The World’s Strangest Laws

The world is full of strange and unusual laws that sometimes don’t make any sort of sense. Some are just so farfetched it’s hard to believe they are real while others are just confusing and sometimes ignorant. From the illegality of having donkeys sleep in your bathtubs to the ban on building sandcastles to a law that prevents chewing gum into a country; these 15 laws are some of the world’s strangest laws.

15. Donkeys and Bathtubs

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It is one of the most ridiculous laws we have ever heard of and it’s unsure why it even exists, perhaps to make people scratch their head and wonder what they were thinking. In Oklahoma, it is illegal to have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7 pm. Does this mean you can have an awake donkey in your bathtub? Or even a sleeping donkey in your house? Apparently, the law is based on a case that happened in 1924 when a donkey fell asleep in a bathtub and headed down the river into a valley.

Locals had to haul the donkey back to its home and signed a petition to pass a law, in case this sort of thing ever happened again. We doubt anyone still has donkeys in their bathtubs, but hey, you never know.

14. Keep smiling in Milan

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They certainly are happy in Milan but perhaps they are smiling because it is actually the law to do so. The law in the province of Milan actually requires every citizen to smile when they are out in public. Exemptions are made if you are headed to a funeral or visiting someone in the hospital. Breaking this law can lead to being arrested and fined up to $100. It’s a good thing it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown or a whole lot of people would be facing daily fines.

13. No Sandcastles in Eraclea, Italy

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There are a lot of strange laws in Italy and although some make sense, this one baffles us completely. If you are heading to Eraclea, make sure you know that it is absolutely illegal to build sandcastles here. Lawmakers say that sandcastles “obstruct the passage” but try telling your five-year-old that it is actually illegal to do so. It is not known what the punishment is for breaking this law but you should probably leave your buckets and shovels at home when you head to this beach.

12. Check for Children, Denmark

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The road laws in Denmark actually say that you have to check under your car for children before going, but only sleeping children according to officials. We have absolutely no idea why this law came into effect but we have to wonder how the people of Denmark are raising their children if there is a chance someone might find them sleeping under their car. Regardless you can face fines and punishment if you accidentally forget to look under the car for those sleeping children before pulling out.

11. No Public Eating During Ramadan, United Arab Emirates

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If you plan on traveling to the United Arab Emirates during Ramadan, the holy month, you should definitely know the laws during the fasting hours. First up the fasting hours are during daylight and if you think you are going to eat or drink in public without getting a fine, you would be wrong.

The price of the fine can range but just recently two tourists were charged $275 each for taking a drink of juice in public. Make sure you stick to your hotel room if you want to eat lunch, take a drink, or have any sort of public displays of affection with your partner. Because as most of you know, public displays of affection are also banned in this country.

10. Make sure you flush the Toilet in Singapore

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It is actually illegal not to flush the toilet in Singapore and if you thought officials didn’t enforce this law, you would be wrong. According to the law, you can face a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars for not flushing a public toilet after using it. Officials have actually been known to do random spot checks and will certainly find any offender. While this law is strange we must admit we wish every country would put this law into place and crackdown on it. No one likes going to a washroom with a floater in it.

9. No noisy footwear, Capri, Italy

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Don’t plan on wearing your flip flops here, unless you have somehow managed to make them silent as wearing noisy footwear in Capri Italy is actually illegal. These peace-loving locals are serious about their peace and quiet and people have been both fined and arrested for wearing wooden clogs, noisy flip flops, and other shoes that don’t fit the quiet bill. Make sure you are also fully clothed when walking around this island as wearing just a bikini or without a shirt will also lead to a fine.

8. No Camouflage Clothing, Trinidad and Tobago

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Don’t plan on wearing anything that remotely resembles camouflage on your next trip to Trinidad and Tobago or you will be faced with a possible fine of up to $1000 and 18 months in prison. The law was put in effect as camouflage too closely resembles the uniform of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force. It is even illegal for children to wear this kind of clothing. You will be in more trouble if you do break this law and someone mistakes you as part of the force. They take their military seriously around here.

7. Don’t Feed the Pigeons, Italy and San Francisco

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In both Italy and San Francisco along with a handle of other cities, it is illegal to feed those pesky pigeons. Yes, it may be tempting as they are one of the only birds brave enough to walk right up to your hand and eat out of it but pigeon feeders can be arrested and fined serious cash. So why is it illegal? It causes over breeding, health hazards, and a few more reasons that lawmakers cite every time someone gets arrested for the act. Some hypothesis the cities just don’t want to pay someone to clean up all the pigeon crap that constantly wreaks havoc on the sidewalks. Both ways, it’s a law and it is highly enforced.

6. Watch where you step, Thailand

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There are a number of strange laws in Thailand, such as it is illegal to leave your house without wearing underwear (we wonder who checks for this one) and you have to wear a shirt while driving a car. One of the strangest laws here though can easily be broken simply but not looking where you are going. It is actually illegal here to step on any Baht, the local currency. For example, if you drop a bill and it starts to fly away, don’t even think about stepping on it to stop it. You can get arrested and fined for stepping on any Baht currency here, as well as if you decide to throw it at a person in anger or deface it in any way.

5. No Overweight People, Japan

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It is the slimmest industrialized nation and it’s no surprise considering it is actually illegal to be overweight here. In 2008 lawmakers in Japan passed the Metabo Law, hoping that it would stop the dreaded metabolic syndrome from affecting aging populations.  Citizens here now have to comply with a government-imposed waistline standard, the maximum waistline size for anyone age 40 and older is 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) for men and 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health risks, including stomach flab, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The penalty for breaking this law is far from harsh though and individuals are required to attend a combination of counseling sessions, monitoring through phone and email correspondence, and motivational support.

4. Don’t Stop on the Autobahn, Germany

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The Autobahn in Germany is one of the last places on earth that you can drive as fast as you want and although many places have speed limits, there is still a fair number of long stretches where you can put the pedal to the medal. There are certain laws though that go with this privilege of driving however fast you want.

