The city has long been a magnet for smart talent. London ranks #2 in the world for percentage of the population with post-secondary education, and #11 for the quality of its universities. In September 2019, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings listed four London universities in the top 40—more than any other city in the world. Where the city consistently excels is in Programming—#1 again this year—which includes restaurants, nightlife and shopping. London has established a Night Time Commission and appointed a Night Czar. London First and Ernst & Young found that, in 2014, the nighttime economy was worth almost $35 billion annually and directly supported one in eight jobs—or 723,000 workers. To boost the nighttime experience, the city runs parts of its tube system 24 hours a day, to the delight of the 8.7 million riders who used it in 2018.
A visitor just has to look up—and what visitor can resist looking up?—to realize that Manhattan is reaching radical new heights. While there’s a dizzying concentration of towers in Hudson Yards, the air above many Manhattan neighborhoods has been forever changed. The Jacob K. Javits Center conference complex is getting a 1.2-million-square-foot, $1.5-billion expansion that will bring the facility to 3.3 million square feet. In the process, it will likely lift New York’s mediocre 56th place ranking for conference centers by providing much-needed new space. Delivery is expected in 2021. But New York is rarely all work and no play. The city ranks #5 globally for Museums, and from the Frick to the Tenement Museum, there’s a brilliant array. But all eyes will be on two in 2020—the Met turns 150 years old, and the Museum of Modern Art shows the world its rethink and rejuvenation of the notion of modern.
While 2018 was another record year for Paris tourism visitations (38 million), France is targeting 100 million foreign tourists for 2020. The city nabs the top spot in our Shopping category, beating out New York and London for the first time. In 2020, the full renovation of Les Ateliers Gaîté shopping mall, near Montparnasse Tower, will open for business, with more than 100 shops on three floors and a 25-restaurant food hall. Not to be outdone, architect Bjarke Ingels will unveil the massive Europa City mixed-use development in the city’s northern agricultural district of Triangle de Gonesse.
Despite earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons, Japan perseveres and Tokyo, with its round-the-clock kinetic mobility, innovation and efficiency, continues to mesmerize global visitors. It ranks #6 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks and #16 for Outdoors. Indeed, parks are considered vital infrastructure here, and essential therapy for its vertical-living citizens. Take, for instance, Meiji Jingu shrine, which is tucked into dense woodland in the heart of the city and celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2020. Then there’s teamLab Borderless in the Mori Building, a new kind of digital art museum without boundaries, where visitors wander and explore, map-free, while immersing themselves in a three-dimensional world. This is just the latest addition to the city’s 250-plus museums. It’s no wonder, then, that Tokyo ranks #4 globally in our Museums category.
First timers and regulars fall under the spell of Moscow the minute they set foot in this endlessly fascinating and dynamic metropolis. Curiosity about Russia has increased as political intrigue has grown, of course, which might explain why Moscow was the top-hashtagged city on Instagram. The city offers a bounty of classic attractions, including the masterpiece of Russian architecture that is St. Basil’s Cathedral; the Kremlin and Red Square, two UNESCO Heritage Sites that are also the historic and spiritual heart of the city; and, of course, Gorky Park. But the city also rewards venturing off the beaten path, with bizarre bars, tasty and increasingly locally sourced meals, and daring fashion boutiques.
Dubai is where you can ride the elevator to the top of the world’s tallest building for a bird’s-eye view, bet on the ponies at the world’s richest horse race and pose for photos in front of the world’s tallest choreographed fountains. The most visited mall on the planet is also here, and helps land Dubai at #30 in our Shopping category. New for 2019 is Cityland Mall, the world’s first “nature inspired” shopping mall, packed with botanical touches including 200,000 square feet of open-air gardens. Santiago Calatrava’s The Tower at Dubai Creek will eclipse the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world when completed in 2020.
