The Most Mind‑Blowing Places to Paraglide

What is the quintessential adrenaline rush exactly? For some it’s free-falling out of an airplane into endless sky while for others it’s diving into the deep depths of the ocean into waters teeming with eager sharks. The essential ingredient of any adventure trip is most definitely adrenaline, no matter what form it comes in. For those less willing to leap out of a perfectly good airplane, paragliding is a great alternative; a sort of slow-motion jump from a mountain top or towering hill that offers a similar experience to a free fall with the chance to take it all in at a slower pace.

8. Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago is just 16 kilometers off the coast, one of the most remote places along the east coast of Africa and also one of the most beautiful with alabaster beaches and water like glass. It’s here where paragliders will find the ultimate in options; simply scale the massive dune, choose any launching point, and coast through the clouds through sun and along the sea. One of the most popular facets of this unparalleled paragliding location is the lack of obstacles: many people don’t bother with helmets or even shoes because there’s simply nothing to hit, making it a great place for novices to practice and for the more experienced to try more daring stunts. Condition are most dependable between May and October and low tide is ideal: paragliders can cost to the ocean and land along the beach.

7. Wengen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland

Valleys, vistas, and waterfalls make the base village of Wengen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland, an incredible, year-round destination for paragliding, hang gliding, and sky diving. Originally renowned for world=class hiking and skiing, Wengen has become a paramount European destination for heart-pumping, mountain-scaling adventures. Wengen gives way to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, known as the Valley of Waterfalls, where more than 70 waterfalls plummet down sky-scraping cliffs in an area with more than 11,000 feet between base camp and the Jungfrau summit–higher even than Mount Everest’s 10,000-foot elevation from base camp. For some paragliders, that’s reason enough to book a trip. Soar past immense alpine meadows, lush green valleys, snow capped chalets, and 19th century timber houses back into base camp and start over again or try out some equally blood-pumping activities like canyoneering (traversing canyons using various techniques like climbing and swimming) or river rafting.

6. Oludeniz, Turkey

Babadag Mountain is the place to be when planning any adventure sports in Fethiye, Turkey. It’s known as a Mecca for paragliders and other sky surfers: it towers over 5,900 feet and offers sublime views of the mountains and surrounding areas. That first view from the top can definitely induce some queasy feelings if you’ve never paraglided from that kind of height–everything below appears absolutely minuscule. Outfitters provide all necessary equipment, a jeep ride up the steep mountain, and a tandem jump that lasts over 20 minutes soaring over white sand beaches, lush green forest, and cobalt water before landing directly on Belcekiz Beach. Any adrenaline junkie will love the elevation here and the ease of the jump but be sure to watch out for fog which comes in regularly–it can turn a fantastic jump lethal.

5. Point of the Mountain, Utah, USA

For those less willing to paraglide from heights pushing into thousands of feet, Utah’s Point of the Mountain near Salt Lake City is great place to languidly fly from the top of the mountain to escape gravity and take in the surrounding scenery, whether on short flight or a longer haul adventure, the conditions are legendary; winds are consistently smooth, offering the greatest potential for both paragliding and hang gliding. Point of the Mountain is ideal for beginners, with several professional paragliding companies offering lessons, tandem flights, and tours, and advanced instruction. If you’re just a beginner wanting to take to the skies, Point of the Mountain is perfect. Beginner tandem flights can start as low as just five feet and range up to 2,000 feet, offering a level of comfort for just about anyone.

4. Valle de Bravo, Mexico

El Penon in Valle de Bravo, Mexico is one of the most famous sites for flying in the world, offering consistent conditions that can lead up to four hours flying every day. the inland thermal site is situated on the boundary of a strong network of ancient, inactive volcanoes enveloped by lush hills and blanketed in temperate, emerald forest. From December through March, these elements combine, providing incredible thermal soaring conditions within an area that perfectly compliments the lifestyle and flying schedule. Launching from El Penon is at more than 7,000 feet and the glide is easy given good conditions without too much wind. The access road is ideal for driving up, making it a cinch to arrive at the top and onsite amenities ensure you’re primed and ready to go before take off.

3. Kamshet, India

Anyone who’s been paragliding in India maintains that Kamshet, just 110 kilometers from Mumbai in the Western Ghats, is a paradise for sky launches and an ideal destination for adventure-seekers looking for a major rush. Avoiding monsoon season–typically from June through October–paragliders can head to Kamshet during the summer season between March and May for ideal conditions and temperatures. From the launch points of either east or west Tower Hill, gliders can experience some breathtaking scenes, including tiny villages dotting the entire mountain expanse. There are several guesthouses in the area accommodating paragliders in the immediate vicinity wanting to spend their entire time flying, with either tandem lessons and solo flying or strictly tandem flights. Outfitters also offer transport to Tower Hill each day. In thermal seasons, depending on conditions, launches can be extended, cross-country flights with incredible views and panoramas of the entire region.

2. Danyang, South Korea

Undescribable freedom ensues when defying gravity in Danyang, South Korea. Heading to the take-off points of either Mount Dusan or Mountan Yangbangsan, gliders enjoy a facility that’s well designed and only a two-hour drive from Seoul. If coming in from Seoul, booking a jump is easy and includes transportation from the city, equipment, tandem jumps, and extended lessons if desired (if you’re planning on the approach independently, there’s a direct bus to Danyang from the East Seoul Bus Terminal). Beginners generally always fly from Mount Yangbangsan which is near the downtown area and the site for standard training prior to departure. The views from this jump point are incredible and feature the Manhangang River below and the city spread out before you while mountains pass alongside. International and national competitions happen at this location, proving it’s better than any other paragliding point in the country.

1. Castelluccio, Umbria, Italy

The Apennines Mountains are a range in Italy comprised of a network of smaller chains spanning more than 1,100 kilometers along the peninsular length of Italy. They’re beautiful, home to countless lovely towns and villages, and offer one of the best spots in Europe for paragliding. The highest village in the Apennines Mountains is Castelluccio, most notable for vibrant valleys that begin showing off their blooms in early spring and through the summer months. It’s these kinds of scenes paired with alpine heights that have attracted numerous hang gliding and para gliding schools to establish themselves in the vicinity. The thermals here are extremely smooth and the air perfectly calm most of the year creating good conditions for first-time flyers while experienced pilots enjoy the challenges offered by heading to the summit of Monte Vettore and flying a different, more challenging route.

The 12 Most Unique Movie Theaters in the World

Forget watching Netflix at home or going to a regular movie theatre, all around the world from the United States to Norway to the UK there are some extremely unique theatres to visit. Some take credit for being hundreds of years old while others use new technology to wow moviegoers. From an elementary school turned brewpub/theatre to an outdoor cinema set up in a cemetery; here are our top 12 choices for the most unique movie theatres in the world.

12. Kennedy School, Portland, OR

This one time elementary school has been turned into a 35-room hotel, restaurant, and movie theatre, all thanks to McMenamins, a local empire of brewpubs and entertainment venues. The movie theatre located in the school’s old auditorium is a mix of comfortable sofas, armchairs, and tables for two. It can fit up to 300 guests inside where second-run feature films are shown nightly.

Mommy matinees are shown during the day from Tuesdays to Thursday s where kids and their parents can come enjoy the first show, and it won’t matter to anyone if the wee ones fuss. Admission here is a steal, at just $4 per person and just $2 a child. There is a special theatre lounge and lobby to grab a drink and bite to eat before the show, or put in your order, as servers will come to your seat throughout the movie so you don’t have to miss a minute of it. Not surprisingly there are a number of McMenamins Craft Beers on tap here!

Via Lonely Planet

11. Colosseum Kino, Oslo, Norway

It is the largest cinema in Northern Europe and the largest THX cinema in the world and is dominating in structure due to its large spherical dome. The grey and cream dome looks more like a futuristic spaceship rather than a movie theatre but it was actually built in 1921.

Throughout its 90 year history, the Colosseum Kino has managed to keep up with technological advances such as sounds systems, and ticketing systems. In 1998 the theatre closed down for a period of time in which major interior and exterior renovations were made.

Via Cinemaholic

10. The Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Built in 1922 by pioneer San Francisco theatre entrepreneurs, this is one of the last remaining movie palaces in the nation that was built in the 1920’s that is still in operation. Both outside and it is breathtakingly gorgeous with the inside being just a touch more luxurious. Expect to see foamy balconies, wall-mounted busts of heroic figures and an auditorium that seat over 1,400 guests in a fantasy setting that is both lavish and intimate.

On either side of the screen are large organ grills, a large art deco chandelier hangs from the room and two dramatic staircases lead to the mezzanine and balcony. Showing here are foreign films, classic revivals, festivals and some of the most intense audiences in town.  In recent years the sound quality has been improved, new stage lighting was installed and larger and more comfortable seats were put on the main floor.

9. Electric Cinema, London

Visitors to the Electric Cinema in London should expect luxury service in this adults aimed hideout in the chic Notting Hill Neighborhood. It is one of the oldest working cinemas in the country, opening in 1910 and has run almost continuously since that time. The interior of the theater is made up of 65 leather armchairs with footstools and side tables, three 2-seater sofas at the rear and six double beds in the front row.

To make things even better, individual cashmere blankets are provided for guests. The bar opens 10 minutes before screening time, whereas the movie starts 30 minutes after screening time. Offering wine, beer, champagne and a variety of snacks; one must get their food and drinks ahead of time. On Monday mornings babies and their caregivers are invited to Electric Scream, a screening designed especially for them.

Via YouTube

8. Raj Mandir Cinema, Jaipur, India

It is nicknamed the “Pride of Asia” and is considered the crown jewel of India’s cinemas, and certainly lives up to its reputation. The theatre was created to make guests feel as though they were royal guests of a palace, a place full of style and elegance. Walking into this theatre is an experience unlike any other, high ceilings hung with huge chandeliers, lighting that changes from white to blue and walls covered in artistic artwork.

