Image Credit: Getty

Marrakesh, Morocco

"To visit Morocco is still like turning the pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines." – Edith Wharton, American novelist

The fourth largest city in the Kingdom of Morocco has been listed on many different destination blogs as a city filled with amazing tourist attractions.

The Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest mosque in Marrakesh, is a sight to behold. The minaret tower, which is a staggering 253ft tall, with its beautiful geometrical arches and stonework, is a prime example of Morooish architecture. It is believed to have inspired other famous structures including the Giralda of Seville.

The name of this mosque actually originated from the Arabic word kutubiyyin, which meant bookseller. The reason was that during the earlier times, you'd find plenty of booksellers in the surrounding areas of the mosque.

In October 2017, Marrakesh became the second city after Paris to have a museum dedicated to display the works of Yves Saint Laurent. The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech (mYSLm) houses an important selection from the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent’s collection, comprising 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 haute couture accessories as well as various sketches and assorted objects. The Fondation aims to preserve the works of the famous French fashion designer.

The building, designed by French architecture firm Studio KO, was awarded best new public building at the 2018 Design Awards of the British international design magazine. The museum contains a temporary and permanent exhibition space, an auditorium, bookshop, a café and a research library containing about 5,000 books.

With places like the Djemaa El Fna (Marrakesh’s main square and has been declared by Unesco as a 'Masterpiece of World Heritage' in 2001), the Ben Youssef Madrasa (the largest madrasa in Morocco founded in the 14th century and now a historical site) and Saadian Tombs (the historic and royal necropolis which dates back to the Saadian dynasty), Marrakesh is definitely a one stop location for those who love to immerse themselves in the history and culture of the region.

Crete, Greece

"Greece was a muse. It inspired creativity in magical ways that I can’t even begin to understand or explain.’’ – Joseph Bonamassa, singer and songwriter

The largest island in Greece will appeal to a wide range of tourists. In fact, the highly populous island was the centre of the first advanced civilisation of Europe-the Minoan Civilisation.

Percy Jackson fans as well as Greek mythology fans will be fascinated to know that it was in a cave of Crete where the mythological figure Rhea hid the newborn Zeus, who would later become one of the most important characters in Greek mythology.

Legends also say that one of Zeus’ children, Minos, became the king of Crete and transformed this island into a mighty empire and even had the civilization-the Minoan civilisation – named after him.

A visit to Crete is not complete without visiting the palace of Minos in Knossos.

It is believed that the first palace was built around the 200-1500 BC period but was destroyed by earthquakes and later rebuilt grander than before. It was believed to have housed bigger courtyards, rooms that were connected to each other and hosted different political and administrative works, storage rooms as well as working quarters for the best craftsmen in that area. It was these remains that were discovered during excavation and were rebuilt with modern materials to preserve the ruins as well as to mimic as close as to how the palace would have looked many years back.

Other places to visit in Crete include Preveli Monastry (a historic monastery known as a religious and cultural center) and The Heraklion Archaeological Museum (one of the greatest museums in Greece and best in the world for Minoan art).

For those who wish to just enjoy a different kind of a holiday in Crete, Agios Nikolaos (a small tourist town rimmed by beaches which include highlights such as a stroll along Lake Voulismeni and exploring the Diktean Cave) and Samaria Gorge (the Unesco Biosphere Reserve popular for the 16-kilometre hike that runs through the gorge) may seem like your cup of tea.

Hanoi, Vietnam

‘‘I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colours, the taste, even the rain." – Graham Greene, writer and journalist

One of the oldest capitals in the world, Hanoi is well known for the South Asian, Chinese and French influences on its vibrant culture. In fact, some of the archaeological sites that have been excavated have proven how important Vietnam was as a trading centre.

One of the most famous and must-see spots is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, which functioned as a political centre for the country for around 13 consecutive centuries and served as the capital for Vietnam for eight centuries! It is a Unesco World Heritage Site Many of the structures were largely destroyed by the 19th century but among the few remaining are the 40 metres high Flag Tower of Hanoi that serves as a symbol for the city.

A famous art attraction that reflects Hanoi’s culture is Water puppetry. In Thang Long Puppet Theatre, the original theatre in town- the puppets slide and dance over a liquid stage, all controlled by puppet masters who work behind the scenes.

Whether it is a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (revered as Hanoi’s greatest leader, the mausoleum serves as a final resting place for the Vietnamese leader), Hanoi Opera House (built in 1911 in the French Quarter of Hanoi, the building was modelled after the Paris Opera House) or Temple of Literature (a temple placed in the centre of Hanoi that was dedicated to Confucius, the Chinese philosopher), one can easily identify and enjoy the different influences seen in the Vietnamese cultures.

