My Top 10 Cities From My First 100 Countries

Top 10 cities from the first century of countries in the backpack

Top 10 cities from the first century of countries in the backpack (photo taken in Chongqing, China)

People often ask me where my favourite city is and to be truthful about it – it changes all the time and I never really have a set answer – it’s just not possible to give the same answer. It depends on who I’m with, how I’m feeling, where I am, what I’m reminiscing on etc. In fact, about 100 of the few hundred cities I’ve been to could make my top 10 cities on any given day. We don’t always feel the same. However right now, as I’ve recently cracked the 100 country mark, these are my current top 10 cities and it feels good to get something like this jotted down. Cities only of course, I’ll cover my top 10 towns and villages in separate articles.

Top 10 cities from my travels to 100 countries (this was taken in San Salvador, El Salvador)

Top 10 cities from my travels to 100 countries (this was taken in San Salvador, El Salvador)

Make no mistake about it – Belfast is the best city in Northern Ireland, the coolest in Ireland and leaves other UK destinations red faced with jealousy. If I had an Irish Punt for everytime I hear a backpacker raving about Dublin (one of the most drab cities of all time) yet who had never been to Belfast, I’d be a rich man. I’ve said it before, skip Dublin and the Republic of Ireland completely and head to Belfast, the Giants Causeway, Newtownards, Coleraine, Ballintoy and the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge.

best capital cities

Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland.

Historically, culturally and industrially rich Belfast is a city of pure intrigue and fascination. Get it on your list before it becomes the coolest city on the planet and the novelty wears off. Don’t forget a wee pint in the Crown Bar and stay a night in the Europa Hotel.

“The Belfast Child sings again” – Simple Minds

2.Chongqing, CHINA
As a child it was always my dream to visit Chongqing, often dubbed as “the biggest city in the world that nobody ever goes to”. I waited until June 2013 however before finally visiting Chongqing and I was completely inspired. From backpacking through a colossal top 10 sights, my trip there, the rice dumpling lesson, drinking with the locals, the world’s biggest toilet complex and the inspiring cable car across the Yangtze River, Chongqing is a pure fire travel gem.

jonny blair backpacking chongqing

Hold on tight my friends – Chongqing is a monster!!

If you only have time to visit one city in China, make it Chongqing.

“They can come true” – Gabrielle

3. London, ENGLAND
English capital city London has a magnetic charm to me. I’ll never get tired of hopping on a tube to a random station to explore, get lost and have a good old pint in a typical London pub. London has endless possibilities.

Jonny Blair at Westminster London England

St. Stephen’s Tower, London

London is a city that I once spent a year working in, yet I have since been back and notice new things every time. In fact on my latest adventure to London, I visited two self declared countries within the M25 as I headed to the former Republic of Frestonia and the Empire of Austenasia. You can also check out some of my crazy travel days out in London like the Countries of the World Pub Crawl, the World Cup crawl and my Tower of London visit.

“Way on down south, London town” – Dire Straits

4. Montevideo, URUGUAY
Again, childhood dreams mixed with my love of football took me to Uruguay, the smashing capital city of Montevideo was the main reason. I remembered that the very first World Cup was held here in 1930, and that Uruguay won 2 out of the first 4 World Cups so I had to go.

Happy times back in 2010 in Montevideo, Uruguay - after 4 years I'm hoping for a return!

Happy times back in 2010 in Montevideo, Uruguay at my homestay with Perla

In the end I decided to hang around for a few weeks and lived with a local family, studied Spanish, watched Penarol, visited the massive Estadio Centenario (where I watched 3 matches and toured the stadium/museum) and also ventured out to Casapueblo for the most incredible sunset of all time.

“Sunset at Casapueblo is inspiring” – Myself and Argentinian backpacker Patricia

5. Kowloon, HONG KONG
I thought the bright lights of vibrant Kowloon would be too much for a town boy from Northern Ireland. How wrong I was. From my days working in the heart of Kowloon City, at the Delaneys Irish Pub in Tsim Sha Tsui, I fell in love with Hong Kong’s more authentic part.

Jonny Blair in Delaney's Kowloon a lifestyle of travel

Working in Kowloon, Hong Kong

While Hong Kong Island boasts businessmen in suits, Kowloon looks down on such arrogance with its ancient temples, poky markets, quirky bars and something new and unknown on every corner. Get exploring places like Lam Tin, Sai Kung and Tseung Kwan O.