The seating here is divided into four sections, Pearl, Ruby, Emerald, and Diamond and once you are seated you will be faced with a huge screen covered by velvet curtains. This is such an experience that every single movie showing over the past 25 years has had a full house, now that is something to brag about. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any better place to take in the colorful sights and sounds of a Bollywood film.

7. Cine de Chef, Seoul, South Korea

This cinema gives a new meaning to “dinner and a movie” with its small luxurious theatre. Couples will begin their night by dropping their car off at the valet and taking the private elevator up to Cordon Bleu café for a quick meal before the show. Think upscale cuisine with a twist. Moviegoers are than put into a private screening room that seats just a handful of patrons.

The comfortable reclining chairs were designed by the same people who design seats for the United Arab Emirates Royalty and once you sit down you may never want to get back up. Footstools, side tables, and lamps complete the picture of this awesome yet small venue. Tickets start at just $54 per person for both dinner and a movie.

Via designseoda

6. Rooftop Cinema, Melbourne, Australia

Sitting on a rooftop bar watching a movie play on a large projection screen sounds like a dream come true. In fact, it is actually reality at the Rooftop Cinema in Melbourne Australia. Open daily from 11am-1am it is easy to grab a drink before the movie starts and hang around long after the credits roll. The rooftop cinema is open from December to April and prices start at $22 per person.

The seating up here is incredibly comfortable deck chairs and blankets are available to rent for just $5 for the course of the movie. Showings include art house films, classics, and recent releases. It is fully licensed up on this roof and moviegoers often bring up their cocktails and brews from the bar below. Enjoy the sky above you, the grass beneath you and an incredible view of the Melbourne skyline.

Via Time Out

5. Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA

The outdoor movie screenings here are hard to beat in terms of being unique as they are held on Fairbanks Lawn, an open grassy field inside the Hollywood Forever Cemetery; yes we did just say cemetery. Moviegoers here are responsible for bringing their own low lying chairs, blankets and pillows as well as picnics, wine and beer (note that no spirits are allowed). The Forever Cemetery is the final resting place for many, including John Huston, Peter Lorre, Bugsy Siegel and more.

The showing range from comedies to horror to old school classics and tickets generally cost $10-$15. Guests arriving at the showing will walk through the beautiful and historic cemetery before plunking down in front of the screen. There are restrooms on site to use and there are no in and out privileges. If you thought that watching a scary movie in a normal cinema was scary, wait until you watch one in a cemetery.

Via Hollywood Reporter

4. Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, TX

This quirky indie movie chain was started by a husband and wife team that had no movie qualifications, other than being devoted movie fans. Striving to create the perfect viewing experience for movie lovers there are some strict rules to follow here in order for everyone to enjoy. Some of these rules include absolutely no talking, no cell-phone usage, no unaccompanied children, no babies and no ads before the movies.

What you can expect is high quality and locally sourced food and beer that are served to your seat. This movie chain also runs some incredible events across their theatres. It once showed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy where viewers were only permitted to eat when the characters ate on screen, or how about the events when they call for every viewer to dress like a certain character. Its how movie showing should be, uninterrupted, fun and enjoyable.

Via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

3. Secret Cinema, Unknown

Once a month moviegoers can be part of a secret audience, secret location and essentially a secret world. Secret Cinema brings together film, music, art, and theatre to create a larger than life experience in abandoned spaces. This is an entirely immersive experience where audiences must dress up as the characters or of the era of the film. They also have the chance to interact with the spectators and actors while having food and drinks, living in the world of the film before setting in to watch the film.

Tickets are not cheap for the event and start around $75 Great British Pounds per adult. Viewers must register online to receive the secret email for which film will be next on the list. Although this is not a standalone theatre, the concept and the delivery of these movies is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Via Stevenfollows.com

2. Hot Tub Cinema, UK, USA, Ibiza

One way to get people talking is to combine hot tubs and movies, because who doesn’t love both! This company started by combining great films with amazing space, lots of hot tubs and incredible people. The mantra here is that they don’t want you to watch films but instead celebrate them. This means your movie experience will be unlike any other you have had before.

Moviegoers are encouraged to dress up, sing, dance, drink and play, as well as spending plenty of time in the hot tub. With movies such as Dirty Dancing, Free Willy, Back to the Future and other classics, tickets sell out fast. Whole tubs can be rented out by buying 6 tickets for a friend or you can buy a pair of tickets and make some new friends as you share a hot tub. There are personalized tub waiters for each hot tub and you can assure this may just be the best night of your life.

Via AWOL

1. Sol Cinema, South Wales

It prides itself as the world’s smallest solar movie theatre and we have to say this may, in fact, be the most unique movie theatre in the world. The Sol Cinema is actually a mobile cinema in a caravan that is powered entirely by the sun. It can accommodate up to 8 adults comfortably and the choice is yours as to which movie is playing. Inside comfortable benches and surround sounds create the perfect viewing experience.

Guests here will get the utmost luxury treatment complete with a red carpet, usherette service and popcorn to snack on. The idea behind this solar movie theatre came when they wanted to reduce their own CO2 emissions but also show what is achievable with solar power. Creating this small cinema allows hundreds of people to be entertained on a daily basis and gives something unique and incredible to both creators and viewers.

Via Digital Spy

UNESCO’S 15 Most Beautifully Designed Cities In The World

Designations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are much sought after by cities around the world. Its best known one is the World Heritage Site that calls on signatories to protect and preserve important monuments from a small church to a vast jungle. Less well known but still dandy for planning itineraries is the Creative Cities Network in which cities receive a special designation if it can prove its creative specialty is unique of important cultural and economic significance and is sustainable. One of the most intriguing is Design. UNESCO has identified 15 Cities of Design that “(place) creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.” It is about not just the urban space but the things that fill space that, to meet UNESCO criteria must enhance the quality of life for people and be environmentally sustainable. And of course make a whole bunch of seriously cool stuff. Here are, in UNESCO’s estimation the 15 most aesthetically pleasing and innovative Cities of Design.

15. Montréal, Canada

The genius of some of the world’s great architects dot the Montreal skyline despite the civic edict that no building exceeds the height of Mont Royal under whose slopes the city was founded in 1642. I.M Pei’s Place Ville Marie still dominates the downtown more than 50 years after its debut. Other stellar works include Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square, Buckminster Fuller’s stunning Geodesic Dome and Moshe Sadie’s Habitat, the latter two built for the 1967 World’s Fair has found new life. Old Montreal by the Old Port is a treasure of preserved 19th century buildings on cobblestone streets. It is the home of the Canadian Centre for Architecture as well as the UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at l’ Université de Montréal. UNESCO calls Montreal “The City of Designers” with 25,000 people in design development in one of the most stylish cities in North America.

Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com

14. Buenos Aires, Argentina

For architecture fans and design geeks, Buenos Aires is already heaven. One of its iconic historic buildings, Palacio Barolo is an homage to the Dante’s 15th century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy with the Hell, the ground floor with flame images on the walls, to the mid-level office space, called Purgatory and the upper floors with their fantastic views of the great city being ‘Paradise.” It has a stable of great works on its skyline built in a jumble of Old World Styles from Renaissance to Art Deco. The Planetarium and Women’s Bridge continue the creative tradition into the 21st century. UNESCO notes with praise the use of government incentives to grow the design industry which now accounts for almost a tenth of the giant city’s Gross Domestic Product and “contributes to turning Buenos Aires into a benchmark of design in Latin America: while fostering inclusive and sustainable development.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

13. Curitiba, Brazil

This city of 3 million people in southern Brazil is at the forefront of sustainable urban development in the world. Already a cultural and design center, UNESCO singles out the city’s innovation for “Recognizing design as an agent for urban transformation.” In this context the term “design” goes beyond buildings in post-modern, futuristic shapes to the materials used to make them. The sustainable city mission was begun by architect and three-term, Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner and inspired similar initiatives across the country. Lerner combined an overhaul of mass transit and garbage collection with the promotion of alternative building materials to streamline costs and provide affordable housing. An, NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) Curadores da Terra or Keepers of the earth has developed a process that turns the environmental plague of plastic bottles into a popular, inexpensive building material.

Curitiba, Brazil

12. Bilbao, Spain

What leaps to mind at the Mention of Bilbao, is the beautiful jumble that is the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most famous and renowned pieces of architecture since it opened in 1997. In fact the whole process of reclaiming former heavily industrial urban areas that are in decline or abandoned has come to be called “The Guggenheim Effect, the great Museum reclaimed a derelict section of the old port for a sustainable addition to the city’s tourism infrastructure. The policy continues with the Alhondiga, a beautiful wine warehouse from 1909 on the verge of demolition but rescued and turned into a multi use cultural facility in 2010. Bilbao’s approach using design and technology to transition from an old industrial economy to a modern service economy is the model UNESCO wants more cities to follow, the creation of “major cultural facilities contributing to the economy in terms of wealth creation, employment and social well-being.

Migel / Shutterstock.com
Migel / Shutterstock.com

11. Turin, Italy

Italy has been at the forefront of global design since they built the Roman Senate in 753 BCE. Turin has been called the Detroit of Italy, the home of great automotive brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo. And like its American counterpart it experienced economic crisis and depopulation in the 1980’s. Still with about the same GDP as the country of Croatia, Turin has used its accumulated wealth  expertise and world class schools to move upstream into more sustainable, knowledge based industries, most notably aerospace. Several of the International Space Station modules were designed here. The greatest symbol of the city’s rejuvenation and transition is the fabulous Lingotto Fiere, which remains futurists despite being nearly a century old. Even Le Corbusier the great French architect raved about it. The old Fiat plant opened in 1922, but then became outmoded in the seventies and eventually closed in the 80’s. It reopened as a multi-use complex, including a hotels, concert halls art gallery shopping mall and a campus for the world renowned Polytechnic University of Turin.

