Crappy Capital Cities

Capital cities can embody the worst characteristics of a nation. They are loud, busy, overcrowded; home to the rich elite, and the poorest of the poor; they are the place you are most likely to be mugged, or hassled, or scammed; where the cost of living is the highest and quality of life is lowest.

Some capital cities have terrible reputations – both inside the country and out. But most have redeeming features that mean they are still worth a visit.


East African Capital Cities:

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Just landed in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia (population: 2.8 million), and keen to stretch your legs?

St George Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali is built upon four prominent ridges, and also occupies, though to a lesser extent, the valleys in between.

Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, capital city of Uganda, used to be called Kam-pothole due to the sorry state of its roads.

Kampala, Uganda

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Port Louis, Mauritius

Port Louis was used as a harbour during the Dutch colonial period, but it was the French that developed it into an administrative centre.

Port Louis, Mauritius

Port Louis, Mauritius. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Southern African Capital Cities:

Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe is a small, sleepy capital full of leafy boulevards, many lined with delightful, red-flowering poinciana trees.

Downtown Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe, Malawi. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Northern African Capital Cities:

Rabat, Morocco

Rabat came into the world as sweet and innocent as a newborn babe.

Hassan Tower, Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco. Photo credit: Benjamin White

West African Capital Cities:

Freetown, Sierra Leone

There’s a clue to the origin of Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, in the city’s name.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Dakar, Senegal

Dakar is one of those cities that came into being almost by accident.

Mosque of the Divinity, Dakar, Senegal

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


South-east Asian Capital Cities:

Manila, Philippines

The story of the Philippines, and of Manila, is a story of the coming together of cultures.

Rizal Park, Manila, Philippines

Rizal Park on Christmas Day. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Jakarta, Indonesia

When most people think of Jakarta they think of traffic, noise, pollution, congestion. And for the most part they’re right. Jakarta is noisy, and polluted, and crowded. And the traffic is horrendous.

The Old City Hall of Batavia, Jakarta, Indonesia

The former City Hall of Batavia. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Eastern South Asian Capital Cities:

Thimpu, Bhutan

Thimpu is one of the few national capitals that lacks its own airport. The closest airport is at Paro, a one-hour drive away, from where you can board flights to Thailand, India, and Nepal.

Tashichhoe Dzong, Thimpu, Bhutan

Tashichhoe Dzong, Thimpu, Bhutan. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Central Asian Capital Cities:

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek began life as a caravanserai, a rest stop for those plying the Silk Road through the perilous Tian Shan mountain range.

National Historical Museum, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

A settlement has existed at the junction of the Varzob and Kofarnihon Rivers for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. By the 1600s the village had come to be known as Dushanbe, Tajik for two days after Saturday, after its large Monday bazaar.

Rudaki Statue, Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Tashkent was once a thriving Silk Road city. And it would still be thought of as such if it weren’t for a devastating earthquake in 1966 that destroyed much of the city’s historic quarter.

Barak Khan Madrasah, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Nukus, Qaraqalpaqstan

Before visiting Nukus the only information I had on the city was from my guidebook, which declared Nukus a desolate cultural wasteland.

Presidential Boulevard, Nukus, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Middle Eastern Capital Cities:

Muscat, Oman

I was looking forward to some top quality muscat grapes – the big red ones – when I arrived in Muscat, Oman.

Muttrah, Muscat, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Doha, Qatar

Doha was founded in the 1820s as a trading port in the Persian Gulf. It’s now a city of 1.5 million and contains half the population of Qatar.

Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha, Qatar

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Amman, Jordan

Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is really, really old. The origins of the city go back some 12,000 years.

Cityscape, Amman, Jordan

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

You don’t hear much about Port Moresby as a travel destination. You don’t hear much about the city at all, for that matter, apart from it being rife with violent crime.

Independence day, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Port Vila, Vanuatu

The majority of people that fly into Port Vila, Vanuatu, will be immediately whisked away to a resort of some description.

