Welcome to the foremost ranking of quality of place, reputation and competitive identity.
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.
That heritage of American excellence still draws the best in the world, from all over the world. They gravitate to Harvard, the planet’s #1 University, as well as Boston’s density of other world-class universities and colleges. New students flock here, arguable the planet’s largest university town, by the tens of thousands every year and become smitten with the crooked, narrow streets and the storied pubs, blended with American optimism and East Coast connectivity. This is the birthplace of America, after all. And Facebook. No wonder Boston ranks #12 for People, including #9 for Education Attainment and #29 for Foreign-Born residents.
If Sydney weren’t so (relatively) isolated, chances are it would be challenging Paris and London for visitor number supremacy. It’s the laid-back, safe and sunny manifestation of the good life. Let’s use new residents as a benchmark: according to local numbers, Sydney has been gaining more than 80,000 new residents annually, ranking #18 in our People category including #6 for Diversity. That staggering growth is indicative of the pull of the golden beaches, the big-city harbor and the mellow, generous, welcoming citizens who call this spectacular location home. Ranked #11 for Outdoors, Sydney is gifted with perfect integration of the natural and built, and accessible by all manner of ferries and watercraft, from which new angles on icons like the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are revealed.
Downtown is now a destination for locals and cred-seeking visitors. Repurposed brick buildings serve as austere, unsigned restaurants, a bet by Chef Natalie Young that has paid off for dozens of other entrepreneurs and restaurateurs since 2015. Sin City’s blossoming sense of place has moved the city into #27 for our deep Place category, with the sixth-best weather on the planet and an impressive #29 globally for its Outdoors Experiences. For a city in a desert, that’s no small feat. In the next few years, it will improve on its already impressive #35 global ranking in our Product category—its currently ranked #21 Conventions Center space will have an extra million square feet of functional space in 2020.
Miami’s natural attributes—turquoise Biscayne Bay lapping white-powder sand while sun-kissed bodies frolic everywhere—always captured the world’s imagination and crystallized the city’s hedonistic brand. But it’s the city’s openness to immigrants (and, more recently, the LGBTQ community) that ranks it #7 in the world in our People category. Indeed, the city boasts more than 100 languages other than English spoken at home, according to the latest census. Miami’s historic embrace of a crossroads of the Americas has also meant a business advantage few cities claim. The city is home to one of the largest concentrations of international banks in the U.S. as well as the largest hub, outside of Mexico City, New York and L.A., of Spanish-language media.
Fascinating what a well-educated, well-paid and diverse population can do for a city’s rankings. In the case of San Jose, the economic, cultural and political capital of Silicon Valley, it’s everything, giving the city its only rankings in the top 25 to date. The city stands at #3 for residents with post-secondary education and #2 in quality of universities, of which Stanford is the leading light. The region, home to Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems, eBay and PayPal, is #15 for Global Fortune 500 HQs and #11 for foreign-born population, up from 14th last year. While immigration is ever more contentious elsewhere, the city continues to draw some of the best and brightest tech talent and entrepreneurs on the planet.
The ubiquity of the U.S. capital in dramas on screens small and large (to say nothing of the real-life stuff) has escalated its resonance in the zeitgeist and helped propel it to the cusp of the Top 25 cities on the planet. Winning Amazon’s coveted HQ2 in nearby Arlington, Va., has dominated local and national chatter. The 25,000 jobs created will be located in what Amazon calls National Landing, a newly minted place brand for the neighborhood near Reagan National Airport known as Crystal City. The jobs will improve D.C.’s already impressive #4 ranking for educated citizens as well as its #11 ranking in our Prosperity category. Meanwhile, the massive Wharf, the $2.5-billion mixed-use development, inches closer to its 2022 opening date, giving the U.S. capital fresh office, residential, marina and retail space, as well as parks and public spaces, across an approximate half mile of the Potomac riverfront.
Switzerland’s financial center and largest metropolis is a magnet for foreigners who, along with multilingual Swiss nationals, enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living—the city ranks #13 for GDP per capita. Zurich lands at #5 in our People category, which takes into account the diversity of a city’s population, and at #9 for Global 500 companies (Migros, Credit Suisse and UBS AG are a few of the companies based here). For the uninitiated, Zurich may seem like a bourgeois and reserved kind of place, but under the buttoned-down oxford you’ll find a thriving arts landscape, an adventurous restaurant scene and plenty of vintage finds that won’t break the (Swiss) bank account.
Expats, creatives, entrepreneurs, immigrants, punks and misfits all find their place in Berlin, a city where remnants of its fragile history mingle with an ever-changing present, and where being whatever you want to be is not just encouraged but embraced. Indeed, the city has an annual festival, Karneval der Kulturen, that celebrates diversity and, of course, the Berlin Pride Celebration is arguably the biggest and most popular LGBTQ+ parade in all of Europe. In winter, bars are packed to the gills, art galleries overflow and techno clubs pulse into the wee hours. As soon as the sun comes out, the entire city heads outdoors, to the parks, the beer gardens and one street party or parade after another. Berlin ranks #5 for Nightlife and #7 for Museums.
Prague’s fairy tale spirit can still be found in its century-old cobbled streets and its castle perched on a hilltop, in its hidden alleys, ancient bridges and dreamy spires. But take a closer look and you’ll see a city constantly reshaped by citizens eager to write their own history. Here you can find shopping that’s at once sophisticated and daring, adventurous chefs creating a new Czech cuisine and an anything-goes club scene. After you’ve explored the nooks and crannies of Prague Castle, you might want to see how young artists are creating provocative new works in ceramics and glass at Cihelna, a concept store-cum-gallery that eschews the kitschy knickknacks found at souvenir shops across the city in favor of high-end, highly collectible homeware by local design talent.
