When you hear the words “big city”, what pops into your head? For most Americans, New York is the quintessential big city. For most Brits, it’s London. For those living in rural Appalachia, it might be Charleston, West Virginia, a town of about 50,000. But none of these cities are even in the top 20 most populous worldwide. Everyone knows about Beijing and Tokyo, but we bet at least a few of these places you haven’t heard of, let alone realized they were bigger than the Big Apple. And there’s a fair chance there will be a couple you can’t even pronounce.
10. Guangzhou, China
China is a huge country with huge cities. When you ask an American to name Chinese cities, they will probably list Beijing, Shanghai, and, uh… that’s probably it. However, there are actually several other megacities within the country. One of these is Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong. This has historically been referred to as the Canton region, which we can assure you is a real place and is not from Pokémon. It’s actually a part of south China where people speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin. If you’ve watched Kung Fu movies, there’s a good chance they were in Cantonese, as that’s what they speak in Hong Kong.
Anyway, because of its proximity to the sea, Guangzhou is often referred to as a gateway to China. It was the first port to be regularly visited by Europeans. Because of this and the Pearl River, which runs near the city, it has long been the center of trade within the province. However, since the ’80s, manufacturing and tourism have been growing as well. It appears to be a city full of beautiful and cool sites, such as the Southern China Botanical Gardens.
9. Karachi, Pakistan
Who would have guessed Pakistan would be on this list? It’s not a very large country, really. In fact, it’s only the 36th largest if you look at area. But it turns out Pakistan has a very high population density, because it is the 6th largest by population. With over 200 million people, it’s more populous than Russia, the world’s largest country by area. If you’re looking at population, Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan and the second largest city in the Muslim world. The city has gone through several different spellings, including Caranjee, Currachee, and our favorite, Kroctchey. Karachi is heavily involved in the manufacture and trade of textiles.
Unfortunately, Karachi is probably not a city you want to visit anytime soon, as the US State Department has issued a warning advising against any non-essential travel to Pakistan. Also, it doesn’t look like much of a tourist city to begin with. The top rated attraction on TripAdvisor is a shopping mall. And it’s not an underwater shopping mall or a shopping mall that goes into space or something. It’s a regular, earthbound shopping mall. Granted, the mall does look really nice, but it’s probably not worth the thousand dollar plane ticket.
8. Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta is the largest city and capital of Indonesia, a nation in south Asia made up of thousands of volcanic islands. Lava’s probably the least of your worries if visiting, but we just thought we’d give you a heads up. There’s a chance, although slight, that you might be melted by super hot liquid shot up from within the earth. Jakarta is a tropical city with warm temperatures year round. Though there is no official travel warning for Indonesia, visitors should be cautious and make sure to research where they are going to be going.
Jakarta has many unique and cool looking amusement parks, museums, and other sites. There are also several beautiful islands and beaches nearby. However, if you’re feeling a little homesick, you could always go to the Justin Bieber concert. For real. He’s gonna be there in October. We wonder if his songs will actually sound good translated into Indonesian.
7. Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka is the capital and largest city in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, like Pakistan, was kind of a surprise on this list. We guess they both just tend to get overshadowed in the news by their larger neighbor, India. We’d like to formally apologize to both countries for underestimating them. There are two theories about the origin of the name Dhaka. The first is that it was named after the dhak tree, which was once common to the region. According to some, the tree that Buddha sat under while achieving enlightenment was a dhak tree. It is not in any way related to the Deku tree, which is from Legend of Zelda. The other theory is that Dhaka refers to Dhakeshwari, a Hindu goddess. In fact, there’s still a temple named after her in the city.
Unfortunately, there is a travel warning for Bangladesh, which is a shame because Dhaka looks like a fairly beautiful place. It’s serious enough that US government officials aren’t even allowed to go out in public on their own in Bangladesh. It really sucks that a few bad people can ruin it for the majority of us. Under either theory, Dhaka was named after something from a religion based around rebirth. We hope that the city itself can undergo a rebirth and someday be free from its current tensions.
6. Kinshasa, Congo
Dammit, is every city on this list on a travel warning? No, we promise the next one won’t be. But the Congo is. Kinshasa is the largest city and the capital, which seems to be a recurring theme in this list, too. Supposedly, it is relatively safer than much of the country. However, you’re probably better off visiting with a tour group if you go. Whatever you do, make sure you do research first. And make sure you’re ok with what may be a stressful visit. According to the State Department, “Travelers in the region may encounter troop movements, armored vehicles and attack helicopters. Kidnapping for ransom is also common.”
On the bright side, there are many cute animals there, like gorillas, who are, uh, also pretty dangerous. Before 1966, the city was known as Leopoldville, which might give you a hint as to the official language. Go ahead, guess… and if you guessed French, you’re correct. Many also speak Lingala, a Bantu language native to the Congo. Kinshasa is well known throughout Africa for producing popular music, art, and literature.
