Paris is an inimitable city, its grand boulevards shooting off from the Seine like arteries, leading to iconic art galleries, boutique fashion stores, great literary quarters and innumerable fabulous cafes and bistros. If you’re infatuated with its many charms – the culture, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the shopping, the hotels, the views and the romance – then try these ten cultured cities for a shiver of the same pleasure as emanates from France’s fabled capital.
2 Amsterdam, Netherlands
Peaceful, tolerant Amsterdam is known for several of the same qualities as Paris. Its trio of world-class art galleries, while not as iconic as the Louvre, together contain a collection that is just as impressive. The Rijksmuseum hangs renowned Rembrandts alongside works by other Old Masters such as Jan Steen and Jan Vermeer; the Van Gogh Museum has more of the expressionist artist’s paintings than anywhere else in the world; and the Stedelijk Museum shelters a superb collection of modern and contemporary art. Once you’ve soaked up the city’s artistic offerings, you can stroll round the lamplit Canal Ring, then relax in one of the capital’s famous cafés – even if they are famous for rather different reasons than their elegant counterparts in Paris.
3 Prague, the Czech Republic
Nicknamed the crossroads of Europe, Prague has picked up influences from both east and west and blended them into a beautiful farrago of architecture that enchants people from all over the world. This fairy-tale skyline rises above the historic Charles Bridge, which was for centuries the only means of crossing the river Vltava, placing Prague at the heart of continental trade up until the 19th century. Crossing the bridge takes travelers from the ninth century Prague Castle into the Old Town, where the blackly gothic Tyn Church vies for attention with the baroque St.Nicholas Church, while both are overshadowed by the alethiometer-like Astronomical Clock. And the city is studded with cozy boutique hotels, such as the intimate Cerny Slon (Black Elephant), which make a great base for losing oneself in the historic, cosmopolitan and romantic atmosphere.
4 Florence, Italy
Europe’s preeminent city for 250 years and the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, you could say that Florence was Paris centuries before Paris became Paris. It was the home of artists such as Michelangelo, writers like Dante and political thinkers such as Machiavelli, and this lustrous history of culture, beauty and poise remains etched on its streets today, in statues, sculptures, palaces and churches. Like Paris, there’s no better way to experience Florence than on foot, pausing on bridges and street corners to enjoy the sublime views that suddenly open up. The city streets are packed with small cafés and restaurants, and travelers with fat wallets can find a plethora of fine boutiques and designer shops where the historic and commercial districts meet.
5 Melbourne, Australia
It’s pretty impossible to beat Paris for the pleasure of spending a day strolling between cafés, but Melbourne tops it on one front at least – the coffee. Australia is the acknowledged king of the current hipster coffee boom, and Melbourne has a sprinkling of fine places to get your fix: drop into Patricia Coffee Brewers on the corner of Little Bourke and Little William streets, or wander Prahran Market and just follow your twitching nose. As well as coffee, Melbourne hosts a fabled food scene, driven by waves of immigration from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon as well as (relatively) nearby Vietnam and Indonesia. And the same cultural diversity has helped make Queen Victoria Market a fabulously vibrant Melbourne institution, its vaulted halls and colorful stalls selling fish, cheese, secondhand books, vintage clothes and vast amounts more.