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Destinations that work perfectly together
When we put together a list of our favourite double-dose destinations, one thing quickly became clear: there are no rules. The only thing they all have in common is that it is easy to get from one to the next. In some cases, it's the similarities between the two places that make them a perfect match: think Spain and Portugal's Latin flair, or Vietnam and Cambodia's beguiling blend of ancient temples, beautiful landscapes and amazing food.
Other pairings prove that opposites do attract. You couldn't get more different than neon-lit Bangkok and bucolic Bhutan, for instance, but combine the two – surprisingly, all it takes is a three-hour flight – and you have a memorable mix of big-city buzz and high-altitude tranquillity.
Similarly, the German cities of Berlin and Potsdam share a lot of history as the two most important cities in the Prussian empire, but they couldn't feel more different. Berlin's cutting-edge cool contrasts sharply with Potsdam's baroque serenity. And that's what makes all these travel twosomes work: you can cram twice the fun into just one trip.
WHY SO The old-school grandeur of St Petersburg and the youthful energy of Helsinki, just a 3.5-hour train journey away, make for an invigorating contrast. Allow five days in St Petersburg and three days in Helsinki.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Start by exploring St Petersburg's mighty Hermitage Museum, where the building itself – the tsars' old Winter Palace – is as extraordinary as the art on the walls. Other must-dos: along with a visit to at least one other imperial palace, stop in at the gobsmacking Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and catch a ballet or opera performance at the magnificent Mariinsky Theatre. Compact Helsinki is easily explored on foot: check out the vibrant Design District, the art nouveau buildings of Katajanokka, and some of the city's hip bars, restaurants and coffee roasteries.
NEED TO KNOW Finnair flies to Helsinki with one stop.
WHY SO It's a rare visitor who isn't seduced by Spain's charms, from elegant boulevards to magnificent cathedrals, lively tapas joints and fiery flamenco performances. With so much to explore, few visitors find the time head across the border to Portugal. Yet Spain's equally enticing neighbour is just as inviting, and the train trip between Madrid and Lisbon takes just 2.5 hours. Allow two weeks for Spain and a week for Portugal.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Each of Spain's big cities has its own character. Elegant Madrid is blessed with amazing museums, while Barcelona has astonishing architecture and lively neighbourhoods. Other must-visits include gourmet paradise San Sebastian and languid Seville, with its magical Moorish feel. In Portugal, your itinerary should include lively Lisbon, the colourful city of Porto, and the beautiful Douro Valley, one of the world's oldest winegrowing regions.
NEED TO KNOW Emirates flies to both Madrid and Lisbon.
WHY SO Ancient temples, bustling cities, scenic landscapes and fabulous food: these neighbouring countries are packed with attractions, and are just one hour apart. Allow two weeks for Vietnam; add on at least five days in Cambodia.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Start your Vietnam adventure in Ho Chi Minh City, the country's most buzzing city. From here, hopscotch your way north. Don't miss the beautifully-preserved riverside town of Hoi An, or the former imperial capital of Hue, known for its mausoleums and gardens. Stop in at the current capital, Hanoi, before heading to Ha Long Bay, with its thousands of dramatic limestone islands. In Cambodia, the extraordinary collection of temples at Siem Reap is the must-do; if you have time, add on a few days in the capital, Phnom Penh, or at one of the inviting beach resorts.
NEED TO KNOW Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar offer direct flights to Vietnam;Vietnam Airlines also flies to Cambodia. Alternatively, a Mekong River cruise is also a good way to explore both countries.
WHY SO Sri Lanka is a real something-for-everyone destination: temples and tea plantations, ancient ruins and plenty of beaches. So why add another ocean escape to the itinerary? Because nowhere does tropical resorts quite like the Maldives, a convenient 90-minute flight away. Allow as much as two weeks for Sri Lanka, and four days in the Maldives.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Sri Lanka's don't-miss destinations include the palaces and temples of the Cultural Triangle (the cave temples of Dambulla, the rock citadel of Sigiriya and the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa should all be on the itinerary) and the highlands around Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. If that sounds exhausting, the good news is that there is no need to go sightseeing in the Maldives; just choose a resort, lie back and enjoy.
NEED TO KNOW The easiest way to travel around Sri Lanka is with a driver; companies such as Aitken Spence Travels can tailor an itinerary to suit you. Airlines that fly to Sri Lanka include Sri Lankan Airways and Qantas; Sri Lankan Airways also flies to the Maldives.
WHY SO Teaming London with Paris is a predictable choice; if you want to add a romantic interlude onto your sojourn in the British capital, give Brussels a go. Just two hours away on the Eurostar, the city has historic neighbourhoods, amazing art nouveau architecture, and the world's best chocolate and beer. Allow a week for London and up to four days for Brussels.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? In London, take a few old-school attractions – magnificent museums and parks, along with icons such as Tower of London – and mix it up with some new-wave destinations, from Hoxton's street art to a stroll along the Thames Path. Brussels' historic centre offers plenty to explore, from the magnificent Grand Place to the hip shops and cafes around Place St Catherine. Also worth exploring: the Saint-Giles neighbourhood, home to some of Brussels' most beautiful art nouveau buildings, and the Sablon flea markets. The city's chocolate shops are destinations in their own right: be sure to visit Maison Pierre Marcolini and Frederic Blondeel.