First off make sure you don’t run out of gas on this highway as it’s highly illegal. So is stopping on the side of the road. So is walking on the Autobahn. That’s three strikes against you if you happen to pull over because your gas needle is on empty and you have to walk to get gas. Don’t get caught as you can face $100 per fine, and you will be whacked with more than just one in this case.

3. Don’t Cheat in Hong Kong

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If you are a male, we highly suggest not cheating on your wife if you happen to reside in Hong Kong. This is because it is actually legal for a female to kill her cheating husband, as long as she uses her bare hands. Not just the husband but the women who have been with him is also allowed to be killed by the wide, but by any manner she chooses.

There are numerous forms of punishment for wives who have been cheated on, in case they don’t feel like committing murder. Wives can send their cheating husbands away to a work camp for up to two years, the wife can claim half the possessions given to the secret lover and they can even demand compensation from their husbands.

2. No Chewing Gum, Singapore

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A ban on the sale, import, and manufacture of chewing gum in Singapore took effect on 3 January 1992 and the law still exists today. In 2004 therapeutic chewing gum was allowed into the country and dental and nicotine gum are exceptions, but only from a prescription from your doctor.

This law was created in large part because the local railway system was being vandalized but it can be dated back to 1983 when the former prime minister was fed up with the amount of chewing gum that was being left on sidewalks, in mailboxes, and in elevators. Then the MRT started running in 1987 and vandals began sticking chewing gum to the doors, causing the sensors to malfunction. In 1992 Goh Chok Tong took over as president and immediately banned chewing gum.

1. Leave your bible at home, Maldives

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This Muslim nation is serious about their religion and owning a bible here is illegal and can get you thrown right out of the country. The Islamic government here prevents its citizens from converting to any other religion other than Muslim and non-obeyers can face serious consequences. The few that did convert are forced to meet underground. If you plan on moving here and want to be accepted as a citizen, you best leave that bible at home and prepare to convert to the Muslim faith.

The 6 Worst Luxury Hotel Openings of 2015

Luxury Travel Intelligence (LTI), a members-only luxury travel organization aimed at high rollers and those with deep pockets has released their annual list of the Worst Luxury Hotel Openings of 2015. While most of us would probably give our right arm for a chance to stay in these high end establishments, the company described many of the properties to make this years list as underwhelming and disenchanting. Maybe they’re being a little harsh or perhaps you just come to expect certain things when paying these kind of nightly rates… either way, here are the six worst luxury hotel openings of 2015:

6. Lanesborough, London

The 5 star, 93-room Lanesborough Hotel was re-opened this year in central London after being closed for renovations since December 2013. The renovations cost a reported £80 million, but bucking the trend for simplistic, pared-down style hasn’t won them any praise.

Photo by: Luxury Hotel Experts
Photo by: Luxury Hotel Experts

5. EDITION, Miami Beach

The Mariott/Ian Schrager owned EDITION Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida was closed for renovations for nearly four years and officially re-opened at the beginning of 2015. After that kind of time, you expect it to have been worth the wait, but according to reports, it lands on this year’s luxury worst list as a result of terrible service.

Photo by: Edition Hotels
Photo by: Edition Hotels

4. Zaya Nurai, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s Zaya Nurai Island resort touts itself as “the most sought-after luxury beach resort” according to the resort website, but finds itself in the number four spot on this years worst luxury hotel opening list. Reports say the hotel just isn’t on par with the amazing beauty of it’s island location.

Photo by: Expedia
Photo by: Expedia

3. St. Regis, Mumbai

Coming in third is the St. Regis Hotel in Mumbai, India. Normally a very highly regarded hotel brand, this St. Regis property seems to have landed itself on this years worst luxury hotel list as a result of “a rushed and badly executed takeover of an existing (and troubled) property – The Palladium” reports LTI.

Photo by: CNN Traveler
Photo by: CNN Traveler

2. Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok, Mauritius

The Shangri-La Le Touessrok Resort on the East African island of Mauritius re-opened in November of this year after an extensive 6 month renovation. Despite these efforts to upgrade, LTI named the property as #2 on this years list due to customer reports of “poor service and inadequate staff training plus a distinct impression that management is not present.”

Photo by: CPP Luxury
Photo by: CPP Luxury

1. Nobu, Manilla

Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro won’t be please to see his Manila, Philippines property ranked as this years number one worst luxury hotel opening of 2015. The American Actor co-owns the Nobu Hotel with chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Hollywood producer Meir Teper. While the 312-room City of Dreams property only opened in May of this year, reports say the 5-star hotel underwhelms at every turn and LTI reports “some questionable developments and over expansion.”

Philippines New Casino

Lonely Planet’s 10 Cool New Openings for 2016

The ever popular publisher of travel guidebooks has come out with their annual ‘Best of Travel’ guide which lists the best of the best for the next year of travel in all sorts of categories from best budget travel to best family travel experiences. If you’ve been planning ahead for next year’s vacations here is the list of the hottest new attractions set to open in 2016 to get your imagination running wild. This year’s list has something for everyone from Disney fans to football fanatics, outdoor explorers and adventurous foodies, no one will be disappointed and everyone will be scrambling to find their passport after one read through this list.

10. Shanghai Disney Resort, China

In Spring of 2916, Disney is set to open its newest resort and the first of its kind in mainland China. The park will include 6 themed areas placed around the largest constructed Enchanted Castle of any Disney park. In the center of the park, ‘The Garden of the Twelve Friends’ will depict the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac represented by Disney characters. There will also be a Disneytown entertainment district (perhaps similar to America’s Downtown Disney) located outside of the new Magic Kingdom which will feature restaurants, shopping, entertainment and two Disney hotel accommodations.

Photo by: Shanghai Disney Resort
Photo by: Shanghai Disney Resort

9. Mamma Mia! The Party, Stockholm, Sweden

Diehard ABBA fans will want to take note of this next opening in Stockholm next year; the city’s Gröna Lund amusement park will see the opening of a brand new Mamma Mia!–themed restaurant in January of 2016. The brains behind this new disco-dining experience is none other than ABBA’s own Björn Ulvaeus, the former Swedish music star also co-composed the famed Mamma Mia! musical so naturally he has some involvement here as well. Lonely Planet reports that diners will enter a Greek-style Taverna where diners will tuck into Greek specialties while the story unfolds around them.

