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.

Ireland the Beautiful: an armchair travel experience

My strongest memories of my trip to Ireland involves hitch-hiking from Galway to Clifden and walking past peat bogs edged with stone walls along the way. This video by bigbeninjax captures the essence of that trip by weaving together images of landscape, buildings and people. From the wide vista angles to intimate close-ups, a few minutes of viewing, offer a trip to Ireland from the comfort of where ever you’re watching.

There is text throughout that sets the tone of transitions from one place and one theme to another. Halfway through, there’s a kaleidoscope effect that works quite well, as does the music’s mesmerizing effect. For people wondering what to do with those journey of a lifetime shots, here’s one way. Pay attention to the timing of each shot. It’s about right for giving the viewer time to absorb one before moving on to another.

Irish Way, a non-profit program to help teens connect to Ireland

I have Irish roots, barely. I’m one of those people whose genetic make-up is a mixture of a few countries. But, I did go to Ireland with a friend who has more claim to the country than I do. We visited his father’s second cousin near Clifden.

They didn’t know we were coming, but as soon as we introduced ourselves when the front door opened, we were welcomed inside for a wonderful visit and a meal. Ours was a barely organized, shot-in-the-dark approach to connecting to my friend’s Irish roots. After that meal, he went back to visit again a couple weeks later after I flew back to the U.S. Although his approach worked because of his family ties, those without family ties also have a way to connect to Ireland if the person looking to connect is a high-schooler.

Irish Way, in existence since 1976, is a study abroad program for high schoolers. Operated by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the program includes classes and workshops in Irish culture and tours of various sites in order to enhance participants’ interest and develop their understanding about all things Irish. Interestingly, the program is based in Galway which is near Clifden, the town closest to where my friend’s relatives live.

I can vouch for Galway. It would be a wonderful place to spend four weeks. The deadline for applications is in March. Although the cost isn’t cheap, there is scholarship money available. From reading the literature, I don’t think being Irish is a requisite, just an interest in Irish culture.

For an article about one girl’s experience going through the program, click here. As Steve Stephens of the Columbus Dispatch reports, the experience won’t be her last.

Is the Guinness really better in Ireland?

Yesterday I wrote about the 5-minute process for pouring a perfect pint of Guinness. That fanaticism alone should be a clue to the quality of Guinness in Ireland — any country willing to wait five minutes for its drink is a true aficionado. When I lived there, I found many Irish to be passionate and very specific about how Guinness should be drunk. Once a stranger stopped me in a pub because I was drinking a pint that hadn’t fully settled — he was that concerned about it.

I frequented a two-story pub in Galway, and another regular, an older Irish man with watery blue eyes and a red nose, would only get his pints from downstairs. “The Guinness has to travel too far up the pipes to get upstairs,” he informed me. He believed that the Guinness was purest and freshest the less it has to travel.

That opinion holds true for geographical location as well — it’s a widely-held belief that Guinness tastes best in Ireland, and specifically Dublin, where the brewery is located. I have to agree — the drink is just richer there. In the States my pints always taste flat and watery.

So why is that? I did a little research, and here’s what I came up with:

  • The popularity of the drink in Ireland means that kegs aren’t sitting around long. Therefore, the Guinness is almost always fresh — and certainly more fresh than overseas since it doesn’t have to travel as far.
  • The lines are cleaner — pub owners in Ireland are visited every three weeks by a Guinness representative who flushes the lines to Guinness kegs.
  • Guinness should be served at room temperature — an oddity to us who associate the pleasures of beer drinking with its coolness on a hot day. I’ve noticed that most bars in the States tend to chill their Guinness along with the rest of their beers, which definitely changes the flavor of it.

Some other theories that I had a hard time verifying:

  • The water at the Dublin brewery is better than the water where most Guinness brewed for export is made (in England).
  • Guinness taps in Ireland are pressurized with nitrogen, while taps in the US (and elsewhere, I assume?) are pressurized with carbon dioxide.

What do you think — is the Guinness really better in Ireland?

Thanks to John Udell for some Guinness facts.

The World’s Sexiest Cities (That Are Still Secret … Shhh)

HKII’m going to try to sneak this post in right here, real nonchalant-like. Why? Because the details are still secret.

MSN recently put together a list of the sexiest “secret” cities around. Apparently, they compiled the list so that you could “get a head start on your fellow travellers.” Cool, huh? And thoughtful? By the way, by “sexy” they mean bursting with culture — not filled with strip clubs. Anyway, the cities are:

Yeah, I know: Scottsdale. Whatever. The other seven sound pretty sexy, though.

Feel free to share this tip with your friends — but only the sexy ones. We’re trying to keep this a secret for as long as we can. We don’t want these sexy treasures filling up with the non-sexy. Eww.

Other sexiness: