Top 10 cities

1. Johannesburg, South Africa

Jo’burg has a reputation problem. But South Africa’s biggest city is finally beginning to break free from the chains of its troubled past, and parts – like the arty Maboneng quarter – have rooted themselves as exciting cultural hubs. New clusters of forward-thinking museums, galleries and shops are set to emerge in 2015, though better-known attractions like Constitution Hill and the poignant Apartheid Museum should still be on the to-do list of any first-time visitor.

Johannesburg represents the future. My version of what I think the world is going to become looks like Johannesburg. - Neill Blomkamp (movie director)

2. Málaga, Spain

Founded by the Phoenicians, the ancient city of Málaga has far more to offer than the usual Spanish cocktail of sun, sea and sangria – though all of those things are still in plentiful supply. In 2015, a cube-shaped building on the quay will swing open its doors as an offshoot of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, featuring works by Málaga-born Pablo Picasso. Other projects signalling Málaga’s cultural revival include a new museum of Russian art, set to light up a former tobacco factory, and the continued development of mural-daubed Soho, which attracts trailblazing street artists.

3. New Orleans, USA

There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. – Bob Dylan (musician)

A decade on from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is back. Not just as a tourist destination, but as one of the world’s most exciting places for food and music. There are now more than 1400 restaurants in the city – that’s double the amount before the hurricane rolled in – and NOLA’s music scene is back in the swing of things, most audibly in the Upper Ninth Ward’s brightly painted Musician’s Village, purpose-built to rehouse performers who were displaced by the storm.

4. Hamburg, Germany

Cheap, cool and crazy about techno, Berlin has long been the go-to European city for wide-eyed night owls. But Hamburg, around half Berlin’s size, also has a whopper of a party scene. Steer clear of sleazy, neon-lit Reeperbahn (a street known locally as the “most sinful mile”) and you’ll find countless kitschy bars, boozy beer gardens and wild rock venues, plus throbbing, Berlin-style dance clubs housed in old factories. Our tip? Allow an extra day or two at the end of your trip to catch up on sleep.

5. Nizwa, Oman

Once the capital of Oman (that title now goes to Muscat), Nizwa’s historical importance shouldn’t be underestimated. This was the sultanate’s capital for more than 1000 years, attracting artists, scholars and traders from across the region. And in 2015, when Nizwa takes over from Sharjah as the Islamic Capital of Culture, its history and future will be celebrated with a series of events across the city.

6. Wellington, New Zealand

Big-budget films helped bring tourists to New Zealand and now Wellington, which celebrates 150 years as the country’s capital in 2015, is giving visitors plenty of reasons to stick around. There’s a real buzz about the city’s café scene and smart new craft-beer bars are bubbling up across the city. Be sure to check out Te Papa (the New Zealand National Museum), which is packed with treasures from across the Pacific. Highlights include the elaborate feather cloak that was given to the English explorer James Cook in Hawaii.

7. Belgrade, Serbia

One of the unexpected high points on any European itinerary. – The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget

Easily squeezed into an overland tour of Europe and small enough to explore on foot, Belgrade is changing fast. Long-neglected neighbourhoods like Savamala are being redrawn as artists’ hangouts, while slick bars and clubs pop up in dilapidated, box-like buildings – hangovers from Serbia’s war-torn past. Another reason to go: the ten-hour train ride connecting Belgrade with Podgorica, in Montenegro, is spectacularly scenic.

8. Salta, Argentina

Stretching out beneath the scorched peaks of the Andes, sunny Salta is the definition of a pretty Argentinian city. Colonial-era church spires pierce the sky, palm trees edge the plazas and the foot-stomping sound of Andean folk music floods out from boisterous peña clubs. When you’ve had your fill of art, music and history, head out to explore the cacti-spiked deserts, or the high but fertile vineyards just a few hours south, which produce some of the country’s best wines.

9. Birmingham, England

Midway between two of England’s big cultural powerhouses – London and Liverpool – Birmingham has often missed out on its share of the limelight. Creative hotspots are beginning to emerge in the urban sprawl, however, like the old industrial district of Digbeth, where vintage shops and street food stalls have begun to appear in and around the old Victorian buildings. Head to the old Bird’s Custard Factory for vintage kilo sales and live music performances. Plus with Birmingham New Street station reopening in 2015 after a much-needed renovation, this year is the ideal time to make a trip.

10. Yangon, Myanmar

This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about. – Rudyard Kipling

The days of tourist-free streets might be over but it’s not too late to discover Myanmar. Steamy Yangon, with its golden pagodas, red-robed monks and fin de siècle architecture, is as tantalisingly exotic as ever. Armed with the first-ever Rough Guide to Myanmar, which comes out in February 2015, you’ll have no trouble exploring beyond the city – including the untouched beaches of the Tanintharyi Division, only recently opened to tourists.

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