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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

We always expect a capital city to be a grand and dazzling city, a metropolis that stands at the centre of the country’s attention, right? Here are five cities that have a lot of the world fooled by their show-stopping qualities. Alas, they’re not capitals cities at all!

Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Rio beach

Rio has a lot going for it: laid-back beach culture, truly breathtaking landscapes, exciting neighbourhoods and a carnival that attracts the world’s attention every year. Rio de Janeiro actually was Brazil’s fearless capital until 1960 when the crown was passed to Brasilia. The locals aren’t too upset about it, Rio still holds the position as one of the best party cities in the world, so let’s get started! Hit the city’s best beaches by day: Copacabana and Ipanema. By night, feel the rhythm of the samba!

Flights to Rio de Janeiro

Sydney – Australia


Sydney has a lot of superlatives going for it. It’s the largest, most cosmopolitan and the oldest city in all of Australia. It’s an incredible city for history, art, fashion, design, culture, nature and of course some great beaches and surfing. What’s not to love about this city? Not a whole lot, but it doesn’t hold the honour of being this nation’s capital… that falls on Canberra, pretty much the antithesis of Sydney. The two cities have little in common, so Sydney has no qualms about not being the capital city.

Flights to Sydney

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech mosque

You know you’ve got something going for you when your name means “Land of God.” Marrakech is no exception, sitting at the feet of the incredible Atlas Mountains and home to the busiest square in all of Africa: Djemaa El-Fna. Day or night, it’s the best place to find storytellers, dancers, fire performers, musicians and snake charmers. Shop your way through the souks and hold your breathe when you walk past the tanneries. Marrakech may not be the capital of Morocco but it’s still the country’s top travel destination.

Flight to Marrakech

Istanbul – Turkey


Istanbul is the financial and cultural centre of Turkey but it’s not the capital, not something easy to come to terms with when you take a look at Ankara, the Turkish capital since 1923. Istanbul was the home of two powerful empires for 1500+ years, Ottoman and Byzantine and plenty of incredible religious and historic monuments to show for it. After visiting the Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque it’s hard to understand why Istanbul isn’t the capital but hey, that’s politics for you!

Flights to Istanbul

Amsterdam – The Netherlands

Amsterdam canal

We’re getting a bit technical here because Amsterdam technically isn’t the capital of the Netherlands, it’s The Hague. That very well may be the reason why Amsterdam is just so laid-back and relaxed concerning certain things (ahem, cannabis and prostitution), unlike other capitals. While the country’s government and Queen Beatrix handle business in The Hague, Amsterdam enjoys being in the capital limelight 65km away. If you want to really see the city in all its splendour, visit on April 30th when the country celebrates Queen’s Day.

Flights to Amsterdam

Were there any cities on this list that you thought were nation capitals? They were pretty good at having us fooled too!

Imgs: Carine fel,  sheilaellen, Eastside RJ, Fikret Onal, photographerglen / Flickr cc.

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