Stephanie Harwin, who writes the cat-obsessed blog Catsparella, will go to great lengths to get her feline fix. On her quest to fulfill a lifelong dream—visiting Japan’s Hello Kitty theme park—Harwin endured a bout of severe food poisoning, a language barrier, and a long journey to reach her happy place.
“You ride a boat through a world of all of the Sanrio characters, and I rode that at least three times,” she enthuses. There’s also a life-size replica of Hello Kitty’s house and a parade each afternoon. “Hello Kitty descends from the ceiling wearing a dress covered in LED lights,” Harwin says. “Going to the park really lifted my spirits.”
Japan is the ultimate travel destination for cat enthusiasts and Hello Kitty just the beginning. After all, this is the country that gave us YouTube star Maru, whose antics have racked up more than 200 million views. Tokyo has become famous for its cat cafés, where you can hang out with the furry creatures, and each February brings the celebration of “Nyan Nyan Nyan Day” (a name inspired by the sound cats make).
While the Japanese have the highest per capita cat ownership in the world, there are people crazy for cats everywhere—London’s Zoological Society even created a global Cat Map that allows you to plot the location of your own pet and upload its photo. All this cat love has resulted in some strangely charming places where travelers can stop to pay tribute.
Since the Middle Ages, the Belgian town of Ypres has put on a Festival of the Cats, during which townsfolk gather in costumes for a colorful parade complete with giant cat figures. Amsterdam supports a floating cat sanctuary and a dedicated museum, while Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, FL, estate is overrun with the descendants of his beloved Snowball, a six-toed Maine coon. Follow up a visit to the estate with a performance by Dominique and His Flying House Cats.
Attempting to explain the hold these creatures exert on our collective consciousness, Harwin muses: “What’s not to love? Cats are cute and cuddly and each has its own unique personality. I’ve even heard people who don’t like cats joke that they enjoy watching cat videos. They’re always doing something funny or cute or interesting or ridiculous, and it’s so easy to assign human characteristics to them.”
We think you’ll agree: these vacation ideas are the cat’s meow. —Emma Sloley