Seoul is a city where you can feed your mind and body. Take, for example, its Top 10 ranking for Museums, #16 for Attractions and top spot for Restaurants. Start your visit at Zaha Hadid’s futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, then, for a deep dive into the soul of Koreans, visit the National Folk Museum of Korea, which includes a room devoted to the deep and pervasive roots of Confucianism. Still hungry? Explore Mukja Golmok, literally “Let’s Eat Alley,” the vegetable-centric Temple Cuisine at Dooreyoo, Michelin-starred chef Tony Yoo’s oasis, and Gwangjang Market, a century-old food hall where you can eat everything from a soup of rice cakes and kimchi-tofu dumplings to squirmy live octopus (really).
What Europe’s fashion and design capital may lack in architectural landmarks, it most certainly makes up for in Programming (Milan ranks #26). Showing up in style is half the fun of knowing the hottest places to go—after all, this is a city where residents worship at the temple of Prada and Versace. But while crashing Milan Fashion Week and Salone di Mobile might be impossible, there’s nothing stopping you from soaking in the city’s packed cultural calendar. Or from spending a few euro at one of the beautiful shops that line Via Montenapoleone. The city ranks #22 in the world for Shopping.
International immigration in the past decade has contributed to explosive population growth and has made Houston the most ethnically diverse big city in America, with more than 145 different languages spoken at home, according to the latest census—more even than New York. The fourth largest city in the U.S. is also home to the 20th largest concentration of Global 500 companies in the world. Its residents also rank an impressive #8 globally for GDP per capita. The recent development of the Houston Spaceport, a hub for innovation, education and commercial spaceflight, is the future of the region’s space industry—and brings us all a step closer to space tourism. For now, Houston’s 22.3 million annual visitors (2018)—of which 3.28 million were international travelers—arrive and depart by more conventional means. The city ranks #32 for Airport Connectivity.
While Sydney is known for its laid-back vibe and breezy style, Melbourne goes for edgy aesthetics and urban panache. For proof, explore a multitude of tiny alleys, where the city’s spraycan artists turned dreary murals into colorful canvases. You might stumble upon a laneway, those locally loved narrow passageways open only to pedestrian traffic, with a charming little bar or an award-winning restaurant. In the art capital of Australia, you can while away the morning at Gertrude Contemporary, a gallery that showcases the work of emerging homegrown artists, or you can lose yourself in the happening Fitzroy neighborhood, where the city’s street-art scene began in the aforementioned alleys. Melbourne ranks #38 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks and #24 for Culture.
Seattle’s self-reliance and dedication to taking care of its own has been fostered over 150 years of city-building on the far-flung northwest coast of the U.S., setting the stage for its current “it” status. In many ways, Sea Town reverse-engineered its success. With a focus on education and an optimized workforce, the very environment that launched and held on to Boeing (still the biggest local employer despite the relocation of its headquarters to Chicago) as well as Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser has also attracted more recent captains of industry, like Amazon, Costco and Starbucks. Keeping the talent pipeline stocked has always been Seattle’s secret—and it has paid off. Today, it ranks #6 globally in our University subcategory and #18 for educated citizenry.
Imperial capital for two centuries, city of 40 islands and 342 bridges, the Romanov showcase is the very definition of sumptuous. (Perhaps to compensate, locals refer to it by the affectionate diminutive “Piter.”) It’s the scale here, at once immense and intimate, that bewitches: the word “museum” gets redefined at the State Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, with an exquisite, sea-green Winter Palace so beautiful it could melt a czar’s heart. Not surprisingly, the city ranks #2 for Museums. The city places #3 in our Neighborhoods & Landmarks category, meaning you need to roam Palace Square, Nevsky Prospekt—the elegant geographical anchor of the city—and around Square of the Arts and the Summer Gardens.
Fresh ideas are blowing through the city where modernism was born—the 4th district seems to be just one hub of change on its own. Better tasting coffee is coming to the UNESCO-ranked coffeehouses, like the Landtmann and the Central—places where radical philosophical and aesthetic movements were hatched over mediocre joe. And along with Gustav Klimt at the Schloss Belvedere and Egon Schiele at the Leopold, there’s a dynamic contemporary art scene made up of places like TBA21 and the Museum of Applied Arts—which combines applied art, design, architecture and contemporary art in historic splendor. The annual Vienna Design Week is an anticipated takeover of the entire city. Not for nothing does Vienna rank #34 overall for its Programming.
Yes, there’s Oktoberfest every autumn, but Munich works as hard as it plays, becoming one of Europe’s hottest destinations for new residents seeking this elusive balance. It boasts the world’s #4 ranking for its convention center, its airport is ranked #17 (soon to improve after its $550-million reno is done in 2023) and ensures ease of access to all that business, and its University ranking sits just outside the global Top 25. All these attributes make up our Product category, for which the city ranks in the Top 10 for the first time ever. Small wonder, with all that infrastructure, that Munich is also Top 25 globally for both GDP per capita and Global 500 headquarters (made up primarily of automakers, media and manufacturing, but being quickly joined by biotech and IT giants).
Dallas-boosters like to say that “Big Things Happen Here,” and you’re bound to count among your souvenirs a selfie of your body filling the “I” space in one of 20 six-foot-tall “B-G” sculptures in the city. But it’s not only the city branding that’s big: the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex is home to more than 20 corporate headquarters, the largest concentration of corporate head offices in the U.S. Which would explain Dallas’ #20 ranking for Global 500 offices and the related #28 finish for GDP per capita. A city with lots of corporate headquarters is a city that’s easy to get to; Dallas is #11 in the world for Airport Connectivity.
