By Kemba Banton
Capital cities offer fascinating tastes of a country’s character while also serving as ambassadors to the world. The following five capitals are so distinctly different, but all have urban appeal with unmistakable charm. In the winter, another kind of magic descends.
Image via Flickr by dugspr – Home for Good
One of the world’s cleanest cities, French- and English-speaking Ottawa is diverse. Combine this with stellar museums, architecture, dining, and shopping, and Ottawa becomes a first-rate pick. In winter, cross-country skiers set to the trails. The Rideau Canal freezes over and becomes the world’s largest ice skating rink. Parliament Hill basks in Christmas light shows, and in January’s Winterlude festival, ice sculptors carve masterpieces out of ice.
Where to stay? The castle-like Fairmont Château Laurier perfectly reflects the city’s stateliness.
Image via Flickr by neil1877
Moscow is monolithic in global importance. It glitters with royal palaces and grand cathedrals. Visit the fortressed Kremlin, profound monuments, and museum troves stocked with legendary artifacts. Enjoy a Russian ballet or an opera at the Bolshoi Theatre. The Russian Winter Festival celebrates the season with song and dance, folk crafts, and traditional winter food among snowman parades and ice sculptures. Play in the cold, and then thaw in the steam of a traditional Russian bathhouse.
Where to stay? The Mercure Moscow Baumanskaya is contemporary, spacious, and budget-friendly.
Mexico City, Mexico
Image via Flickr by Citoyen du Monde Inc
Mexico City, once the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, combines the kindling of ancient glory with the pulse of modernity. Its gigantic size sprawls across a valley in high plateaus. Dawns and nights can get chilly in winter, but the season’s fervor is full of warmth. Festivities include the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, days of dramatic Christmas processions and Las Posadas, and holy feast days in January. In February, international artists flock to the respected Zona MACO art fair.
Where to stay? Try the beautiful María Condesa in an Art Deco neighborhood.
Photo by Off The Beaten Track via Trover.com
This seaside metropolis of Helsinki is well-known for its Art Nouveau architecture. The city has acquired international acclaim for art and design and exudes a hip culture and vibrant nightlife. However, with an archipelago of over 300 islands, Helsinki has a wild nature: forests, lakes, and old lighthouses; another world under a blanket of snow. A 15-minute ferry ride into the Helsinki Harbor will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Suomenlinna, a Baltic island fortress built in the 1700s, standing in the sea.
Where to stay? The chic boutique Hotel Fabian is luxurious but affordable and centrally located.
Image via Flickr by KeroroTW
Taipei fuses the grace of traditional Taiwanese aesthetics with the innovations of city life. Here you will discover elaborate Buddhist temples and shrines alongside corporate facades, and fascinating structures like the Taipei 101, a bamboo-inspired skyscraper. There are hot springs, lively night markets, intriguing museums, Tai Chi practice at sunrise, and fantastic folk culture. In winter, the gigantic Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival start the new lunar calendar year with a roar.
Where to stay? Close to many attractions, the Papersun Apartment has a peaceful beauty.
This article is part of Hipmunk’s Destination Unknown travel series.
AUTHOR BIO: Kemba Banton is a writer, artist, and mother, passionate about life, social change, and personal empowerment. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She’s teamed up with Heart & Soul and Hipmunk to bring intriguing tidbits about travel destinations across the world.