NEED TO KNOW Qantas flies to London regularly; Eurostar connects London and Brussels.
WHY SO One is the most famous metropolis in the world, a symbol of the modern age. The other is one of the oldest cities on the continent, a tiny slice of France transported to the New World. One 90-minute flight links these two very different destinations. Allow at least 10 days for New York, and three days for Quebec City.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE Where do you start in New York? Perhaps with the world-class museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum, or with the delights of Broadway. Or perhaps with landmarks such as Central Park and Grand Central Station or colourful neighbourhoods such as hipster haven Brooklyn and the trending East Village. Compact Quebec City is much easier to navigate, although it is spread over the clifftop Upper City and the riverside Lower City. Exploring here is as simple as strolling the 400-year-old streets, stopping for an occasional refuel at one of the many charming brasseries or creperies.
NEED TO KNOW Both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer flights.
WHY SO Hong Kong has long been a favourite with Australian travellers, drawn by its magic combination of chic urbanity and ancient traditions. Macau, just a 50-minute ferry ride away, has a lot more going for it than its casinos. With an idiosyncratic blend of Portuguese and Chinese history, Macau is a lovely counterpoint to Hong Kong. Allow five days for Hong Kong, two days for Macau.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Take a touch of old-school Hong Kong (Temple Street Night Market, the incense-wreathed Man Mo Temple), add a pinch of outdoor action (Victoria Peak, Lantau Island) and a sprinkling of drinking and dining in hip neighbourhoods such as Soho and Poho. Round it out with an exploration of Macau's historic city centre and an encounter with one of the world's most endangered species at the Panda Pavilion, before feasting on local delicacies ranging from congee to Portuguese egg tarts.
NEED TO KNOW Cathay Pacific flies direct Australia to Hong Kong; TurboJet ferries connect the two islands.
WHY SO In endlessly surprising Berlin, the unexpected waits around every corner, from a brewery turned into an art gallery and an indoor swimming pool reinvented as a night club, to an isolated remnant of the Berlin Wall. Potsdam, just a 30-minute train ride away, was where Prussian emperors made their home, and it has the palaces, the gardens and the baroque architecture to prove it. Allow a week in Berlin, four days in Potsdam.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE You can't leave Berlin without taking a canal cruise, visiting the Reichstag and taking in some of the city's 600-strong collection of museums and galleries, but allow plenty of time to explore and make your own discoveries. In Potsdam, it's all about gardens and palaces: the Sanssouci complex alone has six separate palaces, 290 hectares of parklands, and an art collection that includes works by Caravaggio and Van Eyck. Other highlights include the charming Holland Quarter, the new Museum Barberini with its magnificent Monets, and the historic Villenkolonie district.
NEED TO KNOW Etihad offers flights to Berlin; local trains will take you to Potsdam.
WHY SO Many visitors fall in love with Buenos Aires' elegant buildings, its historic cafes and its passionate tango music. What they don't realise is that a hidden gem lies just a three-hour ferry ride away: Uruguay's character-filled capital, Montevideo. Allow five days for Buenos Aires, and up to three for Montevideo.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE From colourful (literally) neighbourhoods such as La Boca and San Telmo, to the amazing La Recoleta cemetery – the city's best attraction – Buenos Aires has plenty of highlights. In Montevideo, spend some time exploring the Old City before taking a stroll along the coastal promenade of Ramblas. Don't leave town without tucking into a meal of sizzling asado, Uruguay's incomparable barbecue.
NEED TO KNOW LATAM offers flights from Sydney to Santiago de Chile with connections right across the continent, while the Buquebus ferry travels between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
WHY SO Bangkok's chaotic streets are inviting yet exhausting; that's why many visitors combine a stay here with a relaxing beach break. The hermit-like Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a high-altitude revelation less than three hours away (Bangkok is one of the two main cities along with Singapore for Australians connecting to Bhutan with the one of two airlines allowed to fly into the kingdom). Team three days in Bangkok with between a week and 10 days in Bhutan.
OKAY. WHAT SHOULD I SEE? Bangkok's showstopper sights include the ornate Royal Palace and Wat Arun temple but for many visitors, the best things about Bangkok are shopping and eating. In Bangkok, there is an option for every budget: browse the markets or the shopping malls, fill up at street food stalls or dine in elegant rooftop eateries. In deeply Buddhist Bhutan, it's all about mountains and monasteries. Your Instagram account will fill up during days spent visiting clifftop temples and hiking through forests of pine or rhododendron.
NEED TO KNOW Apply for your Bhutanese visa through a tour operator, who will organise the entire trip for you and provide you with a driver; alternatively, small group tours are also available. Thai Airways has regular flights to Bangkok; Bhutan's Druk Air flies between Bangkok and Bhutan.
This article originally appeared on Traveller. Credit Ute Junker/Fairfax Syndication