Today's post is going to be all about 9 different mega-cities with 10 million people or more.
Lima- 10,719,188 inhabitants
After Cairo, this sprawling metropolis is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. To enjoy it, climb on the wave of chaos that spans high-rise condos built alongside pre-Columbian temples and fast Pacific breakers rolling toward noisy traffic snarl-ups. Think one part southern Cali doused with a heavy dose of America Latina.
But Lima is also sophisticated, with a civilization that dates back millennia. Stately museums display sublime pottery; galleries debut edgy art; solemn religious processions recall the 18th century and crowded nightclubs dispense tropical beats. No visitor can miss the capital’s culinary genius, part of a gastronomic revolution more than 400 years in the making. This is Lima. Shrouded in history (and sometimes fog), gloriously messy and full of aesthetic delights. Don’t even think of missing it.
One of the world’s greatest megalopolises, Jakarta is a dynamic and vibrant city. Its chaotic charm and juxtapositions can be found on every street. An organism unto itself, Jakarta is a town in the midst of a very public metamorphosis and, despite the maddening traffic, life here is lived at speed, driven by an industriousness and optimism that's palpable. With this fast developing pace come challenges. It's no oil painting, yet beneath the new high-rises, relentless concrete, gridlocked streets, smattering of slums and a persistent blanket of smog, Jakarta has plenty of pleasant surprises, including a world-class food and coffee scene. Its citizens – even the poorest among them – remain good-natured and positive, and compared to many world capitals, crime levels are low.
From the steamy, potent streets of Chinatown and Glodok to Kota’s vestiges of a colonial past, the old city is the prequel to Jakarta's development. The newer Merdeka Square is where Indonesia presents the face it wants the world to see: bold and confident. Further south, luxurious mega-developments are plopped next to humble neighbourhoods, with pockets of emerging art scenes and bohemian coffee shops. Across the city it’s possible to rub shoulders with Indonesia’s future leaders and thinkers in sleek restaurants and roof-top bars. Hedonists can go clubbing and drinking 'till dawn, much to the dismay of the current administration.
In Jakarta, you can find all of Indonesia. It’s not just that people pour in from all corners looking for a better life (as they’ve done for centuries), it’s that they bring along their wonderful melange of cultures, beliefs and desires from the nation’s 17,000 islands. Walk down an alley with food stalls and you’ll find a huge diversity of flavours, while the glitzy malls and hotels offer fine dining from around the archipelago and the world. Meanwhile, goods come in from all over and are sold at shops and on street corners around the clock.
Jakarta is where Indonesia puts on its best face. It has the country’s top museums, the greatest diversity of restaurants and public spaces in countless shopping malls that rival anything in Singapore or Bangkok. You can stroll the grand boulevard of Jl Thamrin when it's closed to vehicles on Sunday mornings and marvel at all that’s been built. Although religious pressure has slightly dimmed Jakarta’s reputation as a place to party beyond bounds, it is still a city where people can enjoy long nights in lounges and clubs or linger with gatherings of friends.
Bogotá is Colombia's beating heart, an engaging and vibrant capital cradled by chilly Andean peaks and steeped in sophisticated urban cool. The city's cultural epicenter is La Candelaria, the cobbled historic downtown to which most travelers gravitate. Here, a potpourri of carefully preserved colonial buildings is home to museums, restaurants, hotels and bars, peppered amid 300-year-old houses, churches and convents. Nearly all of Bogotá's traditional attractions are here, radiating from Plaza de Bolívar, and gorgeous Cerro de Monserrate is just east.
The city's grittier sides sit south and southwest, where working-class barrios continue to battle their (sadly, deserved) reputations for drugs and crime. In the ritzier north you'll find boutique hotels, and well-heeled locals piling into chic entertainment districts such as the Zona Rosa and Zona G. Here, rust-tinted sunsets dramatically bounce off the bricks of upper-class Bogotá's Andes-hugging residential buildings – a cinematic ceremony that begins the city's uproarious evenings.
