Paris of the East, Venice of the North: cities that don't know their place

Picajsxs andyjarosz on 19th October 2011 | 5 comments |

Charming Venice of the East, Bangkok

How often do you hear cities labelled as the 'Venice of the North' or the 'Paris of the East'? Do these labels ever seem appropriate? In this post we take a look at some of the most commonly used examples of this trend as well as some of the more ridiculous. 

How many Venices?

It appears that every city with a beat-up stretch of stagnant water wants to be linked with the Italy’s famous tourist hotspot. Presumably the marketeers hope that by painting a picture of their town as one with gondolas and romantic serenades, people will flock to their often dreary and completely unconnected city. What is more surprising is that many of these cities are popular tourist destinations in their own right and shouldn't need a dodgy Venice connection to get attention.  

Venices of the North include Amsterdam, Bruges, Manchester and Stockholm.

Western Venices include Venice, California (a fair call I guess) and Shannon in Ireland.

There are many contenders for Venice of the East. Bandar Seri Begawan, capital of Brunei, Suzhou in China, Osaka in Japan and Udaipur in India all lay claim to this much-acclaimed title.

Venices of the South are harder to come by. Perhaps there are less canal-blessed cities in the southern hemisphere, but the only one I could find is Tigre in Argentina. I've spent a day in Tigre and can confirm It has canals. Beyond that I'm stumped as to any Venetian connection. 

And a special mention should go to the Venice of the Pacific, Nan Madol in the Federated States of Micronesia, a land where presumably water is never far away in any direction. 

Paris, plastered all over the globe

After Venice, the city that most others aspire to be like must be Paris. We have the following candidates. 

Paris of the East: Baku, Azerbaijan. It has cafes. Shanghai also lays claim to the Eastern accolade although I have to confess that standing on the waterfront it reminded me more of Liverpool, a view that our Chinese guide fully agreed with. 

Paris of the North: Tromso, Norway. I've spent a week in Tromso and while I had a lovely time I can't claim to have noticed anything that felt remotely Parisian about it. 

Paris of the South: Buenos Aires. This is perhaps the most commonly used connection of all. True, the buildings of Recoleta may bear a strong resemblance to the imposing constructions found in central Paris but otherwise it seems a spurious label. What is more, Buenos Aires has more than enough going for it that it shouldn't need to stand on the shoulders of any other city to get noticed. 

Paris of Siberia: Irkutsk. You would imagine that for anywhere in Siberia that wants to adopt a pretentious moniker, the first thing they would drop would be the mention of Siberia. But no, Irkutsk is Siberian and proud and an attractive stop on the train ride from Moscow through to China. As for anything Parisian about it, most visitors would struggle to find a connection. 

Rome

Several cities claim a connection to Rome, usually because they are built on seven hills. Others such as Lubeck in Germany or Goa in India claim to be the Rome of the North and Rome of the East respectively due to their abundance of churches and their religious history. None, to my knowledge, can boast a colosseum or the total anarchy of the real Roman streets.

Naples

It appears that Venice and Paris completely dominate the list for places to link to, but they are not alone. On a recent visit to Japan I learned that the southern city of Kagoshima is known as the Naples of the East. Not because it has a slightly edgy feel or because of its special tomato sauce, but because just like Naples, it sits at the base of an active volcano that is likely one day to bury it in hot ash. Not necessarily something to celebrate, but with such a shared fate I suppose it makes sense that the two cities have formed a brotherly bond. 

Athens

The link here is usually universities and regional seats of learning, with both the Colombian capital Bogota and Freetown in Sierra Leone claiming the title 'Athens of ..... wherever'. 

Where have we missed from the list? What other towns claim a dubious link to somewhere grander and more exotic? Is there a Walsall of the West? A Ouagadougou of the Pacific? How about a Funafuti of the Adriatic? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. 

Thanks to Vicky BakerJohn Malathronas, Susan Farlow and David Whitley for sharing some of their suggestions via Twitter while I was researching this post.  

Photo by Olga Oslina

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Comments (5)

  1. Venice of the North: Augustow, Poland (it does have canals!)
    Paris of the East: Bucharest. (But we've noticed that Paris rarely calls itself the 'Bucharest of the West'!)

    Mark Baker 19th October 2011

  2. How many of these "titles" were first used by travellers or travel writers, not by locals? People have a real penchant for comparison, especially travellers.

    Rob Keddy 24th October 2011

  3. Venice of the North: St Petersburg, Stockholm, Birmingham
    Athens of the North: Edinburgh
    Athens of the South: Nashville
    Paris of Africa: Abidjan, Luanda, Dakar, Algiers
    Paris of the Middle East: Beirut

    Geoff 24th October 2011

  4. Thanks for the comments (and the extra suggestions).
    Rob, great point about the need for comparisons - I have to admit to being guilty of them myself. We often visit a city and say things like "It's a bit like Newcastle" (bridges) or "It looks like Bradford" (grim). Suspect that travellers/travel writers may have begun the craze, but tourist boards have probably seen at as a possible opportunity and started to promote some very strange labels as a result.

    Picajsxs andyjarosz 24th October 2011

  5. Having said that, you really should check out Granada, Nicaragua.. the Paris, France of Central America but don't take my word for it :) http://goo.gl/8BVSO

    Rob Keddy 24th October 2011