Turin, Italy

10. Graz, Austria

Graz is already home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Eggenberg Castle is a grand historical work in the Baroque style. The Old Town is an impeccably preserved wealth of centuries of buildings in wide range of architectural styles. But the small city of 300,000 isn’t resting on those fortunate laurels of the distant past. UNESCO’s website is prone to thick bureaucratic gibberish, but the spirit of the initiative comes through in statements like noting a fashion festival “is committed to cultural exchange on the textile level.” It’s just an example of the injection of sustainability into everyday goods that is providing the basis of The Next Economy in First World places that can afford to lead the way. Consider it the next Industrial Revolution. The Creative Sector in Graz has almost 5,000 companies, mostly small and medium size that generate about $700,000,000 in additional revenue allowing the city to commission innovative, iconic works of architecture that goes beyond fancy buildings for the sake of being fancy to making intelligent design that “and values both the aesthetic component of design as well as its ability to make daily life more livable.”

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

9. Berlin, Germany

Berlin has been one of the creative centers of the world for centuries and is now becoming leader in Design with some 2,400 companies been over $400,000,000 in annual revenue. Its International Center for Design is focused on what it believes is the way of the future: “Environmentally-conscious design is thus the key to a sustainable society.” At its heart is the emerging consumer behaviour called LOHAS “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” as individuals seek out healthier lifestyle and environmentally sensitive choices. They have become a world leader in ‘eco-design…to optimize energy efficiency, to minimize pollution emission and waste production.” There are 5000 Design students in the city’s elite schools. Berlindesign.net acts as an independent, fair trade platform for hundreds of independent Berlin designers from fashion to furniture to food. It’s all based on a highly innovative business plan called the “Triple Bottom Line,” in which design marketing and pricing reflect not just profit margins but ecological, economic and social concerns as well.

Berline Germany, Spree River

8. Helsinki, Finland

Design is embedded in the Finnish soul. Or as the Guardian wrote “Design is to Helsinki as literature is to Dublin and samba is to Rio.” Scandinavia in general is known for its modernist, minimalist furniture but Finland itself with a population of 5.5 million has given the world two of its greatest architects, Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto. The Finnish capital is an architectural garden of delights. Volumes have been written about the Finns creativity but UNESCO pointed to two things in particular that propelled Helsinki to 2012’s World City of Design status. One, Design is a government priority. The Finnish Innovation Fund stimulates the sector to design solutions to a wide variety of public policy issues from sustainability to education. It especially notes the inclusion of passengers in the process of designing the seats on the transit system.

Helsinki, Finland

7. Dundee, Scotland

A charter member of the global Rust Belt of once vibrant juggernauts of heavy industry, Dundee was made the United Kingdom’s first Creative City of Design. It is a case study in urban reinvention in knowledge based economic sectors and an example of just how broad the discipline of design has become. The booming shipbuilding and textile industries have given way to biotechnology and digital media. Dundee is home to one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world as well as the company that produced the hugely popular video game called Grand Theft Auto. The city is spending 1.5 billion dollars on revitalizing its waterfront, including a striking  Museum Of Design with the goal of making the city an international design center, creatively financed by government and private sector funding.

Dundee, Scotland

6. Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen’s skyline shimmers with stunning, cutting edge architectural design as befits to an emerging innovative powerhouse of 11 million people. The Stock Exchange, the Asian Cairns and the Oct Museum push the design envelope. In southern China close to Hong Kong, design is a multi-billion dollar business employing 100,000 people. A generation of Chinese designers were trained here and excel in a wide spectrum of disciplines, women’s fashion being the most notable but that includes crafts, jewelry and toys. The city has moved upstream into creative, knowledge-based sectors, finance primarily among them as integration with the wealth creation machine that is Hong Kong.

Shenzhen, China

5. Shanghai, China

The Shanghai Design Show is Asia’s biggest and most important attracting the world designing elite, from Jaguar to Nike to Cognac giant Martell. A truly international city home to 25 million people faces enormous challenges in sustainable development. But it has a huge creative sector to meet those challenges and develop sectors that add about $40 billion to the city’s GDP. UNESCO notes that the city was the Chinese leader in creative sectors such as film and music. It takes one look at Shanghai’s dynamic skyline to grasp the tremendous creative power the city is harnessing under the aegis of the Municipal Commission of Economy and Technology. Shanghai’s Creative Cites page boasts 87 Creative Clusters, over 4,000 innovative design-related agencies and institutions, 283 art institutions, 239 art and cultural community centers, 100 museums, 25 libraries and 743 archive institutions. It is perhaps Exhibit A of a city growing its economy by investing in Design.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

4. Kobe, Japan

There is a 21st century about the Kobe skyline partly because of its innovative nature and sadly, from a major rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake in 1995. But in one form or another the city has been adept at self-reinvention through history. As an open port it has absorbed the influence of many cultures and has long been regarded as a cosmopolitan city. There is an old saying that says, “If you can’t go to Paris go to Kobe.” Like the French city to which it’s compared, Kobe is a fashion design center. Kobe Biennale is a major annual art and design event that aims to use the twin disciplines “not only to promote the arts, but also to contribute to the enrichment and environment of Kobe.” In 2015 a number eclectic competitions were held for Art-in-a Box, using old containers as a kind of urban canvas; creative toys, ceramic art, comic illustration and ‘green’ art.

Kobe, Japan

3. Nagoya, Japan

One of the rare cities that has managed to retain its blue collar and artistic pedigrees. It is home to major Toyota and Mitsubishi auto plants as well as traditional Japanese theater, cuisine and craft work dating back to medieval times. All under the magnificent watch of the fabulous 17th century Nagoya Castle. Even the modern manufacturing systems are based on the old Japanese principle of Monozukuri which Toyota defines as “manufacturing which is in harmony with nature and that is value adding for the society… the older sister of sustainable manufacturing.” Also unlike many others on the list, Nagoya can claim a design specialty. An army of engineers advance robot technology as well as a sector that discovers and designs new materials. UNESCO lauds its combination of tradition and the philosophy of Humanism with advanced technology.

Nagoya, Japan

2. Seoul, South Korea

The economy of South Korea is an aggressively powerful export machine barging into giant-dominated sectors like cars and cellphones. Seoul, the dynamic capital, is home to three-quarters of the country’s designers. Seoul’s design sector is heavy on IT related products now honing fashion and digital home appliance design. City government policy acts as a facilitator linking design companies with its thriving industrial base. Dongdaemun Design Plaza is like a modern Silicon Valley of design and creative expertise that not only serves as an incubator for innovation, but transformed one of the city’s oldest, most historic districts.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

1. Beijing, China

Far and away the most controversial and debatable of UNESCO’s designations is Beijing, China. However, UNESCO notes the city’s 3000 years rich with history. The architecture and design of the venues for the 2008 Olympics were spectacular but remain underused and unable to be integrated into the city fabric. Meanwhile the brutally bulldozing of the city’s legendary hutongs or traditional neighborhoods of narrow alleys have been documented in books and documentaries. UNESCO cites the huge number of museums and creativity clusters “bearing in mind their relevance for sustainable development.”

Beijing, China

12 Amazing Galleries Every Art Lover Should Visit

So much more than décor, artistic works have long been used as modes of self-expression and cultural identity, as well as tangible historical tools that visually display the progression of society throughout the ages. Through changes and innovations in technique, mediums and subject matter, a piece of art has the ability to transport the viewer to different points in time, or alternatively (in the case of the modern movement) to different realms of consciousness, and provide some insight into a highly subjective human endeavor. For those of you that want to revel at works that are classical, weird and everything in between, here are the world’s top 10 must-see galleries.

12. Auckland Art Gallery – Auckland, New Zealand

Since opening in 1881, Auckland Art Gallery remains the largest gallery of fine and visual art in New Zealand, currently holding over 15,000 works dating from the 11th century to the present. What started out as a small collection of pieces by European masters, has now grown into the most comprehensive collection of New Zealand art, as well as distinguished pieces by Maori and Pacific Island artists. Art lovers will love how this smaller gallery contrasts with the (though beautiful) often overwhelming scale of the famous European galleries, and appreciate the chance to admire how such an architecturally split environment (the building is part renaissance and part modern) beautifully showcases such a diverse range of works.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

11. Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Translated literally, Rijksmuseum means “state museum” and is just that, chronicling the development and progression of Dutch art and history through its vast collection of paintings, sketches, photography and applied arts. The newly updated gallery, which reopened in 2013 after a 10-year renovation, offers a unique art-viewing experience, displaying all types of pieces (i.e. paintings, sculptures, furnishings, etc) together in galleries organized by time period. Though holding a small amount of international art, including a dignified collection of Asian art, it is the works hanging in the Gallery of Honor that are the highlight of the museum. It in this corridor that you will find the masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age of painting, including Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Frans Hals’ Portrait of a Couple, all leading to the gallery’s most treasured piece: Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Mediagram / Shutterstock.com
Mediagram / Shutterstock.com

10. Prado Museum – Madrid, Spain

Established in 1819, the Museo del Prado in Madrid contains the single largest Spanish art collection in the world, along with notable European fine art works of the 12th-19th centuries. In fact, in addition to displaying works by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco, the Prado now also houses the largest collection of art by the Italian masters outside of Italy. A stroll through this national art museum will reveal such well-known pieces as Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, Rubens’ The Three Graces, and Goya’s The Third of May: The Execution on Principe Pio.

The Prado Museum Madrid

9. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – Seoul, South Korea

Composed of several branches in the Seoul area, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art was opened in 1969 as the country’s only gallery devoted solely to works  from 1910 and onwards. The main branch, located in Gwacheon, currently houses over 7,000 works featuring well known Korean artists such as Ko-Hui Dong, Ku Boh-Ung and Kim Whan-Ki, as well as a sizeable collection of international artists like Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Marcus Lupertz. Art lovers will also appreciate the gallery’s commitment to discovering and showcasing the works of artists new to the contemporary art scene in its many temporary events and exhibitions.