5. Tianjin, China
Tianjin is a city in northeastern China, about 75 miles southeast of Beijing. It is also only 35 miles inland from the Bohai Sea, a gulf that leads through the Yellow Sea and a few others, eventually out to the Pacific Ocean. So, theoretically, a superhuman like Aquaman could swim all the way from China to Los Angeles. We don’t recommend trying, as we assume it would get pretty boring after awhile. Because of this proximity to the ocean, it has long been one of the most important ports of trade within China.
It is also well known for its cuisine, especially seafood. The city has many notable museums, which house art from many different Chinese dynasties. There is also a beautiful harbor and skyline, including a giant ferris wheel. This is the first thing that comes up if you search for Tianjin on Google Images. (Oh, go on, check for yourself. We know you want to. We’ll wait. Back? Great. Let’s continue.)
Ancient Culture Street includes architecture from long ago, including a palace built in 1326. And if you feel like some light hiking is in order, the Great Wall is pretty close by.
4. Lahore, Pakistan
Wow, Pakistan’s on this list twice. Way to go, guys! Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan after Karachi, which is over 800 miles away. It lies on the Ravi River, a tributary of the Indus. According to Hindu legend, Lahore was named for Lava, son of the Hindu deity Rama. Whether this is true or not, the city is very old. In fact, it is theorized by some that it may have been the “Labokla” mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century, although the city may even be much older than that.
There is still a travel advisory issued for Pakistan (nope, sorry, it hasn’t been lifted since you read the entry about Karachi), but there are several cool looking attractions should you ever find yourself in Lahore. The Badshahi Mosque is large and grand and really neat looking. Lahore Fort and Shalamar Gardens also houses a lot of beautiful architecture and scenery. The fort and gardens were designated a world heritage site in 1981. And, actually, if one giant mosque wasn’t enough for you, don’t worry! The Grand Jamia Mosque looks cool, but quite different from Badshahi. It’s got a very unique and otherworldly architecture to it. When it’s lit up at night, it actually looks like it could in fact be a building on another planet. Specifically, Naboo from Star Wars.
3. Sao Paulo, Brazil
If we asked you to name a Brazilian city, there’s a pretty good chance you’d say Rio De Janeiro. Maybe that’s because the Olympics were there last year, maybe it’s because it’s a more popular tourist destination, maybe it’s because it’s easier to pronounce. Whatever the case may be, Sao Paulo tends to get ignored when we talk about Brazil. Which, for most, probably isn’t very often. Well, it turns out Sao Paulo is actually bigger than Rio. It’s the largest city in South America with almost 12 million people in the city proper. Isn’t it crazy that there are people who have never heard of Sao Paulo, but have heard of the much smaller Saint Paul, Minnesota?
Sao Paulo is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is one of the most important industrial centers in Latin America. It’s known as a place to work hard and make money, as opposed to a tourist spot, hence the phrase “earn in Sao Paulo so you can spend in Rio.” However, like all large cities, there is some fun and/or touristy stuff to do. There are lots of parks, historical sites and, we assume, many restaurants specializing in Brazilian food. Which, when you’re there, they’ll probably just refer to as “food.”
2. Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos is the largest city and most important port in Nigeria. Nigeria is another country we didn’t expect to find on this list. The US State Department has a travel warning issued for much of the country, especially the northeastern part of the country where Boko Haram operates. Luckily, Lagos is in the very southwestern part of the country, about as far away as you can get in country. It is still a pretty dangerous city so do your research and be careful if you’re gonna go. The city includes an island within its limits, which we’re assuming have beaches with views of… well, water. There’s also a nice art center, a conservation center, and a giant church called Synagogue Church of All Nations.
Despite the confusing name, it is a “Christian” church run by TB Joshua, a claimed prophet and faith “healer”. Based on our little research, we’re not really convinced that this guy is magic. But we will admit that the building is really grand and beautiful. In fact, it doesn’t really look as much like a church as it looks like a bank. Huh, maybe there’s an analogy or metaphor to be made there. We’ll let you figure it out on your own.
1. Lima, Peru
Ah, Lima, the place where all Lima beans come from. Actually, we were pretty sure that was the case, but we decided to check on it anyway. And, what do you know, it’s not true. It’s possible to produce Lima beans in several other locations throughout the world. In fact, a lot of them come from California. Despite their lack of a monopoly in the Lima bean industry, Lima is the commercial and industrial center of Peru. It is surrounded by diverse forms of nature. The city is near a coastal desert, the Andes Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. In this sense, one could refer to it as “The Los Angeles of South America.” We just coined this term ourselves, but we hope its use will spread.
There are tons of beautiful historic churches, museums, and places to eat in Lima. As we mentioned earlier, there is an abundance of nature nearby, too. This place seems pretty cool, so it makes sense that it would be ranked number one on our list. Although this might seem to have been planned, it was not. This list was compiled in no particular order. If we were gonna list them by which ones sound best to visit, we still might put this one first, although Guangzhou would also be considered. We’ll have to think about it. Let us know what you think in the comments! Which of these cities sounds the coolest to you?