Part of travel is educating yourself about the places you’re going. And even if you’re not planning to visit, part of being a traveler is educating yourself about the places in the world.
But where does one even begin with such a biggish task?
Probably with at least getting the country and city names right.
There are so many places in the world that we’ve either never heard of, never heard said out loud or have just spent our entire lives thinking the way we say it is the way to say it. However, chances are, no matter how many Jeopardy questions you can answer and feel smart, I’m pretty sure there’s at least one place on this list that’s going to make you say: whaaaaattttt?
So, let’s make ourselves smarter. Because no one wants to be the person getting side eye for saying the name of a country wrong when everyone else in the circle already knows what’s up.
1. Bequia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Fun fact: This tiny island in the Caribbean is known for building boats, which it’s been doing for hundreds of years. Also, the beaches here are unreal in their beauty and largely secluded.
2. Phuket, Thailand
Fun fact: The word Phuket means mountain jewel, and when you see some of the beaches in this place, it makes perfect sense.
Fun fact (though this one’s more fact than fun): When it’s not having major issues with the Middle East and Africa over terrorism, Qatar is known for having the highest per capita income in the world.
4. Beijing, China
Fun fact: Beijing is the birthplace and world capital of Peking duck and it’s so exceedingly good there, it would be worth traveling back for that alone. (Here’s my post on how best to spend two days in Beijing).
5. Greenwich, England
Fun fact: Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, an imaginary line that divides the world into east and west, marked by the Royal Observatory. It’s where standardized time and time zones started, and where Greenwich Mean Time comes from.
6. Edinburgh, Scotland
Fun fact: Turns out the famous Edinburgh Castle is built on an extinct volcano.
7. Reykjavik, Iceland
Fun fact: As Iceland Magazine put it, Iceland was a “curious country” in the 20th century—beer was banned there from 1915-1989, there was no TV on Thursdays until 1987 and dogs were even banned from 1924-1984, so now the city’s overrun with cats.
8. Melbourne, Australia
Fun fact: Melbourne has the most cafes/restaurants per capita in the world. (Check out which of those gazillion restos made my list of 20 of the most Instagram-worthy food spots around the world).
9. Brisbane, Australia
Fun fact: The early Aboriginal people called Brisbane Mian-jin, which means “place shaped like a spike.”
10. Antigua, Caribbean
Fun fact: If you’re in the Caribbean Antigua, it’s An-tee-guh, but in Guatemala, its city of Antigua is actually pronounced An-tee-gwah. Also, the highest point in the island’s Shekerley Mountains was renamed Mount Obama in 2009 after President Obama.
Fun fact: Niger is one of the hottest countries of the world, even earning itself the nickname “The Frying Pan of the World.” Apparently we’re talking hot enough to make a rain drop evaporate before it touches ground.
Fun fact: Some researchers have claimed Brits and Irish can trace their roots back to Iraq. Things that make you go hmmm.
13. Worcestershire, England
Fun fact: Lea & Perrins, the men behind Worcestershire the sauce, were chemists from Worcestershire the place, and their famous sauce goes into Caesar salad, Bloody Mary’s and probably a million other things.
Fun (actually sort of dark) fact: Once Pablo Escobar’s kingdom, Medellin was, at one point, the murder capital of the world. Now it’s a foodie capital in its own right. (So there’s that and these 5 things you didn’t know about Medellin).
15. Budapest, Hungary
Fun fact: Budapest is home to one of the largest music festivals in the world, the Sziget Festival, which takes place over seven days every August.
16. Montreal, Canada
Fun fact: Eighty-five percent of the world’s maple syrup comes from Québec, the Canadian province Montreal belongs to. Also, Montreal is really big on fun summer festivals. It even has one dedicated entirely to poutine, its beloved french fries/cheese curds/brown gravy concoction. The festival starts today (Aug. 8-13) if you’re planning to be around.