4 Extraordinary Historical Cities

Hanoi, Kyoto, Rome and Philadelphia make our inner architects swoon and ignite our collective passions for landmark eye candy. Discover why these four eminently historical cities deserve a cut of your travel budget.

Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam – Photo credit

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi’s difficult tenure under the yoke of colonialism led to a seismic Gallic cosmetic makeover in the late 19th century and 20th century. Decades after France’s sullen withdrawal from Indochine, it is decidedly less fraught to look upon Vietnam’s keystone city in obejective terms as a pillar of the colonial style, from lakeside villas and leafy boulevards to the Grand Opera House, Governor-General’s Palace, Gothic Revival Saint Joseph Cathedral, State Bank of Vietnam and majestic Hotel Metropole.

Regrettably, however, Hanoi’s colonial legacy often overshadows the city’s native history. This is a city, after all, that traces roots, extraordinarily, to 3,000 B.C. Thus, it behooves visitors to discover the likes of the Temple of Literature, Pillar Pagoda and UNESCO World Heritage Hanoi Citadel, all of which pre-date France’s rule by close to a millennium.

Where to stay: Essence Hotel Hanoi

Hanoi City Guide

Kyoto, Japan

Heian-kyo, the name for old Kyoto, was Japan’s “Capital of Tranquility and Peace” from 794 to 1868. The vestiges of that impressive run now comprise the spectacularly comprehensive “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the first UNESCO envoys in Japan, the scope of the site covers a total of 17 landmarks in Kyoto and Otsu Prefectures and, as such, tells the story not just of Kyoto but, indeed, of the country as a whole. Telltale landmarks include Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine, Kamomioya Shrine, Nijo Castle and Byodo Temple.

Additionally, Kyoto is also home to 38 National Treasures of Japan, 160 Important Cultural Properties, 8 Special Places of Scenic Beauty and 4 Places of Scenic Beauty. Needless to say, no other city in Japan comes close.

Where to stay: Citadines Kyoto Karasuma Gojo

Kyoto City Guide

Rome, Italy

Rome was not built in a day. No sir. Not with instantly iconic and recognisable gems like the Colosseum, Forum, Fontana di Trevi and Palatine Hill. In the pantheon of timeless Western architecture, all roads, it seems, lead to the Eternal City.

UNESCO’s awkward inscription for what is, in esscence, the core of old Rome is the “Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura”. Quite a mouthful. For the average visitor, all that World Heritage goodness distills to a handful of premier sites: the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and, of course, Vatican City.

Where to stay: Dharma Hotel Rome

Rome City Guide

Philadelphia, U.S.A.

The “City of Brotherly Love” has seen much less of the latter of late, for complex and disparate reasons, but, in spite of it all, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s linchpin metropolis has reason to be proud. Philadelphia’s musical legacy has no peer, the food is sublime and the former national capital’s axiomatic role in the development of the United States of America is manifest in the likes of UNESCO World Heritage Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

The architecture of Philadelphia is equally noteworthy and spans a variety of integral styles, from Federal and Georgian to Victorian and Postmodern. Indeed, for architecture students at the likes of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, the city is a veritable open-air museum. Have your camera at the ready.

Where to stay: Palomar Philadelphia Kimpton Hotel

Philadelphia City Guide

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