Do you usually associate the word aquaponics with a café? Well, in Hanoi, be prepared to enter a café whose central theme revolves around that – Koi Cafe & Spa. The architects have managed to create an indoor waterfall as well.

Tokyo, Japan

"If I had to eat one city’s food for the rest of my life, every day it would have to be Tokyo." – Anthony Bourdain, American chef

Tokyo (literally translated to "eastern capital") is a perfect mix of tradition and modernity, which is evident in its neon-coloured skyscrapers and historic temples.

The oldest temple in Tokyo, The Sensoji Kannon temple, was established in 645 AD and retains its original appearance despite having been rebuilt numerous times due to attacks and bombings. It is therefore considered a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people.

It’s hard to miss the 634-meter-tall Tokyo Skytree which opened in 2012 and has now become one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions as thanks to the incredible panoramic views from its restaurant and observation decks. The base of Japan’s tallest tower is designed in the form of a massive tripod, with the presence of multiple observation levels, including one at 350-metre, and another at the 450-metre.

Love shopping? Tokyo has got you covered with the Ginza district, a popular upscale shopping area with a huge number of internationally renowned department stores, boutiques, restaurants and coffee houses located in its vicinity. Even if you decide to not splurge, you will definitely have fun wandering about or enjoying a cup of coffee in the nearby cafés.

Saint Petersburg, Russia

"Humour is the merit of our nation. Caustic and bitter, simple-hearted and intricate, Russian humour has lived through the most ferocious, most desperate years." – Sergei Dovlatov, Soviet writer

The second-largest city in Russia, also known as the "Cultural Capital of Russia", it has played a central role in Russian history and culture between the 18th and 20th centuries.

The State Hermitage Museum is considered as one of St. Petersburg’s most famous and visited tourist attractions for good reason. The second largest art museum in the world was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great received an impressive collection of paintings from a Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Considered to have one of the highest collection of paintings in the world, the collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors.

Another site. The Peter and Paul Fortress, was the first building to be built after the city was built under adverse and harsh conditions. The fortress was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and was built from 1706-1740.

A building which will be difficult to miss is the Lakhta Centre, which stands at 462 metres. The 13th tallest building in the world which opened in 2019, has a very interesting structure. It is tapering to a point and has a 90-degree twist, from its base right to the top, making it one of the very few buildings to have this kind of an extreme twist in its structure.

Barcelona, Spain

"Barcelona is one of the best cities in the world. I love it there." – Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

While the capital and second most populous municipality of Spain is considered as a major cultural, economic, and financial centre of southwestern Europe, across the world, Barcelona’s name is wrongly shortened to 'Barça'. This name is only used to refer to the football club FC Barcelona. The correct and common abbreviated form which is used by locals is Barna.

Barcelona has its own share of tourist attractions, many of which are deeply laden with history. The Basílica de la Sagrada Família, which was designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí from 1883, is a large, unfinished (yes, you read that right) Roman Catholic minor basilica. The church, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, was consecrated in 2010. One of the major challenges that remain in the construction of this church is the addition of 10 spires to the already constructed eight spires. These 18 spires, interestingly, represent all the important Biblical figures. It is believed that the construction of the Sagrada Família will be completed in 2026.

You can also enjoy a long walk on a 1.2km tree-lined street – Las Ramblas – that runs through the heart of the city. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that La Rambla was ‘‘the only street in the world which I wish would never end."

Of course, football fan or not, you cannot leave the place without visiting the Barcelona FC Museum, where you’ll find trophies, photos, documents all detailing the history and achievements of FC Barcelona.

In fact, just recently, ON-A Architecture Studio has come up with a proposal to create a park, that would be elevated to cover FC Barcelona's stadium. It is expected to be completed in 2024. The newly created forested park would cover the venue along with the surrounding car parks and other smaller sports venues.

Tel Aviv, Israel

"In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds." – Shimon Peres, ninth President of Israel

With the UAE and Israel normalising their relations, what better way to celebrate this historic moment than to visit and explore one of the most populous cities of Israel – Tel Aviv-Yafo, often referred to as Tel Aviv.

The Kerem HaTeimanim is described by many as a unique and atmospheric neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. It is known for its meandering alleyways as well as the houses that line up the street with its unique architecture.

Art fanatics will enjoy a day at Israel’s largest art museum – the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which features works of Israeli and International artists.

Tel Aviv also shares its own interest in architectural development with the Totzeret HaAretz Towers. British-Israeli designer and architect Ron Arad has completed one of the three ToHa office towers in Tel Aviv. The entire look was ‘‘inspired by an iceberg’’, with an angular glass exterior that starts to widen towards the centre. The entire building is elevated on three legs that help support the building over an outdoor plaza on the ground floor. A second tower is to be completed in 2024.

Read more