Beautiful is fine, I guess. Spectacular is nice. Stunning is also good. But surely there's more to travelling life than mere good looks? Surely there are destinations that will bowl you over with personality alone, that aren't forced to rely on their beauty to win people over?
And, of course, there is. I like an ugly city. I like a place that has to work a little harder to impress. These are often cities that haven't had the resources to produce architectural beauty, that haven't been blessed with an aesthetically pleasing location, and yet still manage to pull it off, still manage to entice and entrance visitors by the millions to their shores.
So step aside, Paris. Take a back seat, Budapest. These are the cities that aren't much to look at, but are still must-visits for every traveller.
The German capital is no oil painting. Its river, the Spree, is an oily slug that oozes past unloved riverbanks and under unspectacular bridges. Many of its buildings are tattooed with spray-painted scrawl. Its industrial areas are shabby and unloved. It sometimes feels as if the sun rarely shines. And yet, I love Berlin, with a passion. I would move to Berlin tomorrow. This city is a creative, open-minded, artistic and musical utopia, a place that overflows with a personality that's easygoing and accepting, unpretentious and yet still cool. When you have a soul like Berlin's, looks become irrelevant.
See also: The 20 must-do highlights of Berlin
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Even if it wasn't doomed to be compared to its attractive coastal neighbour, Rio de Janeiro, for eternity, Sao Paulo would still be considered ugly. The city is a hideous sprawl of apartment blocks and office buildings, a metropolis choked with traffic and smog. No one comes here for the scenery. What they do come here for is the people, who are surprisingly friendly and warm. They come here for the world-class dining scene. They come here for the bars and the clubs. They come here for a multicultural city that has plenty to offer those who take a chance.
See also: 20 reasons to visit Sao Paulo
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz is great. It brims with life. It boasts a culture you won't find in any other Latin American city, let alone anywhere in the rest of the world. Indigenous representation here is strong. The way people dress, the way they look, the food they eat and the things they're into – you won't find it anywhere else. However, despite its high Andean location, La Paz is not much to look at. The place is a mess of ragged houses clinging to steep hillsides, and traffic that rarely works itself up past a crawl. Still, you will fall in love with La Paz.
Johannesburg, South Africa
The city otherwise known as Jo'burg, or Jozi, suffers from a terrible reputation, and on face value it lives up to it. This is not a pretty city. It doesn't have the landscape of Cape Town, or the waterfront of Durban. What it has is a few fancy homes trapped behind razor wire, and an urban sprawl of poor to middle-class dwellings that don't look particularly inviting. But Jozi is changing. This is pretty much the capital of Africa, and there's an undeniable buzz – not to mention a great bar and restaurant scene, and a few neighbourhoods bordering on being hipster. Definitely worth checking out.
OK, Osaka isn't that ugly. It's clean and tidy, as you'd expect. It has a few canals and rivers which aren't so bad. It's just that this city is frequently compared to neighbours such as Kyoto and Nara, and it's never favourable. There are few beautiful buildings in Osaka. The history isn't immediately obvious. What the city does have, however, is a reputation as Japan's gastronomic capital, as well as some great shopping, and a solid bar scene.
You'd have to work hard to find someone who thinks Cairo is beautiful. Even the jewel in the city's crown, the Pyramids of Giza, have been enveloped by the urban sprawl. The city is chaotic and polluted, brash and intimidating. And yet, Cairo has its charms. It has energy that seems limitless. It has history imbued in its DNA. It has culture forged over thousands of years, culture that will be happily shared with those who give the place a chance.
Las Vegas, USA
I guess there are people out there who think Vegas is attractive. But hey, there are also people out there who wear Ed Hardy clothing and think Crocs are acceptable footwear, so there's no accounting for taste. Vegas is big and it's bold, but it sure isn't attractive. It's all neon signs and tacky bits of faux-Europe, as well as a featureless urban sprawl that stretches on into the desert. Las Vegas is also, however, a lot of fun, the sort of city where you just have to ignore the ugly and embrace the joy, to drink and dance and gamble and laugh at the sheer insanity of it all.
The Mongolian capital holds a few dubious honours. It's the fourth most polluted capital city in the world. It's also the coldest capital city in the world. Sounds great, huh? It's also spectacularly unattractive, with a whole heap of post-Communist apartment blocks, shocking roads, and a pall of smog hanging over the whole thing. UB is still, however, worth a visit, because it gives you access to greater Mongolia, which is one of the best (and most beautiful) destinations on the planet. Even the city itself is deserving of a few days' exploration.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
You'd have to squint pretty hard to see the Sri Lankan capital as being pretty. It does have a few beautiful colonial-era buildings, and a long stretch of waterfront, but still, Colombo as a whole is chaotic and pretty shabby, without the charm of Kandy or the history of Galle. It does, however, have food – extremely good food, from the street eats down by Galle Face Green, to the high-end seafood at the Ministry of Crab. It's also a buzzing hub with a strong culture and a good heart.
See also: 20 reasons to visit Colombo
Which ugly cities do you think are worth visiting? Do these places have more personality than the attractive ones? Post your comments below
LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.