Simon Calder: How attractions could spruce themselves up

Some of Lonely Planet's criticisms are trite generalisations: the dormitory towns of Surrey are no less inspiring that those in the commuter belts of Paris and Milan. But they should spur some action from the target of the barbs.

Over the past two weeks I have visited five towns and cities that could present themselves more appealingly to the world.

Aberaeron on Cardigan Bay is a Georgian gem whose early 19th-century elegance has been smothered by 20th-century accoutrements. Move the traffic to the outskirts, open up Alban Square and the world may yet beat a path to west Wales.

Birmingham has largely been rescued from the desecration wrought by 1960s planners, but the heart was ripped from the city and has yet to be restored.

Fort William is at the end of Britain's finest railway, the West Highland Line from Glasgow. With Ben Nevis at its doorstep and the Great Glen beyond, it now styles itself as Scotland's adventure capital. The claim would be more credible if the walk from the station through the town were not unremittingly dreary.

Oxford Street, London, is currently a constricted muddle, due to the Crossrail project, but even when finally finished, I fear the capital's premier shopping street will emerge still tawdry and uninspiring. But clear the traffic and the illegal traders, and it will live up to its value on the Monopoly board.

Southampton took more than its share of bombing in the Second World War – now the city still feels like a place defeated, with only warehouses such as Toys R Us rising from the ashes. The waterfront needs to be embraced more convincingly, and the road network humanised.