The practice of twinning towns and cities came about as a means of promoting international co-operation on a subnational level. Twinned towns share expertise, cultural experiences and behave much the same as siblings would. Occasionally there are fall outs, some have imaginary siblings, but most maintain friendly relations and help each other in times of need. We've collected a list of the top ten UK cities and their international counterparts; learn a bit about the city your city is twinned with.
10. London - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Distance between London and Kuala Lumpur: 6 556 miles
Juxtaposed against London, Kuala Lumpur is the young up-and-comer to London's elder statesman. The most populous city in Malaysia is a feast of colour and modern design, with the gleaming twin towers of Petronas Towers as a landmark and symbol (as opposed to our unique little Gherkin). There is no better place to begin discovering the city than the observation deck of Petronas Towers or alternatively try Kuala Lumpur Tower - the lesser known but equally spectacular vantage point - until Petronas Towers reopen in December 2011. Close by to Petronas Towers is the shopping district - six floors of absolute retail bliss. Cultural stimulation can be found a bit further off at the renowned Islamic Arts Museum. A museum without partitions where exhibitions of Islamic art and Koran manuscripts flow into one unique cohesive experience.
Other cities twinned with London include Arequipa (Peru), Cordoba (Argentina) and New York City (USA).
9. Birmingham - Chicago, USA
Distance between Birmingham and Chicago: 3 864 miles
Brum, as Birmingham is known, is twinned with the windy city of Chicago - the archetypical American city. Named the windy city, not because of the breeze, but more so for its perceived braggadocio. But who can blame Chicagoans when they can claim the world's first skyscraper, built in 1884, and inventing musical genres like house, soul and hot jazz. As befits a nation of immigrants, Chicago is home to 26 different ethnicities speaking a babel of languages. To experience the real Chicago, visit the various ethnic neighbourhoods with their distinctive cultures and exotic eateries. From Greektown to Chinatown to the Polish Triangle to Little Italy, there is a world to be seen in Chicago. Of course don't forget to do the expected tourist activities like watch a game at Wrigley Field (the Lords of baseball), chill out at Millennium Park, a futuristic multi-purpose space, catch a performance at the renowned Chicago theatre or watch the sun set over the city and Lake Michigan from atop John Hancock observatory.
Brum has its own futuristic millennium park in Millennium Point. The park is a centre of education, but also has less cerebral entertainment with a funky looking IMAX theatre on its grounds. Of course, modern Birmingham - and shiny developments like Millennium Point - are a product of the Brum of yore. The Birmingham of back-to-back cramped, but lively, houses that the old folks remember well. The National Trust runs an insightful tour of the Birmingham of that period (from about 1840 to 1970). The perfect tour to take with your family and bend their ears with stories from your youth.
For more information on Birmingham see visitbirmingham.com
Other cities twinned with Birmingham include Frankfurt (Germany), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Lyon (France).
8. Edinburgh - Vancouver, Canada
Distance between Edinburgh and Vancouver: 4 403 miles
You might want to leave your kilt at home to visit Edinburgh's Canadian relative; Vancouver is known as the Rainy City for a reason - not to mention the freezing winters. Despite the weather Vancouver has been the Most Livable City of the noughties according to the Economist (only recently being pipped by Melbourne). Vancouver's natural heritage is its top draw attraction. The 1 000 acre Stanley Park island is without peer in terms of unadulterated beauty; the type of park that's less about manicured hedges and more about nature in its original state. Beach bums can laze away on Jericho Beach - a walking distance from the city centre - on one of the rare hot days, with great sunsets and city views. North of the city the resort town of Whistler is everything a ski tourist could want - a small cozy village environment, great slopes and good cheer for afterwards. Just pick a season and Vancouver will do the rest.
For more wonderful parks, see our Top 10 International Parks.
Other cities twinned with Edinburgh include Nuremberg (Germany), Rostov-on-Don (Russia) and Havana (Cuba).
7. Liverpool - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Distance between Liverpool and Rio de Janieiro: 5 779 miles
No two cities have a richer football heritage than Rio de Janiero and Liverpool, with both cities hosting a number of championship-caliber teams. Rio is home to America, Botafogo, Fluminense, Vasco de Gama and Flamengo - the last being the most supported club in the world. Liverpool is equally represented by Everton and Liverpool FC. The Millions Derby, between Vasco de Gama and Flamengo, is as fiercely contested as any Merseyside derby. Football is not all there is to Rio though with iconic sights like Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado, the cable car to Sugar Loaf mountain and the ever popular Copacabana beach. If you're looking for unique attractions, however, you'll have to dig a bit deeper. Tourist attractions like the Brazilian Academy of Letters, an important repository of Portuguese writing, and favela tours of Rocinho, the largest shanty town on the slopes surrounding Rio, are worth doing to get the rounded Rio experience and learn why they call Rio 'Cidade Maravilhosa' (the marvellous city).
