A selection of some of the best books that dive deeply into the daily lives of cities and the hidden worlds that lie within.
This instalment of Armchair Travel dives deeply into cities around the globe through rich and engaging histories, compelling travelogues, and works of fiction where the city setting is as much a character as the protagonists. These books really are the essence of armchair travel, capturing the character of a place and time yet unvisited.
Here are 10 of the best books that explore cities around the world, plus a bonus that looks into what makes an urban environment so alluring.
There’s something about walking. Studies continually show us that walking can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, in addition to the benefits to physical health from moving our bodies just to get around.
Cities, generally, are designed to be walked. Walking means we can dictate our own tour schedules, with no peak time travel charge, and possibilities open up beyond bus stops, tram routes, and metro stations. choosing to skip out on places or stop and linger longer. It means a journey from A to B can be just that, or run through the entire alphabet of diversions en route as we invent our own routes and build new connections.
I think there’s so much to be gained from setting out to stretch our legs and test our bearings whenever we visit new places, or become reacquainted with the old familiar streets. Here are my five top reasons why exploring cities on foot is the way to go.
A photographic guide to Belgium’s biggest traditional boat festival, one of the largest maritme festivals in the North Sea.
I’ve always had quite a fondness for working ports and harbours, and how the concrete quays and non-descript marinas are transformed for a few days every year when the port hosts a maritime festival, lifeboat gala day, or traditional boat show.
Railings are decked with bunting; boats cram into the harbour, showing their dressed overall flags; stalls demonstrating traditional maritime crafts, or hawking food and drink line the quaysides; and from somewhere, shanty singers assemble. The air is filled with the scent of Stockholm tar and smoked seafood, and the sound of fiddles and accordions.
Every May, the Belgian coastal resort and port of Ostend celebrates the maritime heritage of the North Sea, hosting traditional and classic sailing vessels from around Europe at the Oostende Voor Anker maritime festival (Ostend at Anchor in English).
The small seaside city of Ostend (Oostende in Flemish) was once notable as the summer residence of Leopold II, King of the Belgians, and held on to the epithet ‘La Reine des Plages (The Queen of the Coast)’ as the glamour started to fade away. Though this part of the coast of the West Flanders region of Belgium has always been popular with European families for bucket and spade-type seaside camping holidays, the city itself was reduced to not much more than a portal, one end of a ferry link between the British Isles and continental Europe, passed through on the way elsewhere. When that link was lost, Ostend had to find a new purpose.
And it did. Ambitious urban regeneration projects in the early 2000s have given the city a modern and stylish outlook, celebrating the art and design heritage of Ostend and making the most of the Belle Époque architecture, while championing the quirky surrealism we expect of Belgium.
So to help you uncover the charms of the Queen of the Coast, this is my vagabond guide to spending a weekend in Ostend.
For many visitors, the historic university city of Cambridge is almost the definition of Englishness and academia (well, unless you have any kind of connection to “the Other Place*”). Imagine lounging around on college lawns; punting, poetry, and jugs of Pimms; cycling down cobbled streets in a cap and gown; late-night discussions on existentialist philosophy…If only it was possible to become intellectual by osmosis.
The city, through the colleges and museums, inspired many residents to strike out for new horizons in search of adventure and new discoveries. Cambridge also received specimens, artefacts, treasures from around the globe, and journals filled with ideas that continue to inform and inspire visitors to look further afield, and make plans for their own expeditions.
So to help you get your bearings and set off on a successful expedition, this is my vagabond guide to spending time in Cambridge like a true old-school explorer.
It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire, the consequence of colonisations and land claims that spanned the globe, connected by the ships of the Royal Navy and merchant fleet. And this sprawling seafaring set-up was controlled from the grand halls of Greenwich.
Influences gathered from the corners of the earth have been woven through the history of Greenwich, London, and the rest of the UK, through discovery and exploration, science and research, shipping and trade. Visiting Maritime Greenwich, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an insight into the factors that shaped the idea of Great Britain, both nationally and internationally.
To navigate around the part of London at the heart of global time and travel, I’ve compiled a rough guide to discovering what makes Maritime Greenwich tick.