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In praise of second cities
Why not avoid the capitals and embrace the runners-up?
THIS year I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed quite a bit of travelling, during which I have got to know two new cities – well, cities that are new for me, anyway – Brno in the Czech Republic, and Aarhus in Denmark. Both are picturesque, welcoming and vibrant, with plenty of good places to eat and drink, as well as enough museums, churches and galleries to satisfy the hungriest of culture vultures. In short, both cities are well worth visiting.
It was only when I was driving back from the airport at midnight last night (thank you Stansted Airport for making us wait 45 minutes for a bus to take us about four feet to the terminal after an 80-minute flight) that it occurred to me that both Brno and Aarhus are their countries’ second-largest cities. That made me wonder whether there was something to be said for eschewing the biggest cities when planning city breaks, and instead going for the second cities.
Take the example of Brno when compared to Prague. The Czech capital may well be beautiful, but it is a victim of its own success – it can be woefully overrun by one’s fellow tourists, and as with all capitals, everything is expensive. The same cannot be said for Brno, which can be as pretty as Prague, but much better value.
I haven't been to Copenhagen for a long time, and although I remember it being great, and with some very pretty bits, I’m sure that it’s far more crowded and pricey than Aarhus, which I found delightful with its cobbled streets, cosy restaurants and bars, and a lot of good shops for those in need of retail therapy. (I know, I know, I sound like worst sort of travel hack or PR, but there you go.)
As well as being cheaper and less busy, one of the other massive advantages of the smaller city is that it is more manageable. If you go to a big city for a weekend, you always feel there is too do much to do and see, and you leave with a sense of having missed out on so much. Not so with the second city, which can often be ‘done’ in a few hours, leaving you with more time to simply enjoy being there, rather than frantically box-ticking the sights.
I’m now trying to work out what’s next on my hit list of second cities. A brief search tells me that I should be going to Antwerp, Hamburg, Barcelona, Gothenburg, Bergen, Marseille, and Milan – none of which I have properly visited. Please do suggest some other places in the comments.
However, I should really play this game on home turf as soon as possible, and book myself a weekend away in Britain’s second city. Yes, a trip to Birmingham awaits.
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