Istanbul is a city of contradictions if there ever was one: minarets and church spires dot the colorful skyline, while down at street level women in black abayas and those in tight-fitting Armani dresses walk side by side. A few more steps away, Arabic house music from sidewalk cafés and bars all but drowns out the call to prayer. Get your bearings with a walk down Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian avenue in the Beyoğlu district that fuses modern with tradition to great effect. Here, impressive 19th-century buildings house cultural centers, shops, restaurants and cafes, such as Urban, a good spot for a midday coffee or a pre-club drink. Get your culture on at Istanbul Modern, a museum that focuses on local contemporary art.
As creative and educated as Austin is (#20 for University), the city is drawing new residents and infrastructure with its productivity and business-friendly atmosphere. South by Southwest, the annual summit of film, interactive media and music (plus a fair share of historic product launches, like Airbnb) has seeded the area’s magnetism for new ventures. As such, monikers like “Silicon Hills” have followed campus opens by Apple, Facebook, Google, Oracle, Dell, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. A skills shortage isn’t an issue, after all, with a steady flow of graduates pouring out from the University of Texas, and the promise of epic nights after hard days. The city’s food scene will also ascend into global consciousness as the legend of Texas barbecue grows around the world.
As the terminus of a cross-country railroad constructed by laborers from all over Asia, Vancouver was built with a foundation of Asian sensibility. It ranks #6 in our People category, a combination of Educational Attainment by residents and foreign-born citizenry. Increasingly, the term “visible minority” doesn’t mean anything here. Despite the success of this eden of coexistence, not all is calm. Always on the lookout for foreign investment, various incarnations of provincial and federal governments made citizenship available to foreigners with sufficient capital, with little oversight on taxing outside funds. As such, Vancouver’s housing prices are now mostly hitched to a global context, largely decoupled from local wages. Fortunately, Silicon Valley and Seattle tech giants are coming to town with plenty of jobs, coaxed by Canada’s openness to global tech talent immigration largely spurned by the current U.S. administration.
Dublin’s Docklands area, known as Silicon Docks, is home to major tech and digital players including Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Apple and Airbnb, to name just a few. And it’s not just household names setting up shop in the Irish capital. The site of several internationally ranked universities (Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Dublin City University), the city continues to attract smaller start-ups that choose it over traditional head office cities like London and New York. Among the many reasons is Ireland’s Local Enterprise Office, which supports international companies by providing mentoring and training as well as a number of financial grants. And, of course, there’s Dublin’s very attractive corporate tax rates—among the lowest in the world.
It’s banner year after banner year for Orlando’s tourism industry. Last year the city welcomed 75 million visitors, driven in part by the emergence of International Drive as a destination and the ripple effect of new attractions at the theme parks, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, the revamped Harry Potter roller coaster ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and a recreated Sesame Street Land at SeaWorld Orlando. With more visitors come more accommodations, and by 2020, 46 hotels with a total of 11,041 rooms are expected to open. That’s a lot of visitors with a story to tell. Orlando ranks #28 in our Promotion category.
This city has swagger, perhaps because it was the capital of what is today modern Japan a millennium before Tokyo. Osaka served as “the nation’s kitchen”—the distribution point for rice, the most important measure of wealth. Since industry begets industry, it’s now ranked #10 on the planet for most Global 500 companies. Amazingly, the city’s economy dwarfs Hong Kong’s. But it’s the impressive #23 ranking in our Programming category—led by a #12 spot for its culinary scene—that is making Osaka the fastest-rising Japanese tourist city. Annual foreign visitors to Osaka could reach 26 million by 2030, according to Takeshi Yamaguchi of estate consulting firm CBRE.
Montreal’s French Canadian culture is intrinsic and irresistible—a Latin exuberance and emotion that’s hard to find elsewhere in North America. It manifests in a love of huge public summer gatherings—at the annual jazz or comedy festivals, the Francofolies music festival or the massive 375th city birthday party held in 2017. There’s even Montreal en Lumière, which cuts a bright swath of music and events through the winter in late February. The Montreal love of good times extends to evenings, explaining the city’s #49 ranking for Nightlife. The city studies as hard as it parties, ranking #30 in Educational Attainment in our People category, thanks to world-beating French and English universities like McGill and UQAM.
Stuttgart is a hardworking economic engine that performs across multiple metrics with aplomb: it ranks #43 for People, which measures the number of foreign-born residents and the post-secondary education of the citizenry. It also ranks #39 for its convention center, an unusual site in that more than half its area is green space, and the solar panels on the hall roofs and parking lot generate electricity for 1,350 households. But the area around the center is also buzzing with pleasure, as business people and convention-goers can party on Stuttgart’s party mile, a hub of bars, cafés, clubs and intimate drinking dens.
Frankfurt has perfected the art of air access. Germany is in the middle of Europe, Frankfurt is in the middle of Germany, and its airport—the largest in the country—is one of the world’s aviation hubs (#4 in our Airport Connectivity category). The city rises above most others with its #6-ranked convention center, which draws more than 4.5 million per year. In 15 minutes, conventioneers who fly into FRA can find themselves at the massive Messe Frankfurt, the world’s largest trade fair and event organizer with its own exhibition grounds. A short stroll in any direction takes visitors to shopping, restaurants, museums and other pleasures to mix with the business of the day.