Other cities twinned with Liverpool include Dublin (Ireland), Shanghai (China) and Cologne (Germany).
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6. Manchester - Saint Petersburg, Russia
Distance between Manchester and Saint Petersburg: 1 300 miles
Manchester is twinned with the city of many names - from Saint Petersburg it became Petrograd then Leningrad and back again to Saint Petersburg in 1991. The 'Venice of the North' is split by the River Neva, which is crossed by the half kilometre long Trinity Bridge. The city is frozen at its most beautiful height - there are no ugly tetris-like high rises to spoil the wonderful silhouettes of architectural beauties like the State Hermitage Museum, Spas na Kravi and Catherine Palace to name a few. Art lovers must visit the Hermitage Museum, which houses three million art pieces spanning a broad period from prehistoric art to the modern art movements like Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and the Neoclassical - you'll go from looking at Iron Age artifacts to a Monet or a Matisse. Beauty is not confined to the galleries though, with streets worth walking and an ambience to match. Do stop by a blini stand for a blini; it tastes much like a Russian-style crepe - none of the French frivolity, but all of the taste.
Other cities twinned with Manchester include Bilwi (Nicaragua), Kanpur (India) and Chemnitz (Germany).
5. Bristol - Hannover, Germany
Distance between Bristol and Hannover: 530 miles
Bristol has no shortage of clones, with at least 34 other Bristols scattered around the world. So it is fitting that it is twinned with Hannover - the name of at least 17 other towns in the US, South Africa and Canada. Hannover has deep ties with the UK, being the royal dynasty that supplied our monarchs until King William the Fourth. Lovers of all things royal will enjoy the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen - made up of the Great Garden, the Berggarten, the Georgengarten and the Welfengarten. If you've ever wanted to recreate a Jane Austen tryst, these beautiful baroque gardens are the perfect setting. Modern Hannover is no slouch either; the city has become known for its fairs and events. The most popular of which include CeBIT, the largest computer expo in the world, and Hannover Oktoberfest - the second largest Oktoberfest after Munich. The city has a convenient 2.5 mile long Red Thread walk that takes you past 36 of the city's best attractions. Just pick up a brochure and follow the red line.
Other cities twinned with Bristol include Bordeaux (France), Porto (Portugal) and Tbilisi (Georgia).
4. Newcastle - Malmo, Sweden
Distance between Newcastle and Malmo: 578 miles
Newcastle is a city with a bit of a bridge fetish with at least 11 bridges crossing the river Tyne. The best way to get an abridged overview of the city is through its amazing portfolio of bridges. Upstream, Redheugh Bridge has an attraction built onto it; the Richard Deacon sculpture Once Upon A Time, on its side, is one of those deceptively simple artpieces with a rather complex meaning. Further down the grand dame of Newcastle bridges, Tyne Bridge, continues to be a symbol of the city despite competition from younger attractions. Nearby the bridge is the space-age looking Saga Gateshead performance hall and conference centre - the young trophy wife to Tyne bridges elder gentleman. But the most stunning bridge is the wispy Millennium Gateshead Bridge - the world's only tilting bridge. Watch the video below to see the bridge in action.
Newcastle is paired with a stunner from Sweden in Malmo - the third largest city from that country. The older architectural masterpieces of Newcastle, like the aforementioned Tyne Bridge and Millennium Gateshead Bridge, are matched by Malmo's ultramodern marvel - the Turning Torso. Imagine a building twisted like a towel and you'll have some idea of what the Turning Torso looks like. From the promenade surrounding the building you can see Malmo's own mega-bridge. The almost five mile long Øresund Bridge (and tunnel) that connects Sweden and Denmark is also the longest in Europe. A drive along the bridge is worth the snaps you'll get of the Øresund strait, or take the train for a cheaper hands-free option. If the large, imposing architecture bores you, Lilla Torg or the Little Square is the best place to just unwind with a cup of coffee and be captivated by the town's quiet atmosphere. For a relaxed sightseeing experience the local tour boat winds its way through the city, under bridges and makes for an easy stress free afternoon.
Other cities twinned with Newcastle include Atlanta (USA), Haifa (Israel) and Newcastle (Australia).
