The top six cities to visit in 2014

Last updated 05:00 29/12/2013

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Among our cities to watch, Rio's ready to party like never before, Tokyo makes a comeback and Riga shines as Capital of Culture.

RIO DE JANEIRO

Rio loves to throw a party and its hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics has given the city plenty to celebrate.

In fact, it's a great time to be a carioca, as the locals are known.

Museums are opening, urban renewal projects are reviving rundown areas downtown and at the port and many of the city's favelas, or slums, are cleaned up; so much so that one favela jazz club, The Maze, is now the city's hottest venue.

A new breed of boutique hotels is giving the classics a run for their money and there's never been a better time to visit.

True, prices are rising but many of Rio's best experiences - from those gorgeous beaches to a freshly squeezed drink from one of the ubiquitous juice bars - can still be enjoyed for next to nothing.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Getting your Latin beat on at antique-store-cum-salsa-club Rio Scenarium (or at least watching the locals show how it's done); taking a favela tour to discover the truth behind the hype; trying the best new Brazilian cuisine, courtesy of chefs Roberta Sudbrack, Felipe Bronze or Jean-Claude Troisgros.

- Ute Junker

DETROIT

There are few places in the world where you can witness a city being entirely reborn, but Detroit is currently one of them.

Bankrupted last July, the city is at rock bottom, with something like 80,000 abandoned homes, but adversity brings opportunity.

A burgeoning arts scene has cast light into the industrial gloom, slowly transforming Motor City's dour face. The city is an urban experiment - dinner parties are held in abandoned buildings, urban farms have sprouted - turning Motown into Gotown.

Cheap rents and empty structures have enticed artists into city spaces once dominated by industry. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is in an abandoned car dealership, while the Russell Industrial Centre is a former car-body plant now occupied by more than 100 artists.

In Corktown, by the abandoned central railway station, the revival has been led by food.

Here, one-time model Philip Cooley opened the celebrated Slows Bar-B-Q, spawning a gourmet strip.

Nearby, Cooley has also created Ponyride, providing cheap space for artists, including a letterpress studio, a fencing school, dance studio and denim maker.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Paying homage to the velvet voices of Detroit at the Motown Historical Museum; going polka-dot crazy at the open-air art installation of the Heidelberg Project; sampling ribs or pulled pork at Slows Bar-B-Q.

- Andrew Bain

GLASGOW

It's not just the Commonwealth Games. You could visit Glasgow next year purely to witness July's sporting extravaganza, to enjoy the feeling of a city in celebration mode while supporting Australia's athletes.

But that wouldn't give you anywhere near the full story of what Glasgow has to offer in 2014.

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This is a city that has come of age, reinventing itself from Edinburgh's rough cousin into a hub for arts and culture, with a thriving music scene, great bars and burgeoning choices for diners.

It's the home of world-class museums and art galleries, huge spaces featuring renowned artists, as well as smaller galleries displaying the works of up-and-coming locals.

But, as they say, there's more. Next year's Homecoming Scotland, a year-long celebration of the country's history and culture, will include plenty of Glasgow-based events, including theatrical performances, open-air concerts and sporting displays.

And if you happen to be in the city on September 18, you'll witness history in the making as Scotland votes on independence.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; seeing a band at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut; eating and drinking at Hillhead Book Club.

- Ben Groundwater

TOKYO

When Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Olympics over Madrid and Istanbul, one could imagine a collective sigh of relief in the Japanese capital.

It has been a long two years since the earthquake and tsunami disaster. But all eyes are on the future now and dazzling civic proposals promise to transform the city in the lead-up to the Games.

This makes 2014 a terrific time to explore Tokyo: it is fully recovered, but not yet overwhelmed by construction and (even larger) crowds.

While Tokyo has enough major sites to satiate the most hyperactive traveller, take the time to see another side of things: for every Shibuya there is a quiet neighbourhood like Nishiazabu, stuffed with hidden restaurants; for every major museum in Ueno there is a less-frequented alternative like the Musee Tomo.

Tokyo has some of the best shopping strips around but it's also possible to skip retail therapy entirely for intimate parks and local bathhouses.

- Lance Richardson

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Eating exquisite sushi at Tsukiji, the biggest fish market in the world; exploring the painstaking art of Japanese animation at the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka (ghibli-museum.jp/en), recognised by animators all over the world; grabbing an evening cocktail at New York Bar, high above the dazzling neon streets of Shinjuku (tokyo.park.hyatt.com).

RIGA

The Latvian capital has a mediaeval heart, a funky vibe and a river running through it - enough you'd think to commend anywhere.

But 2014 also sees the Baltic's biggest city hosting a year-long calendar of events as Europe's Capital of Culture (riga2014.org).

Highlights will include an exhibition devoted to the past 500 years of the printed book, a 1914 exhibition at the National Museum of Art (showcasing a view of World War I as seen by famous European artists), summer solstice festivals, the World Choir Games (bringing together 20,000 singers from 90 countries) and Northern Europe's largest festival of light. It was awarded the 2014 honours for being no slouch in the cultural department.

The city is heritage listed for 13th to 15th century buildings and 19th-century wooden buildings in neoclassical style - the finest art nouveau buildings in Europe.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Learning how modern Latvia survived both the Nazis and the Soviets by visiting the Occupation Museum; sipping cocktails and taking in the view from the 26th floor of Skyline Bar before dancing at Club Essential; visiting the Central Market on Rifleman Square where 1250 sellers flog food (and pretty much everything else) in five old Zeppelin hangars.

- Max Anderson

SAN SEBASTIAN

Set on the Bay of Biscay, the city of San Sebastian has emerged as yet another reason to put Spain on the wish-list for 2014.

The motivation is food. This Basque seaport has a trio of three-Michelin-star restaurants and another six diners with at least one star, more relative to its population than anywhere else.

What sets the city apart from the distinguished cookery that constitutes the norm on the Iberian peninsula is a cuisine born of proximity to the sea and a long history of scraping poverty that turns even the noses of cows into a piquant dish.

High-level culinary consciousness permeates every San Sebastian eating experience, from the giant La Bretxa market to its bars.

The essential dish is pintxos (pin-chos), which means spike, since they're often served on a skewer.

The Basque version of tapas, pintxos include bite-sized snacks of tiger mussels, fried anchovies stuffed with paprika, and foie gras with figs and pressed cheese made from unpasteurised sheep milk.

Fraternal bonhomie reigns in the bars where pintxos are served, but phone-booth dimensions and shout-out ordering can be a challenge.

Too hard? Join a San Sebastian Food tour organised by Brit Jon Warren, with cooking classes as an optional side order. See sansebastianfood.com.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Trying the kokotxas al pil-pil (hake cheeks, a traditional Basque favourite) at Ibai; booking in at the belle epoque Hotel Maria Cristina; sampling the mushroom pintxos at Bar Martinez.

- Michael Gebicki

- FFX Aus

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