Like the second child, second cities, or a country’s second most populous city, often don’t get the same attention that their more populous sibling gets.

However, second cities are often just as beautiful and exciting, and they tend to be more livable than first cities, too. By definition, second cities have a smaller population and therefore fewer crowds (and fewer problems that go along with crowds). They also offer surprises that first cities don’t: we often hear and see more about first cities such as Amsterdam, Seoul, and Brussels as opposed to second cities Rotterdam, Busan, and Antwerp, all of which have a unique beauty and charm.

Here are seven second cities that are absolutely worth visiting.

  1. Melbourne, Australia
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    Melbourne may be number two in terms of population but the city is Australia’s cultural capital. Efficient, clean, and safe, it regularly tops the list of world’s most livable cities. Melbourne is full of creative energy, which is reflected in its galleries and street art, vibrant live music scene, and cool bars, boutiques, and cafés. It’s also emerging as the most exciting city for food in Australia.

  3. Porto, Portugal
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    Porto, or “Oporto” in Portuguese, is only a three-hour train ride from the capital of Lisbon but it feels worlds apart. Continuously inhabited since at least the 4th century, Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe. In 1996 its historic center, which has areas dating back to the 1300s, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nowadays, Porto is a busy industrial and commercial hub known for its port wine, trendy bars and restaurants, and laid-back vibe.

  5. Córdoba, Argentina
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    With its colonial architecture, four municipal art galleries, and multiple universities and scientific institutes, Córdoba is one of the youngest and most vibrant cities in Argentina. It was these influences that earned Córdoba the prestigious title of Cultural Capital of the Americas in 2006. The city center is filled with colonial buildings, many of which were built by the Jesuits in 17th and 18th centuries. A whole block of these buildings called the Manzana de los Jesuitas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  7. Busan, South Korea
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    A coastal city with a population of 3.6 million, Busan is much more laid-back than Korea’s most populous city (and one of the most populous cities in the world), Seoul, a buzzing, modern metropolis. Busan boasts lots of beauty and culture, with a half-dozen beaches, great fish markets, and the Busan International Film Festival.

  9. Riga, Latvia
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    Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a wonderful blend of old and new. The city is filled with striking architecture, impressive restaurants, and a thriving nightlife. Head to the old town to tour Doma baznca, a 13th century cathedral that features one of the largest organs in Europe, and Tris Brali, three stone houses that show what the city looked like before the 20th century and span several architectural styles, from medieval to baroque.

  11. Antwerp, Belgium
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    Antwerp is the cultural capital of Flanders and Belgium’s capital of cool. The city is famous for its fashion scene, which is driven by the renowned fashion school at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and a group of avant-garde designers called the Antwerp Six. But fashion is not all Antwerp offers; the city has a stunning cathedral, fantastic museums, and cobblestone streets lined with cafés.

  13. Rotterdam, Netherlands
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    Rotterdam is home to the largest port in Europe and one of the largest ports in the world. While Amsterdam has old-world charm, Rotterdam is decidedly modern; the city is filled with futuristic buildings that were built after the city was leveled in WWII. Be sure to check out the Markthal, a large covered market with around 100 food stalls featuring a wide variety of international foods, as well as shops, restaurants, and apartments. The building has been referred to as Rotterdam’s Sistine Chapel.

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