Without us even realising it, our UK cities have made some unlikely friendships around the world. These sister cities don’t look or feel identical to their ‘twin’, instead we’re talking about partnerships and agreements between two places and their blossoming relationships may surprise you. Stuck with ideas for your next trip? Perhaps these twin destinations will inspire you…
What is a twin city anyway?
You’ve probably heard the phrases ‘twin cities’, ‘sister cities’, or ‘twin towns’, but let’s be honest, who really knows what they mean? Apparently, the idea dates all the way back to the 9th century but it really came into its own post World War Two, as a way to repair relations between bickering countries and create global friendships. That way, countries can support each other in times of crisis, and the idea has stuck ever since – how courteous.
Some of these pairings are legally binding and others are more symbolic in a “we’ve always got your back” kind of way, but they’re all long-standing agreements, be it, social, economic or educational.
1. Manchester is twinned with… St Petersburg – fly from £49
St Petersburg photo credit: Roman KERT Rodionov | Manchester photo credit: SAKhanPhotography
Who knew these two cities were having a secret love affair behind the scenes? While it may not have the Mancunian ruggedness we all know and love, St Petersburg has plenty of selling points. The climate is cooler in the winter, but the summers get just as much sun as Manchester is used to. The relationship with Russia’s second largest city is Manchester’s oldest formal arrangement and dates back to an agreement signed in 1962. The deal? To focus on cultural exchanges between the two cities.
With that in mind, these are the activities you should be trying out…
Apparently one of the coolest neighbourhoods in St Petersburg, this three-mile stretch runs through the city and is within walking distance of all the main cultural attractions like the National Russian Library and Stroganov (definitely not to be confused with stroganoff) Palace. It’s also home to the most hip and happening bars and restaurants so if you’re after some buzzin’ nightlife, this is the spot to go out out.
This gorily-named church (officially known as the Church of the Resurrection) is no art gallery, but it is decorated head to toe in loud and flamboyant murals that rivals any exhibition you’d expect to see. Hidden inside you’ll find five impressive domes dominating its architecture, and a surprising collection of mosaics. Visit in the evening in the summer months when the church is open until 10.30pm each night.
With 12 hectares to its name, Letniy Sad sits along the bank of the Neva river. A peaceful retreat filled with statues and fountains (including the oldest in Russia) the Summer Garden sits adjacent to the 18th century Summer Palace and was designed by Peter the Great, the Russian czar, himself. During the summer there are cultural events to attend and a Tea House to frequent. Just don’t try and visit in April, when the park is closed.
Stay: Station Hotel Premier S10 – A hotel with an ‘awesome vibe’ according to one guest. Stay here for quirky design features like bold walls and murals in each room and a great location. Rooms from £48 a night.
2. Glasgow is twinned with… Havana – fly from £440
Glasgow photo credit: University of Glasgow / Glasgow Tourism | Havana photo credit: clamon
Since 2002, Glasgow has been twinned with the tropical city of Havana with the aim of ‘exchanging experience and learning from best practice’. It’s suitably vague. While the two cities couldn’t be more varied in size, climate and culture, it seems the agreement is doing wonders for both parties. Whisky promotion is underway in Havana (we’re not kidding). Plus, the Havana Glasgow Film Festival has been running for many years to show off the best of Cuban cinema. Thanks to the Scots’ hard work, you’ll be welcomed with open arms in Havana.
Here’s what you should add to your itinerary:
Glasgow’s cathedral may be centuries older, but design-wise, it’s got stiff competition from Havana’s almost-but-not-quite, symmetrical masterpiece, flanked by two uneven towers. Designed by an Italian architect, it’s got a suitably flamboyant exterior, but a much more reserved, classic interior. Want a closer look? You can climb the smaller of the two towers for CUC$1, that’s just 80p. Once you’ve taken a look inside, spend some time in the plaza the cathedral sits in, lined with more Cuban baroque-style buildings.
This 7km stretch of road winds along the seafront and is home to the Cuba you’re used to seeing on Instagram. Brightly coloured, but slightly dilapidated houses line the street, displaying a rich mix of architectural styles reflecting Cuba’s tumultuous history. Visit in the early evening for the best sunset views or in August when the Havana Carnival runs for two consecutive weekends.
A traditional dish of shredded steak in a tomato sauce with black beans, ropa vieja bizarrely translates as ‘old clothes’ in Spanish, but we have it on good authority that’s because it’s often made using leftovers. For the best ropa vieja in Havana, head to Restaurant Van Van, with its quirky, eclectic décor, live music and some of the best food in Cuba.
Stay: Hotel Palacio Marques De San Felipe Y Santiago De Bejucal. Don’t be put off by the insanely long name, this one’s packed with old-school Cuban charm. From £123 a night.
3. London is twinned with… Kuala Lumpur – fly from £303
London photo credit: Benjamin Davies | Kuala Lumpur photo credit: Sadie Teper
As you may expect, London has partnerships with cities all around the world, but we’re most interested in its fellow capital, Kuala Lumpur. London may dwarf Kuala Lumpur in size, with 9 million people compared to KL’s teeny 1 million. But that hasn’t stopped them from becoming the best of friends. Our royals have flocked to Malaysia to confirm their strong relations for years: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited in 2012 and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall popped by in 2017 on their official visit to commemorate 60 years of bilateral relations.
