To tech, or not to tech. That is the question. Do you seek a city break with a healthy side order of smart apps, science museums and gadget-crazy malls, or do you like your cities to be gateways to complete and utter bliss – places where you can disconnect from the grid and calm your frazzled mind? We think both have their place. Like they say ‘ have you tried turning it off and on again….?’
The city of love, of art, of food – yes, Paris is all these and more. But a new offline app, Smarter Paris, aims to show this is a tech-savvy city that looks forward as much as it celebrates its past. Crammed with real-time, real-people-written information on restaurant reviews, fashion sales, traffic information and bicycle rental stations the app lets you curate a tour that fits your interests perfectly. There’s also a great audio function: it’s basically the best of the city, electronically available, 24 hours a day, in your palm. And it’s original material – not that old 20th century travel guide book stuff. Take a ride on an automated metro train, visit the brilliant Museum of Arts and Crafts and the spellbinding City of Science and Industry – Europe’s biggest science museum, with its “bioclimatic facade” of three large greenhouse spaces, a planetarium and in-depth rotating exhibitions.
Huge next-gen success stories like Hootsuite and Unbounce show that Vancouver is the perfect environment for techstars, and the city’s start-up scene – based in the buzzing, must-visit developing Gastown neighbourhood – is awash with ‘the next big things’, beavering away in sheds and studios. Just spending time in the coffee shops here makes you feel connected to the future, somehow. The city’s video game development scene, headlined by EA Studios, is also one to watch. But you might be drawn, instead to the great-fun H.R. MacMillan Space Centre where you can explore the deepest corners of the universe at the observatory, or take a tour in the Planetarium. Explore the inner workings of this world, at the excellent Science World at Telus World of Science: where the cutting edge and the mind-boggling rub shoulders with the everyday tech that powers up all our lives.
Perhaps the most tech-friendly destination on Earth, Tokyo dazzles with its futuristic cityscapes, its electronics malls shrines to the very latest must-have gizmos and gadgets. Start your tour in the eye-popping Akihabara district, famous for its electronic shops, and its colourful anime and Manga boutiques. In the neighbouring city of Kawasaki, the Toshiba science museum’s interactive exhibits peer into the future of technology we’ll all be using at home, soon. Not to be outdone, the Sony Museum – Sony ExploraScience – offers a peak at the intersection of light, sound and entertainment. On the man-made island of Odaiba, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation offers a bewildering array of set pieces extolling the life-changing magic of tech, through hands-on exhibitions on environmental, space, health and home applications. It’s amazing stuff. Hungry? Sushiro’s sushi chain allows you to order via a tablet screen and have it sent directly to your table via robots. Nice.
CITIES TO DISCONNECT
Yes, Sydney is one of Australia’s most connected, alive and future-forward cities. But there is another side to this sunny New South Wales city. The world’s first city to switch off the lights during Earth Hour (when, for one precious hour, we think, globally, about climate change). It’s a theme Sydney embraces for more than an hour. You can easily escape the rattle and hum of the grid here – and the way of life, especially at Manly, is way more surfing the waves than surfing the net. This is an outdoorsy, nature-loving metropolis, where the call of nature is never too far away. With its lush network of public parks and beautiful Botanic gardens, Sydney hides a surprisingly rural heart, The city’s Harbour’s islands are among some of Sydney’s most popular escape routes. Try also the Cascades trail, a beautiful natural trail in pristine and picturesque Garigal National Park, or the Dharawal National Park for a true taste of bushland, with its hinterland of creeks, rocky outcrops and tall eucalyptus it’s an ancient Aboriginal landscape that’ll revive the most frazzled of city minds.
The capital of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn’s timber-framed houses, its bustling harbour and its small-town charm act like a salve: you can feel you pulse slowing down as you stroll about the quiet little lanes. From here, you can take a boat to the archipelago’s outlying islands. Each have their charm – but for our money, Mykines outshines them all. Population 11, the island’s turf-roofed houses, it’s little stream running through the village, and its resident, comical colony of puffins combine to make the world seem like an awfully long way away. Take a picnic, and wander to the island’s ragged northern edge: from here, the next landfall is on the other side of the North Pole, in Alaska. Curiously, though, Torshavn is the crucible of modern democracy – its parliament the world’s oldest. Back in town, take a wander down the atmospheric Tinganes peninsula, where the 16th century houses represent the historic heartland of these alluring Atlantic islands.
Right in the heart of Slovenia – this likeable, easy-going capital is close to the country’s best natural assets. No wonder it’s rapidly becoming the place to go for lovers of the great outdoors, adrenalin pursuits, and those who just love city living with a side order of fresh mountain air, and scenic backdrops on tap. First port of call must be the Julian Alps – all rushing rivers and wooden bridges (and jagged peaks, naturally!). You really don’t have to travel far to shake off the city – and the entire region is criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails. But the city itself has a refreshingly outdoorsy feel too, and cafe society is blooming here: especially in the gorgeous Old Town. The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship is a ring-road with a difference: you jog it, rather than get snarled up in commuter traffic! Elsewhere, The Ljubljana Marshes is a UNESCO preserved wetland which looks (and feels) as if nothing much has changed in thousands of years.