Photo by: ABBA Fanatic
Photo by: ABBA Fanatic

8. Monnaie de Paris, France

For those who haven’t been to the city, the Monnaie de Paris is the Paris mint, and in mid-2016 it will see the completion of its ‘MetaLmorphoses’ project -a huge transformation of the mint’s 1.2-hectare site on the Seine. So far the transformation has already seen art exhibitions in the mint’s neoclassical building in 2014 and the opening of famous Michelin accredited chef Guy Savoy’s flagship restaurant in 2015. The fun will continue in 2016 with the unveiling of the mint’s previously unseen collections. In addition, there will be metalwork and foundry tours, Guy Savoy’s MetaLcafé brasserie and much more to see and do.

Photo by: Soundscapes Blog
Photo by: Soundscapes Blog

7. FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich, Switzerland

Ask any football fan if they would make a trip if there were a world football museum and chances are they would probably say yes. Well in spring of 2016, just such an attraction will be opening its doors in Zurich, Switzerland. The FIFA World Football Museum will be a 3,500 square meter facility located in the heart of the city and dedicated to the most widely played sport in the world. The museum will take visitors through the history of the game with a timeline and include a hall of fame, a cinema and a giant football pinball machine.

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

6. Bourdain Market, New York City, USA

Famous culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain first announced his plans to open a food market in New York back in January 2014 and foodies have been listening for any little detail about the project ever since. While many details are still unknown (and likely will be until its opening) we do know that the theme will be crazy, loud and slightly obnoxious and it’s all set to open in early 2016. The 100,000 square foot space at Pier 57 will feature producers and carefully selected food vendors from around the world as well as a hawker-style food hall, rooftop beer garden, farmers market and oyster bar.

Erin Cadigan / Shutterstock.com
Erin Cadigan / Shutterstock.com

5. Surf Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia National Park in Wales is known for it’s vast natural beauty and spectacular scenery. While this piece of natural paradise is perfect for hikers and those with an appreciation for the great outdoors, there are an increasing number of adventure sports enthusiasts heading to Snowdonia for the man-made adrenaline attractions like Europe’s longest zip line and an underground trampolining center. In 2016 the park will see another new attraction to entice visitors, in the form of a 300 meter long artificial surf lagoon. The £12 million project is said to use rainwater to produce a consistent barreling 2 meter wave every minute, and is the first of its kind in the world.

Photo by: Surf Snowdonia
Photo by: Surf Snowdonia

4. National Gallery Singapore

Lonely Planet says that while Singapore is host to several world-class museums, if you only have time for one in 2016 make it the National Gallery. Located in the city’s former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, the gallery not only offers Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to today, but the venue itself offers history and its own story. Visit the restored colonial courtrooms and council chambers but make sure you also check out the beautiful rooftop garden which offers spectacular views of Marina Bay.

Photo by: National Gallery Singapore
Photo by: National Gallery Singapore

3. BASK, Gili Meno, Indonesia

BASK is a brand-new luxury villa-resort development on the island of Gili Meno near Bali. The development which is set to open in 2016 has a very recognizable celebrity endorsement on its side; David Hasselhoff, aka The Hoff, is the face of BASK and is said to be looking at having his own vacation villa in the complex. The development is located on a private white sand beach and will feature a world class restaurant, beach club, luxury spa and even its own underwater sculpture park for diving enthusiasts.

Photo by: BASK
Photo by: BASK

2. Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Abu Dhabi arts scene is about to get a new star in 2016; the Louvre Abu Dhabi was first planned to be completed in 2012, but flash forward another 4 years and we will finally see this €100 million dollar project completed. The building itself is a sight to behold as the domed structure seems to almost be floating on the water as it sits on Saadiyat Island. The museum will have a permanent collection of art throughout the ages including Chinese Buddhist carvings and Italian oil paintings while works from famed artists like Van Gogh, Monet and da Vinci will be on loan from France.

Photo by: Louvre Abu Dhabi
Photo by: Louvre Abu Dhabi

1. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC, USA

The number one opening in 2016 is an exciting first for America; the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC for short) will become the first national museum in America to focus exclusively on the lives, history and culture of African Americans. The 10-storey space Smithsonian Institution museum will open in Washington DC in 2016 and will boast artifacts from around the country that represent the history of African Americans. Everything from Harriet Tubman’s 1876 hymn book, to a Jim Crow-era segregated railcar, to banners and photographs from notable human rights demonstrations will be on display.

Photo by: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR
Photo by: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR

11 Jaw-Dropping Gardens From Around The World

Historically, the description of a garden has been characterized as everything from vegetable to floral, manicured to overgrown, manmade to natural. Varying greatly by region and culture, the existence and evolution of this type of designated outdoor space cannot be adequately explained in one all-encompassing definition; it can however be simply described as having 2 universal characteristics: nature and tranquility. So, to showcase the amazing collaboration between human talent and Mother Nature, here are 11 exquisite gardens around the world that are sure to bring not only extreme peace, but genuine appreciation to anyone visits them.

11. Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland

Found on the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, about 25 km from Belfast, the gardens at Mount Stewart are frequently recognized as some of the most beautiful in the world. The estate was built in the mid-1880s for the Marquesses of Londonderry under the leadership of architects George Dance and Vitruvius Morrison. Along with the world-renowned gardens, the property includes the main residence building, a variety of outbuildings and monuments and the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family burial ground. Today, the estate is owned and maintained by the National Trust and visitors can explore both the house and the spectacular grounds, which feature the sunk garden, shamrock garden and Italian garden, to name a few. Lady Londonderry was known for her love of Irish and Greek Mythology, and elements from both of these traditions can be seen along the walkways of both the formal gardens and the more wooded, natural grounds.