Here’s what you need to do on your next state visit:
KL is home to some of the largest shopping centres in the entire world and definitely trumps London in the shopping stakes. Bigger than Stratford’s Westfield or the chaotic buzz of Oxford Street, Berjaya Times Square covers 3.44 million sq ft. If you’re wondering how you could ever have enough shops to fill that space, then you’re in for a treat. This is more than just a ‘mall’. Inside, you’ll find more than 1,000 shops, Malaysia’s first ever IMAX 2D & 3D theatre and Asia’s largest indoor theme park. Madness.
Okay, so the Batu Caves couldn’t be more different from Hyde Park but they’re both well-loved within their respective cities, and you’re in Malaysia to try something new, right? Sat just outside the city, the limestone caves are an other-worldly sight, serving as Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Murugan, who you’ll find resurrected as a 42-metre-high gold statue outside. Watch out for the monkeys – just like the overfamiliar pigeons of Hyde Park, they have a soft spot for unassuming tourists.
Stay: Hotel Stripes Kuala Lumpur, Autograph Collection – five-star luxury for as little as £55 a night. You. Can’t. Go. Wrong.
4. Leeds is twinned with… Hangzhou, China – fly from £347
Leeds photo credit: Benjamin Elliot | Hangzhou photo credit: Eugene Sergeev
Leeds has six partners to its name: Lille, Dortmund, Siegen, Brno, Durban and Hangzhou. Little did we know, China has been a firm friend since 1988 when the British government actively encouraged strengthening ties with the Chinese. And it was due to this relationship that the Chinese Olympic Committee chose Leeds as their training ground to prep for the London 2012 Olympics. Hangzhou (pronounced Hang-Jo, not Zoo… obviously) is also known as ‘City of Heaven’ due to its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
Here’s why you need to book a flight now:
We hate to break it to you Leeds-dwellers, but Hangzhou is beating you hands down in the lake department. West Lake is, well, breath-taking. Willow trees kiss the water at the edges of the lake, while traditional Chinese pagodas sit atop the surrounding hills. Treasured by the locals, the lake, which is split into five sections thanks to a mountain, features 10 must-visit ‘scenic spots’. These include the fish and lotus fronds at Flower Pond and the Leifeng Pagoda.
Founded in 1913, Zhi Wei Guan is the perfect spot to try traditional Hang snacks and small eats, while watching over West Lake from its terrace. Back in the day, it’s said passing travellers would dismount their horses when they smelled the sweet aromas wafting from the restaurant. Thanks to its unrivalled fare, this is still one popular restaurant, so be prepared to wait your turn.
Switch Leeds’ pedestrianised high street for Hangzhou’s historic district. You can easily walk to the area from West Lake and within moments you’ll be transported back in time to traditional Chinese life. Street artists, market stalls and teahouses line the streets, so give yourself a few hours to really get to know the area.
5. Birmingham is twinned with… Chicago – fly from £263
Birmingham photo credit: LMara | Chicago photo credit: Stephan Cassara
Since 1993, these two have been solid sisters, built out of the multi-national companies that share their cities – from Boeing to Motorola. Over the course of their 26-year partnership, they have shared a lot including their local government models to help with ‘social cohesion and migration’. City Hall Chicago is apparently very keen to learn from Birmingham’s schools – who knew? And it doesn’t stop there; the police forces of both cities are learning how to gather intelligence from each other too. Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
But enough of these heart-warming stories, here’s what you can do when you get to Chicago…
A little like the High Line of New York fame, sat on an abandoned elevated railway line, The 606 (named after the start of Chicago’s post code) is a little edgier than New Street in Brum and you won’t find the Bullring at the end of it. You will, however, find trails for cyclists and pedestrians and art installations along the 2.7km stretch.
We know nothing can truly compare to the wonders of Cadbury World, but the Museum of Science and Industry is a lot more fun than its name suggests. It’s one of the largest science museums in the world for a start. And it’s all about interactivity, featuring a tornado simulation (sounds terrifying), a mirror maze, flight and ride simulators and a real U-505 submarine (the only one of its kind in the US). Open 365 days a year. Adult tickets from around £18.
Okay, this one’s a bit of a stretch. We know no one hangs out at the BT tower but it does hold the title of Birmingham’s tallest building at 152m. In Chicago though, the Willis Tower reaches 527 metres. It’s the second tallest building in the western hemisphere and you can head straight to the Skydeck for views across the city. If you’re feeling brave, you can even lean out of it into the Ledge’s glass box, which extends a metre out of the building. Tickets from around £20.
Stay: Freehand Chicago – a hip, boutique hotel ideal for solo travellers and only a 2-min walk from Grand Station. From £121 per night.
Have you found your home town’s twin? Book flights and hotels below:
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 23 July 2019.