Capitals are usually among the worst cities in any particular country to visit.
Would you prefer a vacation in the Australian capital of Canberra; or rather live it up in Cairns? And surely you wouldn't choose the American capital of Washington over the glitz of Las Vegas?
I know, some of you typical Singaporeans are going say, "Paris and Rome are both capitals, they draw millions of tourists a year and some of earth's greatest wonders can be found there!" Yeah, beautiful cities no doubt, but hidden beneath that facade, are unfriendliness and streets plagued with an unprecedented increase in crime. Even the "supposedly beautiful" Eastern European capitals like Prague or Budapest have been swarmed by hordes of ill-bred tourists; leading to ridiculous markups in prices (Just try taking a taxi in Istanbul), the encouragement of touts, and unethical practices throughout the country, all for the sake of earning the "tourist dollar".
Where then, are the remaining capitals of the world? Those yet to be tainted by the tourist hordes, where costs are still relatively affordable, and are actually beautiful or at least interesting in some way?
(Note: The capital cities of Capetown, Cairo, Istanbul, Prague, Budapest, Moscow, Athens, Lisbon, Riga, Tallinn are all NOT in the list because they have already been invaded by hordes of tourists (many of them Singaporeans) and are no longer considered "exotic". As for those who are exclaiming "why isn't my countries capital in your list? It should be there!" Well, its probably because we haven't visited it before (like the whole region of South and Central America), so I really shouldn't blog about places I haven't been to. Either that or well, your country's capital is just boring)
10. Maputo, Mozambique
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $30 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $1-3 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $7-50 USD
Mozambican food is among the most interesting of African cuisines; think Africa with a touch of Portuguese flair. Try Prawns and Chicken in Piri Piri sauce (African chilli), some of the world's freshest and cheapest seafood (as cheap as seafood can get), and Pãozinho, a Portuguese bread roll with meat in the center.
Key Activities: Scuba dive, stroll along white sand beaches, go for boat trips or island hop the beautiful Inhaca & Portuguese Islands. Explore the "South American like" streets, check out Africa's most impressive railway station, do some live seafood shopping (choose your own seafood and watch it cooked live in front of you), or simply chill at one of the upmarket bars/hotels to enjoy a great view of the Mozambican sun set over the sea.
Most Ideal For: Couples on Honeymoon, Foodies (Mozambican Cuisine is fabulous), Beach Bums, Backpackers with a larger budget, and basically anyone who wants to experience a South American vibe without actually visiting South America (think Netflix's Narcos).
Danger rating: 4/5
(For most countries, capital cities tend to be at the center of crime; this is even more apparent in African capitals. Taxi drivers are swindlers and policemen are often corrupt. There are streets which you should avoid at night, and streets which you should avoid altogether even in daylight. That said, the "danger vibe" in this city is part of the "Narcos" experience. Just accept it and enjoy the city for what it is)
9. Minsk, Belarus
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $20 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $1-2 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $3-8 USD
Pork, potatoes, bread; that's Belarusian cuisine for you.
Try potato pancakes, potato pudding, potato pies, and potato salads. Basically a twist on anything potato related. Pork is the "local favorite" where meat is concerned. But best of all, food, even meat dishes, are ridiculously cheap.
Key Activities: The key highlight of Minsk is experiencing the "Soviet way of life" and perhaps paying to ride a WWII soviet tank. Minsk is perhaps more "Soviet" than even Moscow should be. This is a city trapped in its soviet past; its streets lined with Soviet monuments, soviet propaganda, communist era mega structures, and buildings so huge they wont fit into your frame when you try to snap a photo.
Be amazed at these monuments, take a ride in soviet subway, buried almost a 100 meters underground, and simply the overall vibe of seeing ultra futuristic buildings in the midst of communist styled ones should prove to be an eye opener.
Most Ideal For: History buffs, Men with a military/War fetish, and Singaporeans who want to experience the "Soviet Union" but can't afford the overpriced Russian visa.
Danger rating: 2/5
(Minsk is one of the safest capitals in the world with a strong police presence about the city. It's cleaner than Singapore, and has almost no beggars or even drunkards; and definitely safer than Paris by a mile. There is so much law and order that the locals wait at traffic lights even when there are no car's in sight! The only person "jaywalking" was me!)
8. Baku, Azerbaijan
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $10 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $5-6 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $8- 12 USD
Bread or Rice, with a variety of toppings (eggplant/olives) with meatballs are the staple of Azerbaijan cuisine. In the capital of Baku however, it's common to see Georgian or Turkish food (think Khachapuri and Kebabs), or even Asian food.
