For travellers, particularly those who glory in the sense of chaos and anonymity there are special cities to visit and enjoy.
You don't have to love history. But it helps. You don't have to love food, or music, or architecture, or the feeling of being in a place so foreign and fascinating that nothing really makes much sense. But it helps. For travellers, particularly those who glory in the sense of chaos and anonymity that comes with being immersed in a bustling metropolis, cities can provide the ultimate foreign experience. And these cities are travel at its best.
That old cliche of stepping back in time has never been more accurate than in Fes, the labyrinthine medina town in northern Morocco. The winding alleyways are too narrow to accommodate cars, meaning the only traffic you'll see is pedestrians and donkeys dragging carts. Butchers sell fresh camel meat; spices are piled high in bright pyramids; fruits and vegetables tumble out of racks lining the streets; vendors fry up bits of liver and mince. There's nowhere else like it.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
If you want cultural immersion, all you need to do is raise your arm. Pretty soon there will be a "motorbike taxi" in front of you; jump on and prepare for the true crazy of HCMC, roaring through dense traffic on the back of a scooter, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of one of South-East Asia's great destinations. Ho Chi Minh has history, it has food and it has character. You can't help but love it.
The world comes to you in Montreal. This French-Canadian city is multicultural, multilingual, progressive and accepting. It's a place of art galleries, comedy shows, theatres, music venues, bars, cafes and restaurants. If your version of culture includes eating so much you have to wear your stretchy pants and then going out until the wee hours, then Montreal is your city.
For those who love travel any South American city is going to be a blast, but there's something special about Lima. It's a little bit edgy, a little bit fancy, a little bit weird. It has sights like the stunning old library at the Monastery of San Francisco, a room that could have been pulled from a Harry Potter novel. It has two of the world's top 20 restaurants. It has long beaches and tall cliffs; bustling markets and modern malls. And it has chicharrones: fried pork sandwiches. What more do you need?
You get a little of everything in Granada, from the Moorish-built Alhambra fortress to the city cathedral to the winding streets bulging with history. Maybe the best thing about Granada, however, is the tapas bars, hundreds of character-filled places that dish up free plates of food – from slices of manchego cheese to jamon iberico – with every drink ordered. Proof, if it was needed, that eating is not cheating.
This is a city of ridiculous contrasts, of old and new, light and dark, large and small, business and pleasure, courtesy and sleaze, the expensive and the really, really expensive. You'll never get a bad meal. You can shop till you drop. You can visit ancient shrines in the morning and whisky bars at night. Anything you want to see or achieve, it can be done in Tokyo.
Another city for the lovers of chaos, for those who gain energy from the insanity. Mumbai never lets you rest – it pushes and prods you, it gets in your personal space and challenges you. It's life lived on a grand scale and it's something every traveller should see.
"Esfahan is half the world" – so the saying goes and you start to feel it might be true after a few days in this Iranian city. You could wander the mosques, you could get lost in the bazaars, you could hang out by the Siosepol Bridge, you could drink tea in the cafes, or eat fancy food in the Armenian quarter. Or, best of all, you could just sit in Naqsh-e Jahan Square and watch half the world go by.
It's the history that draws people to Berlin but the creative modern life that makes you stay. It's Sundays at the Mauer Park markets. It's beers on a makeshift beach by the river Spree. It's the street art murals on the walls. And it's all of the reused spaces, the once-abandoned warehouses and factories that have become art galleries and museums and music venues.
Many tourists prefer beautiful St Petersburg but the heart of modern Russia beats in Moscow. This is where you'll see the streets cleared for a cavalcade of dark-windowed limousines. This is where huge men in suits hang out in seedy vodka bars; where the surprising beauty of the underground metro stations is balanced by the unsurprising ugliness of the apartment blocks above. It's rough in Moscow but never dull.