The Saturday City: Places I Don’t Like

Each Saturday for the last three months, I’ve been highlighting different cities from around the world. Each time, I have nothing but praise for all these places. But I’m constantly asked if I like every place I visit, because it sure seems that way. Well, I don’t.

Generally, I try to find something good about every city, but I have come across some places I just don’t like:

Atlanta, Georgia USA
Hotlanta? More like Craplanta! I didn’t enjoy this place one bit, and it might be my least favorite city in the world. It was dirty, grimy, lacked anything really interesting, and had traffic worse than Bangkok because it has no subway system. Why? Because white suburbanites are too afraid that if they have a train system, black people will come from the city out into their area. Seriously. No lie. Multiple residents told me that. The only good thing about the city was that it was hot.

Milan Italy
Milan is another useless city. It’s also dirty, grimy, lacks anything but shops, and has some of the rudest Italians this side of Naples. Even most Milanese don’t like it! They are just there for work. The only reason to go to Milan is to shop, otherwise you are just wasting your time.

birmingham england
As you know, I had a lot of good experiences in England. It’s such a great country. But if I could skip one place, it would be Birmingham. Outside the shopping mall in the city center, it looks like this place hasn’t been renovated since 1960. I also felt unsafe walking the streets here. The city just gave me a very creepy vibe.

ko larn off pattaya thailand
Located on Thailand’s Gulf Coast, this city is famous worldwide for prostitutes. Fat old men from around the world come here in search of someone who will tell them they are beautiful, even if it’s only because they have money. Pattaya is like Bangkok on the sea, and pollution from the city has ruined the harbor. Now, you need to take a boat out to an overcrowded island in order to find a place worth swimming. The city is popular with local Thais who come for the theme park, and Pattaya has tried to clean up its image over the last few years. But until they clean up that harbor and the fat old men, I’m fine with never going again.

brisbane outdoor area
OK, I don’t hate this city like I do the others. It’s more a general ambivalence towards it. There’s nothing really wrong with Brisbane (I mean, Southbank is nice), but I found the city reminded me too much of America. It also really lacked any culture or anything interesting besides the shops. I’d go back to Brisbane in the future, but did I love the city? Not really.

Not all Saturday cities are glitter and gold, and, every so often, I’ll rant about one or two I don’t like. However, the explorer in me tries to find the best in all places.

  1. I gotta defend Atlanta. I lived there for four years and went to college at Emory and there are lots of reasons to love Atlanta… despite the abysmal public transportation system (which is, believe it or not, better than it was when I lived there in the late 90s. The bad public transportation system is also a reflection of the South in general. For lots of reasons, cars have long been a much more important part of transportation culture than any public transport. Does race have something to do with it? YES. But so do lots of other factors, including the fact that urban sprawl is a relatively recent phenomenon and there just wasn’t the infrastructure or the urban ridership to support public transport).

    I love Atlanta because it’s truly a university/college town. With Emory, GA Tech, Agnes Scott, Spelman, and Morehouse (to name only a few), Atlanta attracts some of the best teaching talent, but also performers, lecturers, and other figures (Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter) to offer special events that are free and open to the public.

    I love Atlanta for it’s Farmer’s Market. The Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market, to be specific. If you’re a foodie, the Farmer’s Market is an obligatory stop. You’ll love it. I promise.

    I love Atlanta for its art scene, which is getting better all the time. I love the artist’s markets, the revitalized downtown, the High Museum.

    I love Atlanta for its airport with inexpensive domestic and intl. flights, for being a great jumping off point to many destinations in the South. For its summertime concerts at Chastain Park. Its food. Atlanta has some incredible restaurants.

    Give it another chance; Atlanta’s got some great stuff!

    • Gotta say I agree with you, Julie.

      I grew up in Atlanta and it’s come a long way.

      There’s a huge immigrant population from just about every country you can imagine, which aside from many other positive things, means incredible Mexican, Peruvian, Indian, Persian and many other kinds of food — restaurants and markets.

      East Atlanta has an amazing growing music scene — some more underground, others main stream. And the amount of free and low cost things to do are overwhelming.

      In addition to the High Museum, you can also find good art at the Botanic Garden, which just recently had an exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures. Throughout the city, you’ll find galleries and even coffee shops showcasing newer artists of all kinds.

      Oh, and the Couchsurfing community there is one of my favorite. I’ve had some of my best times driving around in the middle of the night looking for the Claremont Lounge.

  2. You talk about Atlanta like I talk about Cincinasty…a city I love to hate.

    It is hot, the traffic absolutely sucks, and they’ve had their share of race relations dilemmas. But it’s not all bad. Here’s what I love about Atlanta–
    *some terrific museums, like The High, Fernbank, and Cyclorama
    *a phenomenal symphony orchestra and ballet
    *a good major league ballpark (and sometimes a team to match)
    *plenty of good and diverse food offerings. If you get out into the neighborhoods there are some terrific restaurants and markets from every point on the globe. I fondly remember Atlanta as the first place I had a ‘real’ Cuban sandwich, at a divey lunch counter where no one spoke English. It was awesome.
    *going for a run in Piedmont Park
    *they have a panda at their zoo

    And in the interest of full disclosure because you do have faithful readers all over the world–it must be said that Atlanta does have both rail (MARTA) and bus service. It’s not New York or DC; there are some huge flaws in the system. But there is a system and I have used it many times.