Although Toronto is Canada’s business heart, it is Calgary—Canada’s youngest city and home to its oil industry—that’s a solid #2. People here walk with the velocity of New Yorkers and cut to the chase like Texans. Ranking #21 globally in GDP per capita, by far the highest in Canada, the city is down nine spots from last year due to a struggling oil and gas industry (the fortunes of Calgary rise and fall with the price of crude). The challenge in this city of risk-takers has always been to even things out by diversifying away from fossil fuels, building an economically resilient home town for a place that ranks #11 globally in our People category, including #10 for Educational Attainment by its citizens and #23 for those foreign born—an improvement of 12 spots since last year.
A thriving desert metropolis, Phoenix offers some of the best Mexican food this side of the border, a number of fine museums, a vibrant artist community and 300 days of sunshine. The city ranks #11 both for Weather and Attractions. Start your visit with a stroll through Roosevelt Row Arts District, or RoRo as locals have taken to calling it. Art galleries, studios, restaurants and bars sit side by side in this walkable creative district in the downtown core. Don’t miss the Desert Botanical Garden, which, with more than 50,000 plants, has one of the world’s largest collections of desert flora. Want to see some cacti and succulents in their natural element? Take a close-up look at Camelback Mountain. Phoenix comes in at #43 for Outdoors.
The Portuguese capital is a tactile, multisensory experience best explored on foot with no particular agenda, allowing a few of the 2,799 hours of sunshine a year—the most of any European capital—to warm your sense of discovery. Its seven hills play with the senses, reverberating sounds, light and scents, to say nothing of providing perches from which to watch the sun setting ablaze the yellow and white architecture—and the Atlantic beyond. To save you some time, the best spot to do so is the Castelo de São Jorge, a view you have to earn through winding ancient alleys in one of Europe’s oldest neighborhoods.
There’s much to see and do on either side of the Hungarian capital, which is split in half by the expansive bend of the Danube River. On the west bank is medieval Buda, hilly and full of history, and on the east is Pest, modern and bohemian. The two were first linked in 1849 by the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge and together they now offer an alluring whole that ranks high for Programming and for Place. Ornate baths, old-fashioned cafés, lively markets, Art Nouveau splendors and a fascinating history sweep visitors off their feet. Don’t miss a hike to Gellért Hill, which rises 770 feet above the city and offers sweeping views of the river below, the Buda hills, Pest and the mountain ranges in the distance.
Tucked at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, good-looking and outdoorsy Denver is a wealthy, healthy Millennial-magnet of a city that’s showing other urban centers the way to the 21st century. It ranks #33 for Prosperity, with an impressive #22 ranking for GDP per capita. The city’s not exactly known for its Neighborhoods & Landmarks, but that’ll change when visitors spend some quality time in LoDo or Five Points, and explore RiNo (River North Art District), which Lonely Planet calls one of the Top 10 neighborhoods to visit in the U.S. Denver’s #61 ranking for Nightlife is no surprise; it’s home to Coors Brewing and is also a craft beer town par excellence.
Art and soul is “a living, breathing thing” in Philly, the Roots co-founder and native son Tariq Trotter tells visitors on the city’s tourism website. The walkable downtown engulfs culture crawlers with more than 3,000 murals on everything from warehouses to scaffolding. The museums, ranked #43 globally, are not only connecting the past but also seeding the future. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, for example, taps the city’s vibrant jazz and blues scene on Friday evenings, turning its stunning grand main stairway into a music venue while visitors sip handcrafted drinks and admire all manner of creativity.
With its year-round perfect weather, laidback lifestyle and burgeoning tech industry, it’s no surprise that Tel Aviv has become a popular place to live for foreign-born Millennials and Gen-Xers. The city ranks #15 in our People category. It also ranks an impressive #39 for Museums. Located in the city center and opened in 1932, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art houses a comprehensive collection by local and international artists. The new building of twisting geometric surfaces, designed by Preston Scott Cohen, is one of the city’s landmarks. But you don’t have to go to a museum to be immersed in art and design. In a city with the planet’s largest concentration of Bauhaus-style buildings, fascinating architecture is everywhere you look.
Atlanta has always been a crossroads—open to new ideas, and the new arrivals who came to this lush, hot, rolling land when the city rose as a railroad terminus. Today, it is a transportation hub still, with Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport the busiest airport in the world, with 80% of the U.S. population residing within a two-hour flight. It’s why the city ranks #4 for Airport Connectivity among all U.S. cities and comes in at #12 globally. Atlanta, like most optimized hubs, also boasts efficient, inexpensive, direct public transit links to the city from its airport. It is also a long-time business titan and ranks #22 in the world for most Global 500 companies based in town.
The nice thing about a city that ranks #18 in our Prosperity category, including #15 for the number of Global 500 companies it’s home to, is that there are lots of smarts (Minneapolis ranks #17 in Education Attainment by residents), it’s easy to get a direct flight (#52 for Airport Connectivity) and there is lots of disposable income (the city ranks #24 for GDP per capita). Fortunately, locals play as hard as they work, and money travels from work to play quickly here—Minneapolis ranks #56 for Culture, our measure of concerts, shows and major cultural events.
Portland’s left-coast isolation, ambivalence toward established norms and legacy of cooperation and neighborliness—to hew trees and carve out one’s place among the encroaching wilderness—makes this one of the most earnest cities on the planet. One of the zingers in the popular TV show Portlandia identified its lampooned target as a “place young people go to retire.” But it’s more like reinvent themselves, taking what was there all along, finding its best parts and doubling down on what works. The proof of its people is in Portland’s performance: its citizenry ranks #32 for Educational Attainment and #12 for GDP per capita globally. Portlanders get things done.