Photo by: Flickr/Charlie Dave
Photo by: Flickr/Charlie Dave

10. Dumbarton Oaks, USA

This stunning escape in the heart of Washington DC was once the private residence and gardens of Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred. In the 1940s, the couple donated the lower portion of their 53- acre property to the United States Government for the creation of a public park, and the upper portion to Harvard University for research in Byzantine studies and landscape art. Today, the formal gardens of the Harvard building and the more ‘naturistic’ public park are the two components of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a property that still retains much of the design created by Mildred Bliss and lead landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. Visitors can marvel at this stunning (and quiet!) piece of beauty hidden away amid the bustle of the Georgetown neighborhood and appreciate the meticulously thought out details of the garden, from each center piece tree to the strategically placed benches and urns. Originally created to mimic the feel of ‘country’ in the city, this garden definitely delivers and is the perfect place to snag some peace in an otherwise hectic place.

Photo by: Flickr/DC Gardens
Photo by: Flickr/DC Gardens

9. Villa d’Este Gardens, Italy

Stepping into the gardens at Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Italy is akin to stepping into a parallel universe of unimaginable beauty. The grandiosity of the seemingly ground-to-sky landscaping and water fixtures prove that the original creator (a 16th century cardinal) spared no expense in creating this private piece of paradise. Today, the property is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized as one of the first examples of giardini delle meraviglie (literally ‘wonderland gardens’), as well as the blueprint for what is now known as the characteristic ‘European Garden.’ Open to the public since the 1920s, admission grants access to the palace and gardens, and visitors can take in the surroundings from any one of the tiered terraces (reminiscent of the ancient hanging gardens of Babylon) or stroll through the manicured lower grounds amid countless ponds, fountains, basins and waterfalls. Located just 35 km from Rome, this garden is a must-see for anyone visiting the area.

Villa d’Este Gardens, Italy

8. Majorelle Garden, Morocco

This 12 acre garden found in the heart of Marrakesh is a plethora of exotic plants, ponds and colors. The tireless, 40 year efforts of French artist Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) live on in the astounding beauty that greets visitors as they meander through the many shaded lanes and walkways, and encounter the aroma of countless water lilies and lotus flowers that float majestically in the numerous pools. The vibrant coloring of all garden fixtures really adds to the exotic vibe of the garden and the sheer height and magnitude of the landscaping creates the isolated feeling of a truly secluded sanctuary within the city.

The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock.com
The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock.com

7. Yuyuan Garden, China

With ‘yu’ meaning ‘peaceful’ in Chinese, it’s not hard to understand why Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai is also known as Yu Garden. Though now attached to a bustling market that attracts millions of yearly visitors, the serenity of the 5 acre gardens are not lost, with ample opportunities to get lost among the many ponds, walkways and overgrown walls. The garden’s history dates back hundreds of years (originally created as a private escape for the Ming Dynasty) and has weathered many changes in owners and national political landscapes. After being neglected, abandoned and severely damaged, the gardens underwent a privately funded restoration project in the 1950s, before finally being opened to the public in 1961. The exquisite grounds now feature several rockeries, ponds, halls and cloisters, as well as the infamous Jade Rock, widely considered the greatest treasure of the property.

Yuyuan Garden, China

6. The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens, Spain

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Alhambra and Generalife complexes date back to the medieval period (the Alhambra may be even older) as the fortresses and royal residences of ruling emirs. Located in Grenada, on the south coast of Spain, the property saw both expansion and neglect over time as rules and political climates changed in the region. Today, the site encompasses a vast area composed of various palaces, courtyards and outbuildings, all surrounded by and scattered with some of the most magnificent gardens in the world. For visitors, the site provides an unparalleled trip through history displaying both magnificent Eastern architecture as well as the early advent of characteristic European landscaping. The fountains, pools, arched hedges and cobblestone and tile walkways create an aura of romance and elegance not found anywhere else in the world. For an upgraded experience, stay at the gardens past dusk and watch the property transform into a fairy tale world as it becomes illuminated by hundreds of lights.

The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens, Spain

5. Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens, Thailand

The Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens north of Sattahip feature 500 acres of mind-boggling landscape design. Opened to the public in 1980, the property currently contains several design divisions, including French, European, Stone and Cactus and Succulent Gardens, as well as one of the world`s greatest displays of the ancient and endangered cycads plant group (the garden also serves as an important conservation and research facility for this species). For a 500 baht entrance fee (approximately 14 USD) visitors gain access to the entire property, as well as an awesome variety of live entertainments, such as traditional Thai and elephant shows. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, because the expansive gardens are easily a whole-day excursion packed with fun for the whole family.

Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens, Thailand

4. The Butchart Gardens, Canada

This magnificent garden was originally created by Jennie Butchart as a “sunken garden” to beautify a former stone quarry on the family’s property. The addition of the Japanese and Italian gardens in the early 1990s catapulted the site into national fame, with the 1920s bringing upwards of 50,000 visitors. Since then, the garden has expanded to include a Mediterranean garden, rose garden, and concert lawn walk. Remaining a family-owned business, the gardens now attract over 1 million people each year and boasts over 900 floral and plant varieties. Though the site is open year round, the most show-stopping arrangements can be seen from March to October, when garden admission rates hover around the $30 mark. Taking a stroll among the many spectacularly manicures flower beds, fountains, ponds and tree arrangements is truly an indulgence for the senses, and one of the best reasons to take a trip to Victoria, BC.

The Butchart Gardens, Canada

3. Dubai Miracle Gardens, UAE

A shockingly amazing display of floral design and creativity, the Dubai Miracle Garden is a mandatory destination for anyone visiting the city. The 17-acre grounds feature countless intricate flower beds, as well as an extravagant variety of fixtures—everything from vandalized cars, entire houses, and historic carriages and train cars -completely adorned in and beautified by floral arrangements. Walking through the gardens is like a giant feast for the eyes, with new explosions of color and design visible at every turn and from every angle. The garden blooms year-round with arrangements changing by the season, so visitors have the unique opportunity to catch a once in a lifetime display each time they visit. Since opening in 2013, the garden has become one of the city`s most popular attractions, featuring over 45 million flowers and drawing hundreds of thousands yearly to this incredible display of floral creativity.