Joymsk140 / Shutterstock.com
Joymsk140 / Shutterstock.com

8. Musee D’Orsay – Paris, France

Opened in 1986 in the former D’Orsay railway stations (originally built for the 1900 World Exhibition), the gallery contains a vast selection of fine art pieces created between 1848 and 1914. The collection is comprised mainly of works from the Louvre, the Musee du Jeu de Paume which became devoted exclusively to Impressionism in 1947 and the National Museum of Modern Art, which in 1976 trimmed its collection to only include pieces by artists born after 1870. Today, the gallery houses six unique collections in several artistic disciplines (paintings, sculpture, objets d’art, photographs, graphic arts and architecture) and is home to Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Manet’s Olympia and Cezanne’s The Cardplayers.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
pio3 / Shutterstock.com

7. The National Gallery – London, England

The National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square holds the country’s national collection of art (it belongs to the people, so admission is free!) and consists of over 2,000 Western European paintings dating from the medieval period to the 19th century. The national collection was established in 1824 with the English government’s £57,000 purchase of John Julius Angerstein’s 38-piece personal collection. Originally displayed at Angerstein’s house, the Parliament agreed to construct a dedicated gallery building in 1831, doors opened at the current location in 1838. The collection greatly expanded in the early 1860s under director Charles Eastlake, and now contains several must-see works such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne and Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillere.

The National Gallery, London

6. Tate Modern – London, England

Another London staple, the Tate Modern is one of four museums in the Tate family and, as its name suggests, houses the UK’s national contemporary and modern art collection (dating from 1900 and later). Housed in a converted former power station in the banks of the river Thames, the gallery offers a unique experience for art lovers, displaying pieces in thematic zones rather than in typical chronological order. The themes currently on exhibit are Energy and Processes, Structure and Clarity, Poetry and Dream and Making Traces, and feature works by Picasso, Rothko and Rothschild.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

5. Uffizi Gallery – Florence, Italy

An unlikely home for fine art masterpieces, the Uffizi Gallery was originally commissioned by Cosimo de Medici in 1560 to hold the offices of the Florentine Magistrates and Judiciaries. Today, this original purpose is especially evident in the gallery’s cramped spaces which were built to accommodate just a few individuals, not the thousands that now flock through its doors each day. Nevertheless, the Uffizi is one of Italy’s best attractions, containing 45 halls that chronologically display works from the 13th to 18th centuries. Highlights of the collection are Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and also not to be missed are the gallery’s iconic Vasari Corridor and Octagonal Tribune designed by Bernardo Buontalenti.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

4. Vatican Museum – Vatican City, Italy

Dating back to 1503, today’s Vatican Museum is comprised of a combination of pontifical museums and galleries, whose acquisitions began with Pope Julius II’s collection of sculptures. The complex now houses quite a large number of museums, exhibiting everything from Christian Antiquities to ancient tapestries and mosaics to religious and secular relics. The museum also contains a vast painting gallery (Pinacoteca) which opened in 1932 and consists of over 400 paintings displayed more or less chronologically from the 12th to 19th centuries. Undeniably, the largest draws of this museum are the incomparable pieces found within the Sistine Chapel, where visitors can admire the works of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosellini and Signorelli, as well as the world famous ceiling masterpiece by Michelangelo.

Vatican Museums Rome

3. State Hermitage – St. Petersburg, Russia

As one of the world’s largest museums at over two million square feet, and housing over three million items, the State Hermitage Museum complex holds an astounding collection of fine art that is a must see for any art lover. Housed in 120 galleries in four of the Hermitage’s main buildings—the Winter Palace, Great Hermitage, Small hermitage and New Hermitage—visitors  will find the works of Matisse, Degas, Titian, and Rembrandt. The collection, which was established in 1764 by Catherine the Great, now consists of over 600,000 works of art and includes such famous paintings as Da Vinci Benois Madonna, Matisse’s Dance and Rembrandt’s Flora.

Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com
Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York City, USA

The largest gallery in the United States, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the biggest attractions in NYC, drawing over six million visitors each year. And once you’ve seen it, it’s easy to see why—the current collection includes over 2,500 European paintings, the largest Egyptian art collection (outside of Egypt) and the world’s largest collection of American artistic works. The museum also boasts extensive holdings in African, Asian and Islamic Art, as well as an impressive amount of antique weapons, armor and costumes. With over two million works housed in over two million square feet of space, the Met has something for everyone, making it a must-see for art lovers of all styles and periods.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
T photography / Shutterstock.com

1. The Louvre – Paris, France

As the largest and arguably most well-known art gallery in the world, the Louvre currently houses over 35,000 artistic works and draws over eight million visitors a year. With a history dating back to the 12th century as a city fortress, and later, royal residence, the galleries of the Louvre were not used for art exhibition until 1699 when the artist residents held their first “salon”. The Museum Central des Arts (located in the Salon Carre and Grande Galerie) was opened to the public in 1793 with a growing collection of paintings that eventually expanded into other parts of the building. The site became exclusively devoted to culture in 1882, and today consists of over 650,000 square feet of exhibition space holding some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Durer’s Self Portrait.

cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com
cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com

The 15 Most Visited Cities in the World 2015

We assume some cities to be de facto tourist meccas; we’re told over and over again that places like Paris, London and Rome are places that every traveler must visit in their lifetime. But have you ever wondered just how many people visit some of these cities each year—or, indeed, which cities attract the largest share of international tourists? While some of the tried-and-true destinations have made the cut for 2015, other entries on the list of the top 15 most visited cities might surprise you.

15. Milan, Italy

Perhaps most famous as Italy’s fashion powerhouse, the city of Milan is much more than that. Located in northern Italy, it is also home to Italy’s largest stock exchange, two major soccer teams and numerous theaters, museums and monuments. Milan has something to offer each one of its seven plus million visitors each year. Notable sites around the city include the Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage site decorated by Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Although the city itself is entirely flat terrain, the nearby Alps form part of its cityscape, and the city’s proximity to Alpine tourist destinations have positioned it as a gateway community. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the world’s oldest shopping mall and is located on the Piazza Duomo, near the fifth-largest church in the world, Milan Cathedral.

Milan, Italy

14. Rome, Italy

Given Rome’s ubiquitous position as the cradle of Western civilization and European civilization in particular, as well as its unique reputation as a tourist destination, it’s perhaps surprising that Rome didn’t rank higher on this list. Still, with a projected 7.4 million tourists in 2015, tourism to Rome is nothing to sneeze at. Rome is home to some of Europe’s most famous historical monuments, such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Religious tourism to Rome is still an important factor; although the Vatican is a separate state, it is located inside Rome and many visitors tour through Rome’s churches as well. Under the influence of numerous popes, Rome has undergone a program of patronage since the Renaissance that aimed to make it the cultural and artistic center of the world—a lofty goal and one that has resulted in Rome long being a mecca for people around the world.

eternal city Rome

13. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When The Netherlands first legalized the sale of cannabis in coffee shops, a running joke became that most young North American tourists would hit Amsterdam for one reason and one reason alone. While some of the city’s 7.44 million international tourists might visit for that reason, there are many other things to do and see in the Dutch capital. Amsterdam is, of course, famous for its cannabis cafes and red light district, which attracts many visitors, but other aspects of its nightlife, including numerous discotheques and world-renowned jazz clubs, are equally attractive to tourists. The city’s architecture, historical buildings and many museums are also incentive for visitors. Anne Frank’s House and the Van Gogh Museum are just two of the many historic sites frequented by tourists. The city is also well-known for its system of canals, which add to its picturesque appeal.

Amsterdam

12. Barcelona, Spain

Capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia, in Spain, Barcelona has a long history of tourism: in medieval times, it was an important site for Christian pilgrims. Today, the tourism industry is still an important and growing part of Barcelona’s economy, with more than 7.5 million people expected to visit the city in 2015. Barcelona rivals Madrid, the country’s capital, in terms of major attractions and historic sites; the city boasts no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage sites and many museums. As the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean, Barcelona has also become internationally renowned for its many beaches; many Spaniards vacation in Barcelona for the beaches and the practice is catching on with foreign visitors. Notable sites include the fortress at Montjuic and the Basilica of La Merce, as well as the stunning, yet incomplete, Sagrada Familia Basilica.

Park Guell Barcelona Spain

11. Tokyo, Japan

Whether you’re looking for exciting subculture fashion, interested in experiencing the Japanese tradition of kabuki theater, or just want to eat the freshest sushi in the world, Tokyo has you covered. Japan’s capital city is a sprawling urban metropolis littered with skyscrapers, excellent restaurants and renowned museums, and interspersed with parks and greenspace. Various districts of the city are dedicated to nightlife (Roppongi and Shibuya), fashion subcultures (Harajuku) and electronics (Akihabara). Ancient Shinto shrines and historic castles are a testament to Tokyo’s long history as the center of Japanese culture, and now you can mingle with ultra-modern architecture like Tokyo Skytree and the iconic Tokyo Tower. With slightly over eight million foreign tourists expected in 2015, Tokyo continues to be one of the most visited cities in the world, although it remains outside of the top 10.

Tokyo

10. Hong Kong, China

In 1997, Hong Kong became an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Beginning in the 1970s, the city developed into a global metropolis, functioning as a center for trade and finance. Hong Kong also developed an entertainment industry, producing many popular kung-fu action films. Today, more than 8.5 million people visit the city each year, some for business and others for pleasure. The cityscape is decidedly modern, with the number of skyscrapers outnumbering any other city in the world; architecture has blended between Eastern and Western styles, and elements of traditional culture, like feng shui and dim sum, mingle easily with Western influences. Despite this, Hong Kong is also renowned for its geographical features: its deep harbor has made it an important port, nearby Mount Kowloon offers steep terrain and the rugged coastline has many excellent beaches.

