Written by Brian Johnston
Squares don’t just provide beautiful architecture, urban buzz, and a place to linger: they encapsulate the soul of their surrounding cities. Here are five of the best.
Red Square, Moscow
A wonderful thrill of familiarity greets visitors to Red Square, thanks to its appearances in television news and movies. To one side lies the Kremlin, the political epicentre of Russia for centuries; on the other is the ornate GUM department store, crammed with cafés and boutiques. But St. Basil’s Cathedral steals the show, its bulbous roofs a Willy Wonka swirl of candy colours that contrasts with its shadowy interior.
Distance: 3,568 km
Flight Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 12 flights a week
Tiananmen Square, Beijing
Tiananmen Square is staggering in size and can fit 300,000 people. Its 35m granite obelisk seems petite and, when ceremonial soldiers hoist a gigantic Chinese flag early in the morning, it flutters seemingly small as a handkerchief on its massive pole. Equally vast buildings line the square, while the mausoleum of China’s communist leader Mao Zedong stands in the centre. Tiananmen Square is perennially filled with tourists, all eyes eventually turning to the multicoloured Gate of Heavenly Peace at its north end, which leads into the Forbidden City.
Distance: 6,164 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
St. Mark’s Square, Venice
Piazza San Marco has always been at the social, political, and religious heart of Venice, with the Doge’s Palace and mosaic-glittering St. Mark’s Basilica looming at one end. Other buildings of note are its 1499 Clock Tower and soaring Campanile, which provides a bird’s-eye view onto the square and across Venice to the Alps. Arcades are lined with shops and cafés, Grancaffè Quadri eyeing off Caffè Florian opposite; the latter was opened in 1770. Though wincingly expensive, the cafés invite lingering to the sound of live classical music as pigeons flutter against pink façades.
Distance: 4,142 km
Flight Time: 6 hours, 35 minutes
Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires
Laid out by the Spanish in 1580, Plaza de Mayo is packed with history. The Cabildo (town hall) is one of the city’s few remaining Spanish colonial buildings, and the cathedral houses the tomb of General José de San Martín, who brought independence to Argentina. However, the square is dominated by the Presidential Palace, painted salmon pink; its balcony was famously the venue for speeches by Eva Perón, the former president’s wife better known as Evita.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Distance: 13,319 km
Flight Time: 18 hours, 50 minutes
Frequency: Daily via São Paulo
Greenmarket Square, Cape Town
Intimate Greenmarket Square comes alive every day (except Sunday) with a bustling flea and souvenir market in which people from all over Africa hawk CDs, bronze Benin lions, wooden carvings, and jewellery. Buskers and jugglers entertain the crowds. Don’t forget to look up, however: the square is surrounded by fine Georgian- and Victorian-era buildings.
Cape Town, South Africa
Distance: 7,427 km
Flight Time: 11 hours, 25 minutes
Frequency: 4 flights a week via Johannesburg