Friday, December 28, 2018

Living the High-Life: Cities That Put You Right in the Heart of the Action

Those cityscape photos, how I love them: you often see a cluster of towers surrounded by lower-lying buildings, and perhaps a stretch of water - a river through the center, or a marina. I especially love cityscape photos taken at twilight or full night, with the lights glittering. But while these buildings look impressive and the photographs always wow me, they’re usually not of much interest to travelers because most of them are office buildings. I hate when I get to a city and I'm like oh, nothing is in those buildings there for me to see or do.

In London, for instance, there’s a separation between the square-mile - the area packed with head offices of financial institutions - and the entertainment quarter around Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, and Leicester Square. New York City is similar in a way with the financial institutions huddled around Wall Street and the entertainment areas of midtown, Greenwich Village, and Chinatown located to the north, along with Central Park. I work in the business district in Center City, Philadelphia, and am surrounded by mostly office buildings. When the work day is over, street traffic is scarce around these parts.

But while the pattern of separating business from pleasure is typical in most of the world’s great cities, some don’t make that distinction, so you can live the high-life and be right in the heart of the action. Cities like...


Image result for dubai

Back in the late 1990s, Dubai’s leaders realized that oil’s days were numbered and that, eventually, the world would begin to use alternative sources of fuel. Although unfortunately things haven’t progressed as much as many expected, Dubai has been transformed by the policies of the wealthy leadership. As one of the most prosperous of the Emirate city-states, the region enjoys some of the best architecture in the world, with almost all of today’s high-rises being new construction.

What’s so exciting though about the high-rises in Dubai is that few, if any, are solely dedicated to office workers. The Burj Al Arab - the impressive 300+ meter hotel on its own island - is wholly dedicated to hospitality. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is a mixture of entertainment, shopping, hotels, and residential. Many other towers in the downtown district can be rented, providing spectacular views over the Arabian Gulf. I love that these buildings are accessible to nearly everyone, not just the people who work in them.

Singapore is often referred to as the City in the Garden - such a romantic name, yes? When you stand on the ground, you can see what people mean. Yes, there are tall buildings that penetrate the sky, but between blocks of towers, there are vast green spaces, even in districts like Tanjong Pagar, right next to the business core.

Singapore isn’t like most Asian cities. There’s order here, and a lot to do in the central business area. Visitors can enjoy a range of restaurants and bars right in the heart of the city, even though office complexes dominate the area. The marina is also a great place to hang out and go for a walk on a hot, summer evening, in almost perfect safety. As perfect as the illusion of safety anywhere gets, anyway.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world, more so than even New York, although it’s not quite as populated. The reason is that a vast number of people have to cram onto a tiny island which itself is dominated by mountains, preventing developers from using all of the available space.

Because space is so limited, you can often get in among the action no matter where you are in the city. Residential is built right next to, if not on top of, commercial, with hotels dotted throughout buildings in the town.

Hong Kong first developed because people wanted to escape the mainland for better opportunities under British rule. From humble beginnings, the city grew as a merchant capital, providing insurance and banking services to commerce in the Far East. The town soon took on a life of its own, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to low taxes, a highly educated population, and opportunities to make money in high-value-added sectors like financial services. The result is a vertical city where tourists can be right in the center of the action but still find exciting things to do. The city doesn’t suddenly shut down at the weekend when workers go home: instead, it comes alive.

Although Australia’s most populous city isn’t particularly vertical, it is an excellent example of a place where you can be right in the core and still enjoy yourself. Sydney is organized around the harbor and the harbor bridge. Nearby is the Opera House, a place that is undoubtedly on most traveler’s bucket lists.

If you’ve got family, the city is also particularly good for bike tours. Bike tours start from many locations, including the Opera House itself, and take you around the sounds and sights of the city. On your trip, you could also visit the Sea Life Aquarium, the Sydney Tower Eye, and the Wild Life Zoo, or visit the Sydney Tower Restaurant Buffet.

I've not been to any of these, but a few are on my long list. I didn't travel much this year with life matters keeping me close to Philly, so am contenting myself with some travel writing in the meantime. Have you been to any? Are you a city vacationer?

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