour for this one event every year; you'd have to create a culture of samba obsession, recreate the yearlong journey of dance battles and costume creation that goes into the making of this event. That's never going to happen.

Berlin's arts scene

This is where the world's artists meet. Creative types of all persuasions tend to congregate in Berlin, draw by the anything-goes nature of the German capital, by the feeling that the artists run the show here, that you can paint or write or sing or perform pretty much whatever you want, and it will find an audience. That's not something any other city can hope to compete with.

See also: The 20 must-do highlights of Berlin


Young people celebrate the opening of the 184th Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. The world's largest beer festival will be held from Sept. 16 until Oct. 3. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Photo: AP

Pretty much every city in the world has its own Oktoberfest, and yet none of them even come close to the real thing, the enormous festival of ale staged in Munich every late September. Oktoberfest isn't just a festival, but a mania that takes over the entire state of Bavaria, as offices close and tourists descend and beer is brewed and food is prepared and the party begins. Bit different to your faux-Oktoberfest back home.

Spain's tapas bars

This is a cultural concept that should be fairly simple to copy. Bars that serve small plates of food. How is that difficult? And yet no one outside Spain manages to do tapas bars, and the culture that goes with them, right. Outside Spain they're all sit-down restaurants. The food is overpriced. The drinks are taken far too seriously. Everyone goes home early. All the fun is sucked out of the experience. Just go to Spain.

See also: Where to find the best tapas in Madrid

The shops of Fes


Photo: Alamy

You know the butcher in the Fes medina sells camel meat, because there's the head of an actual camel hanging from a hook above him, its tongue lolling, its eyes open. This is shopping like you've never seen it before: a warren of old-school shops and stalls that haven't changed in centuries. There's no McDonald's; there's no Starbucks. And there's nowhere else quite like it.

Colombian salsa club

Everyone can dance. That's the first thing you realise when you set foot in a salsa club in Cali, or Medellin, or Bogota. There aren't just a few people up on a stage performing, or the odd punter who seems to know what they're doing. Everyone can dance, and everyone is dancing, because they love it. Try replicating that in Australia.

Singapore's food

<i>Hong Kong Chicken Rice, Singapore.</i>

Hong Kong Chicken Rice, Singapore. Photo: Yong Teck Lim

Granted, street food culture is everywhere, particularly in Asia. And there are plenty of places in Australia that do Singaporean hawker-style cuisine. However, there's nothing to compare to a true Singaporean hawker centre, a place like Old Airport Road, or Newton, or Tiong Bahru, where you'll find stand after stand, hawker after hawker, selling high-quality, affordable cuisine.

What are the cultural staples you think will never be replicated around the world? What can some places do that no one else can touch?



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