Only in Singapore does an airport become a must-see attraction, one that receives millions of passengers a year but also lures locals with a bounty of designer shops, gardens, gourmet food, and one-of-a-kind sights. Opened last April and designed by Safdie Architects, the new $1.7-billion Jewel Changi Airport features a canopy bridge and glass walkway shrouded in fog and suspended 75 feet in the air. But the real showstopper is the seven-story Rain Vortex, an indoor waterfall (the world’s tallest) that cascades down from a central oculus in the roof. Although Singapore lands at #42 for Airport Connectivity, it would medal for its gateway’s experience alone if we scored such things.
Steeped in history and wearing its cultural identity proudly on its sleeve, the capital of Catalonia is a region of Spain where independence and defending it is in the blood. It’s here where Airbnb was reined in and overtourism challenged, studied and regulated, with insights shared globally. But all that tension tends to dissipate when the sun sets, as the city’s #3 ranking for global Nightlife indicates. From baby steps and tapas on Las Ramblas, to the hidden speakeasies of Barri Gòtic, Europe’s largest Gothic quarter and the heart of Barcelona, to the industrial-sized clubbing of Port Olimpic, Barcelona keeps its revellers sated. Is it any wonder that it boasts the fifth-most TripAdvisor reviews among the world’s cities?
While many U.S. cities saw a drop in international visitation in 2018, Los Angeles, which makes our World’s Best Cities Top 10 for the first time in 2020—ascending four spots year over year—surpassed 50 million annual visitors and reached the target two years ahead of schedule. The number is forecasted to exceed 70 million over the next decade. The city is actively managing the world’s demand for its beguiling brand of West Coast innovation—from the legacy entertainment industrial complex to more recent gaming and social media HQs—as well as the attention and influx that will come amidst the 2028 Olympic Summer Games and, potentially, the 2026 World Cup.
Few cities serve up the ability to walk the history of the Western world like Roma. Heck, just Palatine Hill invites you into two millennia of Western Civilization, if you’ve got an hour. Mix in a safe, accessible modern city amidst thousands of portals back in time and it’s easy to see how Rome cracked the Best Cities Top 10 for the first time this year. Declarations of love for the city have multiplied with the channels of self-expression, of course, and the city’s #4 ranking in our extensive Place category has directly fueled its #5 Promotion ranking, including the second-most TripAdvisor reviews on the planet and very frequent Google searches.
San Francisco has embraced seekers since the Gold Rush days, when, seemingly overnight, people came from Asia and Europe, from across the continent and from the other side of the world for their shot at the California Dream. Along the way, these immigrants have sowed the seeds for the city’s open-minded attitude toward, well, everything. The result is a city that doesn’t just welcome differences, but instead encourages and celebrates them. No wonder it ranks #8 in our People category, including #6 for post-secondary educated residents. The inflow of people into San Francisco is why SFO, the city’s airport, is a hive of renovation and innovation. The all-time record of 57.8 million passengers in 2018 will continue to be bested in the coming years, particularly with the opening of the new Grand Hyatt, SFO’s first on-airport hotel. The promise of high salaries means a torrent of global workers fuel the city’s ambition and ideas, ranking it #14 globally in our Prosperity category, including #7 for per capita GDP.
In Madrid, everything old is new again. With much-needed investment in its bounteous (but long-dormant) infrastructure and public assets, the Spanish capital is finally reviving its city-building legacy. It’s not just the well-known cultural richness (although the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all expanded over the past few years). Madrid is, more importantly, finally committed to the modern reinvention of the city focused on its citizenry. The city’s #18 ranking in our Neighborhoods & Landmarks category is certain to improve, given long overdue big-budget projects like making the central Gran Vía boulevard far more pedestrian friendly. The city with the #6 best Nightlife on the planet (just behind Berlin and ahead of Paris) is finally making it easier and more pleasant to stay out late.
An expanded Riverwalk, a world-renowned culinary scene that includes a number of Michelin-starred and James Beard award-winning restaurants, cultural attractions, stellar architecture and a vibrant nightlife help The Windy City land at #13 on this year’s list. In 2018, the city welcomed nearly 58 million visitors and is expecting to set a new record this year. To help with that endeavor, Choose Chicago launched a redesigned website and generated more than 6.3 million site visits in the first eight months of 2019. Chicago does an impressive job telling the world about its offerings through Instagram, TripAdvisor, Google Searches and Trends, and Facebook Check-ins—all subcategories that make up the Promotion category, for which it lands at #9.