3. Cardiff - Xiamen, China
Distance between Cardiff and Xiamen: 6 112 miles
The Welsh capital of Cardiff has been matched with Xiamen (pronounced sha-men) since 1983. In the time since, Xiamen has been designated a Special Economic Zone and has ballooned in population and economic clout. Lately it has been marketed as China's premier coastal city with its own not-too-distant 'Hawaii' in Gulangyu Island. The island is foreign to even local visitors because of its European architecture - a remnant of the foreign embassies that called the island home. Amongst its oddities is an obsession with the piano, leading to some calling it the Piano Island, and the absence of modern China's ailments - there are no cars and vehicles (therefore no smog), the beaches are generally clean and the atmosphere feels less packed than the mainland (although the island is popular with tourists).
Cardiff may not have an island getaway off its coast but it makes up for it in its historical attractions. Evidence of the city's Roman, Norman and Victorian eras is littered throughout and around the city. The Romans left behind the town of Caerlon - one of the three Castras (principal fortresses) - in the province of Brittania. The imposing ruins were the inspiration for the Arthurian myth with Caerlon often cited as the rumoured site of Camelot. But the monument that sums up the rich history of the city is Cardiff Castle. First a Roman fort then a Norman keep then a Victorian mansion and finally a World War II shelter - the castle tells the history of Wales. Unlike other monuments, history seems alive in the castle - almost as if its next chapter is waiting to be written.
For more information on Cardiff see visitcardiff.com
Other cities twinned with Cardiff include Luhansk (Ukraine), Hordaland (Norway) and Nantes (France).
2. Belfast - Nashville, USA
Distance between Belfast and Nashville: 3 897 miles
A love of music connects Belfast and Nashville - known as Music City and the home of country music. Musically minded travellers will have an earful to hear and do with a number of cultural landmarks: Schermerhorn Symphony Centre, home of the Nashville Symphony and as close to acoustic perfection as you can get; the futuristic looking Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Ryman Auditorium, the "Mother Church of Country Music" - where even Elvis Presley struggled to get applause. Aspiring singers might want to take a sing-stroll down Music Row - the Hollywood of the music industry (certainly less embarrassing than putting yourself through X-Factor).
The Mother Church of Country Music
Side Note: Every year, in late February, Belfast hosts an aural invasion from Nashville in the form of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. All the best songwriters from Nashville come to Belfast to share their expertise and play a few exclusive sets.
Other cities twinned with Belfast include Bonn (Germany), Hefei (China) and Wonju (South Korea).
1. Bath - Alkmaar, Netherlands
Distance between Bath and Alkmaar: 316 miles
Bath is one of the few cities designated as a World Heritage Site. The city has a history and mythology stretching back to its time as a Roman spa town favoured by Minerva (goddess of wisdom). In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was at the forefront of Palladianism. The proportion and symmetry of that architectural style is evident in its buildings; especially in its most famous dual landmarks - the half-moon shaped Royal Crescent and the circle shaped...um Circle. The former, a residential block with a who's who of former residents; like George Saintsbury - writer, historian and wine critic.
Bath is also well known for its crackers; Bath Oliver dry biscuits make a good snack when accompanied by good cheese. Luckily Bath is twinned with a town renowned for its cheese - Alkmaar. The cheese market in Alkmaar is one of the last remaining traditional markets in Europe. The process of buying and selling cheese involves a quirky ritual known as handjeklap, that looks like a handclapping game that children would play. The cheese couriers, in an all-white uniform and boater hat, then move the cheese from seller to buyer in their shoulder mounted cheese barges.
Other cities twinned with Bath include Aix-en-Provence (France), Kaposvar (Hungary) and Beppu (Japan).
And lastly... Leeds - Durban, South Africa
Distance between Leeds and Durban: 6 081 miles
Leeds and Durban seem to be as different as can be; one is a landlocked city and the other is a coastside resort city, but they do say that opposites attract. Loiners (or Leodensian - people from Leeds) often dream of having a beach and some hot Baywatch weather; eThekwini (the local name for Durban) has that in abundance. The Golden Mile of Durban stretches from uShaka Marine World at South Beach, the fifth largest aquarium in the world, to the Suncoast Entertainment Complex at North Beach. In between you'll find a multicultural experience: colourful Rickshaw rides, traditional Zulu crafts and the finest Indian food outside of India - just ask for a spicy bunny chow.
Other cities twinned with Leeds include Colombo (Sri Lanka), Lille (France) and Louisville (USA).
Last Updated: October 2011