Hong Kong

9. Seoul, South Korea

More than 10 million foreign tourists are expected to visit Seoul in 2015. The financial, cultural and political heart of South Korea, Seoul was first designed as a capital city in the 14th century. The city’s lengthy list of historic buildings and UNESCO World Heritages sites includes palaces and temples, as well as the remains of neolithic settlements unearthed nearby. Two old residential districts are now preserved as museums to showcase traditional Korean culture and lifeways, including hanok houses. Seoul has many more museums, such as the Kimchi Field Museum. But Seoul isn’t all about the past; the city boasts some of the world’s most design-forward modern architecture and was named a World Design Capital in 2010. Ultra-modern buildings mingle with numerous parks, creating a unique and attractive cityscape near Mount Namsan.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The capital of Malaysia will attract more than 11 million international visitors in 2015, making it the 8th most visited city in the world. Tourism and shopping are major drivers of the Malaysian economy and nowhere is that more evident than Kuala Lumpur, which functions as the largest retail center in the country with 66 shopping malls. Major attractions include the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, the National Palace and the Jamek Mosque. Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, is another notable destination for tourists, and the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam and its procession to Batu Caves is a major cultural festival that attracts visitors from many different locales. The city also functions as a hub for entertainment, art and events, including sports and music festivals. Kuala Lumpur is also noted for its multiethnic blend of cuisines and architectures.

Top Cities 2013 - Kuala Lumpur

7. Singapore City, Singapore

Nearly 12 million people will visit the city-state of Singapore during the course of 2015. Over the last decade, the country has garnered a reputation for being a “luxury” destination, with many high-end hotel chains setting up shop, and the legalization of gambling heralding casino tourism. The island country’s biggest draw, however, is said to be its cuisine: Singapore’s multiethnic mix has led to a unique fusion of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisines—like the Peranakan style of cooking, a hybridization of Chinese and Malay culinary traditions. There are many restaurants and, in fact, dining is said to be one of Singapore’s national pastimes. Architecture in the city-state similarly reflects the fusion of various cultural influences. Water sports such as sailing, scuba diving and water skiing are popular recreational pastimes, while soccer is a popular sport to watch.

Singapore city at night

6. New York City, United States

The only American entry on this list, New York City remains the U.S. destination of choice for international tourists, with over almost 12.3 million people expected to visit in 2015. Attractions such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building continue to draw visitors, while major events like New York Fashion Week pulls in crowds from around the world. Times Square and Broadway also remain popular attractions for international visitors, while shopping, cuisine and nightlife are alluring for many others who choose to take a bite out of the Big Apple. Other notable sites include Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. For many, New York remains the premier American destination, ranking well ahead of other U.S. cities like Los Angeles. As America’s largest city, NYC is likely to remain the country’s biggest tourist draw as well.

New York City Times Square

5. Istanbul, Turkey

With over 12.5 million foreign tourists projected to visit in 2015, Istanbul is both the fastest growing destination in Europe and the 5th most visited city in the world. Located along the Bosphorus, the city has been an important center of European civilization since the time of the ancient Greeks. Situated at the heart of two historically important empires, Istanbul has a long and illustrious heritage. It’s easily one of Europe’s most multicultural cities, thanks to its unique positioning on the edge of both Europe and Asia. It was named a European Capital of Culture in 2012. The city boasts mosques and churches, bazaars and malls and a treasure trove of other attractions. Traditional Turkish cuisine, such as kebabs, are popular and the city is also well-known for a vibrant entertainment industry and nightlife. Its historic center, a partial UNESCO World Heritage site, remains the most popular tourist attraction.

Top Cities 2013 - Istanbul

4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and has recently emerged onto the global stage through its innovative architecture, such as the world’s tallest skyscraper and its history of hosting major sporting events. A center of world banking, Dubai has earned a reputation for being both pricey and luxurious—as a vacation destination, it’s often lauded as a sort of playground for the rich and famous. Its skyline is dominated by the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building at 828 meters. The Burj al Arab is another iconic structure. Dubai’s attitude is clearly go big or go home: the Dubai Miracle Garden, opened in 2013, is the world’s largest flower garden and the Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world. More than 14 million people are expected to visit Dubai from other countries in 2015 as tourism continues to grow.

Sophie James / Shutterstock.com
Sophie James / Shutterstock.com

3. Paris, France

Oh Paris,  the iconic city of love with its grandiose Eiffel Tower ranked 3rd on this list. Being the 3rd most visited city in the world says something about how many people travel here each year. Paris will attract over 16 million foreign tourists in 2015, and it is well behind the first and second-place cities. Nonetheless, Paris remains a top-tier destination for many travelers, often considered a must-take trip or a bucket-list destination. The capital of France is noted for its cuisine, including its many bistros and cafes, along with many 3-star restaurants. The Arc de Triomphe, the Palace of Versailles, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre are all popular tourist attractions. Paris is also known as a center of fashion, hosting the twice annual Paris Fashion Week. The city is also the host of several important sporting events, including the finish of the Tour de France and the Paris Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Top Cities 2013 - Paris

2. Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand’s capital city is on-track to receive more than 18 million foreign tourists in 2015, making it the second most visited city in the world. With world-class shopping and dining and a dynamic nightlife, Bangkok offers something for everyone to see and do. Another major driver of travel to Bangkok is sex tourism; Bangkok has actually earned the nickname “Sin City of Asia” as a result of how many visitors it receives on account of the industry. Other visitors are attracted by the city’s mix of historical buildings, showcasing a variety of influences and cultures. Notable sites are Wat Phra Kaew, a Buddhist temple in the Grand Palace, and Jim Thompson House, considered an outstanding example of Thai architecture. As the seat of the Thai government and the royal family, Bangkok is also a hub for major cultural events, such as religious celebrations and festivals.

Top Cities 2013 - Bangkok

1. London, United Kingdom

London is projected to receive almost 19 million foreign tourists in 2015, making it the most visited city in the world. The U.K.’s capital ranks among its European counterparts, like Paris and Rome, boasting numerous landmarks, iconic monuments and a host of other tourist attractions. The city has numerous museums and a strong arts scene, as well as a world-renowned shopping district (High Street) and fashion industry, which includes the twice-annual London Fashion Show. Notable sites include Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, the Shard, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. The city also has a large theater district in the West End, with more than 40 theaters. The British Museum, the Tate Museum and the National Gallery were the top three attractions in 2010. Even the transit system is iconic: the London Underground is the oldest underground railway in the world.

Top Cities 2013 - London

12 Things to See and Do in South Korea

South Korea borders on the one of the most closed off countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean it has anything in common with its northern neighbor. This compact country offers an abundance of landscapes, activities, markets and festivals throughout the year. Get into the action at the flying fish market, attend a service at the largest church in the world or escape the urban sprawl and head for the mountains. It seems there just simply isn’t enough time to discover all that this country offers, but here are 12 things not to miss out on!

12. Visit the Largest Church in the World

The Yoido Full Gospel Church has membership numbers in the millions and is the largest church in the world. This mega-church holds seven services on Sundays with about 26,000 people each and if you want a seat in the main area, you best show up an hour early. The church itself is quite a site, a circular cathedral setting where huge TV screens flank the altar and the choir consists of over 150 members. A good tip for foreigners is to head to the 3rd and 4th balcony where headphones are provided for translation of the service into fifteen different languages. Even if you aren’t religious, experiencing the amount of people that come together at this church for one of its services is truly an enlightening experience. Plus experiencing this costs you absolutely nothing.

Photo by: Jhcbs1019 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Jhcbs1019 via Wikimedia Commons

11. Visit the Fish Market

It first opened in 1927 on Uiju Boulevard and it remains one of Korea’s largest seafood markets. The vibrant year round market should be a must visit for anyone in South Korea. This market is not a tourist attraction though; it is a real Korean marketplace where restaurants, individuals and companies come to buy the freshest seafood. It is also insane, incredible and sometimes unbelievable. The market offers over 1,000 different seafood items and 99% of them are alive and swimming in tanks. What happens when you haggle a price with a vendor and purchase a seafood item is what makes this market incredible. You pay the vendor and then they spear the fish in the head right in front of you, load it into a plastic bag and take you to one of the restaurants in or around the market. The restaurant then cooks your fish up for you and voila; the freshest meal you have ever had.

CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com
CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com

10. Explore Seoraksan National Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore this amazing landscape packed full of jagged peaks, crystal clear streams and pools along with an abundance of flora and fauna. Hot springs, ancient temples and high mountain peaks are a hit with visitors. The best time of the year to visit may just be the fall as the changing colors of the leaves is simply amazing. Hiking is the main activity in the park as well-marked and maintained trails are throughout. It is easy to spend the day here, whether you pack a picnic or dine at one of the many restaurants throughout the park, some even being right on the trails. There is one campground located about half an hour on foot from the front gate and during peak seasons it does fill up. Plan on giving yourself at least one or two days to explore this incredible area!

Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

9. Visit a Cat Café

It is something we just don’t find in North America but over in South Korea there are literally cat cafes at every corner. Just what exactly is a cat café? Indeed these cafes are exactly what they sound like; a café with a great selection of drinks and an abundance of cute and cuddly cats. These cafes have strict rules about the cats though and visitors need to be respectful. First off, expect to pay around $8 to enter, some include a drink with that price, others don’t. Next up patrons must remove their shoes and sanitize their hands. The rules for playing or petting with the cats include not picking them up, not pulling their tails and not disturbing them when they sleep. The cats in turn will love you if you buy food for them (sold at the counter), pet them and admire their cuteness.

