Ten cities you will love at first sight

It's like buying a new album – some of them are creepers. Every first listen of a Radiohead record I've thought, "What the hell is this?" But eventually I've come around to them.

Cities can have the same effect. Los Angeles: now that place is a creeper. It starts off a charmless wasteland but after a few days you find the good bits, the cool bars and the nice beaches. All of a sudden it's a great city to be in.

Sao Paulo is the same – an intimidating giant that takes a good while to appreciate.

Some cities, however, are instant favourites. I'm not sure if it's the energy of the place, or the mood I'm in when I arrive, or the fact they instantly meet all expectations, but occasionally a city will grab you straight away and won't let go. It's love at first sight.

Marrakech, Morocco

I've got a friend who always talks about "having a moment" when he's travelling. It's when the excitement builds to a crescendo, when everything falls into place. "I'm having a moment!" he'll announce. Within an hour of arriving in Morocco I was wandering through Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city's famed main square, taking in the sights, smells and noises of an amazing place ... and I was having a moment. It's stuck with me.

Berlin, Germany

There are some great bars and restaurants in Melbourne, but if you don't know where you're going you'll probably never find them. Berlin's not like that. It doesn't matter where you go – if you're in Prenzlauer-Berg, or Kreuzberg, or Neukolln, you can just wander into any old place and you'll feel at home instantly. There's much more to discover in the city, but you'll already love it.

Amsterdam, Netherlands


It's not the Red Light District. Anyone who really likes Amsterdam wouldn't even mention the Red Light District. To instantly fall in love with this city, all you need is a bike, and no map. Cycle the streets; cross the canals; get lost in the lanes. Amsterdam oozes charm, and you can't help but be affected by it.

Montreal, Canada

I'd been in Montreal about an hour. I'd already strolled the city streets, and was sitting in a French-style bistro, being served by a cute waitress with a French-Canadian accent, drinking a glass of red wine, eating steak and fries, surrounded by unpretentious, friendly people. I was thinking: now this is my kind of place.

Mexico City, Mexico

The "DF" shouldn't be instantly charming. The first thing you see when you depart the airport in a battered taxi is mile after mile of traffic gridlock interspersed with crumbling buildings and cracked pavements. But as soon as you hit those pavements you start to feel the energy of this city of more than 20 million people. Grab a taco from a street stand, see the Rivera murals at Palacio de Bellas Artes, walk through the Zocalo – now you're getting the idea.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town has instant appeal, and that's due to nothing more than its striking good looks. I first arrived in the city by car, stopping in the suburb of Table View to gaze out across the bay to Table Mountain – an image I'd seen in my head thousands of times before. That was all I needed.

Beijing, China

As with Mexico City, the first thing a lot of people encounter in the Chinese capital is choking traffic and a pall of smog. But I loved it, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's just the thrill of being in such a famous city for the first time. Maybe it's the mix of old and new that's instantly recognisable. Or maybe, after six days on the Trans Mongolian, I was just glad to be off the train.

Tokyo, Japan

Toyko is everything you think it will be, straight away. It's huge buildings, it's flashing neon lights, it's a crowded subway, it's masses of people, it's little restaurants serving immaculate food, it's huge electronics stores and tiny whiskey bars. It's truly great.

Moscow, Russia

I liked St Petersburg, but I didn't love it. Moscow, on the other hand? Instant love. It's gritty – maybe even ugly. But there's real character there, and you can feel the history of the place the moment you enter it. Of course having Red Square and St Basil's Cathedral doesn't hurt either.

Edinburgh, Scotland

This is another city where I had a moment. Walking down Hanover Street early in the morning, turning onto Princes Street. There's a busker playing the bagpipes on one corner. Through the mist to the left Edinburgh Castles looms. It's a cliché, and it's perfect. I'm home.

Which cities have you loved instantly? And which cities have been "creepers"? Post a comment and tell us why (don't just name them).

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com

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Australian Festival of Travel Writing

Melbourne dwellers! If you've always wanted to abuse me in person rather than just anonymously over the internet, I'll be appearing at the Australian Festival of Travel Writing this Sunday. Acclaimed author Brian Thacker and I will be talking about using humour in travel writing – it promises to be a very funny hour or so, mostly thanks to Brian. Details here.