Capital cities draw tourists like moths to really crowded, expensive flames. At first glance, it’s easy to see why: capital cities are beautiful, cosmopolitan, more likely to cater to English speakers and people with special dietary needs, and are usually the historical and cultural seats of their country. Airlines and airports even make the choice simple. But for your next foreign jaunt, consider making a capital city your point of entry to a new country instead of the focus of your entire itinerary.
Why go small when you can go big? Here are five reasons why.
1. Beat the crowds. Budapest has over 2 million inhabitants. Tokyo, over 8 million. Likewise, Mexico City and Moscow. New York City? Not a capital, but this extremely popular tourist spot also has a population of over 8 million.
Now add tourists.
The idea of visiting the world’s most famous monuments and parks is lovely, but all too often marred by long lines and ridiculous crowds. Furthermore, capital cities are usually so overrun with tourists, that the experience often becomes Disney-fied: crazy prices in “convenient” restaurants, college students/wannabe actors dressed as cultural icons, and more English speakers than you can shake a stick at.
2. Get a price break. You know how people move to the suburbs and less fashionable neighborhoods to cut the costs of living? Visiting a smaller town lets you do the same thing. While getting there from the big city might pack a price punch, the costs of being there in general will usually be much more reasonable.
Ahhh. Now that does feel better.
3. Local culture in a single malt, not a blend. Smaller towns tend to be less cosmopolitan, meaning you’re more likely to find old-school and authentic cultural experiences; not food bastardized to suit tourists’ tastes and staged productions crafted to insult their intelligence.
4. Get off the beaten path. A romantic snuggle in front of the Eiffel Tower! How original. What about heading to a tiny French village in Flanders instead? Or the cliffs of the Aran Islands instead of the heavily-trafficked Cliffs of Moher in Ireland? Pre-Roman ruins in Italy instead of jampacked Rome? Heading to less-traveled-to places guarantees you’ll have stories and photos your friends can’t match.
5. Small town hospitality. You’d think that service people in capital cities would be trained to be extra nice to tourists – you know, the hand that feeds them. Surly people exist everywhere, but most will agree that they tend to concentrate in big cities. Something about chaos, close quarters, and fast pace tends to make people cranky. Small towns, on the other hand, tend to be less frantic, have lower crime rates, and citizens who are a bit less jaded. Small town folk might be curious about newbies at first, but it’s usually not long before they’re asking if you’ve had enough to eat.
What about you, tripwolves? Have you ever made it a point to visit a smaller city during your travels?