Though Bangkok is known for its amazing street food—the city ranks #18 on the planet in our Culinary category—the capital’s administration announced in 2017 that it plans to sweep food vendors from renowned street hotspots Yaowarat (Chinatown) and Khao San Road to make room for pedestrians. But don’t worry, food stalls are legal in the markets, so don’t skip a visit to Chatuchak, the biggest one. Bangkok also ranks high (#5) in our Shopping category, so once you tire of haggling, head to the sixth floor of Central, an upscale department store, to stock up on traditional Thai merchandise like tableware and decorative items made by artisans in Chiang Mai.
The country’s biggest metropolis greets you not with beaches but with high-rises, traffic, smog and more than the occasional downpour. But stick around a little longer and you’ll also find artistic energy and 24-hour party people always ready to flash a smile and show you their favorite haunts. As Paulistanos will tell you in person or on Facebook check-ins (#4), they live in the best city on the planet. With the largest population of Italian descendants outside Italy, the largest community of people of Japanese descent and a large Arab community fueled mostly by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, culinary delights are a given. The city lands at #3 for Restaurants.
Lyon is a city to be savored nose to tail, past to future, literally and figuratively. If the city’s middling Attractions and Museums rankings rise with the investment, that’s just icing on the gâteau. Besides being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the home of chef Paul Bocuse is also renowned for its cuisine, whose ranking will ascend in the future as visitors catch fragrant wind of it. Don’t miss La Confluence, a 370-acre urban redevelopment that not only brings together Lyon’s two fabled rivers—the Rhône and the Saône—but also gives new life to an industrial urban wasteland. Lyon also ranks #31 for its Convention Center.
Seeing the continued success of the tourism industry in neighboring Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman and keen on moving the economy away from a dependency on oil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia started issuing tourist visas in April 2018 for the first time in eight years. Even before that the city saw plenty of tourism—18 million people visited the country in 2016—but Prince Mohammed Bin Salman launched an ambitious plan to attract 30 million visitors by 2030, including phase one of the Red Sea development, to be completed by the end of 2022. Already the capital city ranks #32 for Facebook check-ins, as well as #5 for Weather and GDP per capita.
You go to Sydney for beaches and to Melbourne for culture—so what does Brisbane offer that you can’t find elsewhere in Australia? Quite a bit, actually. Brisbane, which scores high for Diversity (#21), is sunny, sophisticated and offers plenty of outdoor adventures right within the city limits. Named after the river that runs through it, Brisbane is best explored from the water. At night. On a kayak. (We recommend you take in the shimmering lights of the cityscape during a leisurely paddle down the river.) Culture vultures can soak up the art at the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, Australia’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art. Brisbane ranks #39 for Attractions and #60 for Outdoors.
From a visitor’s perspective, some of the most interesting people are native to Perth, and at places like Six Seasons Gallery you can see some 3,000 Indigenous works of art from across Australia, each offering insights into the Aboriginal experience. The Aboriginal Nyungar experience is woven throughout the 60,000-person Perth stadium, in art installations, trails, interpretative storyboards and digital storytelling—an enriching foil for the cricket and football played there. Perth ranks #35 for People, including #8 for Diversity globally. Perthites of every provenance are avid outdoors people, and the city’s #74 ranking for Outdoors will improve as more people discover the city’s investment in accessing all of that natural bounty, including the 80 kilometers of beachfront on Perth’s coastline.
Hamburg is both Europe’s second-largest shipping port and a serious contender for Venice of the North, with a lake and latticework of canals that elevate the city into visually stunning territory. The landmark that tells the story is the $933-million Elbphilharmonie, a spectacular concert hall that combines 19th-century warehouses with the crystalline architecture and acoustics of the future. The hall surely contributed to Hamburg’s #30 ranking in our Google Trends subcategory. Or perhaps it was the surrounding neighborhood of HafenCity, Europe’s biggest inner-city urban development project, which has transformed almost a square mile of tumble-down docks along the city’s port into a buzzing shopping and residential area over the past decade (final completion is due in the late 2020s).
René Redzepi put Nordic cuisine on the map when his restaurant Noma was named the world’s best in 2010. And the Danish capital continues to be a hotbed for innovative cuisine, as well as for contemporary art and design. Surprisingly, Copenhagen only ranks at #117 in our Culinary category, but trust us when we say you should go here hungry. Compact enough so you can walk or bike everywhere, Copenhagen offers not just plenty of culinary delights, but also a rich cultural heritage and lots of green spaces and pretty canals to explore. The city ranks #65 for Outdoors but #219 for Weather, so dress accordingly.
The Spanish city ranks #29 globally for Place, which includes its weather—the 15th best in the world—along with neighborhoods, landmarks and monuments, and parks and outdoor activities. For instance, here’s a landmark: the UNESCO World Heritage site called La Lonja, the 15th-century silk exchange and one of the best examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe. The Mercado Central, one of Europe’s largest and oldest food markets, is across the street. The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, is a marvel of a more modern sort. Valencia’s parks include several beaches, some within Albufera Park, a wetlands reserve with a lake and walking trails. It’s all very Instagrammable and helps the city rank #55 for Instagram hashtags.
The ancient capital has had a difficult decade, but it has come back stronger, just like it always does. Despite the cutbacks and the sacrifice, the city’s heritage itself was rarely compromised. As such, the sustained investment is now blooming as jobs trickle back and tourist numbers snap back to levels not seen since the good old days. What those tourists find is the Archaeological Promenade, a 2.5-mile-long, car-free and tree-lined walkway running along the foot of the Acropolis and connecting the city’s major archaeological sites. The relative affordability of a European capital, as well as the ingrained openness of Athenians, may also explain the city’s #72 ranking for Diversity.