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

2. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, France

On the extremely long list of reasons to visit the French Riviera, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Sainte Jean Cap Ferrat should be somewhere near the top. Built in the early 1900s, the villa became the winter residence of Beatrice de Rothschild until 1933, when she donated the estate and all of its contents to the Academie des Beaux Arts. The property features one of the most beautiful outdoor estates in the world, surrounding the villa with a collection of gardens, including a rose, exotic, Provençal, Japanese, stone, Florentine, French, Spanish and Sevres garden. These 9 unique gardens showcase the brilliantly creative mind of the designer and provide visitors with the chance to get lost amid hundred year old olive trees, extravagant flower beds and whimsical musical fountains, all while being surrounded by unparalleled views of the Mediterranean.

marekusz / Shutterstock.com
marekusz / Shutterstock.com

1. Keukenhof Gardens, Netherlands

Consistently recognized as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Keukenhof Gardens are found about 37 km west of Amsterdam. The site dates back to the 15th century as the “kitchen garden” of Teylingen Castle. The gardens seen today are based on the foundation created by lead architect Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher who redesigned the grounds in 1857. The property was opened to the public in 1950 with a dazzling display of flowers that bloom in springtime, founding its current international identity as the world’s premier Spring Garden. Visitors now have just 8 weeks to marvel at the more than 7 million flowering bulbs that exhibit the very best of what the Dutch horticultural world has to offer. Open next year from March 24- May 16, visitors can check out hundreds of blooming varieties of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, as well as enjoy the site’s many children’s events, flower shows and “inspirational” garden exhibits.

Keukenhof Gardens, Netherlands

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

The 10 Most Poorly Designed Cities in the World

It’s fair to say that no city can ever be perfect as they are constantly evolving, changing and at times their systems can break down. Anyone who has sat in traffic for 3 hours in downtown Atlanta, Georgia can agree with that. But there are some cities around the world that are worse than the rest, and for a variety of reasons including poor road layout, no green space, non-working traffic lights, overcrowding and more. From India to Montana to Brazil, here are the top picks for the most poorly designed cities in the world:

10. Missoula, Montana, USA

Legend has it that when this city was first being established there were two brothers overseeing development who unfortunately had a falling out in the middle of the process. Instead of resolving their problems, they each began plotting out and building their own grids from separate sides of the city. The two grids converge in the middle of the city, which residents refer to as the “malfunction junction”. Others call this the most poorly designed city in the world because of its “Slants Streets” neighborhood, an offbeat part of town that was created when two lawyers wanted to break away and build a whole new town. The town ultimately said no and created their street plan with a grid, throwing everything out of whack. Whatever story you choose to believe, this city is a mess of bad intersections and confusing streets where trying to make a left hand turn is next to impossible.

Missoula, Montana

9. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It may be surprising to many that this city makes the list as it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world but Dubai ends up at number nine on this list for a variety of reasons. The increasing number of skyscrapers and residential estates that take up hundreds of acres simply don’t jive well together. The entire layout of the city is connected by massive roadways leading from one enormous development to the next. Walking around the city is next to impossible because of this and frankly this city is lacking in shared public spaces. Parks and squares that encourage togetherness are void from Dubai and instead there are giant shopping malls and indoor ski resorts. If you are looking for a city where you can get to know your neighbors, have a picnic in the park or simply get some outdoor exercise; you may want to avoid Dubai.

All.in / Shutterstock.com
All.in / Shutterstock.com

8. Atlanta, Georgia, USA

If you are planning on moving to Atlanta and enjoying a traffic-free commute, think again. Traffic doesn’t get much worse than this city and in fact the traffic here is legendary. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was a boom in Atlanta that caused a massive urban sprawl and along with poorly situated highways; there seems to be no hope in terms of it getting any better. One of the major problems here is the division of race and class that leads to clashes in what should be done to alleviate the traffic problem. Georgia also happens to be one of the bottom five states in terms of highway spending per capita, meaning they aren’t committed to any kind of game plan to fix the system. Unless something drastic happens in this city, expect that the poor design will continue for decades.

Photo by: Flickr/Matt Lemmon
Photo by: Flickr/Matt Lemmon

7. Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Although this city boasts one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of the USA, Boston can be extremely difficult to navigate due to the layout of the streets. Navigating these maze-like streets can be overwhelming to both visitors and locals and although the common misconception is the streets were laid out on top of wandering cow paths, the truth is they simply weren’t laid out according to plan. The combination of random one-way streets and convoluted intersections pose significant safety issues for runners, walkers and cyclists. And although the “Big Dig” project has improved this city in many ways, it has cost an estimated $22 billion, an amount of debt that will not be paid off until approximately 2038. Although this city looks pretty, it certainly isn’t easy to find your way around and it came at a huge price to fix the problems.

Boston Aerial

6. Dhaka, Bangladesh

This capital city is truly a disaster, from one urban dysfunction to another. It stands to reason that this might happen considering out of the city’s 650 major intersections, only 60 of them have traffic lights, and only some of them work. Millions of rickshaws, cars, bike, buses, cows and motorcycles share these roads and driving here is downright dangerous. The awful transportation system means that many inhabitants are forced to live in the slums in the city, rather than commuting from outside, creating poor sanitation and water systems. This massive failure of infrastructure needs a total overhaul before it can begin to get better. In the meantime there will continue to be millions living in poverty and millions fighting each other for road space, truly proving it as one of the most poorly designed cities in the world.

Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com
Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com

5. Sao Paulo, Brazil

Over the course of the 20th century this city transitioned from a small urban environment into a sprawling metropolis, leading to what is one of the most poorly designed cities in the world. This shift in environment meant that the rich took over the center of the city and the poor were pushed to the outskirts; forcing a high number of commuters to the roads. In order to try and alleviate congestion this city implemented a two-mile elevated highway that winds right through the heart of the city, narrowly missing resident’s houses. This noisy eyesore replaced a lively neighborhood that was a cultural center of the city. The rich of the city don’t even bother dealing with roads though; instead they choose to get around by helicopter, making Sao Paulo the city with the world’s largest fleet of helicopters per capita. Unfortunately if you can’t afford a helicopter, you’re forced to deal with this:

AFNR / Shutterstock.com
AFNR / Shutterstock.com

4. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Hurricane Katrina devastated this city a decade ago due to the levee system failing miserably, a system that was designed to protect the city from storm surges. The large majority of Greater New Orleans was flooded and many people lost life and homes. Add this to the fact that this city is built on thousands of feet of soft sand, silt and clay and the song “New Orleans is Sinking” is actually coming true. Combine this with the awful traffic congestion and poor layout of roads and you can understand why this city ranks number 4 in the most poorly designed cities of the world. The saving grace of this city may just be its Mardi Gras festival that brings millions of dollars in revenue; enough to hopefully fix this infrastructure so another tragedy like Hurricane Katrina doesn’t strike this city again.