Key Activities: Go on a boat tour for a view of Baku by sea, and in the evening, ride the funicular up the hill for a magnificent view of Baku's sunset. Sign up for a cheap day tour to visit fascinating attractions near Baku like the James Bond Oilfields (The World Is Not Enough), Fire temples, and Gobustan, for rock art and Mud Volcanoes. At night, catch a performance at the Opera Theater and visit the Hamam's (public baths).
The Sci-Fi architecture in Baku (The Flame Towers for instance) is a real eye opener as well. Like the other former soviet states, the deep underground subways also prove to be an interesting experience.
Most Ideal For: History buffs, Families even with young children, Couples on Honeymoon, and Singaporeans "sick of touristy Europe" (if that day ever comes)
Danger rating: 2/5
(Baku is really safe. You're more likely to be hit by a careless driver than being robbed in this city))
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $14 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $3-4 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $5 USD
Try Cevapi, a sort of minced meat "balkan kebab" accompanied with bread on the side. It's probably the cheapest "meat dish" around and really popular in the Balkans. For a local snack, try Burek, a dough pastry stuffed with meat or potatoes. You might want to share it though; it's really filling for a "snack".
Key Activities: Explore the old towns, visit museums (lots of war museums, memorials) cemeteries, and gawk at the bullet hole riddled buildings. Bosnia is perhaps the only country where bullet riddled buildings are actually an attraction in itself.
Most Ideal For: History/War geeks, Cash strapped backpackers, and nervous travel shy Singaporeans seeking their virgin Eastern European experience
Danger rating: 3/5
(Bosnia is one of the safer countries in Eastern Europe but the capital of Sarajevo could be complicated. Begging syndicates, pickpockets, and rowdy locals are pretty common. Additionally, be careful when self driving. Not all the landmines have been cleared so don't veer off the usual roads. Oh and don't wander into those bullet hole riddled abandoned buildings as well )
6. Skopje, Macedonia
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $10 a night
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $2-3 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $4-8 USD
Macedonian cuisine is similar to that of the Balkans. Try Skara (grilled meat), shopska salad, and tarator, a sort of cold soup
Key Activities: Macedonia is most widely associated with Alexander The Great, and more so its capital, Skopje. This capital city is a combination of old towns, bazaars, fortresses, bridges, towers, churches, and mosques; there's just so much to see. In fact, the city as been rebuilt to look "ancient" while actually "being modern", to "encourage tourism". As a side trip, the Jewel of the Balkans; Lake Ohrid is just a few hours drive away.
Most Ideal For: Cash strapped backpackers, Families with young children, Couples on Honeymoon, History buffs.
Danger rating: 2/5
(Skopje is a safe city. Besides the chance of coming across the usual pickpocket or drunkard just like in any other European capital, Skopje is safe enough to even walk about after dark)
5. Sofia, Bulgaria
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $18 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $2-3 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $4-5 USD
Bulgarian cuisine has a mix of Turkish and Greek influence and is particularly known for its soups and salads. Food is really cheap, tastes pretty good, and costs almost nothing (by European standards)!
Key Activities: Sofia is arguably among the most beautiful of European capital cities and looks a good mix of Eastern European, communist, and orthodox architecture. A visit to Sofia is not simply about "churches, parks, or monuments" though; the Vitosha mountains (similar to the Swiss Alps) are really close and easily accessible from Sofia. Hiking and skiing and are some interesting activities one doesn't usually get in most capitals.
Most Ideal For: History buffs, Skiing/Hiking enthusiasts, Families with young children, Couples on Honeymoon, Photographer wannabe's and Men looking for cheap sex.
Danger rating: 2/5
(It's not uncommon to find random people trying to pester you to buy stuff or the occasional "non meter" haggling taxi driver. Avoid the bus and train stations at night as they are a hotbed for prostitutes, drunks, the homeless and all things bad. But minor annoyances aside, Sofia feels pretty safe so long as you don't swagger about with a gold Rolex on your wrist)
4. Port Vila, Vanuatu
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $32 a night
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $3-4 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $10-20 USD
Try Lap Lap or Tuluk, a sort of vegetable cake served with a chicken wing or some meat in the middle. Steak is especially good in Vanuatu and it's quality is considered among the best in the Oceania region. The other delicacy is coconut crab (the largest land crab), so huge and tastes so good, they've (the crabs) been eaten almost close to the point of extinction.
Key Activities: This tropical island capital is one of the most diverse capitals on earth. Over the years, islanders from all over the pacific have chosen to settle in Port Vila, resulting in a diverse mix of cultures. Wander about the local markets, be amazed that no traffic lights exist, and relax with a beer in one of the many resorts about the island capital. The sands are white, waters are blue, And more importantly, Port Vila is the gateway to the many islands in the pacific, volcanoes, shipwrecks to scuba dive, and even whiter sand beaches.