Paris' monument-lined boulevards, museums, classical bistros and boutiques are enhanced by a new wave of multimedia galleries, creative wine bars, design shops and tech start-ups. The cloud-piercing, wrought-iron Eiffel Tower, broad Arc de Triomphe guarding the glamorous avenue des Champs-Élysées, flying buttressed Notre Dame cathedral, lamplit bridges spanning the Seine and art nouveau cafes' wicker-chair-lined terraces are enduring Parisian emblems. Despite initial appearances, however, Paris’ cityscape isn’t static: there are some stunning modern and contemporary icons, too, from the inside-out, industrial-style Centre Pompidou to the mur végétal (vertical garden) gracing the Musée du Quai Branly, the glass sails of the Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary-art centre, and the gleaming steel egg-shaped concert venue La Seine Musicale.
France’s reputation for its cuisine (the French word for ‘kitchen’) precedes it, and whether you seek a cosy neighbourhood bistro or a triple-Michelin-starred temple to gastronomy, you'll find that every establishment prides itself on exquisite preparation and presentation of quality produce, invariably served with wine. Enticing patisseries, boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops) and crowded, colourful street markets are perfect for putting together a picnic to take to the city’s beautiful parks and gardens. A host of culinary courses – held anywhere from home kitchens to the world’s most prestigious cookery schools – offers instruction for all schedules, abilities and budgets.
The word 'Parisian' is synonymous with style, and fashion shopping is the city’s forte. Paris remains at the forefront of international trends, and browsing emerging and established designer boutiques and flagship haute couture houses is a quintessential part of any visit. You’ll also find hip concept and homewares shops, and resplendent art nouveau department stores, along with a trove of vintage shops and flea markets, atmospheric bookshops and dark-green bouquiniste stalls stocking secondhand titles along the riverbanks, adorable children’s wear and toy shops, art and antique dealers, venerable establishments selling professional cookware, and, of course, gourmet-food and wine shops galore.
With an illustrious artistic pedigree – Renoir, Rodin, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Dalí and Van Gogh are but a few of the masters who have lived and worked here over the years – Paris is one of the world's great art repositories, harbouring treasures from antiquity onwards. In addition to big hitters like the incomparable Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay’s exceptional impressionist collection, and the Centre Pompidou’s cache of modern and contemporary art, scores of smaller museums showcase every imaginable genre, a diverse range of venues mount major exhibitions through to offbeat installations, and there's also the city's vibrant street art.
During any season, at any hour of the day, Moscow thrills visitors with its artistry, history and majesty. The very founding site of the city (and arguably, the country), the Kremlin and Red Square are still at the heart of Moscow – historically, geographically and spiritually. Feel the weight of this significance as you wander within the walls of the ancient fortress, marvel at the mind-boggling magnificence of St Basil's Cathedral and pay your respects to the revered leader of a now-defunct state. Moscow will move you. It will tantalise your senses, soothe your spirit and boggle your mind – and it all starts right here at the Kremlin and Red Square.
The remains of the Soviet state are scattered all around the city. Monuments remember fallen heroes and victorious battles, while museums attempt to analyse and synthesise the past. See Lenin and Stalin – off their pedestals – at the whimsical Art Muzeon. Step into the socialist-realist fantasy at VDNKh. Descend into the depths of the Soviet system at Bunker-42 Cold War Museum. Ride the museum-like metro and remember the millions who suffered at the Gulag History Museum. Nowadays, retro clubs and cafes give their guests a taste of the Soviet experience. You can even try your hand at Soviet-era arcade games.
What is more thrilling than watching a ballerina defy gravity, leaping across the stage at the glittering Bolshoi Theatre? Or feeling the force of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, just a few blocks away from where it premiered more than a century ago? Or oohing and aahing as circus performers soar under the big tent? The classical performing arts in Moscow are still among the best in the world. Nowadays, even the most traditional theatres are experimenting with innovative arrangements, reviving lost favourites and hosting world premieres. Whether you appreciate the classics or prefer the contemporary, the capital's performing arts will impress.
At nearly every turn in Moscow, you'll see golden domes peeking out over the rooftops and hear church bells peeling through the streets, which are dotted with some 600 churches – many of which are glittering after recent renovations. There are colourful hidden gems, historic fortresses and gargantuan cathedrals. The exteriors are adorned with stone carvings and glittering domes; interiors are packed with ancient icons, swirling incense and faithful worshippers. For more than a millennium, Orthodoxy has helped to define the Russian nation, a significance that is palpable in these atmospheric spiritual places.