New Orleans, Louisiana highway

3. Naypyidaw, Myanmar

This fairly new capital of Myanmar has only been in existence since 2005, when the country’s government decided a change of scenery was in order. What was once a land of empty fields has been turned into a super city, six times the size of New York City and complete with 20-lane highways and widespread WiFi access. It sounds pretty great, so why is this city on the list? It happens to be located literally in the middle of nowhere with practically no residents. Government officials are pretty much the only people who choose to call this city home and while the streets and roads should be bustling with activity, more often than not there is no one around. Cities are meant to lived in and over the past decade, this city is failing miserably. Only time will tell if this was money well spent or not.

Photo by: NBC News
Photo by: NBC News

2. Brasilia, Brazil

It is the second Brazilian city on the list and while San Paulo suffers from a lack of design, Brasilia seems to suffer from too much design. This country just can’t seem to find a happy medium. The city of Brasilia was created from a plan back in the 1950’s which took inspiration from an airplane layout and included modernist concrete architecture, meant to make the city hold for years. While visually appealing to some, this city has earned a reputation for being sterile and artificial. It was also designed to house only 500,000 inhabitants but over the years has become home to almost 3 million people. In order to house all these people, it was no longer about keeping the city beautiful and more about creating room for them. Therefore Brasilia has become this mismatch of temporary fixes overshadowing its original beauty.

Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com
Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com

1. Jakarta, Indonesia

It happens to be the country’s capital and one of the most poorly designed cities in the World, a combination that makes getting around here a disaster. An ever-increasing number of car owners that come from the expansion of suburbia that surrounds this mega-city are to be blamed for the 400 hours a year that citizens spend in traffic. It is actually hailed as being the worst traffic in the world. It doesn’t seem like there is any solution for this mega-city as the infrastructure here falls into the hands of the local government and contracts are renegotiated annually; which means long-term projects are pretty much impossible. An average trip in this city takes about 2 hours; leaving plenty of drivers frustrated at all times. If you thought traffic was busy in your city, try living here for a few years.

Photo by: Indonesia Expat
Photo by: Indonesia Expat

The 10 Fastest Growing Destination Cities of 2015

With travel for a variety of reasons—business, pleasure and everything in between—on a seemingly ever-upward trend, it’s little wonder that people (and especially experienced travelers) would begin to seek out new places to explore. While there are some places that will always top bucket lists as must-see locales, 2015 has witnessed some destination cities become increasingly popular with travelers of all stripes. Here are 10 of the fastest-growing destination cities around the globe according to a recent MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index report, each vying for the chance to be your next vacation destination.

10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The capital of Vietnam is experiencing a resurgence in tourism. In recent years, Ho Chi Minh City has become increasingly popular, witnessing an almost 13% growth in the number of tourists since 2009 after long languishing behind other Asian destinations, in part due to the legacy of war and communist dictatorship. Formerly known as Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant, flourishing city that serves as the cultural capital of this oft-overlooked Southeast Asian nation. Without a doubt, some of the increase has been brought about by travelers with Vietnamese roots returning to Vietnamese soil, but it seems as though other travelers are also “discovering” Vietnam’s capital as a destination of international renown. Highlights include the Reunification Palace, the Municipal Theatre and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as many museums, a zoo and a botanical garden.

Ho Chi Minh City

9. Lima, Peru

Although Lima is the capital—and largest—city of Peru, it has long been overshadowed by Cusco and the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Lima, nonetheless, has a developed tourist industry, as it is a major point of entry to the country. Between 2009 and 2015, tourism grew by almost 14%—and for good reason. The city boasts well-preserved colonial buildings in a variety of styles, from Spanish Baroque to Art Nouveau, and a number of parks. The city is known for its greenspace, and is home to the largest fountain complex in the world, the Magical Circuit of Water. Lima is also home to several performing arts troupes, and hosts many festivals and concerts during the summer months. The city’s beaches are also popular attractions, as is the food—Lima has been called the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” for its unique blend of global cuisine.

Lima Peru

8. Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s capital city has always had some allure as a tourist destination, but tourism has recently taken off, growing slightly over 14.5% between 2009 and 2015. Tourism is likely to continue to increase over the next few years as the city ramps up for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Tokyo has many other attractions; it is famous for its electronics district, its shopping districts and its nightlife, to name but a few of the reasons people feel compelled to visit this metropolis. Tokyo is also a central place in Japanese culture and history, and features many monuments and museums. Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, as well as the Japanese emperor and his family. With Mount Fuji forming a spectacular backdrop to urban sprawl, Tokyo is also renowned for its stunning cityscapes, making it one of those destinations that “has it all.”

Tokyo

7. Taipei, Tiaiwan

The capital of the nation of Taiwan has long been overlooked in favor of other tourist meccas in Southeast Asia—Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have traditionally been destinations for those traveling for business or pleasure. Taipei has emerged from the background, however, to become the 15th most visited city in 2013, and tourism continues to grow; the industry recorded a leap of almost 15% between 2009 and 2015. As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is involved in most major high-tech industries in the country, and is an important hub of economic, political and cultural activity. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Its nearby hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the Lantern Festival during New Year’s celebrations, a Dragon Boat Festival and the Moon Festival in mid-autumn.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

6. Xi’An, China

Sometimes known as Xi’an, and formerly written as “Sian,” this city is one of China’s oldest and functions as the capital of Shaanxi province, in the northwest. In 2012, it was named as 1 of 13 emerging megapolises in China. While tourism is still dwarfed by other sectors of the city’s economy, the industry grew 16.2% over the 2009–2015 period, and that trend is likely to remain strong as the city continues to grow. While most people visit Xi’An between May and August, the autmn months are actually considered the best time of year to visit. As one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’An is home to many historical sites, including many temples and pagodas, as well as a Ming dynasty city wall. Perhaps Xi’An’s most famous attraction is the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and the world-renowned terra cotta army.