Downtown Port Vila, Vanuatu

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Apia, Samoa

Apia, Samoa’s capital, with a population of less than 40,000, is small and sleepy as far as capital cities go.

Waterfront, Apia, Samoa

Apia waterfront, Samoa. Photo credit: Benjamin White


La Paz, Bolivia

Water boils at 87.6 degrees Celsius in La Paz, Bolivia.

La Paz, Bolivia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Bogotá, Colombia

City of eight million. Perched on the Colombian high savannah. Notorious for crime, murder, drugs, danger; more recently for art, literature, world-class graffiti.

Bogota street art 9, Bogota, Colombia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador has the honour of being one of the first two sites selected for UNESCO World Heritage status (the other was Krakow, Poland).

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Central American Capital Cities:

San Salvador, El Salvador

Gang violence is a serious problem for residents of San Salvador, with a murder rate that averages around 90 murders per 100, 000 people.

San Salvador, El Salvador

National Palace, San Salvador. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Like most, or perhaps all, Central American capital cities, Guatemala City has a reputation for guns, drugs, violence and danger.

National Palace, Guatemala City

Guatemala City. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Panama City, Panama

Founded in 1673 on a small, easily defended peninsula on Panama Bay, the new city, now known as Casco Viejo, flourished for a good many decades.

Mercado de los Mariscos, Panama City

Panama City, Panama. Photo credit: Benjamin White

San José, Costa Rica

San José, capital city of Costa Rica, has a rather unusual founding story.

San José, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Caribbean Capital Cities:

Bridgetown, Barbados

Barbados was uninhabited when the British arrived in 1625. They soon realised, however, that this wasn’t always the case.

Bridgetown, Barbados

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Havana, Cuba

Cuba is trapped in a time bubble. Walk down the main street of Havana today and you’ll swear you’ve been sent back to the 1950s.

Havana, Cuba

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Baltic Region Capital Cities:

Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia, has had a pretty interesting life. It’s changed hands no less than 11 times.

House of the Blackheads, Riga, Latvia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Vilnius, Lithuania

Take a map. That would be my advice for those hoping to navigate their way through the historic centre of Vilnius.

Church of St Casimir, Vilnius, Lithuania

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Caucasus Capital Cities:

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku is the deepest capital city in the world. It’s sits at 28 metres below sea level.

Flame Towers, Baku, Azerbaijan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of being situated at the crossroads of two ancient, perpetually-vying empires…

Church, Tbilisi, Georgia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Yerevan, Armenia

In 2018 Yerevan celebrated its 2800th year in existence.

Cascades, Yerevan, Armenia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Balkan Peninsula Capital Cities: 

Tirana, Albania

Albania was thought of as the bad egg of Europe for a good many years.

Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, Albania

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The only thing I knew about Sarajevo, prior to my visit, was that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated there in 1914.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia is Greek word; it means wisdom. Sofia a pretty name for a child. What does it mean, though, when the name is given to a city?

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Pristina, Kosovo

Kosovo is a tiny country. It’s roughly 100 kilometres north to south, and 100 kilometres east to west, making it more or less the same size as my hometown of Sydney, Australia.

Newborn Monument, Pristina, Kosovo

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Skopje, Northern Macedonia

Roll time forward to 1963. The city is now called Skopje, and it is situated within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On July 26 1963 another earthquake strikes, and the 80% of the city is levelled.

Stone Bridge, Skopje, Northern Macedonia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Central European Capital Cities:

Warsaw, Poland

My travel guide said many tourists prefer to skip Warsaw altogether and head straight to Kraków or Wrocław, which hardly sounded like a recommendation.

Old Town, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Europe has plenty of micro-states, but for some reason it’s double-landlocked Liechtenstein that most often comes to mind.

Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein

‘Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein’ by Michael Gredenberg. Available at under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence. Full terms at

Bratislava, Slovakia

Which is the only capital city in the world to straddle the borders of two foreign nations? Yes, It’s Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.

Church of St Stephen, Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana Castle, which looms over the city from atop Castle Hill, dates back to at least the 12th Century CE.

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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