Very few Scandinavian cities are as dynamic as Stockholm, with its mix of rustic, traditional and New Nordic cuisine, its idyllic parks and outdoor swimming areas, quaint cobblestone streets lined with buildings erected in the 1700s, cutting-edge design and mid-century modern aesthetics. Throw in a varied, multicultural population that speaks near flawless English (Stockholm ranks #20 in our People category) and epic summer season with near-constant daylight and you’ve got yourself one very attractive destination with plenty of experiences for any mood. This truly international city underwent an IT boom in the late 1990s, which was followed a decade later by a second wave with the launch of start-ups like Skype and Spotify. The city ranks #46 for GDP per capita.
Leading up to its designation as Europe’s Capital of Culture, the city spent millions cleaning up and modernizing. Don’t miss Vieux Port, designed by Norman Foster, who turned a site that’s been here for 26 centuries into a mesmerizing pedestrian-only zone with a buzzing sense of place. The showstopper is at Quai des Belges, where a dramatic blade of reflective stainless steel creates a dreamy canopy and shelter from the sun, which shines almost year-round (Marseille ranks #74 for Weather). Nearby is the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, with a bridge designed like a fishnet made of glass that links to the 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean. It’s the perfect example of the ancient and new coming together.
The southern coastal city earns a respectable Outdoors ranking of #84. But where Adelaide shines is in the People category: it’s an astounding #7 in the world for Diversity and ranks #44 in Educational Attainment. That’s generally a recipe for an emerging cultural scene—indeed, Adelaide is where to find the country’s best Aboriginal art, and it’s the only designated UNESCO City of Music in Australia. Some 300 live gigs a week can be savored in this city. Did we mention the pandas? Wang Wang and Funi, which have been at the city’s zoo for a decade, will continue to attract visitors, and hopefully to breed, until at least 2024, thanks to a new deal reached late in 2019.
NOLA is resilient. In the face of poverty, injustice and environmental catastrophes compounded by both, residents have created a culture of presence, music and festivals that may pale in size to others in the world, but never in intensity. It’s why the city ranks #25 for Programming. Given the need to celebrate, to revel in all that fusion of humanity and culture and sweaty new people and ideas, the city ranks #18 for Nightlife. After all, the party only starts in the French Quarter. It grows more refined and local as it weaves into Marigny, Bywater or the timeless jazz seduction of Frenchmen Street. NOLA also rules our Shopping category, with a Top 20 ranking.
Elegant mansions line cobblestone streets, drivers maneuver broad boulevards according to rules only they comprehend and the wild nightlife goes on until dawn. Porteños, as the local populace is called, have mastered the art of whiling away the hours at cafés, drinking espresso and arguing over politics or yesterday’s futbol match. A chaotic, beautiful mess, it’s hard not to fall in love with Buenos Aires. Making the list for the first time, “Baires” scores an impressive #12 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks and #10 for Culture. Don’t miss La Boca, a vibrant quarter where everything from walls, lampposts, fire hydrants and even tree trunks are painted in vibrant shades of green, red, yellow, purple and blue.
No longer playing second fiddle to Scandinavian cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen, Oslo is proving itself a worthy destination all its own, with stunning natural beauty as well as a thriving nightlife scene, Michelin-worthy restaurants and a storied past. The holder of our #25 spot in the People category, Oslo has some of the most educated residents in the world (#13 for Education Attainment) as well as a high percentage of international residents (#49 for foreign-born residents). The economy is performing well, offering its residents admirable levels of social wellbeing and employment, which is a good thing, since Oslo is not a cheap place to live in or visit.
It’s been decades since Warsaw shook off its dreary Cold War cloak, and while other members of the EU have suffered economic woes in recent years, Poland has flourished, slowly but surely becoming an economic powerhouse in the region formerly known as “behind the Iron Curtain.” With the addition of high-profile architectural projects, new museums and a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants under its belt, the Polish capital is finally coming into its own as a tourist destination. An affordable one at that. It ranks an impressive #26 for Product, which includes a #23 spot for Attractions and #46 for Museums.
Tropical and sexy, with dazzling beaches, samba-fueled nightlife and lush mountains that rise to the heavens, Rio is stunning. It ranks #7 for Outdoors and #26 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks, and you could certainly spend your entire visit exploring. Lapa is the edgy red-light district teeming with live-music clubs, and on weekends the party spills into the street. In Copacabana there’s the Museum of Image and Sound by the New York-based architects behind the High Line park. Once you’ve done the beach, dust off your Havaianas and visit Tijuca Forest, a national park with waterfalls, wildlife and Christ the Redeemer, which stands in all its glory atop the 2,329-foot Corcovado Mountain.
Here you’ll find breathtaking architecture—surely the Grand Place is one of the most beautiful squares in the world—along with some of the ugliest buildings in Europe (there are entire blogs dedicated to the city’s ugly architecture). Brussels is the EU’s administrative capital, yet one of its most famous landmarks is the Manneken Pis, a statue of a naked boy peeing into a fountain—a symbol not just of the city’s contempt for authority but also of the locals’ enduring deadpan humor. Brussels has a vibrant, multi-ethnic population (#30 for Diversity), and boasts under-the-radar neighborhoods such as the hip Congolese Matonge quarter—worthy of exploration for the flea markets and street art alone.
Canada’s capital has forever lived in the shadow of its exciting big-city sisters, Toronto and Montreal. But a 150th birthday in 2017 brought attention to a city where one in four residents is an immigrant (Ottawa ranks #36 in the world for Diversity). Ottawans are uncommonly intelligent; the city ranks #5 in Educational Attainment and the ensemble of universities are 90th in the world. All that brainpower has poured into some 1,750 knowledge-based businesses—everything from clean technology to life sciences to digital media, aerospace and software. About 68,000 jobs are the result—along with a 78th place ranking in global GDP per capita. In a city with a relatively low cost of living, that means there’s money to spend on culture (a #83 ranking) and good times.