While Dubai has massive shopping malls and the world’s biggest, tallest and most expensive everythings, Abu Dhabi is positioning itself as a leading global arts and culture hub, with the world’s largest mosque, and museums designed by just about every starchitect you can think of. While the Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi is already open, the city is hard at work on Saadiyat Island on the construction of a Norman Foster-designed Zayed National Museum, a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Tadao Ando’s Maritime Museum, and a Performing Arts Center by the late Zaha Hadid. The city’s #231 ranking for Museums is bound to improve in coming years. In the #3 ranked city for Weather, you need not go far for a place in the sun.
Not content with its raunchy, pot- and prostitution-fueled past (and the tourist “quality” this drew), Amsterdam doubled down on its enviable culture, connectivity and quality of life. New museums open annually, kicked off in 2016 by the Warhol and Banksy-stuffed Moco, followed by renovations to three of the city’s most important museums—the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk. Not surprisingly, the city ranks #14 globally in our Museums subcategory, up from last year. The city is also embracing corporate Brexit refugees who are setting up shop after leaving London, drawn by the global connectivity of the airport and new, direct four-hour London Eurostar rail service (handy if they forgot something in their old offices).
Daxing. It’s not just the name of a new Zaha Hadid airport, and the area where it is set, but also literally “big prosperity” in Mandarin. Very apropos for the #1 ranked city in our Prosperity category, which looks at the number of Global 500 headquarters based in a city (Beijing nabs the top spot) and GDP per capita. Beijing is #7 in the world in our Product category, which considers institutions, attractions and infrastructure along with airports and museums. Into this very mixed bag we’ll put Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, and the Mutianyu Great Wall, a bucket list attraction reasonably close to Beijing.
With almost half of its population foreign-born, Toronto’s #17 place is powered by its diversity and Education Attainment rankings—the two components of our People category, for which the city ranks #3, just behind Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Unlike with those Middle Eastern cities, Toronto’s diversity is less tied to migrant labor. The city’s openness, combined with its economy (with the seventh-most Global 500 head offices in the world) has resulted in unprecedented density and a satisfaction with just staying put, sated by real estate wealth and the comfort that the world is already in town. Of course, winning an NBA title doesn’t hurt, either.
In less than a century, Qatar went from poor UK colony with a dwindling fishing industry to independent nation with booming infrastructural development and radically improved lifestyle. Today the Qatar Investment Authority is estimated to be worth $328 billion, a portion of which is channeled back into the country and into Doha to build more highways, a metro system, universities, the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, the new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel and, of course, shiny skyscrapers. By the time it hosts the World Cup in 2022, Doha will offer a dynamic mix of traditional souqs, iconic landmarks, ritzy shopping malls and five-star hotels to rival those in neighboring Dubai.
The East-meets-West spirit of the place; the forest of skyscrapers as seen on a hike to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir; the sounds, smells and tastes from the dai pai dong (open-air food stalls) of Temple Street Night Market and the city’s electric pulse all captivate visitors and locals alike. The sublime embrace of the city was shattered in April 2019 when Hong Kong citizens opposing a law to extradite criminal cases to China first took to the streets. The demands quickly spread to broader human rights reforms targeting China’s encroachment on the region. After dozens of injuries and millions in damage, the extradition bill was removed in late October, but unrest persists.
San Diego is as naturally endowed as any place has a right to be—its sublime 263 full and partly sunny days annually help place it at #13 for Weather, while the 23 beaches within city limits make it synonymous with SoCal surf culture. The many charms, events and attractions (the zoo!) of the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in North America, help the city to a #8 spot globally in our Outdoor Experiences subcategory. Then there’s the uniquely fluid cultural identity of the city. Next April will mark 50 years since the founding of Chicano Park, a site of protests and community activism that is now home to the world’s largest collection of Chicano murals.