Both the world’s largest and most diverse continent, Asia has captivated travellers for centuries. Whether it be its stunning landscapes and ancient sites or exotic wildlife and delicious cuisine, there’s something to appeal to everyone. And the same goes for its cities. From the glimmering metropolis of Shanghai to the quieter charms of Luang Prabang, this continent is full of cities to be discovered. So to help you decide where to go, here’s our pick of the top 10 cities to visit in Asia.
Once a small castle town known as Edo, modern-day Tokyo would be unrecognisable to its 16th-century inhabitants. With its gleaming skyscrapers, neon-lit streetscapes and cosmopolitan entertainment districts, Tokyo is a city hurtling into the future.
Its fast pace and big crowds come as a huge excitement to many travellers, with the ultimate experience being the famed Shibuya Crossing. At peak times, this intersection sees as many as 3,000 people cross in all directions, yet managing to dodge each other with choreographed precision.
However, beneath its futuristic exterior, Japan’s capital has managed to retain many historic charms. You’ll also find peaceful gardens, temples, kabuki theatres and more, if you just scratch beneath the surface.
One of Asia’s most famous cities, Bangkok offers a blend of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that you are unlikely to forget. And for first-time visitors, the Thai capital can seem a little overwhelming.
But once you embrace Bangkok’s friendly chaos, you’ll discover how the city earnt its hype. Alongside its buzzing nightlife, the city’s streets offer colourful markets and mouthwatering street food. Temples, museums, a Grand Palace and Lumphini Park all add to its plentiful list of attractions.
Time your visit in mid-April and you’ll also experience Thailand’s New Year’s celebrations. Known as Songkran, this event sees Bangkok turn into a battle zone as people take to the streets with buckets of water and water pistols to soak passers-by.
A stroll along the Bund promenade is a must-do. Here’ll you’ll discover the quintessential view of the city’s skyline, with its glittering skyscrapers and colonial-era buildings. And for a true bird’s eye view, you can also head up to a choice of observation decks.
Other highlights include the Shanghai Museum, where you’ll see masterpieces of Chinese art, as well as the French Concession, with its quaint streets and outdoor restaurants. Close by, you’ll also discover ancient water towns, where you can soak up their historic ambience and traditional architecture.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Surrounded by lush mountains and greenery in the north of Laos, Luang Prabang is considered by many the heart of Laotian culture. UNESCO-listed since 1995, this once ancient capital offers a fascinating blend of French colonial and traditional Lao architecture.
Boasting over 30 gilded temples, Luang Prabang is home to the stunning Wat Xieng Thong. And you’ll be sure to spot saffron-robed monks dwelling close by or trailing the streets for morning alms.
Yet, surprisingly for many visitors, the city’s French influence also lives on through its cuisine. And its narrow streets will often be filled with the scent of fresh coffee, frangipanis and baguettes.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The city also played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War, meaning there is no better city to get to grips with Vietnam’s recent history. Key sites include the Revolutionary Museum and the War Remnants Museum, with the Cu Chi Tunnels making for a worthy day trip.
Ho Chi Minh is also famous for its pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup and popular street food. So if you’re a foodie headed to Vietnam, this is definitely a city for the bucket list.
China’s political, economic and cultural centre, Beijing is the gateway to some of the country’s biggest attractions. From the Forbidden City to the Great Wall, and with a host of UNESCO-listed sites in between, you’ll have more than enough to keep you entertained.
Be sure to visit Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace, which is both the largest and best-preserved royal park in China. Head down the city’s narrow alleyways and you’ll be suprised by traditional workshops, quiet courtyards and charming teahouses.
The capital is also the perfect place to experience traditional Chinese performing arts, with Peking opera, Chinese classical dance, acrobats and more to see. And with over 60,000 restaurants to choose from, you’ll need to embrace Beijing’s culture for eating out.
The largest city in Myanmar, Yangon has seen the most change since the country opened itself up to tourists. Yet, despite the new buildings, shops and restaurants, the city still retains its original charm.
Set atop Singuttara Hill, Shwedagon Pagoda is the most important religious site in Myanmar. Life in Yangon revolves around this gleaming Buddhist monument and it’s undoubtedly the city’s star attraction.
Whilst exploring, soak up the scenes of everyday life in the city. Whether its monks praying to shrines or locals gossiping on the steps, you’ll soon get a feel for the relaxed nature of Myanmar’s culture. And when you need some time to unwind, Yangon boasts several shady parks complete with stunning lakes.
Seoul, South Korea
Capital of South Korea, Seoul has embraced life as a 24-hour city. No matter what time of day or night, it has something to offer, whether that be an early morning temple visit or checking out its buzzing nightlife.
Consisting of several unique neighbourhoods, a stroll around the city will show you its many sides. Myeongdong offers excellent shopping and funky restaurants, whereas Hongdae is a hip area dominated by Seoul’s students known for its cheap eats and entertainment.
Seoul is also rich in history, with its palaces and temples demonstrating the city’s traditional architecture. Be sure to check out both Changdeokgung Palace, which boasts the beautiful Secret Garden, and the ornate Gyeongbokgung Palace, where you can watch the hourly changing of the guard ceremony.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand’s second city after Bangkok, Chiang Mai is situated in the foothills of northern Thailand. Surrounded by misty mountains and colourful hill tribes, the city lends itself as a base for excursions.
However, if you plan to spend a few days in the city, you’ll find it offers plenty of its own attractions. The Old City, in particular, boasts peaceful temples, museums and galleries within its ancient walls.
However, if there’s only one site you see, make it Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Overlooking the city from its mountaintop position, this is one of the region’s most sacred temples – and the views from the top are well worth the climb.
Home to no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kyoto is one of the best places to experience traditional Japan. Some 400 Shinto shrines can be found throughout the city, as well as Buddhist temples, beautiful gardens and grand palaces.
The city also boasts its famous Geisha district. Known as Gion, the district’s ancient streets are lined with quaint teahouses and traditional wooden houses, with the chance of spotting a geisha or maiko on the way to their next engagement.
Another top experience to try whilst visiting Kyoto is staying in a Japanese Ryokan. These traditional inns date back to the Edo period of Japan and whilst they can be found across the country, some of the most historic and traditional ryokans are found in Kyoto.
Fancy visiting one of these destinations for yourself? We visit the majority of these cities on our group tours.