Gadling picks the world’s best “second cities”

We like winners. Whether it’s the winning army of a war or the world’s fastest 100 meter runner, we lavish attention and praise on the victors and relegate the losers to the dustbin of history. The same is true of travel – the most important travel cities like New York, London, Sydney and Tokyo are favored by visitors while lesser-known destinations are skipped, scratched from the itinerary or just plain ignored.

The destinations we visit win our attention for good reason. They’re typically the biggest cities – meaning they have the best restaurants, biggest museums and largest inventory of hotels. Yet when we travel to only the “most popular” or “biggest,” we ignore a fundamental truth of travel. What we know about a place has as much to do with what we’re told as it does with what we actually find once there.

With that in mind, Gadling is bringing you a compilation of our favorite “second cities” – large urban areas that are among the biggest in their country but frequently overshadowed by more famous capitals. The following picks boast many of the same amenities that make their bigger rivals so famous – top notch cultural institutions, unique local charm, great cuisine and nightlife. How many have you visited? Take a look below:

  • Second City #1 – Osaka, Japan – travelers love to talk about Tokyo, but focusing exclusively on Tokyo does serious injustice to the city of Osaka. What Osaka lacks in population, it more than makes up for in its citizens’ lust for life and sheer zaniness. Along the streets of Osaka’s Dotonbori district you’ll find a raucous party of eating and drinking that is virtually unmatched anywhere on earth. In addition to the city’s famous Takoyaki octopus balls and grilled snow crab, Osaka also boasts cultural attractions like Osaka Castle and the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum.

  • Second City #2 – Gothenburg, Sweden – Stockholm is unquestionably Sweden’s capital and its largest city. But not nearly as many have been to Gothenburg, the country’s second largest metropolis and home to Sweden’s largest university. The large population of students means Gothenburg has a surprisingly fertile arts and culture scene, frequently rivaling its larger sibling Stockholm for an unassuming, fun experience – all at a fraction of the price.
  • Second City #3 – Krakow, Poland - Krakow has slowly become of one Poland’s greatest tourist attractions in recent years, steadily easing out of the shadow of much larger Warsaw. Unlike Warsaw, which was leveled by bombing during World War II, Krakow retains much of its historical architecture – a unique feature that will have first time visitors in awe.
  • Second City #4 – Melbourne, Australia – neighboring Sydney might boast the Opera House and stunning harbor views, but Australian visitors ignore Melbourne at their peril. The city is packed to the brim with top-notch shopping, hidden laneways and world class events like the Australian Open tennis tournament.
  • Second City #5 – Wellington, New Zealand – Auckland might appear to dominate New Zealand’s economic and cultural agenda, but in truth it’s modest-sized Wellington that’s really calling the shots. In addition to being New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington has a world-class museum at Te Papa, killer food and what might be the best cocktails this side of the Pacific.
  • Second City #6 – Montreal, Canada – any visitor that’s been to the capital of Canada’s Quebec province can tell you: Montreal will give Toronto a run for its money any day of the week. In addition to hosting two fantastic music festivals each summer and bohemian nightlife, Montreal is also full of plenty of French colonial architecture and charm.
  • Second City #7 – Chicago, USA – a list of “second cities” would not be complete without Chicago, arguably the birthplace of the term and perennial competitor to bigger American cities like New York and Los Angeles. Make no mistake about it though: Chicago might be called the second city, but it has first-city amenities, including amazing museums, some of the best food in the U.S. and plenty of friendly residents.
  • Second City #8 – Salvador, Brazil – picturesque Rio de Janeiro and glitzy Sao Paulo may get all the attention in Brazil, but it’s Salvador that’s really stealing the show. The city’s laid-back citizens, fantastic beaches and historic colonial architecture make it strong competitor for best place to visit in Brazil. Plus, if you want to go to Carnival, Salvador hosts some of the country’s most authentic celebrations.
  • Second City #9 – Galway, Ireland – true, rowdy Dublin has the Guinness Factory and Book of Kells. But don’t forget about Galway, a gem of a town along Ireland’s wild and windy West Coast. Galway’s position as home to many of the country’s university students, rugged natural beauty and frequent festivals make it strong contender for Ireland’s best-kept secret.
  • Second City #10 – Barcelona, Spain – if you’re among the many travelers already raving about Barcelona’s many charms, this pick comes as no surprise. Madrid might be the cultural and political head of Spain, but it is freewheeling Barcelona that is its heart. Between the picturesque city setting nestled between craggy foothills and the Mediterranean Sea, top-notch nightlife and shopping, warm climate or the burgeoning arts scene, there’s a lot to love in Barcelona.

Did we mention your favorite second city? Think we missed a hidden gem? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.