    I love your website…you have been a huge catalyst in my current plan to go take some time and really get to know England.

  3. Nice to see we agree on Milan!

    I could have saved you a trip to Birmingham – I think most Brits would struggle to have much positive to say about our second city.

  4. that’s an interesting angle. you always here people raving about where they DO like. I would add Darwin (just too hot), Limerick in Ireland (rough rough!), Stuttgart (boring as hell)

  5. Interesting. I went to Milan for one hour and thought “what am I doing here – its all banks and shops” and got back on the train. I am annoyed I didn’t go to see Leonardo’s Last Supper now (but didn’t read up on it till I’d left Milan). Similarly, I lived in the UK for three years and spent a morning in Birmingham and that was more than enough.

    …but then I find my home town (Brisbane) makes the list – a place I loved as I grew up – but your comments disappointingly kind of ring true. It is pleasant and Southbank is pretty good but Its main highlight is being the gateway to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts – superb beaches on any measure.

    I wonder if you’ll find lovers of Atlanta, Birmingham or Milan.

  6. Thanks for this article, Matt! Traveling can be disappointing, but we don’t often talk about this aspect of what we do. I’ve been to Milan as well, and I totally agree with you. It’s lame. Possibly my least favorite city ever.

  7. Cuckoo

    I have been to Milan and Brisbane from this list and for Milan I agree with you but Brisbane was ok.
    For me Canberra will go down for its cold hospitality compared to Brisbane. (I am comparing only Australian cities) .

  8. NomadicMatt

    @julie: if I ever get back to the states, i may go one day but it’s not high on my list with so many places i haven’t seen yet but maybe we can take a trip together!

    @sarah: you’re right, there is the marta but it doesn’t really go anywhere! Though we may not agree on atlanta, i’m glad you like the site!!

    @geoff: next time, let me know! :)

    @quickroute: I loved Darwin!!! but i do like the heat so that might be why.

    @Mark: looks like we have the same tastes!

    @the dude: that’s very true and it’s sketchy place. I did not felt safe there but I did like the it’s location….i just thought the place was boring.

    @tanya: i agree!!!! so bad. ps- paris is great but there’s no tourist signs!!!!

    @cuckoo: never been to canberra. heard it was pretty boring. is that true?

  9. Anthony

    Dude, I was dropping by just to say hello, but you cant diss Milan! Atlanta, yes. I was´t too thrilled about it the few hours I was there while I waited for my flight. I went out into the city and I didnt like the downtown much, dirty and boring.

    But Milan! Gasp! LOL Take it easy man

  10. Oh yeah, I can feel what you wrote about Pattaya. I was there about 7 years back and the sea had some kind of acid feel in it. Completely dirty, polluted and the whole town a mess, filled with those mentioned fat and disgusting tourists. One to never return to. 😉

  11. Theresa

    I agree with Milan. Another European city that sticks out as being a dud to me is Hamburg. As for the the U.S., Houston’s way up there on my list of least favorite cities. I went to school there…so it wasn’t just a quick visit…and I can say that the only thing I miss about it are 1) the good, quick, cheap Tex-Mex food, and 2) the warm winters.

  12. Milan! Matt, my god! How long did you spend there?! I’ve written two guidebooks to Milan and spent a lot of time in the city. For many years it was just a stopover city for me, because we’d take flights from Dubai to Milan and then get a connection elsewhere, but then we’d spend months at a time there ( we recently spent a month there renting an apartment for a new book) and we fell in love. I’ve travelled all over Italy, spent time in every major city and town across the country, and Milan for me is one of the most authentic, laidback and enjoyable cities in Italy.

    Aside from having Italy’s best restaurants (and best shopping), it also has the best aperitivo scene, some of the country’s best art and architecture, some of most beautiful courtyards, fantastic markets, and down-to-earth locals. I’ve never met a Milanese who doesn’t love Milan, but what’s also wonderful about the city is because it’s the country’s economic powerhouse, you have people living there from all over Italy and all over the world. And they like it that Milan is not on the tourist travel, that it’s not a Rome or Venice crawling with tourists.

    It’s definitely a city that takes time to reveal itself to you. You have to get beyond the tourist sights. The first place to head is the Navigli – Italy’s liveliest neighbourhood with a bar and eating scene like no other in Europe. The unfortunate thing is that most people only see it as a place to go to get somewhere else and judge it by either the areas around the two main train stations and the piazza del Duomo, when in fact all the best stuff is nowhere near here. Although, having said that, one of the best things to do in Italy is explore the Duomo rooftop at sunset. It’s sublime.

