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For every New York City, there's a Chengdu, China. And for every Paris, there's a Kinshasa, Congo. In other words, there are plenty of large cities out there that somehow fly below our collective radar. Here are four large cities you've probably never heard of that are well worth a visit.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The eponymous capital of Chiang Mai Province is the largest city in Thailand's northern region. Founded in 1296, the city is home to just over one million residents and the population is steadily increasing. With balmy temperatures that rival those of sunny southern California, you’ll most likely want to spend plenty of time outside.
Chiang Mai, which translates to "New City," is packed full of attractions — both old and new. Walking and biking are excellent ways of exploring this fascinating city. Visitors are in for a treat when they visit Chiang Mai's Old City, a popular tourist attraction boasting a plethora of museums, temples, and hawker stalls. The Old City has preserved much of its original fortified wall and is a vibrant host of the region's many cultural identities. You'll find a vast range of dialects, architectural styles, and festive traditions here.
Tour operators invite visitors to explore Chiang Mai at sunrise on the Mae Ping River and visit the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple. That said, you could probably make do without the organized tours. In Chiang Mai, you can walk or bike virtually anywhere and take in the local culture yourself. For a unique experience, you can even take a rickshaw.
You may also choose to visit one of Chiang Mai's 10 sparkling waterfalls — all of which are popular destinations for tourists and locals alike. Make sure you plan a stop at Mae Ya Waterfall located in Doi Inthanon National Park, which is widely considered one of Thailand's most striking waterfalls.
San Sebastián, Spain
If you’re an enthusiastic foodie, you know that Spain is famous for its tapas. San Sebastián has those too. However, locals refer to them as pintxo, which features meat, fish, or vegetables placed on fresh-baked bread. When you consider that there are 11 Michelin three-star restaurants in all of Spain and three of them are in San Sebastián, you know you're in a culinary hotspot.
Visitors to the city will also be delighted by the many walking tours available. Best of all, you don’t have to go with a group. Instead, take in a bit of sightseeing in the city's Old Town, which includes the Plaza de la Constitución.
There are also plenty of other attractions such as the aquarium or beaches, making this the perfect venue for an excursion. Don't miss a chance to relax at Playa de la Concha, however, which visitors frequently praise as Europe's most beautiful urban beach. Travel and Leisure magazine even ranks it the second-best city beach in the world.
Conveniently located downtown, you'll be able to easily access the stunning, turquoise water, beautiful mountain views, and warm sand — no extra travel required! Confident swimmers can even head out to the nearby Santa Clara Island, where you'll find a lighthouse, a small bar and restaurant, and panoramic views of the city.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Abidjan never really took off as a tourist destination in the Ivory Coast, which means that you have the advantage of getting a much more authentic experience. The city, which is home to about 5.2 million residents, offers plenty to see and do. Moreover, because the area boasts a high percentage of international business travelers, it has hotels and amenities that appeal to tourists. Plenty of tour operators offer excursions to nearby attractions, and you can even specify if you prefer a French- or English-speaking tour host.
One of the best-kept secrets in Abidjan is the Ivoire Golf Club. Next Golf refers to it as a "nice walk" that attracts even non-golfers to the facility. After hitting the greens, dance the night away at one of the many jazz clubs, discos, and entertainment venues that the suburb of Marcory offers.
You also won't want to miss a trip to Banco National Park, one of the most popular spots in the area. Spanning approximately 116 square miles, this peaceful nature conservatory is home to a wide variety of fauna including African civets, bushbuck antelopes, and monkeys. Additionally, this park's arboretum offers visitors a chance to explore a tropical hardwood forest and view local flora from all over the Ivory Coast.
Although Delhi or Mumbai may be the cities that people outside of India are most familiar with, Ahmedabad (sometimes known as Amdavad) is definitely worth a visit. With an estimated population of seven million, this is India's fifth-largest city. In fact, in 2011, The Times of India newspaper ranked Ahmedabad as the best city to live in — placing it at the top of several categories for civic infrastructure, culture, and social values.
This enormous city is located in western India in the state of Gujarat. Founded in the 15th century, Ahmedabad's tourist office says that visitors here will experience "an enigmatic and passionate dance between the old and the contemporary." And indeed, the streets of this bustling metropolis are full of attractions both old and new.
Consider stopping for a visit at the Ahmed Shah Mosque, a beautiful marble mosque constructed over 600 years ago. Or learn more about the city's impressive history as a textile hub by stopping at the famous Calico Textile Museum. Here, you'll get a chance to see vibrant wall hangings, shawls, carpets, and other textiles from ancient to modern times. The museum's expansive collection also includes Jain art (Jainism being an ancient Indian religion), miniature paintings, and bronze artwork.
If you’re the adventurous sort, Ahmedabad is full of bustling marketplaces and beautiful nature spots. Do some jewelry shopping and grab some delicious street food at the Manek Chowk market or make your way to the Nagina Wadi garden, where you can watch the sunset over the shimmering Kankaria Lake.