“I’ve been to Hong Kong with Bruce Lee’s brother and Johnny Wong” – Ash

6. Mexico City, MEXICO
Well this place was probably the biggest surprise of my entire journey. I kind of assumed we’d pass through Mexico City in a couple of days and not like it that much. But by was I wrong. It is such a friendly, atmospheric and vibrant city that I wanted to stay longer.

backpacking mexico city jonny

Mexico City – WOW!

We ended up staying a week and every night I’d visit different Cantinas, munching amazing Mexican food, devouring cerveza y tequila/mezcal , visiting the Estadio Azteca and overall being blown away by this place. It’s incomparable to anywhere else I’ve ever been. My hostel was also in the old poky streets and was the Casa San Ildefonso in an old courtyard building. * Every globetrotter needs to visit Mexico City. 

“We could go to Mexico, you, the cat and me” – Joshua Kaddison

7. Parramatta, AUSTRALIA
Parramatta makes it in, as theoretically it is a city. It’s referred to as the City of Parramatta and being the second biggest CBD in the Sydney area, I’m not going to brush this hub into the same bubble as Sydney. It’s separate and as an ex Parramattarain, I felt at home here for almost two years.

Sweet home Parramatta back in 2010

Sweet home Parramatta back in 2010

I knew the place well – I had local pubs and shops. I worked in the best Irish Pub in Australia PJ Gallagher’s and I had the coolest flatmates in our little place on Belgian Street just behind the golf course. Several dreams were born here in sun drenched Parramatta before my wandering heart moved me on in life. But I shan’t forget you and you can bet your life I’ll be back one sunny day.

“Sweet home Parramatta, where the skies are so blue” – Altered lyric of Lynard Skynard

8. Chisinau, MOLDOVA
There was just something mysterious and wonderful about one of Europe’s least ventured capital cities – undermined Chisinau after my sleepy night train from Bucharest to Chisinau. Formerly called Kishinev of course when it was sucked in by the Soviet vacuum. These days vibrant little Keeshy revels in a world of its own.

Chisinau, Moldova

Chisinau, Moldova

Quiet streets, buildings that haven’t changed in years and some funky wifi bars in one of the cheapest cities from my journeys, Chisinau is one not to be missed. Even cooler, you can get a bus across the border to Tiraspol and enjoy a homestay in the little known Republic of Transnistria.

“The more I get of you, the stranger it feels (the air)” – Seal

9. Xinying/Shinying, TAIWAN
Well if you’ve followed my journeys, you’d just know that Xinying is a sure fire cert to come up in any travel conversation I have and in all honesty, it is unlikely ever to slip out of my backpacking top 10 cities.

Cycling in Shinying, Taiwan

Cycling in Shinying, Taiwan

Xinying was dreamlike. A city I had never heard of before and never forgotten since. A city my best mate Millwall Neil lived in. A city with barely a tourist attraction. But a city which I fell in love with, reignited my backpacking spirit and left behind the ghost of that Hungarian dancer back in 2009.

You’ll visit a lot of cities on your backpacking adventure, but you’ll not be any more inspired by Shinying. Notably, the banner/header of Don’t Stop Living was a photo taken by my travel buddy Natalja, on my first ever day in Shinying, by a globe.

It changed my world, it could change yours.

Globe in Sinying Taiwan

Backpacking in Sinying (Shinying) in Taiwan – you might recognise this globe – it’s the one that makes up my cover photo on Don’t Stop Living

“It’s a small world after all” – Disney

10. San Salvador, EL SALVADOR
Again something inspiring about my journey into San Salvador, my awesome hostel Ximena’s there, the fact that the capital city is so central to the country and again – the overstaying my welcoming. I wanted to pass in and out of El Salvador in 4/5 days and ended up staying for almost two weeks (which later cut into my time in Nicaragua).

partying san salvador

My brilliant night out in San Salvador with Ivan and Jorge.

But as for San Salvador, great food, great people, cool bars and 10 peculiar sights as well as the trips to Joya de Ceren, Chalchuapa and the impressive Devil’s Gate viewpoint.

“Fly me down to capital city in the sun” – Oasis

I’ll get onto compiling my top 10 towns and villages from my first century of countries next, you may also have seen my 5 craziest moments so far.

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Safe travels!


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