Spain’s fourth largest city debuts strong for its first time on the World’s Best Cities list. The capital of the southern autonomous region of Andalusia, Seville has always been an aging beauty. With a skyline that spans Southern European history, from Moorish to Baroque to Gothic (and, most recently, Game of Thrones), the ancient city begs you to explore in some of the best weather (ranked #22) on the planet. Seville’s Top 25 ranking for our complex Place category is also boosted by its #28 ranking for Sights & Landmarks. From the planet’s largest Gothic cathedral to the recent upgrades on the Guadalquivir riverside promenade, getting lost here is the happiest of accidents. Just make sure you stay out after dark, because the home of flamenco boasts the planet’s #31-ranked nightlife.
Nashville is hot, and not just because it ranks #52 in our global Prosperity category, which looks at the city’s performance in the subcategories of Global 500 headquarters (#44) and GDP per capita (#50). Google for Entrepreneurs partnered with the tech-hub Tennessee capital to help local start-up communities thrive. The city and its citizens spend their money wisely, including for the preservation of historic buildings and to revitalize neighborhoods like Germantown, which was established in the 1850s by European immigrants. The music scene continues to thrive as well, particularly as a younger generation of musicians—Jack White and the Black Keys come to mind—choose to live and set up recording studios in town.
Remember when President Trump unleashed several insults via Twitter to describe Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which includes much of Baltimore, describing the district “the Worst in the USA”? Not only did Baltimore rank #35 in America’s Best Cities, it also lands on the Top 100 best cities in the world for the first time this year, helped in part by a #7 ranking for its top University and #43 for Educational Attainment. Babe Ruth, Billie Holiday, John Waters and Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” all called Charm City home. In recent years, the city that was once the most important port town in America has evolved into an emerging tourist destination with a vibrant nightlife, independent shops and lots of museums, art galleries and cultural venues.
Honk, beep, moo! Vans, scooters, rickshaws, street food sellers, beggars, cows and even monkeys come together in the Indian capital. There are few places on earth that pulsate with the hectic pace like Delhi does, which explains its #18 spot for Place, including a #29 ranking for Neighborhoods & Landmarks. Indeed, Delhi is a city built upon or near the ruins of a previous city, and today visitors can trace through the eras, exploring centuries-old forts, tombs, shrines and mosques. Old Delhi is where to soak it all in while weaving in and out of the chaos, shopping for trinkets and handicrafts in the frenetic street bazaars and gaping in wonder at the Red Fort. Unsurprisingly, Delhi also ranks high (#16) for Restaurants, and sampling everything you can is a must.
California’s state capital is slow and welcoming, just like every California cliché should be. Its natural attributes also drive its livability—courtesy of its Mediterranean temperatures. Sacramento’s restaurants are only happy to tap the localism. Taste it for yourself at La Cosecha in Cesar Chavez Park, in the heart of the city. The place serves up another local attribute: the city ranks #38 for foreign-born citizens, with Time even declaring it “America’s most diverse city.” For a taste of the outdoors, pedal the Jedediah Smith Memorial Bike Trail along the American River, a 32-mile loop that snakes through a series of parks featuring sand dunes, scenic bridges, oak groves and picnic areas, along with fishing nooks as well as kayaking and tubing areas.
The environment for a molecular evolution from chilly productive resource town into curated hotbed isolated sufficiently to do its own thing has been here for years. The University of Alberta (ranked #62 globally), healthy immigration and the government dollars that come with being a provincial capital have already created a place known around the world as “The City of Festivals.” From Fringe theater to street performers to an increasingly important international film festival, there are more than 50 large, city-sanctioned events every year. A recent downtown revival has now catapulted the city into the “urban renewal” conversation that has been happening in other North American industrial regions. The catalyst has been the new Rogers Place arena downtown, occupied by the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers.
Though Helsinki was named World Design Capital in 2012, it’s only in the past few years that the Finnish capital has become popular with young vagabonds, perhaps due to the country’s impressive tourism campaigns. A few of them are centered on Helsinki airport, which in 2018 Travellink named “Best in the World”—the city ranks #45 for Airport Connectivity. Currently, the airport is carrying out a 900-million euro development program in order to prepare for serving 30 million passengers. If you do fly into Helsinki, start with a visit to Teurastamo, a former slaughterhouse that is now home to restaurants, cafés and bars. Don’t leave town without experiencing the sauna culture. One of the coolest is Löyly, its impressive architecture set at the edge of the Baltic Sea.
The combination of foreign-born and well-educated population plus high income helped place Salt Lake (locals drop the “City”) at #59 for the People category and #34 for Prosperity. Indeed, this is no longer just a gateway to the great outdoors but a welcoming destination with a high cool quotient and a sunny disposition (#72 for Weather). The transformation began with the arrival of the XIX Olympic Winter Games in 2002, as the city thawed its reputation as an über-conservative cowboy town with Mormon family values and instead presented a slew of quaint cafés and stylish restaurants. SLC continued to pour millions into development projects and the beautification of their downtown and now find itself climbing our Best Cities list.
A global banking powerhouse (the second most important in the U.S., after New York) and holder of the #44 spot for Prosperity, Charlotte offers unexpected attractions: the Nascar Hall of Fame, for instance, where you can trace the sport from its moonshine-running roots to today’s multi-billion-dollar powerhouse. Glory Road is a banked ramp featuring historic cars and tracks, and racing simulators let you be a pit-crew member. All that racing ’round and ’round builds a thirst, and Charlotte’s nightlife offers lots of play space and time. Sidle up to the bar at buzzy craft brewery Wooden Robot to see sample the city’s small but mighty microbrew scene.