Xi'An China

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh has unassumingly become a top destination for travelers, with the number of annual visitors to the city jumping 18% between 2009 and 2015. Riyadh, which means “the Gardens” in Arabic, is Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city, home to some 5.7 million people. Long an important center for the country, Riyadh and its surrounding districts contain many examples of vernacular architecture, as well as several historic village sites. The best-known monument is the Masmak Fortress, a clay-and-brick construction dating to 1865, located in the commercial center of the old city. The city is also a center of modern architecture, including the first skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, the Al Faisaliyah Center. The city also has several museums and sports venues. Soccer is the most popular sport in the city, as evidenced by the city’s 4 major clubs.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

4. Osaka, Japan

Perhaps less well-known than Tokyo, the Japanese city of Osaka has become a popular destination for travelers. Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and, in addition to being a major economic hub, is also known as Japan’s “kitchen” owing to its role in rice growing and trade, as well as its regional cuisine. The city has long been important, even being declared the capital during the Japanese feudal period. The city underwent rapid industrialization in the 19th century. A consequence is that Osaka has many historic buildings and monuments, such as Osaka castle, with some dating back several centuries. The area also has a rich cultural history, particularly focused on performing arts; kabuki theater in particular is popular. It’s little wonder that travel to Osaka grew by nearly 20% between 2009 and 2015.

Osaka, Japan

3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The UAE’s capital registered 20.4% growth in the number of visitors from 2009 until the present. While business travel has undoubtedly played a part in growing numbers of travelers to the city—especially as the economy continues to diversify—tourism has also been a driving force behind this growth. The UAE has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world, and Abu Dhabi has earned a reputation for being something of a “rich person’s” playground. This is reflected in everything from luxury shopping centers to 5-star hotels and some of the world’s most innovative—and expensive—architecture. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is but one example of the city’s architectural heritage. While the city has often been overshadowed by nearby Dubai, which has also emerged as a global city with economic clout, Abu Dhabi is likely to continue to attract more and more visitors.

Abu Dhabi UAE

2. Chengdu, China

Travel to Chengdu grew at more than 20.5% over the 2009–2015 period, something that’s reflected by Chengdu’s airport being 1 of the 40 most busy airports in the world and the city’s train station being 1 of the 6 largest in China. Situated on the fertile Chengdu plain, the city has long been an important one, and has many historical buildings, including shrines and temples. The city is a bastion of traditional Chinese culture, from mahjong to teahouses. Chengdu is also home to some ancient ruins and at least 3 well-preserved historic towns. Perhaps Chengdu’s biggest draw, however, is that it is home to almost 80% of the world’s remaining giant panda population. Also nearby is Mount Qingcheng, an important Taoist center. Nature, culture, history—Chengdu has it all, so it’s easy to see why more and more people are making a stop in this city.

Chengdu, China

1. Colombo, Sri Lanka

The former capital of Sri Lanka has been getting some serious attention from travelers in the last few years, with the number of visitors growing just over 21% from 2009 to 2015. Colombo is the largest city on the island nation, and has a distinctive mix of multiple ethnicities, which reflects the city’s long history and its importance. Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in the city, sums up Colombo’s multicultural feel perfectly with its mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese and Indian architecture. The city also has urban parks, such as Viharamahadevi Park, and a strip of greenspace called Galle Face Green. The city has a large harbor on the Indian Ocean and the 160-acre Beira Lake is located at the heart of the city. In other parts of the city, the legacy of Dutch and British domination remains in the form of colonial-era buildings.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

8 Things to Know Before Visiting the Middle East

For many people who live outside the region, the Middle East can seem like a somewhat confusing and chaotic place. Nonetheless, many are compelled to visit for any number of reasons, ranging from business to family ties and heritage to religion. Some people just want to visit the area; others still go to teach or even relocate to the region after a single visit proves too little time in this amazing part of the world. While many feel daunted by the thought of a visit to the Middle East—by stories of political turmoil, religious strife, human rights grievances, harsh climates, and sheer cultural difference—the many countries of the Middle East are wonderful destinations, full of warm and welcoming people, many of them happy to showcase their homelands to those who are willing to visit and learn. Learning, of course, can start before you land at the airport and anyone who plans to visit the Middle East—whether now or in the future—can benefit from knowing a few things before they take-off for the great unknown. And even if you have no plans to visit the Middle East, take heed—because you never know where your travels will take you.

Each Country is Unique

Anybody who is familiar with the Middle East probably knows that the first thing anyone needs to know is that the region is composed of a multitude of countries, each with their own unique history and culture, and often, with their own religious practices and languages as well. While it’s easy for outsiders to talk about the region as one big, monolithic whole where everyone shares in the same culture, language, religion and ethnicity, nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a visitor to Europe can’t research the customs of Norway and expect things to be exactly the same in France, so too should visitors to the Middle East do research on the customs and norms of the particular country they’re going to visit. While some things might not vary a lot from country to country, other things will be quite different depending on where in the Middle East you are! One of the best things you can do before booking your ticket is to actually stop thinking about the region as a whole or as we generally call it “the Middle East.”

middle east life

Dress Conservatively/Respectfully

To immediately contradict that, there are some generalizations that you can make about areas of the Middle East. These “rules of thumb” should serve you well in your travels, but always keep in mind that each country is unique and should never be treated as though it is “exactly the same” as one of its neighbors. One thing you can usually assume in Middle Eastern countries, however, is that you’re going to need to show respect to the local culture. One of the best ways to do this is to dress conservatively. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning a hijab or abaya or any other specific type of clothing for men or women, but it does mean covering up. Both men and women should engage in conservative dress. Low-riding jeans that slide down when you bend over are a huge social faux pas and sleeveless tops are considered rude for both sexes. Shorts (especially short-shorts, ladies) are generally frowned upon, as are crop tops. It might be hot, but most of these clothing items violate social expectations for dress. Although people in the Middle East are often too polite to say anything about how you choose to dress, “letting it all hang out” is actually incredibly rude and shows disrespect and insensitivity toward the cultures of these countries.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Most Women Aren’t Forced to Cover Up

