Bright lights, big personalities. These cities are proud, loud and absolutely must-see destinations.

20VeniceShutterstock/maleevswVenice Ahh, Venice. City of romance, city of passion. A city guaranteed to get all your senses fired up. Treat your love to a stroll along the narrow streets, past cozy restaurants and piazzas with lovers in passionate embraces. Or while away the hours on a leisurely ride through Venice’s intricate system of canals. The sometimes cheesy gondolier’s singing and music is a bonus. The annual Carnival showcases frivolity, meticulously crafted masks and fantastical costumes. Go soon though. Venice, however magical, may have only a short time left as water levels continue rising due to global warming.

tsukijiY ShimizuTokyo There’s something fishy here. Especially at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market where commerce and tradition meet at a blistering pace. Get there before dawn when the daily catch comes in – from potentially deadly puffer fish to tuna, snapper and more exotic species. Soak in the sights, sounds and the pungent, but intoxicating, smells. Vendors shout out their wares. Tranquil and more pleasantly scented places exist as well. Stroll around the landscaped gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace. Relax at a traditional hot spring or soak up the silence at one of Tokyo’s ornate temples.

LondonTrodelLondon. The 2012 Summer Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – London is definitely where it’s at, whatever your “cup of tea” might be. The Jubilee celebrations culminate with the pageantry of 1,000-boat flotilla along the River Thames in early June. Oh, and it’s the bicentennial of Charles Dickens birth this year. Fans can celebrate the acclaimed author at street festivals and special exhibitions. Favourite attractions are still there: both historic like Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace; and modern like the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus and the Tate Modern. I say, what a year!

ParisShutterstock/Ekaterina PokrovskiParis A beautifully complicated city, Paris. It will seduce and surprise you with its sophistication, culture and sensuality. Sophistication along the Champs Elysees and at Versailles; culture at Notre Dame and the Lourvre. Sensuality? Wander into a boulangerie and buy a baguette, some cheese and a bottle of wine, then head to a local city park. Observe. Let Paris daily life unfold: children playing with their dogs, lovers engaging in a French kiss and ladies parading by in hot-off-the-runway fashions. This is the real and brochure- free Paris. The Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge and Montmartre can wait another day.

24IstanbuShutterstock/MemetcanIstanbul There is no continental divide here. Well, actually there is. Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus with on foot firmly planted in Europe and the other in Asia. The Grand Bazaar in the old part of the city is simply grand. The world’s oldest, and one of the world’s largest covered markets, it teems with 4,000 shops all wanting your money. Test your willpower and negotiating skills with the sly rug merchants. Less expensive and definitely more aromatic is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar – a fragrant journey that will leave your senses humming. Istanbul’s mosques, hammams and historic heart all reflect its colourful history as the heart of the Ottoman Empire.

New YorkArne GulsteneNew York City Boisterous, proud and unrepentant. NYC is a city of opportunity and cultural diversity. Skyscrapers and tall-in-the-sky attractions like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty battle for attention with low-to-the-ground theatres, cozy bars and loud deli shops. New York is sensory overload with cabs honking, Times Square lights shimmering and throngs of people yelling. Catch a Broadway show; dine at a celebrity chef’s eatery. The energy and panache of the Big Apple is palpable.