Photo by: Feline DaCat via Flickr
Photo by: Feline DaCat via Flickr

8. Lock in your Love at the Tower Fence of Love

This fence of love is actually located at an iconic South Korean landmark, the N Seoul Tower. This tower offers an incredible multi-colored light show every night and a number of viewing platforms inside the digital observatory. But the Tower Fence of Love may just be the most popular attraction here, at least for the overly romantic visitors. The base of the tower is where visitors will find fences with thousands of padlocks and love notes attached to it. Heart shaped chairs along the pathway set the scene for romance. It’s not just couples that visit this fence of love though, many families come and put a padlock on the fence to symbolize harmony and love within their family. Feel the love among people from all over the world at this unique attraction in South Korea.

mastapiece / Shutterstock.com
mastapiece / Shutterstock.com

7. Play at Lotte World

This huge recreation center in Seoul is home to the largest indoor amusement park in the world. It includes an outdoor amusement park, shopping malls, a luxury hotel, ice-rinks and movie theatres. The indoor amusement park is opened all year round and is the perfect thing to do when you want to head indoors. It will take you some time to explore the four floors which feature rides such as The Gyro Drop and Gyro Swing with steep drops and the feeling of being in a tornado. There is a flume ride through the jungle, a roller coaster that stops upside down and many rides for the wee ones as well. Magic Island is located outdoors with a variety of high-thrill action rides, parades, entertainments and the dazzling Magic Castle.

Photo by: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr
Photo by: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr

6. Visit Haesindang Park

Haesindang Park… also less formally called the name of the male body part it so shamelessly parades, and any visitor to South Korea has to stop here, even just to say they were here. It is exactly what it sounds like; a park that is filled with dozens of sculpted phalluses that stand erect in defiance of an old folk curse. You will see many families here, kids skipping around oblivious to what surrounds them. People of all ages come here, to take photos of this very ‘open’ park, to leave gifts at the temple to appease the desperate sea women or to simply hike through. The sculptures range from hanging arrangements to trunks of wood. They were all sculpted by Korean artists to symbolize everything from joy to sensuality to spirituality. In a country that is otherwise uptight about open expression, this is one attraction you just have to see.

Photo by: cezzie901 via Flickr
Photo by: cezzie901 via Flickr

5. Go Bar Hopping in Hongdae

If you want to experience Korea’s nightlife the best place to head is to the university district of Hongdae. This area is well known for its urban arts and indie music scene along with an abundance of clubs and entertainment. Many well-known bands had their starts on this street and despite the explosion of brand shops; it remains true to its indie nature. The last Friday of every month eleven clubs come together to form Club Day. An admission tickets gets you into these 11 clubs and a drink at each one, where wild young adults come to party all night long. It is also on Hongdae Street where you will find the very unusual Zombie Bar, where the dead is resurrected and working as waiters and waitresses.

UKRID / Shutterstock.com
UKRID / Shutterstock.com

4. Visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The DMZ is a four kilometer wide belt that stretches 250 km, essentially cutting the Korean peninsula in half. It was put in place in 1953 as a ceasefire to the Korean War. It is known as one of the scariest places on earth, lined on both sides with tank traps, electrical fences, landmines and armies ready for battle. By joining a DMZ tour, tourists can get close to North Korea and the terrifying guards, without worrying about getting shot. This is because a joint security building exists half on the South Korean side and half on the North.  Tours range from half-day to full-day and strict rules are in place. Additionally on some tours you will be able to check out the super secret underground tunnels that have been discovered. It is not a trip to South Korea without checking out the scariest place on earth.

FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com
FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com

3. Experience the Silent Disco

The concept of a silent disco is not a new one, but South Korea has embraced this popular activity and visitors can likely find some sort of silent disco to attend on their trip. A silent disco is like any other dance party or club except that are no sound systems. Instead everyone is given a set of wireless headphones to which the DJ’s music is pumped through. What that leaves you with is hundreds or thousands of people dancing in silence. The beauty of this kind of dance party is that it has the freedom to happen anywhere. The biggest event in South Korea happens once a year in the neighborhood of Hongdae where everyone attaches balloons to their heads and dances the night away. Many other silent disco parades happen in the district of Myeongdong, one of the busiest tourist destinations in Seoul.

Photo by: KRMR
Photo by: KRMR

2. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

This palace was originally built in 1395 and was the grandest of all Seoul’s palaces that is until it was burnt to the grown in 1592. Luckily for visitors it was rebuilt 300 years later and is home to two of the grandest architectural sights in Seoul. The main palace building is an impressive structure, with its double-tier stone platform, open-sided corridors and flagstone courtyard. Almost as impressive as the main building itself is the pavilion that rests on 48 stone pillars and overlooks a lake complete with two small islands. An audio commentary and free guided tour are available to visitors wanting to learn more about the palace, as well visitors can watch the changing of the guards, wander through the traditional gardens and visit the National Folk Museum.

Panya K / Shutterstock.com
Panya K / Shutterstock.com

1. Discover the Jjimjilbang Spas

A Korean Jjimjilbang spa is something to be discovered in Korea and most travelers spend at least one night in one as these aren’t just regular spas. A Jjimjilbang is actually a large gender-segregated public bathhouse where visitors can not only enjoy the hot tubs, massage tables, saunas and showers but they can also spend the night. These bathhouses are comprised of numerous rooms, each designed with a theme in mind and many of them with heated floors for lounging and sleeping. Other areas are unisex and include snack bars, exercise rooms, televisions and more. Many of them are open 24 hours and prove to be a popular getaway for locals as well. One thing to keep in mind, all wet areas of the bathhouse prohibits the use of clothing in anyway.

Photo by: excursipedia
Photo by: excursipedia

The 10 Most Popular Destination Cities in Asia/Pacific for 2015

Tourism to the Asia/Pacific region has been on the rise for a while now, as travel becomes increasingly affordable to more people, businesses expand into new countries and cities and as young people become increasingly infatuated with exploring. And why not? With a host of colorful cities, storied history and amazing sightseeing, Asia/Pacific destinations deserve to be on your travel itinerary. Not sure which city to visit first (or next)? Take a look at 2015’s most popular destination cities in the region to help get you started on your next trip.

10. Osaka, Japan

Although less frequented than Tokyo on the travel circuit, Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and has long been an important center in the country. In fact, Osaka was even declared the capital city during the 8th and 9th centuries. In the Edo years, Osaka maintained its economic importance as a major center of the rice trade. A booming economy led to a burgeoning cultural scene, something that continued to develop during the 19th century as Osaka modernized. Today, Osaka has many attractions that can give Tokyo a run for its money—from amusement parks to kabuki theater, from cuisine to historical monuments, Osaka is a destination that offers a little something for everyone, so it’s little wonder more than 4.5 million people will have visited in 2015. Stop by Shitenno-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, or the landmark Osaka Castle.

Osaka, Japan

9. Mumbai, India

Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the most populous city in India. It’s also the most popular city for travelers to visit—nearly five million of them in 2015—which is little surprise as Mumbai is the economic and entertainment capital of India. Mumbai’s cityscape is also impressive, with an eclectic mix of architectural styles documenting the city’s long history. Mumbai has the second-largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world, and skyscrapers now form a major portion of the city’s panorama. Mumbai is the birthplace of Indian cinema and hosts a large number of film festivals; Bollywood and Marathi films can be seen at many cinemas. Mumbai is also home to a well-funded contemporary art movement and has several art museums and galleries. The city functions as a major cultural center and hosts plenty of festivals throughout the year, with Christian, Hindu and Muslim traditions all represented.

Mumbai India

8. Shanghai, China

Perhaps more iconic than even the capital city of Beijing, Shanghai is, for many people, the representative city of China, which is how it attracts nearly six million visitors every year. The largest Chinese city and, in fact, the largest city in the world by some counts, Shanghai originally developed as a major center thanks to its strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River. It became an important hub during the colonial period, which helped bolster its international reputation. Today, Shanghai is the economic center of China, with major industrial, commercial and financial sectors operating there. Shanghai has long been multicultural, which is demonstrated by its mix of architectural styles, its religious heritage and even in the history of its most famous garment, the cheongsam. Shanghai is also an important hub for sports, being home to several professional soccer teams and the annual Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

7. Taipei, Taiwan

As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is an important hub for economic, political and cultural activity, which is probably why more than 6.5 million people will visit the city in 2015. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Taipei is also remarked for its geography, as it lies on an ancient lakebed between 2 small rivers; the nearby natural hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the New Year’s Lantern Festival, a Dragon Boat Festival and the mid-autumn Moon Festival. The city is home to Taipei 101, a supertall skyscraper that was the tallest building in the world until 2010. Ximending has become famous for its shopping and entertainment. The city is also famed for its many night markets, street markets that operate during the evening, which are popular with citizens and tourists alike.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

6. Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s capital city is one of those destinations that “has it all”. Whether you’re looking for new and exciting fashion, interested in taking in traditional kabuki and noh plays, want to go shopping or just want to eat the freshest sushi in the world, Tokyo is your one-stop shopping destination. Tokyo is a sprawling city with many museums, temples, historic buildings and, yes, districts dedicated to nightlife, fashion subcultures and electronics. Climb Tokyo Skytree to get a new perspective on the urban sprawl or head out of town to climb Mount Fuji. Visit the castle, where the emperor and his family reside, or take a trip to Akihabara to check out the latest in electronics. After a long day, hit up Shibuya and Roppongi for a taste of trendy Tokyo nightlife. No wonder more than eight million people will stop off in this city in 2015.

Tokyo

5. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s deep natural harbor and turbulent history saw it remain a British colony until near the end of the 20th century. In 1997, the city became an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Before that, however, Hong Kong had developed into a global metropolis, functioning as a center for trade and finance from the 1970s on. Today, more than 8.5 million people visit the city each year. Hong Kong has been described as the point where East meets West, with modernization and Western influences blending easily with traditions like feng shui and dim sum. The city is also a hub for the entertainment industry, producing many popular kung-fu action films. It’s renowned for beaches along its rugged coastline and with Mount Kowloon nearby with its extensive network of trails and steep terrain, which is popular among hikers. The city’s skyline contains the most skyscrapers in the world.

