Travel without a Capital ‘T’: Must-Visit Non-Capitals of the World

Traditional wisdom would tell us that a country’s very best city would be the one designated as the capital. How ever, in some countries, it's better to skip the capital and visit other places.

The capital city is usually the seat of the government, often the largest city, and likely to be where the culture of the country is at its most concentrated. Many capital cities do seem to display the best of their country, and are at the top of the travel list when visiting that country. Places that spring to mind are Paris, London and Rome.

However, there are other cities that lull a traveller into a false sense of believing they are in the capital, leaving them surprised to find this is not the case. You could say that New York, Sydney and Istanbul are examples of this. In some countries, it can be best to start in the capital and branch out to other cities to find whatever you are searching for, whether that is the best nightlife, the most delicious food, or the greatest beaches.

Here is a list of cities whose real capitals might surprise some of you!



Sydney is indeed the largest city in Australia, and some would argue it is the most exciting and cultural. The lesser-known and eighth-largest city Canberra is the one that holds the title of Australia’s capital.

As one of the largest and most urban countries on the planet, it is no wonder that Australia has a long list of great cities that any traveller would love to visit. As a trip to Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people, they might choose to travel around the country and see all the greatest cities on their way.

Australia is a great destination for beach-lovers, as most major cities are on the coast, meaning you can find a fantastic beach wherever you go, whether that is Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin or Brisbane.


When you think of travelling to Turkey, you probably think of Istanbul. A bustling city full of amazing sights, smells and sounds, Istanbul straddles the border between Europe and Asia, and comes out with a culture all of its own. Istanbul is intense and innovative, full of fascinating history and a buzzing nightlife for the young and hip.

But, what you might be surprised to learn is that the capital city of the Republic of Turkey – an important distinction from the Ottoman Empire – is Ankara. Rather than simply living in Istanbul’s shadow, Ankara is a solid travel destination in its own right, with a thriving café culture and a young scene that can only come from being a university town.

Many travellers to Turkey choose to eschew the city scene and opt for relaxing beach resorts in places such as Bodrum or Antalya.

United States

new york city manhattan

You can’t blame a person for thinking that the capital of the USA is New York City. It is the first city that springs to mind when you think of the country, and it is the hometown of many people in American sitcoms and films. As such, it is often the number one destination on the list of a traveller heading to the States.

However, any country as vast as the USA is bound to have a large number of cities with something to offer to tourists. Washington, D.C. the real capital city, is certainly one of them. It is considered by some to be the home of the American intelligentsia, as the residents of the city are fiercely political and always ready for a debate.



Geneva is one of the financial capitals of the world, and an important city for the United Nations and the Red Cross. It is not, however, the capital of Switzerland. That title goes to the rather smaller and less famous city of Bern or Berne (both spellings are correct). Bern has also been granted another, perhaps more enviable title – it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As you might imagine after hearing this, the city is beautifully old-fashioned, with beautiful unspoiled architecture as far as the eye can see. For those who enjoy the excitement and atmosphere of big cities, Bern may not be the place to go. Another popular and exciting city in Switzerland is Zürich.


Think Morocco, think Marrakech. Think Morocco, think Casablanca. Think Morocco, think Rabat. If that last one has you scratching your head, you might not be the only one.

Rabat is not fiercely marketed as an idyllic travel destination, and nor is it immortalised in classic film. Rabat is an excellent destination for those who want a little taste of Arabic culture while also wanting to relax and take it easy. It is easy to reach by train from other cities in Morocco, making it a great place for a trip while staying elsewhere, a peaceful place to base yourself while exploring the rest of the country.



Ask ten people in the street what the capital of Brazil is, and there is a good chance a lot of them will answer that it is Rio de Janeiro. They would have been right, if you asked them that question prior to 1960.

However, the truth is that the capital of Brazil is the aptly named Brasilia, which is an amazing example of a city built for the purpose. While many countries boast a capital city that has been around for hundreds of years, Brazil has very different bragging rights. In 1960, an official decision was made to relocate the country’s capital to a location closer to the centre of the country, rather than a location on the coast such as Rio de Janeiro. As it is just a little over 50 years old, Brasilia is one of the best places to go if you are interested in modern architecture.

Then there are those countries whose capital city is the one you think it is – but also have other amazing cities you might not have thought of while you were planning your travels.

Great Britain

You would be right in thinking that London is the capital of England. If you look in the history books, you may find that cities such as Canterbury, Winchester and York might have taken on that title at various points throughout time. However, London is the capital of the country now, and has been for a long time.

Tourists flock to the city of London year after year, hoping to find the very essence of British culture. London is indeed a formidable and fascinating city – but as Britain also includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is much more to British culture. Their respective capital cities are Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. Each city has its own distinctive personality and culture.

Travellers who are serious about seeing every British capital might wish to start in Belfast, before taking a ferry to the mainland and hiring a car in order to drive to up to Edinburgh, down to Cardiff and eventually across to London.



You’re planning to visit France, so of course you want to go to Paris. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and often considered to be the most beautiful city, Paris has much to offer to any kind of traveller. Such is the allure of Paris that many people will come time and time again to France without ever straying from the capital.

What some travellers might not know is that France has a number of other beautiful cities with plenty to offer. If you are visiting France in December, head to Lyon to see the Festival of Lights. For fans of philosophy and alternative art, try a trip to the small city of Toulouse. If you are interested in sampling some of the finest wine, you may want to travel to the port city of Bordeaux. If you want to seek out the city with the most diverse culture, you might find yourself in Marseille.


Rome is the city of dreams for many people. Home of the Catholic Church and arguably the best place in the world to get a cup of coffee, a slice of pizza or a plate of pasta, Rome is a tourist heaven in so many different ways. For a relatively small country, Italy packs a punch when it comes to beautiful cities worth a visit.

For fashion, Milan is the place to be, while Shakespeare fans might choose a trip to Verona to see museums inspired by Romeo & Juliet. Venice is considered to be one of the most unique cities in the world, being built on and walking around the city can be quite a surreal experience. Like some of the other cities mentioned in this list, Venice and its lagoon are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city also has a great art scene, including a lot of modern art, which can be hard to find elsewhere in Italy. For romantic getaways, head to Florence, and to experience the supposed birthplace of pizza, Naples is the only place to be.

About the author


Reader, writer, blogger, part-timer, volunteer, all things to all men. I can usually be found wearing yellow clothes and drinking green tea. Some of my favourite things include waterfalls, polar bears, rum, and charity shops.

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