Speaking of clothing and cultural norms, you might be asking about veiling. Above, it was indicated that you might not need to don a headscarf in most places, and, in some areas, putting one on might even be considered a little bit disrespectful. In other countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women will need to wear a headscarf in order to be respectful. As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and nothing could be more true in this case; following local customs is a sign of awareness and respect for the culture. That doesn’t mean that you should assume that a headscarf or any other form of veiling has been forced on a woman; in most Middle Eastern countries, the decision to wear a hijab or another covering is entirely up to a woman and insinuating otherwise is insulting to her! The decision to wear a headscarf or not, in most places, is part of a woman’s identity, much the way wardrobes in the West are used to showcase individual identities. The exceptions to the rule are Iran and northern Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan under the Taliban. Even in Saudi Arabia, no one is exactly forcing women to wear head-coverings, although it is frowned upon to do otherwise.

muslin women

Don’t Refuse Coffee

Another custom that might seem strange to visitors is that it is considered incredibly rude, almost forbidden, to refuse an offer of coffee at a store. While you’re out and about, you might decide to do some shopping. If you’re offered a coffee while you’re in a shop, don’t refuse, especially if you plan to make a purchase or if you’re already at the register putting the transaction through. The offer is simple hospitality throughout much of the Middle East and rarely refused.

Turkish Coffee

Bye Bye Bacon/Alcohol

If you happen to eat out—and you’re likely to visit at least one restaurant on your trip—don’t be surprised if you can’t find any pork dishes on the menu. The tenants of Islam forbid the preparation and eating of pork, so it most definitely won’t be found on the menus of any eateries serving up traditional dishes and, because much of the Middle East is Muslim, most chain restaurants won’t serve it either—even if their counterparts in other countries do. This has to do with strictures about the preparation of food, particularly meat; food must be halal and if there is pork being prepared in the same area, the food would be considered tainted. Another notable absence might be a lack of alcohol; Islam similarly has strictures against the ingestion of alcohol by followers of the faith. While there are certain local spirits or similar beverages that may be served, you shouldn’t expect your Muslim hosts, family, friends or business partners to hit the bar or to have a glass of wine with dinner. The increasing number of foreign businesspersons and international visitors has led to more alcohol being readily available, but it’s still not an embedded part of cuisine and culture like it is in, say, France. You might be invited to partake in hookah, however, which is a Middle Eastern custom in which flavored tobacco, called shishah, is smoked. Nonetheless, don’t assume that your hosts enjoy shishah; it is very much up to individual preference and the customs of the area you’re in.

Kebabs

Haggling is Usually Expected

Customs around money and the exchange of money can also be baffling to someone visiting the Middle East for the very first time. Although customs vary from place to place, haggling is very much the norm in many Middle Eastern stores. While Westerners expect to see set prices when they walk into a store, and to pay those prices when they cash out, most Middle Easterners expect to do a bit of bartering. For that reason, prices in shops may be set high on the assumption that the customer won’t pay that price, but will haggle a bit with the shopkeeper to get a better deal. This is more common in marketplaces and bazaars where individual proprietors can set their prices as they see fit than it is in chain shops, especially those that have parent companies in the West. Nonetheless, you should always be prepared to see if you can get a better deal—especially on things like cab fares—and be prepared to take a bit of extra time to do business. The culture isn’t focused on in-and-out shopping like the West is; in fact, “doing business” is often seen as a way to build social relations and thus it should take time.

Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com
Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com

Baksheesh is Everywhere

Baksheesh is another Middle Eastern custom around money that, at first glance, might seem familiar to an outsider. Upon closer examination, however, you’ll quickly find that it can seem a little bit strange. Baksheesh is what is known as “tips” in the English-speaking world. The difference is that anyone can ask for a tip for just about any service, whether it’s a necessary service or not. And many people are not shy about asking for a tip. In most Middle Eastern countries, the customer is allowed to decide whether or not they want to tip, depending on how satisfied they were with the service, but it is almost expected that workers in the hospitality industry, including hotel maids, bellhops, valets and restaurant wait staff, should be tipped. This is because these jobs are low-paying and it’s assumed that baksheesh will make up a large portion of the worker’s income. For other “services,” the cultural push to tip is less pressing—you don’t need to tip everyone, even if they ask for a tip, and you especially don’t need to tip if you didn’t like the service!

middle east currency

Everyone is Unique –Treat Them That Way

Not liking a service or being asked for a tip, however, doesn’t give you free reign to be rude to people and you shouldn’t condone or partake in rude behavior others might engage in, even if it seems to be “culturally acceptable,” such as young men being insolent toward women in Egypt. Leaving those incidents—which aren’t approved or accepted by everyone—aside, Middle Easterners are some of the warmest and most welcoming people on the planet and visitors need to reciprocate that hospitality, while also respecting that every country is different and, beyond that, every person they encounter is a different person. In Lebanon, you’re likely to meet a mix of people from different backgrounds, each of them with a different story. Not every person in a Middle Eastern country is Arab, and not everyone is Muslim—assuming this is like saying that everyone in the United States is white and Christian. It’s simply not true. You will meet Muslims and Arabs, but you will also meet Jews and Christians, Kurds and so many, many others. Even the Muslims you meet will be different in every country, every city and every place you visit. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone in the Middle East is exactly the same! Experienced travelers know that some people—perhaps a small minority—will fit into the stereotypes they have of a particular population, but the vast majority of people will likely defy all your expectations—and often in the most pleasant of ways. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to travel anywhere in the world, and meeting new people and sharing in what they have to teach you is one of the best reasons you can have for traveling to a Middle Eastern country.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com