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

4. Seoul, South Korea

Seoul will have received more than 10 million visitors in 2015, which make the city the world’s 10th most visited destination. As South Korea’s most populous and capital city, Seoul is the financial, cultural and political heart of the country. Seoul has been a capital city since the 14th century, and so it has a lengthy roster of historically important buildings and UNESCO World Heritages sites, including palaces and temples, as well as the remains of neolithic settlements. Seoul also has many museums and parks which form an important part of the cityscape. Two old residential districts are now preserved as museums to showcase traditional Korean culture and lifeways, including hanok houses. The Kimchi Field Museum is dedicated to traditional Korean cuisine. Seoul is also renowned for its modern architecture and was named World Design Capital in 2010.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

3. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The capital of Malaysia will attract more than 11 million international visitors in 2015; in fact, the city has received at least that many visitors since 2012 and tourism growth shows no signs of slowing down. Tourism and shopping are major drivers of the Malaysian economy and nowhere is that more evident than Kuala Lumpur. Major attractions include the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, the National Palace and the Jamek Mosque. Petaling Street and Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is another notable destination for tourists, as well as the annual Thaipusam procession to Batu Caves, a major cultural festival that attracts many visitors each year. The city is a hub for entertainment, art and events, including sports and music festivals. Greenspace is also important in the city, with many parks offering recreational opportunities. The Cultural Crafts Complex demonstrates the traditional processes for textile, ceramic and metal crafting.

Top Cities 2013 - Kuala Lumpur

2. Singapore, Malaysia

With nearly 12 million international visitors set to touch down in 2015, there’s definitely more to Singapore than the infamous Singapore Sling. Singapore is not only a city, it’s a city-state—meaning it’s also its own sovereign nation. Singapore is a global city, with an important financial sector and a busy shipping port. Cuisine is one of the country’s major attractions, with dining said to be a national pastime. Singapore’s multiethnic mix has led to a unique fusion of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisines—like the Peranakan style of cooking, which blends Chinese and Malay gourmets. Of course, the multicultural tendencies of the country have also led to mixed styles of architecture and religious celebrations in the city-state. Singapore has also earned a reputation for luxury, with gambling and casinos becoming an increasing part of the tourist economy in the last decade.

Singapore city

1. Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand’s capital city is on-track to receive over 18 million foreign tourists in 2015, and it’s not hard to see what makes Bangkok so popular. With a mix of historical sites and buildings, shopping and dining and a dynamic nightlife, Bangkok offers something for everyone to see and do. Another major driver of Bangkok tourism is sex tourism—so much so that Bangkok has been nicknamed the “Sin City of Asia”. Among the notable sites in the city are Wat Phra Kaew, a Buddhist temple in the Grand Palace, and Jim Thompson House, an exemplar of Thai architecture. The city’s National Gallery showcases the development of Thai art. As the seat of the Thai government and the royal family, Bangkok is also a hub for the celebration of major festivals and holidays, such as the annual Songkran celebrations every April.

Top Cities 2013 - Bangkok

10 Most Expensive Cities To Move To In The World

There are so many ingenious ways to measure the cost of living in places around the world. So if you’re thinking of heading off to a treasured locale in some far off land, you absolutely want to check this list. Six of the top ten culprits on The Domestic Budget from Hell list are from either China or Switzerland. The cost of living can rise or fall on the arcane machinations of currency values, population growth or plain old corruption. Some cultures have never got the hang of retail and their screwed-up distribution systems lead to classic horror stories like the legendary $40 cantaloupe of Tokyo. Here’s where it gets really interesting. Most of the insanely expensive cities that have dominated these lists in recent years have fallen off, Tokyo among them along with New York, London and Moscow making way for a whole new batch of prohibitively expensive destinations. So hold on to your wallet and take the tour, free of charge.

10. N’Djamena, Chad

Simply put Chad is a basket case sitting atop an ocean of recently discovered oil and N’Djamena is the capital. Mercer sums up the problems this way: “The main driver behind this is the difficulty finding good, secure accommodation for expatriates. “So the limited supply of acceptable accommodation is very expensive. The cost of imported international goods is also high.” Plain English translation:Chad is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. At least half the estimated $10 USD billion in earnings has been skimmed off for military hardware and embezzlement. The country also borders on war-stricken Syria and Sudan and the U.S. State Department counsels Americans to avoid border zones where the dreaded Boko Haram are a real threat. The average annual wage is $750. Average life expectancy is 51. Chronic drought devastates crops and there’s no real infrastructure to cut through the corruption. So with a full plate like that, Chad hasn’t got around to building condos, heath clubs and sushi bars for the oil workers that have flocked there. Cheap it is not. But it dropped from the number two slot last year, so maybe there’s progress.

Photo by: afcone via Flickr
Photo by: afcone via Flickr

9. Bern, Switzerland

When thinking about expensive cities mammoth urban monster is the image that comes to mind. Bern is a lovely city, a bucolic town of maybe 150,000 people. It is the capital with an Old Town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But, pricier than Tokyo and London? Well start with a tight housing market. Then add the Capitol Factor with civil servants making very decent money. The biggest culprit has nothing to do with Bern at all. In fact it has more to do with Greece and the panic its long running death spiral in the European Union has caused. When it looked like Greece might default on EU loans, nervous investors dumped their Euros and bought Swiss Francs as a safe haven for their money bags causing it to zoom in value. Suddenly expats had to spend way more of their own currency to buy the francs they needed. As a result everything in Switzerland got more expensive without prices in stores actually being marked up.

Bern Switzerland

8. Seoul, South Korea

Now this is more like it. A city of ten million at the head of the massive industrial juggernaut that is South Korea. Seoul begins the Asian onslaught. A nice apartment costs about two grand, not way out of line. But groceries and clothing are the silent killers, twice the level in the U.S. A decade ago Seoul was barely making the Top 50, now it’s Top 10 again largely because of international currency turbulence. The Korean Won has jumped 36% against the Japanese yen and 15% against the weakening Euro. Here’s how currency changes become price increases. That $2000 USD apartment to a Canadian with a weaker currency costs $2527 CAD. Ouch, eh?

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

7. Beijing, China

The expense of living in Beijing is giving whole new meaning to the expression “Forbidden City.” A three-bedroom apartment downtown can be north of US$4000. Office space is pricier than Manhattan. Eating Western food even at home is prohibitive. Tuition for schools starts at $25000 USD. Coffee has broken the $6 barrier. The rise in value of the Chinese yuan is propelling several growing Chinese cities up the expensive charts with bullets. Shenyang, a city of 8 million, 700 km northeast of Beijing jumped 33 rungs to 21st. Qingdao, home of the famous beer, jumped 24 to 25th.On the other hand cigarettes are 3 bucks a pack, making it hard on would be quitters.

Beijing, China

6. Shanghai, China

Two hints this place will cost you. 1) There are more than 17 million people. 2) Even after the sell off the Shanghai stock market is up 89% over last year. So the place is sloshing around in people and money as incomes rise and a middle class emerges to compete with expats for scarcer and scarcer housing. Even now, a real estate website offers a tiny 2-bedroom apartment in what they “The Other Areas” for $2200 USD a month. Anything imported is hideously expensive. Levi 501’s are $116.50, a package of diapers is $32.00, and breakfast cereal is eight bucks a box. All this on top of the inflation from the rising value of the currency and it will be a pretty penny to live in the shadow of the iconic skyline. Except for Canadians who don’t have pennies anymore.

toiletroom / Shutterstock.com
toiletroom / Shutterstock.com

5. Geneva, Switzerland

The Swiss sticker shock continues in the Club Sandwich Index champ. Geneva is home to a number of United Nations organizations so there are a lot of professionals with commensurate salaries. There is an economic axiom that cities with high incomes tend to have higher prices. Hence the $7 toothpaste of Geneva. For some reason the cost of appliances in Genève is notorious. Expats scratch their heads at the basic microwaves costing $60 at Walmart while in Geneva they cost $300. The population is less than 200,000, but since the Swiss prefer to rent rather than own due to prohibitive ownership costs, there is a dire shortage of places to live. A three bedroom in the city is around $4000 USD. Chicken is $14 a pound, those Levis are $140, and the Big Mac is $15. It all adds up. At least it ranks lowest for wine with an average bottle costing $8.69. You’ll need it.

Geneva Switzerland

4. Singapore City, Singapore

In most western jurisdictions drinking and driving is criminal offense with serious consequences. Singapore follows the-time honored economic principal that if you want to discourage certain behaviors, tax the hell out of them. As for the drinking part a delightful website called Living in Sin says drinkable wine starts at $18 USD. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, a pack of cigarettes together costs $39.11 and that’s not even counting restaurant markups. Sometimes you can get cheaper at a 7/11. Another city with a strong currency and financial center. A 900 square foot apartment runs $4900 a month. The BBC rates it the most expensive place to buy clothes and basic groceries are 11% higher than New York. But the pain really kicks in when it comes to cars. More for traffic than environmental reasons, Singapore discourages the use of them by making their use crazy pricey. That BMW that cost $34,000 back home in Minneapolis needs a Certificate of Entitlement which after fees, taxes and plates costs an estimated $238,000. And honestly, how can you be a self-respecting financial mover and shaker without one?

Singapore city

3. Zurich, Switzerland

Being more expensive than Singapore is no easy task, but Zurich has done it. It’s become one of those places where price tags just bring tears to your eyes. Yet there are less than 400,000 people. The average movie ticket is priced at being over $21 while haircuts are $50. That ubiquitous pair of Levis a staggering $156. A two bedroom apartment is $4100 plus. Even the wine is almost triple the price in Geneva. Food in Switzerland is said to be 45% more expensive than the rest of Western Europe. Wait there’s more. As in Geneva a microwave sets you back $329. There are people in the Ozarks who can manage to source appliances and get them on retail shelves for less than $100. It would be classified as insane in any of Switzerland’s official languages if it weren’t for the fact it still has a ways to go to catch #2 on the list.

