Click here for the background on my World Heritage Sites roundup.
Small Urban Centre
Population < 100,000
Last visited: August 26, 2007
For those who doesn’t plan to hire a car, Siena makes a good home base for Tuscany. Granted, Siena does not process nearly the same amount of attractions as Florence, but this medieval hilltop town has a more inviting atmosphere. It is touristy though not nearly on its more famous neighbor’s level. And since most of them are day-trippers, Siena begins to quiet down by late afternoon.
Last visited: June 23, 2009
The people were very laid-back and friendly, unmoved by their town’s new found status as a tourist magnet, and seemed to go on with their daily lives largely unaffected by the impact of tourism.
Although Luang Prabang is short on must-see sights, its has many beautiful wats, most of them still in used. Often the monks are praying inside the temples, resting under shades, playing simple games, or simply chatting with each other. Without other foreigner around, I felt like I was an intruder who was disrupting the monks’ daily lives, but they did not seem to mind my presence much.
Last visited: April 26, 2006
Dubrovnik’s restoration effort over the past decade deserves applaud. While bullet holes and crumbled buildings aren’t hard to find, most of the blemishes from the conflict in the 1990s are unnoticeable. The narrow stairs and giant city walls give Dubrovnik the look of a medieval garrison, but within these walls are orange roofs of houses of simple stone-made exterior that rivaled the picturesque quality of the iconic blue roofs and white walls buildings in the Greek islands.
All these qualities are making Dubrovnik an ideal holiday location for its rich European neighbours. The imposing city wall that is designed to protect Dubrovnik from invaders is now confining the tourist crowds within the small city.
Last visited: June 9, 2011
Now a small college town in East Germany, Weimar was once the cultural heart of the entire continent. Many leading writers and philosophers had links here — this was where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born and Friedrich Nietzsche spent his last years.
Last visited: June 30, 2014
Avignon is an easy day trip from Paris and one of the most convenient bases to explore Provence. That means it is always full of tourists, especially in and around the Palais des Papes. I didn’t visit any attraction, but I did enjoy walking around the historic centre and watching sunset along the Rhone.
Last visited: August 29, 2007
Kutna Hora has an unusual attraction in the Sedlec Ossuary. It also offers a different look of Czech Republic from Prague, one that isn’t completely refurbished in order to attract tourists. The St. Barbara’s Church is one of the most famous Gothic churches in central Europe and a symbol of Kutna Hora’ status during its heyday. Ironically the church began construction in 1388 when the production of the mine was beginning to dwindle; the final building was about half the size of the original design and was completed at last in 1905.
Last visited: June 30, 2014
I had high expectation for Arles – the home to several well-preserved Roman buildings and the inspiration to Vincent van Gogh’s most productive period. But I left having a somewhat similar feeling to my visit to Verona – a jack of all trade, master of none type of place. I found Avignon to be much prettier and after having visited Rome, it is quite difficult to be impressed by similar Roman sites.
Hongcun, Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui
Last visited: April 6, 2010
Hongcun is a classic example of how the Chinese concept of feng shui infuses with a settlement’s design and construction. The village is arranged in the shape of an ox with the nearby Leigang Hill interpreted as the head, and the two trees atop the hill as the horns. The four bridges across South Lake act as the limbs whilst the houses of the village form the body. Nanhu is not merely for decoration; it is where the Hongcun’s numerous waterways flow into. A network of water stream represents the intestines and various lakes such as the Moon Marsh symbolize the other internal organs.
Last visited: June 4, 2016
There are dozens of hilltop towns in Tuscany. One of the prettiest, San Gimignano is known for its many medieval towers. Short of must-see sights, the town is nevertheless a pleasant half-day trip with decent shops, galleries and restaurants. Like almost everywhere else in Tuscany, San Gimignano is always packed with tourists.
Last visited: August 31, 2007
Český Krumlov’s location along a meandering river and its little hilltop castle is probably as close to a fairy tale setting as one can get. But tourism has drained away much of the local lives — There seemed to be only two type of people in the street – tourists and shopkeepers/guides. Walking around for awhile, one couldn’t help but wondered how many residents actually live in the town’s soaped up medieval buildings.
The only thing memorable we did was touring the castle’s Baroque theatre, built in 1776 and one of two such building still standing in Europe.
Last visited: March 3, 2013
After a long day visiting tulou in Yongding county, we spent the night at Riyuegu Hotsprings Resort on the outskirt of Xiamen. The next day we took the short ferry ride to Gulangyu, Xiamen’s premier (only?) attraction. This island is home to 25,000 residence and one of the few places (Shanghai, Qingdao, Guangzhou) in China with an intact district of colonial architecture. The island was settled by 14 foreign powers between the First Opium War and World War II, including Great Britain, France, The Netherlands and Japan.
The vehicle-free island welcomes a mind-boggling 10 million tourists a year, behind only Beijing’s National Museum. On the day of our visit Gulangyu was its usual packed self, especially the stretch between the ferry terminal and the main commercial strip in and around Quanzhou Road. There are ample of attractions like the Seabed World and the Piano Museum which screamed tourist trap. Most people’s main focus, including ours, was to indulge in the many local and Taiwanese street food options.
Gulangyu’s colonial architecture doesn’t stand out compares to its counterparts in other former occupied port cities in China. Most of the buildings are less than one century old — in comparison Macau’s historic core dates back to the 17th century. Instead of spending much time on the buildings, we had a fun afternoon getting away from the crowd while strolling around the island’s narrow and curvy alleyways.
Last visited: June 1, 2016
A small, pretty Renaissance town at the heart of Val d’Orcia. Hard to understand why the two sites are separated, but Pienza arguably deserves its spot because of its graceful architecture commissioned during the reign of Pope Pius II in turning his previously impoverish hometown into his papal summer retreat.
Last visited: April 29, 2006
There are many similar towns along the Adriatic Coast. Trogir doesn’t offer much universal outstanding value, especially when compares to Dubrovnik and Split.