Manila’s moniker, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, couldn’t be more apt – its unappealing shell reveals its jewel only to those resolute enough to pry. No stranger to hardship, the city has endured every disaster humans and nature could throw at it, and yet today the chaotic metropolis thrives as a true Asian megacity. Skyscrapers pierce the hazy sky, mushrooming from the grinding poverty of expansive shanty towns, while gleaming malls foreshadow Manila’s brave new air-conditioned world. The congested roads snarl with traffic, but, like the overworked arteries of a sweating giant, they are what keeps this modern metropolis alive.
As well as outstanding sightseeing, visitors who put in the effort will discover its creative soul – from edgy galleries to a lively indie music scene. Combine this with a penchant for speakeasy bars, artisan markets and single-origin coffees, and it's clear to see that Manila is not only one of Asia's most underrated cities, but one of its coolest.
The economic and cultural powerhouse of the country thanks to an influx of oil money, Lagos has an exploding arts and music scene that will keep your yansh engaged far past dawn. If you're headed to Nigeria, you'll have no choice but to jump right in. As well as brilliantly buoyant culture, Lagos has bumper-to-bumper cars, noise and pollution beyond belief, a high crime rate, and maxed-out public utilities. Elevated motorways ringing the island city are jammed with speed freaks and absurd traffic jams ('go-slows') on top, and tin-and-cardboard shacks underneath. It's a divided city, but an undeniably exciting one.
Named after the Portuguese word for lagoon, Lagos has been a Yoruba port, a British political centre and, until 1991, Nigeria's capital.
This magical meeting place of East and West has more top-drawer attractions than it has minarets (and that's a lot). İstanbul's strategic location has attracted many marauding armies over the centuries. The Greeks, Romans and Venetians took turns ruling before the Ottomans stormed into town and decided to stay – physical reminders of their various tenures are found across the city. The fact that the city straddles two continents wasn't its only drawcard – it was the final stage on the legendary Silk Road linking Asia with Europe, and many merchants who came here liked it so much that they, too, decided to stay. In so doing, they gave the city a cultural diversity that it retains to this day.
The conquering armies of ancient times tended to ransack the city rather than endow it with artistic treasures, but all that changed with the Byzantines, who adorned their churches and palaces with mosaics and frescoes. Miraculously, many of these remain. Their successors, the Ottomans, were quick to launch an ambitious building program and the magnificently decorated imperial mosques that resulted are architectural triumphs that together form one of the world's great skylines. In recent years, local banks and business dynasties have reprised the Ottomans' grand ambitions and endowed an impressive array of galleries, museums and festivals for all to enjoy.
'But what about the food?' we hear you say. We're happy to report that the city's cuisine is as diverse as its heritage, and delicious to boot. Locals take their eating and drinking seriously – the restaurants here are the best in the country. You can eat aromatic Asian dishes or Italian classics if you so choose, but most visitors prefer to sample the succulent kebaps, flavoursome mezes and freshly caught fish that are the city's signature dishes, washing them down with the national drink, rakı (aniseed brandy), or a glass or two of locally produced wine.
Some ancient cities are the sum of their monuments, but İstanbul factors a lot more into the equation. Chief among its manifold attractions are the locals, who have an infectious love of life and generosity of spirit. This vibrant, inclusive and expanding community is full of people who work and party hard, treasure family and friendships, and have no problem melding tradition and modernity in their everyday lives. Joining them in their favourite haunts – çay bahçesis (tea gardens), kahvehans (coffeehouses), meyhanes (Turkish taverns) and kebapçıs (kebap restaurants) – will be a highlight of your visit.
Chongqing municipality (重庆市; Chóngqìng Shì) may be a relatively recent creation, having been carved out of Sìchuan in 1997, but with its eponymous city driving the economy of western China, it's now one of the most important regions in the whole country. Understandably, many confuse the larger administrative 'municipality' with the city itself – keep in mind that the former is really a province, consisting of dozens of large towns and lots of verdant, hilly countryside.
Thanks to the mighty Yangzi River (Cháng Jiāng), which powers its way through here, this region has long been one of strategic military importance. The river was responsible for creating one of China’s greatest natural wonders, the magnificent Three Gorges. Humans have left their indelible mark as well, with a panoply of ancient Buddhist sculptures, rural riverside villages and, of course, the megalopolis that is Chongqing: one of the five largest cities in all China.