Jun 20, 2012 12:14:48 AM
Top 10 hedonistic city breaks
Whether you want beach parties, packed-out clubs or sexy tango schools, surrender to the seduction of these party cities.
You know you’re in for some serious partying when the locals tell you, ‘Don’t forget to go home’. Berlin long ago outstripped the world’s other major cities such as London, New York and Tokyo as clubland par excellence, partly because it never shuts down. Numerous cities claim a 24-hour scene, but few exercise the mantra quite like the German capital, where underground bars spin the tunes beyond dawn. DJs, artists and party animals flock from around the world and surrender to a blissed-out haze of beats and booze – right now, this is the definitive city for a lost weekend.
For a sneak-peak into the underground scene check out the 2006 film Feiern. Translating as ‘party’, the movie paints a vivid picture of a nonstop 72-hour Berlin bender.
San Antonio, Ibiza, Spain
Ever since the ’60s hippie-trail led revellers to Ibiza’s pristine, sun-kissed beaches, this Balearic island has been synonymous with serious hedonism. The party scene really took off in 1978, when the owners of a little-known restaurant named Ku opened a tiny disco – today that disco has grown to be the superclub Privilege, the world’s largest, with a capacity of 10,000. In recent years the authorities have taken measures to curb the excess – imposing noise limits and restricting drinks offers – but away from the seedy tourist strip discerning clubbers can still find the pulsating Ibiza of old.
Today’s in-the-know hedonists are seeking out Ibiza’s off-season bliss; try a late-January visit for temperatures around 15ºC and a scaled-down club scene shorn of the summer package-tourist madness.
Las Vegas, USA
Mega casinos, themed resorts, sexy showgirls and shotgun weddings – everything about Vegas screams excess. The world-famous neon-soaked Strip runs for 6km through downtown, but be careful: this is a city designed to seduce you, then bleed you dry. Hours turn to days inside the immense casinos, which are devoid of clocks and windows to disguise the time of day, and pumped full of oxygen to keep punters feeling fresh. Those who escape find themselves consumed by an outside world of glitzy shows and extravagant club culture. In more ways than one, it can be the experience of a lifetime.
Cirque du Soleil is a riotous celebration of acrobatics and contortionism, and one of Vegas’ must-see attractions; shows run at six locations around town; book as far in advance as possible.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
With a passionate Latin American temperament and deep-seated love affair with tango, few cities in the world are as sexy as Buenos Aires. This is a place where hearts are worn on sleeves, be it in late-night Milongas – exuberantly flirtatious neighbourhood dance parties – or amid the tinderbox atmosphere of Argentina’s biggest soccer match, when Boca Juniors meet city rivals Independiente. And if dancing and sport don’t fire your furnace, BA drips with chic fashion, atmospheric old bars and a buzzing club scene.
If you’re scared of tango’s strict etiquette, check out Milonga del Conventillo (San Lorenzo 356); the club runs a relaxed style of dance that allows women to lead men and amateurs to find their feet.
Tel Aviv, Israel
If Jerusalem is Israel’s historic, classical capital, then Tel Aviv is its pleasure-seeking younger brother and the country’s coolest city by miles. Dubbed the ‘Miami of the Middle East’, you won’t see blinged-up superstars like Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, but everyone else looks the part on the wonderful beaches. Tel Aviv’s locals are a cultured lot, oozing style and hungry for the finest art, fashion, cuisine and clubbing. The city celebrated its 100th birthday in 2009 with a riot of creative arts. Don’t worry if you missed the party – there’ll be another one along in no time.
Tel Aviv’s summers are scorching and humid, while winter is a damp and nippy affair; spring is a great time to visit – try March for warm days and evenings that merit no more than a light sweater.
As Europe’s established cities race to reinvent themselves as weekend party destinations, nowhere turns on the style like Budapest. When evening’s cloak brings darkness to the central districts of Pest and Belváros, thousands of twinkling lights glint on the ripples of the River Danube, suggesting hidden delights within countless bars and restaurants. Richly adorned with classical culture, from traditional folk music to renowned national opera, there’s also a burgeoning club scene as the city rushes to catch the established order. It may not be long before Budapest gets there – catch the vibe while it’s on the up.
Budapest’s public baths are world renowned for their mineral-rich waters, the perfect place to sweat that all-nighter out of your system; Gellért Baths (Buda, Kelenhegyi utca 4) is Europe’s finest art nouveau bath house, popular with locals and tourists alike.
Don’t forget your dancing shoes if you’re headed for Havana. The city’s answer to 50 years of political isolation is to shake its thing night after night in the rum-soaked bars and clubs of Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Western-style R&B and hip hop are popular, but it’s the seductive moves of salsa, rumba, mambo and timba that breathe lustiest through the ramshackle backstreets. Immaculately preened and dressed to the nines, locals sashay their way from one party to the next with a swing of the hips and a dreamy cha-cha-cha. It’s a timeless scene of unbridled revelry.
Bedding down in the thick of the action needn’t break the bank; try the Hotel Plaza (www.hotelplazacuba.com), a dreamy colonial hotel in Habana Vieja.
The city once known as Constantinople is a heady brew of conflicting cultures. Often subtitled as the ‘Crossroads of Europe and Asia’, Istanbul is awash with experiences to stimulate all the senses. Explore astounding Byzantine architecture such as the wondrous Hagia Sophia – once the world’s largest church before being converted to a mosque. Shop in the Grand Bazaar, a covered market like you’ve never seen, and cruise the Bosphorus for romantic views of both continents. Pamper yourself with a Turkish massage and choose from numerous fine restaurants, before rounding things off with a nightcap in the stylish bar scene.
Vogue is one of Istanbul’s coolest hangouts, featuring renowned sushi, a neverending wine list, top-notch DJs and killer views of the Bosphorus; www.istanbuldoors.com.
Montréalers like to laugh at their straightlaced buddies in Toronto. Just 500km separates eastern Canada’s two principal cities, but they exist in different worlds. While Toronto represents big business and the salaryman existence, Montréal’s French swagger screams ‘forget the office, now where’s the party?’. The answer is pretty much anywhere in downtown. Boulevard Saint-Laurent has the best nightlife, liberally peppered with beat-laden clubs, and the grungy world of strip joints and dive bars is never far away. There’s also a strong independent music scene, led by the irrepressible Godspeed You! Black Emperor and global superstars Arcade Fire.
When you’re all partied out, head to the summit of Mont-Royal, just north from the downtown area; the 233m peak gives great views over the city – the perfect place to kick back and chill out.
Habitually outmuscled by its bigger Iberian cousins Madrid and Barcelona, Lisbon is staging a renaissance as a hip hangout. Largely devoid of cookie-cutter malls and international brands, the Portuguese capital is a city of yesteryear, blessed with classical architecture but tinged with a shabby chic hinting at years of neglect. The beating heart of the nightlife scene exists in the mazelike back streets of areas like decrepit Bairro Alto, where darkness brings life to an intimate hotchpotch of indistinguishable bars, cafes and restaurants. As you stumble from one tiny joint to the next, just try to remember your way home.
Pavilhão Chinês (Rua Dom Pedro V 89) in Bairro Alto is the kind of bar you only see in films; the eclectic red-and-gold decor resembles a museum and the imaginative drinks list will keep you in the comfy armchairs long into the night.
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet’s guide to the Best in Travel.
This article was refreshed in June 2012