Most Ideal For: Beach bums, Rich retirees, Couples on their Honeymoon, the Adventurer, the laid back Fisherman, and the Singaporean with deep enough pockets to visit the expensive Vanuatu instead of poor-mans Fiji
Danger rating: 2/5
(Everyone in Vanuatu is especially friendly. Strangers greet you as u walk past them on the streets, everyone is welcoming and happy to meet tourists. For solo women though, it isn't particularly safe as the "island people" don't view women with much respect and tend to cause trouble especially when they are drunk)
3. Beirut, Lebanon
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $33 a night
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $4-10 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $15-25 USD
Try Hummus, a dip made from chick peas and Falafel, fried chick pea balls served on a plate with bread or in the form of a rolled sandwich. Because Lebanese cuisine is so vast, I'd suggest paying $15-25 USD for a full Arabic meal at a restaurant to sample some of Lebanon's best offerings.
Key Activities: Beirut is known as the "Paris of the Middle East". In this capital, you can choose to cafe hop, spend hours shopping for luxury goods, or simply relax at one of the many seafront resorts. Take a boat out to sea for a view of Beirut or even scuba dive for shipwrecks, caves and canyons. You could also take a taxi to Jeitta Grotto, the longest caves in the Middle East
Most Ideal For: History geeks, Backpackers with a larger budget, Adventurers, and Singaporeans looking for a "real middle eastern experience" (more "real" than Dubai, and less dangerous than Damascus).
Danger rating: 4/5
(I don't know what to make of Beirut. I wouldn't label Lebanon's capital as unsafe but the city of Beirut is really huge. It's confusing, its messy, and you'll get lost without a Map. You have Jihadist flow-overs from Syria, the country is partially controlled by Hezbollah; but yet, you do see tourists and backpackers about the city. Would I let "The Girl" visit on her own? Probably not.)
2. Kiev, Ukraine
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $30 a night.
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $2 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $3-5 USD
Try Varenyky (dumplings stuffed with potato/cheese/vegetables), Deruny (potato pancakes) and fill your belly with piping hot Borshch (red beet meat) soup.
Key Activities: Ukraine is home to some of Europe's finest cathedrals. The streets of Kiev are beautiful and perfect for people watching or cafe hoping. Military tours are especially unique to the region and can be reached under a couple of hours from Kiev. Fire a Kashnikov Assault Rifle, explore the missile silos used during the cold war, and even drive a soviet tank!
From Kiev, a tour to the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor and its surrounding "ghost town" is an absolute must. At night, visit the opera theater or soak up the atmosphere by going to a stadium to catch a Dynamo Kiev football match.
Most Ideal For: History/Military geeks, Cash strapped backpackers, couples, Singaporeans who want a "soviet like" experience (just like visiting Minsk) without the hassle and cost of applying for a Russian visa, and Lonely men looking to score a Ukrainian bride.
Danger rating: 3/5
(Kiev is generally safe. There could be pickpockets, drunk locals, and the occasional street theft, but these are commonplace in Europe. The dangerous parts are the Crimea or Donetsk region which tourists avoid anyway. Unfortunately, the situation in those cities push up the "danger rating" of the country as a whole)
1. Tbilisi, Georgia
Accommodation: Private Rooms from USD $8 a night
Cost of Food: Local restaurant $1-2 USD/ Tourist Restaurant $3-5 USD
Georgia is known as the "birthplace of wine", so yeah, think you're a wine connoisseur? You haven't had wine till you've sipped Georgian wine (only Moldovan wine is it's equal). Georgian cuisine is the most famous among the former USSR states. Try Khachpuri, a sort of bread with cheese and egg, and Khinkali, a huge meat stuffed dumpling (think a mega sized "xiao long bao").
Key Activities: Tbilisi is one of Europe's most interesting capital cities; a weird mix of ancient and ultra futuristic looking buildings. For a capital city, I'd say it deserves at least 3 days; and that's saying a lot. Explore the ancient churches and walk about their old towns and even cafe hop. Finally, enjoy sulphur baths and drowning yourself in Georgian wine. Tbilisi is also a convenient launchpad for tours into other parts of Georgia.
Most Ideal For: Wine connoisseurs, History buffs, Cash Strapped backpackers, Couples on Honeymoon, Families even with young children, and Singaporeans who want a "different sort of Europe" while still staying safe. Exotic travel is apparently on the rise in Singapore, and European countries don't get much more exotic than Georgia.
Danger rating: 1/5
(We felt practically zero danger vibes in this city, encountered no aggressive touts, and practically everyone we met was friendly and open to foreigners. Tbilisi is one of Europe's safest capitals; definitely way safer than Paris since all the bad dudes iin Europe seem to have migrated there. I would even let "The Girl" visit Tbilisi on her own if she wanted to. Even for solo women, public transport safe enough at night.)
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