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International City Names We Bet You Can't Pronounce

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

While you may not need to know how to pronounce a city's name in order to book a flight there, we think you should before speaking to the locals. Learn the pronunciation of these destinations and start practicing. You'll be speaking like a native in no time!

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Oaxaca, Mexico

Santa Domingo church in Oaxaca, Mexico
Credit: jmorse2000/ iStock

Oh-ax-uh-ka? Not exactly. The name of this Mexican city (and state) is technically pronounced "Wa-hah-kah." It's important to know not only if you're planning to travel to Oaxaca itself, but also if you want to order any Oaxacan-style food elsewhere in Mexico or even internationally. The region is one of Mexico's most famous cuisine hubs and is known for its cheese, moles, and tamales in addition to other cultural delicacies.

As delicious and daring as it may be, however, the food isn't the only reason to come to Oaxaca. The city is a blend of classic colonialism and native culture, leading to historic architecture alongside colorful art. The area's diverse history is portrayed at the Museum of Oaxaca Cultures, which includes everything from native Zapotec and Mixtec treasures to artifacts from the Spanish conquest.

The surrounding area is just as beautiful and is definitely worth exploring if you find yourself in Oaxaca. Less than a two-hour drive away is Hierve el Agua, one of the most popular sites in the region. Here you'll find stunning mountain views, fresh air, and the star of the show — the petrified waterfall. One of just two petrified waterfalls in the entire world, Hierve el Agua looks more like a statue than a natural phenomenon, with mineral deposits perfectly forming the shape of the waterfall that used to be there. To experience this area with fewer crowds, spend the night at one of the onsite cabins and catch a glimpse of the waterfall under the stars.

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Worcestershire, United Kingdom

Picturesque cottages with flowers along the road of Worcestershire, United Kingdom
Credit: CaronB/ iStock

You would think that English speakers might have a leg up on pronouncing city names in the United Kingdom, but Worcestershire can still make most linguists pause — although if you live in or near Worcester, Massachusetts, you probably won't bat an eyelash. You'll see Worcestershire broken down in a variety of ways, but everyone can agree on a few basic principles: Ignore the "rce," don't give much thought to the second "r," and don't place emphasis on the "shire" at the end. This isn't Middle Earth, after all.

Ideally, you'll be left with something that sounds like "Woost-a-shur." Worcestershire is actually the name of the county in which the city of Worcester (or "Wooster") is the largest city. Worcester is known for its cathedral that dates back to 1084, as well as other historic locales like The Commandery, which played an important role in the English Civil War.

However, Worcester isn't the only area of interest in Worcestershire. In Kidderminster, you'll find the Severn Valley Railway, a steam engine rail line that has been in operation since 1862 and is now a popular tourist destination. Here you can enjoy afternoon tea, ride a ghost train, explore the engine room, and even get married!

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Xi'an, China

Xian city wall at night with lights
Credit: MediaProduction/ iStock

It is well worth figuring out the name of this Chinese city since it has many incredible sights. Pronounced "Shee-ahn," the city is home to the Fortifications of Xi'an, the most complete city wall that has survived in China. Take in the impressive defenses from below or go for a bike ride along the top of the entire wall.

Another worthwhile stop is the Bell Tower of Xi'an, which dates back to the early Ming Dynasty in 1384. When it was originally built, the Bell Tower of Xi'an was used as a military command center to protect the city. During times of peace, this beautiful bell tower simply kept time and ensured that the city's drawbridge was raised and lowered at regular intervals. This bell tower is still a prominent site, spanning 14,821 square feet and rising up 118 feet above the streets of Xi'an. As the geographic center of the city, it's an important landmark to know if you get lost!

The most famous site for visitors to Xi'an, however, is undoubtedly the Terracotta Army. The clay soldiers and horses were buried for more than 2,000 years before being discovered in the 1970s. Originally, the army was built to guard China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang, into the afterlife. Today, the Terracotta Museum is located about a half-hour's drive from the city and is rightfully recognized as one of the greatest archeological sites in history.

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Skopje, North Macedonia

A stone bridge over a river in Skopje, a city in Macedonia.
Credit: RossHelen/ iStock

Another name that gets a dizzying array of pronunciations is the North Macedonian capital, Skopje. The proper pronunciation of this city is closest to "Skope-yay," though you certainly won't be alone if you mess it up.

Step back in time in the Old Bazaar, which is several centuries old and offers traditional handmade crafts in addition to food. As the second-largest bazaar in the Balkans, this area is one of the most popular tourist spots in Skopje — in fact, it is now a protected national landmark. Here you'll find family businesses that have been passed down for generations, as well as plenty of people practicing traditional skills, such as coppersmiths and shoemakers.

From the Old Bazaar, walk to the city's symbolic Stone Bridge. This incredible landmark is so old that people aren't quite sure when it was even built — some say it was as long ago as the sixth century, while others date it to the mid-1400s. Either way, it's a beautiful piece of history. It will take you over the Vardar River, which links the old and new areas of the city.

Throughout all of Skopje, you can see remnants of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires in addition to the local Balkan culture. From 15th-century mosques to the St. Clement of Ohrid Orthodox Cathedral, the city is a fascinating mosaic of cultures, religions, and histories.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloon flying over rock landscape at Cappadocia Turkey
Credit: TPopova/ iStock

Once you know to pronounce the "c" as a hard "k," this Turkish name becomes easy and is pronounced "Kap-uh-doke-yah." Located in central Turkey, the Cappadocia region is known for a number of surreal, fairytale-like features and is only a short flight from Istanbul. If you've heard of Cappadocia, it likely enters your mind as the backdrop to a sky full of hot air balloons. Local tour companies operate the rides every morning for a truly magical scene — both for those floating in the air and those watching from the ground.

The surrealism of the place is further compounded by the area's natural features. "Fairy chimneys" are strange, mushroom-like rock formations that rise from the ground and dot the landscape as if in a Dr. Seuss book. These unique objects were actually millions of years in the making. They are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions that left layers of hardened ash across this area. The hardened ash — also known as "tuff" — slowly eroded over the centuries, ultimately creating these unique fairy chimneys.

Locals would eventually build underground cities beneath these chimneys, using them to shelter religious exiles. In fact, this area is so beautiful and historically significant that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Marseille, France

Yachts reflecting in the still water of the old Vieux Port of Marseilles beneath Cathedral of Notre Dame, France, at sunrise
Credit: Xantana/ iStock 

If you speak French, you won't struggle with this one. For those of us hopelessly confused when it comes to this romance language's pronunciations and silent letters, however, we may end up with something like "Marselley" before trailing off. The correct pronunciation is actually "Mar-say."

Once you've got the name down, you can start exploring the best sights in the city. As the second-largest city in France, Marseille has no shortage of awe-inspiring architecture, cultural sites, and mouthwatering food. You might start at the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde ("Our Lady of the Guard"). This historic Catholic basilica sits high above Marseille, giving you panoramic views of the city and the sparkling harbor below. However, the amazing views don't stop once you go inside the basilica. Built in the 1850s, this incredible site is overflowing with delicate mosaics, marble fixtures, and arching golden ceilings.

Elsewhere in Marseille you can wander the historic blocks of the Old Port neighborhood or venture out to the island in the harbor. In fact, fans of classic literature won't want to miss a stop at Chateau d'If, the imposing island fortress that was featured heavily in The Count of Monte Cristo.

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