If you want to experience a city like a local while on vacation, consider cruises that include visits to “second cities”–lesser-known destinations that still allow you to discover all the charm and culture of a country but with less hustle and bustle (domestically, think San Diego to Los Angeles or Portland, Maine to Boston). Not only could you make your dollars go further, you’ll help spread the positive economic impacts of travel to the local economy, all while getting an even more personal and intimate experience.
Whether you’re heading to Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Norway or Australia, consider these second cities:
Belfast, Northern Ireland
You might recognize Belfast from “Game of Thrones,” since the show filmed for 10 years in Northern Ireland at key locations like Winterfell Castle and the picturesque county of Antrim. But the city is more than a home to film sets (although it has a Glass of Thrones as tribute).
Belfast has come a long way since its Industrial Revolution, becoming a metropolis on par with Dublin, its southern counterpart. Now a cultural center of Northern Ireland, the second city is recognized for its award-winning architecture, such as the Metropolitan Arts Centre, and historic landmarks like the Titanic Quarter or the HMS Caroline, a ship used in both World Wars that is now a floating museum. And for literary history, what James Joyce is to Dublin, C.S. Lewis is to Belfast. Literary fans can visit C.S. Lewis Square–the inspiration for “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Explore cruises that can take you to Belfast here.
While it may be the second largest city in Norway, it has all the charms of a small town, with its cobblestone alleyways and medieval houses that are painted variations of red, yellow and white–similar to what you’d find in Oslo. Make sure to visit the Bryggen wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the center of trade for Northern Europe, and then prepare to savor the seafood-centric local cuisine like “persetorsk,” a traditional steamed cod dish that made the city a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Here are the ways to chart a course for Bergen on your next vacation.
Located 37 miles and about 80 minutes northwest of Rome, Civitavecchia is a smaller city that has much of the same history dating back to the Roman and Medieval ages. Since many cruises start and end here, you’ll have the opportunity to explore before or after your cruise and visit to Rome! It’s filled with monuments and archaeological sites that give a look at how ancient residents (and the emperor) lived and socialized, including Fort Michelangelo, which was commissioned by Pope Julius II to protect the city from pirates.
Another popular destination is the Taurine Baths, a thermal complex dating back to the Republican Age of the first century B.C., although no waters run there today. Instead, make sure to take a dip at the nearby Ficoncella Thermal Baths—where the 13th emperor of Rome, Trajan, frequently visited—before soaking up the sun, views and medieval castle on the coast of Santa Severa.
Retrace the Romans’ steps in Civitavecchia here.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Trade the super popular Tulum or Cancun for the serene beaches of Cabo San Lucas, where the rich and famous come to relax with views of the Pacific Ocean hugging one shore and the Sea of Cortez, one of the world’s most biodiverse waters, on the other.
The coasts here are perfect for action sports as well, including parasailing 600 feet above turquoise-green waters, flyboarding on a secluded bay, snorkeling amongst parrotfish, manta rays, sea turtles and more. If R&R is on your agenda, Lover’s Beach is a great bet whether you’re with your significant other or on your own. For those who want something even more chill, visit one of the rejuvenating spas that use indigenous plants such as sage and holy basil to pamper you, or play a round on one of the many championship golf courses throughout the region.
Beach it up in Cabo San Lucas here.
Newcastle, or “Newie” to locals, is the second-oldest city in Australia and about a two-hour drive up the coast from Sydney. The city is brimming with golden beaches with local dolphins and stunning coastlines begging to be photographed. It also has notable museums such as the Newcastle Museum, historic Ocean Baths (swimming pools filled with nearby ocean water) and nature reserves for koalas, wombats, emus and kangaroos.
After all that, refuel and take in Australia’s famous coffee culture with a flat white or a long black at a café. And it wouldn’t be Australia without surfing, and here you’ll have plenty of space to hone your skills in less-crowded waters perfect for hanging ten. Newcastle is also a stone’s throw away from one of the country’s major wine regions, Hunter Valley–meaning you can easily sample local award-winning shiraz and chardonnay.
See what’s new in Newcastle here.
While there is plenty of reason to see the popular capital cities on everyone’s lists, don’t underestimate these off-the-beaten-path gems. Whether it’s relaxing on pristine beaches or cultural attractions, you can discover the best of these countries on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Find the vacations headed for your second city and book now.