Zurich Switzerland

2. Hong Kong, China

The Mong Kok neighborhood on Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula is by many measurements the most crowded place on earth with a population density of around 300,000 people per square mile. Manhattan’s corresponding figure is a mere 66,771. Though now repatriated to China it remains a huge global financial hub. Add a currency that’s pegged to the surging U.S. greenback. Put the three together and affordable housing becomes a distant memory while a cup of coffee has reached $11. An unfurnished two bedroom flat is about $6400 a month. As the Wall Street Journal headline said “In Hong Kong, the Apartments Are Fit for a Mosquito.” The Savills Live-Work Index puts the per employee cost to companies for home and office space to $123,000. That’s not counting paying them. Everything has to be imported pushing costs higher. The question is how do non-bankers get by?

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

1. Luanda, Angola

The seemingly unlikely heavyweight wallet muncher is this African seaport and oil hub. Angola has become the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa so foreign workers are flocking in. Most of the city’s population of five million lives in destitution on about five dollars a day, but big oil attracts expats with lots of money and expensive tastes. After a lengthy civil war, decent housing is scarce and a decent place costs almost $7000 a month. Anything imported is ridiculous. Think those jeans were expensive in Zurich? They’re $250 here. Food is double the New York price. Transparency International ranks Angola as the 14th most corrupt country in the world. Seems officials have lost track of five billion in oil money over the last decade down their pants somewhere. But hey, Marlboro are a buck ninety a pack.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Most Amazing Observation Decks in Asia

While skyscrapers and aspiring to reach the heavens have been fundamental fascinations in North American architecture and engineering for decades now, the trend has caught fire in many places in Asia, where towers now eclipse older Western buildings (and each other) on a regular basis. This development affords tourists more opportunity to get above it all and see some of Asia’s most iconic cityscapes from a dizzying new perspective. Representing a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, here are the best observation decks on the rapidly changing Asian landscape today.

10. Seoul Tower, South Korea

A tower with many names, including N Seoul Tower, YTN Seoul Tower and Namsan Tower, this building stands 236 meters high and marks the highest point in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Located on Namsan Mountain, the tower functions for both telecommunications and observation. Constructed in 1971, it is Korea’s first general radio wave tower. The tower is renowned as a national landmark, and photographers and visitors alike relish the tower for the cityscapes it provides. Every year, thousands of tourists and locals visit the tower, especially during nighttime light displays such as the “Reeds of Light” and “Showers of Light,” which are created with LED technology. In addition to the four observation decks, the tower has developed into a full-scale tourist attraction, with museums, cafes and gift shops. One of the observatories is a digital display that showcases Korea’s history. Visitors can ride the Namsan cable car to the tower.

Guitar photographer / Shutterstock.com
Guitar photographer / Shutterstock.com

9. National Monument, Indonesia

This tower stand 433-feet tall (132-meter), situated in Merdeka Square isn’t just another skyscraper built to have a claim to fame. The obelisk monument symbolizes the fight for Indonesian independence. After independence was finally granted from Dutch colonial powers in 1950, the Indonesian government contemplated building a commemorative monument outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Finished in 1975, the national monument achieved exactly that, as it was topped with a gold-foiled flame. Today, the Monument is open to the public every day between 8 am and 3 pm. Long lines build quickly, so it’s best to go early. Ride the lift to the observation deck, 115 meters above the ground, and view the cityscape of the Indonesian capital sprawling in all directions. Afterwards, visit the National History Museum and the associated dioramas about Indonesian history and independence.

National Monument, Indonesia

8. Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan

This observation deck is a bit of an oddity on a list that includes mostly communications towers and skyscrapers, but that’s part of the reason Ushiku Daibutsu is one of Asia’s best observation decks. Rather than another spire or office building, Ushiku Daibutsu is a 390-foot (120-meter) tall statue of Amitabha Buddha, built to commemorate Shinran, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. The observation deck is located at 279 feet (85 meters), on the fourth floor of the statue. Visitors can look out over the adjacent flower garden and animal park. The three floors below the observation deck feature golden Buddha statues, scriptural studies and smoking incense, serving as a kind of museum. For almost 10 years, between 1993 and 2002, it was the world’s tallest statue; today, only two other statues surpass its height.

Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan

7. International Commerce Center, China

Built on top of Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, this development is part of the Union Square project. In 2014, it was the world’s eighth tallest building by height and the tallest building in Hong Kong. The observatory, called Sky100, is located on the hundredth floor of the building. It opened in 2011 and is currently the highest observation deck in Hong Kong, at 1,289 feet (393 meters) above the ground. Two high-speed elevators take visitors to the observation deck at 100 feet per second, making the trip about 13 seconds long. An advanced telescope provides visitors with pre-recorded views, including “sunny days,” “night view” and “fireworks.” On-screen indicators direct attention to landmarks such as Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and Tai Mo Shan, the highest peak in Hong Kong. Just above the 100th floor, visitors will find a café serving snacks and refreshments, as well as a restaurant.

International Commerce Center, China

6. Skybridge at Petronas Towers, Malaysia

Located in the Malaysian capital, the Petronas Towers held the record for world’s tallest buildings between 1998 and 2004, and they remain the tallest twin towers in the world today. Rising a staggering 1,483 feet (452 meters), the towers dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. One of the main features of the buildings is the double-decker Skybridge, the highest two story bridge in the world. Connecting the 41st and 42nd floors between the two towers, it floats 558 feet above the ground, providing structural support to the towers. Visitors are limited to 1,000 people per day, and tickets must be purchased. Visitors can opt to visit just the Skybridge or to purchase a package that includes a visit to the 86th floor of the tower. As prominent landmarks, the towers have featured in many movies and TV shows and, of course, provide a stunning view of Kuala Lumpur.

littlewormy / Shutterstock.com
littlewormy / Shutterstock.com

5. Bitexco Financial Tower Skydeck, Vietnam

Sometimes called the Saigon Skydeck or simply Skydeck, this observation deck occupies the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The building is mixed-use shopping, office and restaurant space, and was once the tallest building in Vietnam, although it has since been displaced. It stands at 861 feet (around 263 meters) and is said to have been inspired by the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower. The Skydeck opened in 2011 and a ticket costs around $10. Currently the tallest skyscraper in Ho Chi Minh City, it provides unparalleled views of the cityscape. The deck itself is glass-enclosed and the building’s helipad serves as the roof. Nonetheless, you’ll still want to go on a clear day to get the best visibility or to see a fantastic sunset. Restaurants in the building offer a spot to check out some authentic Vietnamese cuisine.

Photo by: Bitexco Financial Tower
Photo by: Bitexco Financial Tower

4. Oriental Pearl Tower, China

Located at the tip of Lujiazui in Shanghai’s Pudong district, on the banks of the Huangpu River, the Oriental Pearl Tower has become both a landmark and major tourist attraction in the area. Between 1994 and 2007, it was the tallest building in China, measuring 1,535 feet in height (468 meters) from bottom to the tip of its antenna spire. The tower serves telecommunications purposes, but it also has a shopping mall, a hotel, a restaurant and not just one observation deck, but three. The highest observation deck is the Space Module, located at 350 meters and has an outdoor viewing area. The building is lit up with LED displays at night, which highlight its unique construction, featuring 11 spheres, the largest of which have diameters of 50 and 45 meters, respectively. This tower isn’t just an observation deck; it’s an experience in and of itself!

toiletroom / Shutterstock.com
toiletroom / Shutterstock.com

3. Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Singapore

Billed as the best view in Singapore, the Skypark is part of the Marina Bay Sands resort on the island. Developed by Las Vegas Sands, it forms part of the integrated resort, which boasts a shopping center, a hotel, restaurants and a casino as well. The SkyPark is a one hectare terrace that sits atop the three hotel towers and features several restaurants and the world’s longest elevated swimming pool. The observation deck itself is open to the public (although you need to purchase a ticket) and sits on a cantilever. It provides a stunning 360-degree view of the Singapore skyline, which is spectacular at night and during the day. Because of the awe-inspiring view it provides, some consider Skypark a compulsory activity if you visit Singapore. A popular tip: for just a few dollars more, skip the ticket, visit the bar and enjoy a drink as you gaze out over the cityscape.

Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com
Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com

2. Tokyo Skytree, Japan

While it’s not as iconic as Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree is the landmark tower’s successor. Proclaimed the tallest building in Japan in 2010, the tower serves as the primary television and radio broadcast site for the Kanto region, replacing Tokyo Tower. It is also the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest building, with only Burj Khalifa rising higher. It stands 2,080 feet (634 meters) high, towering over all other buildings in Tokyo. The tower uses LED illumination at night and has two alternating patterns, called Iki and Miyabi. Skytree now provides the single-best point of view for panoramas of Tokyo. The tower has two observation decks, one at 1,150 feet and the other at 1,480 feet. The upper observatory features a spiral skywalk and a section of glass flooring that gives downward views of the streets directly below.

Tokyo Skytree, Japan

1. Taipei 101, Taiwan

Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, this supertall skyscraper had the distinction of being the world’s tallest building between 2004 and 2010, when it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Today, this 1,671 foot tall (509 meter) building is the tallest and greenest building in the world. It was the first building to break the half-kilometer mark. Its new name is derived from its 101 floors and its location in Taipei, Taiwan. Observation decks are located on the 88th, 89th and 91st floors; the 91st floor is an outdoor deck, while the lower floors are indoor. At 1,285 feet above the ground, the 91st floor is the highest platform in Taiwan and the second highest observation deck ever found in a skyscraper. That means Taipei 101 provides an unparalleled 360-degree view of the city skyline. Tickets can be purchased at the mall located in the building.

Taipei 101, Taiwan