  13. I’ve never been there, but my mother was born in Birmingham. Whenever I am in a cheery conversation with someone from England and I bring that up, they immediately get a disgusted look on their face. Once someone said, “oh, sorry.”

  14. NomadicMatt

    @Lara: If I get back to italy, I’ll go again with a list of places from your book to give it another try. It’s not above another try.

  15. It’s good to be honest and say there are some places that just don’t have that charm we’re looking for when travelleing – yet even these may have happy memories if we have friends or family or if we connect with the people there.

  16. Ben

    Ah Brisbane (my hometown) makes the list. I’m surprised, i mean after visiting europe i favoured my city over all the recent places i’ve visited.

    It is true that Brisbane doesn’t really have anything going on, probably why we go out to sports more. Why is reminding you of America a bad thing?

    Also did you go to the top of Mt Coot-tha at night, because it really gives an amazing view :)

  17. Maree

    I’m going to disagree with you on Birmingham & Brisbane both of which I enjoyed.

    Two cities I found it hard to warm to:

    Shanghai – I’ve visited 5 other Chinese cities which I loved. But of all the Chinese cities I saw Shanghai had the least historical interest and was the most insightful into China’s ecological disaster. The air was visibly yellow. I stood on the banks of the river staring out the coal barges steaming past the spectacular modern buildings on the far side of the river and cried.

    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Level, sprawling, visually uninteresting, all one color (beige) and incredibly conservative. By contrast I love Jeddah, Saudi’s 2nd city on the Red Sea Coast.

  18. I have to agree with Atlanta. I’ve been multiple times for work and every time I have had terrible experiences. Mostly with getting mugged, panhandled, and threatened everywhere I went.

  19. Andrew

    I found Philadelphia to be such a piss poor city. No life for what is suppose to be a major U.S. destination. Good cheese steaks though.

  20. Cheri Lucas

    I gotta agree with you about Pattaya. Not just because of the gross, fat sunburned male tourists, but also because of those boxing rings where I watched numerous rounds of four-year-old Thai boys beating the crap out of each other, with said fat tourists cheering them on and throwing change and dollars bills to them afterward!

  21. Chris

    Birmingham has the advantage of a compact city centre and well developed suburban centres. If you are planning to visit the city in December you’ll see the German Christmas market which is the biggest Christmas market outside of Germany/Austria.

  22. Harry

    I liked the reasons! I hate the crowded cities! so I’ll pick bangkok to avoid. N the best part is I was planning 2 visit Milan. thank u for saving me!

  23. Ostara

    Milan was the first city I went to in Europe and I must attest to that every Milanese I have met thus far seem not to like the city. I don’t hate Milan but I don’t love it either. It’s one city I don’t mind never going to again …. which is the total opposite of how I feel about Barcelona.

  24. Jo

    Great to read your list but you’ve got it wrong about Milan and Brisbane. Stayed with a local in Milan and it opened up the city to me, a place that might not be much fun for tourists beyond the church and shopping. And Brisbane – American? If you’re photo is anything to go by, the Queen St Mall, and Southbank that you mentioned, then you’ve hardly “seen” the city. West End, Fortitude Valley, Mt Coot-tha, Sandgate, Mt Nebo, Samford, Paddington, Rosalie – can’t think of anything American about them and the superb regions around the city are fantasic – Moreton Bay with its islands, Redcliffe, the Sunshine Coast. Come back and drop me a line – will show you the real city.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’ve been to Brisbane multiple times. My favorite part about Brisbane is when I head to the coast with my friends.

  25. Ben

    I am extremely offended! Although I have only been to two of these cities (Atlanta and Milan) I think you wrong. Milan is one of my favorite cities! The people are not rude. I dropped a 20 euro bill and some eurocents and I had like two people try to help me (and not steal). I t is home to the Duomo! one of the 5 largest cathedrals in Europe! Also it has the Sforza Castle, which was the ome of leonardo di Vinci for 15 years while Milan was a dukedom. It has the Opera di la Scala which was the opera house whose rebuilding after a fire in 1740 was commisioned by Marie Therese, Queen of Austria and Bohemia, and mother of Marie Antionette, Last Queen of France. So now sir, I hope you see why Milan is not a useless city… I actuelly think you were ignorent and didn’t get to spend the time there that I did. And since you said those things I don’t think you even visited the magnificent city! >:(

  26. Ben

    And now that I look throught the comments several people protest about Milan! Your just a straight-up unpleasable cracker!

  27. Dave

    Brisbane, I’ve lived there for 4 years now and you really hit the nail on the head with that summary. Boring. I think I might move to Pattaya- your description made it sound pretty good!

  28. Nathan

    I’ve live in Brisbane, but I plan to move soon. It’s not a bad city but it’s definitely suited to a certain type of person. Me, I prefer fast paced, big cities, something with a history and culture. Brisbane’s to warm and sunny for me personally.

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