This powerhouse of finance, international trade, culture, science and technology ranks #10 for the number of Global 500 companies headquartered here. Yet Shanghai is made of more than money, and the city is lauded for its exhilarating blend of past and present, industry and leisure. It ranks #17 for Shopping, #7 for Restaurants and #30 for Neighborhoods & Landmarks. This eminently walkable city and its personality are split by the Huangpu River: Pudong (east bank) is the financial district, fringed with towers that include the landmark spike of the retro-futuristic Oriental Pearl Television Tower. Puxi (west bank) is home to the Bund, lined with the neo-Renaissance edifices that were home to Western businesses in the 1930s, and to the wonderfully layered French Concession.
Hanover hasn’t made our list before, but it’s got all of the ingredients for upward mobility, rankings-wise: the 15th safest place in the world is #51 for Diversity, our measure of people born elsewhere, #69 for GDP per capita and #30 for Global 500 companies. Business congregates, it would seem, at the 14th-ranked site Convention Center. All work and no play, you say? It’s been dubbed the most boring city in Germany, but you’d think otherwise if you spent an afternoon at Herrenhausen Gardens, one of the most important baroque gardens in Europe, wandered the bright, playful Niki de Saint Phalle grotto and sculpture and strolled the Old Town. Most of Hanover, including its glorious half-timbered Medieval buildings, were obliterated in the Second World War; the remaining facades were cobbled back together to create what has become the new-old heart of the city, a strollable place of cafes and culture, and a welcome break from the grind. However, Hanover will decidedly have to make an effort to tell the world its story; it’s a challenging #240 in TripAdvisor reviews. For resilient Hanoverians, that’s all in a day’s work.
Despite aesthetic riches like the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral that rises above the old town’s High Gothic spires and cultural bounty of places like the Museum Ludwig, with its 20th-century art, the perception of the city lags behind its virtues. Cologne ranks cruelly low in our Culture, Attractions and Museums subcategories. But given that this is Cologne’s second year in the Top 100 cities, it’s bound to ascend future rankings. It already ranks #32 in our Product category, an amalgam of university ranking, airport connectivity, convention center space, attractions and museums. The reason for its high score? Its convention center—ranked #10 globally.
St. Louis may have ranked near the bottom of the world’s 100 best cities, but it performs well (#71) for Nightlife action in bars and clubs, and ranks #67 for Culture, our measure of concerts, shows and major cultural events. (Not surprisingly, Miles Davis is a native son.) There’s often a correlation in the rankings between good nightlife and prosperity, and St. Louis is no exception—it’s #61 in cities that are home to Global 500 companies. But humankind can’t live by nightlife alone, especially if children are involved, so there’s always the zoo, and there must be a visit to City Museum.
Another city that makes its World’s Best Cities debut, Tucson is buoyed by its #66 ranking for our deep Place category, with strong scores for the subcategories of Weather (#23) and Outdoors (#78). The city is poised to ascend up future global rankings, due to a torrent of new investment in all manner of green and common space. Its new Sun Link LRT is sure to improve quality of life, creating a focus on fewer cars and more walkability that’s designed to pull the sprawling population together, closer to downtown. Urban innovation that taps its outdoor bounty by increasing access to it is not a hard sell for a town where almost 25% are aged between 20 and 34. You can thank the University of Arizona (ranked #39 globally) for the city’s youthful bounce.
The City of Oaks checks all the boxes for a bright, ambitious city of the new south: Raleigh is part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, one of the country’s largest and most successful research parks—think high-tech and biotech research and advanced textile development. Ranked #77 in the world in our Prosperity category, including #60 for GDP per capita, Raleigh is also a magnet for immigrants. But it’s in education where Raleighites truly shine bright—ranking #7 in the world for educated citizenry. So what do all these smart people do for fun? They’re indoors and out: the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences attracts more than a million people annually, and there’s also the Contemporary Art Museum, bluegrass festivals and craft brews.
Ever since 1941, the city has sagely leveraged, grown and enhanced its greatest asset and attraction: the River Walk. The idyllic pedestrian promenade along the San Antonio River is a scenic urban lifeline that connects visitors to everywhere they want to be and anchors a #35 ranking for Attractions. On one end is the UNESCO World Heritage Alamo site and the five colonial missions. On the other, the San Antonio Zoo, and in between, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Texas Golf Walk of Fame, and dozens other curiosities, eclectic stops and riverside cafés. A destination within the destination, Pearl is a beguiling blend of retail, dining, offices, a riverside amphitheater and a campus of the Culinary Institute of America.
Columbus sits in the middle of some vital city metrics: #43 for Prosperity, #57 for Educational Attainment and #43 for Google Searches. A surprising number of the Global 500 companies in town are fashion-related, including L Brands, the parent of Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. Columbus ranks #41 for GDP per capita. Where Columbus looks really good is on the Scioto Mile, described as an urban oasis on 175 acres of parkland that connects the downtown to both sides of the Scioto riverfront. It’s an integrated system of parks, boulevards, pedestrian paths and bikeways, and home to one of the nation’s largest outdoor climbing walls.
Chile’s capital city lands in the Top 100 for the first time in 2020, ranking an impressive #23 for Place and respectable #61 for Programming. Having survived earthquakes, dictators and a mercurial economy, the country’s biggest city is no longer a stopover but a destination in its own right. Trendy neighborhoods like the leafy Lastarria attract the city’s bohemians, who gather at lively wine bars, sidewalk cafés and jazz bars until the wee hours. (A #16 ranking for Weather means the sun shines bright most of the year!) There are also plenty of cultural offerings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center and the Museum of Visual Arts. The city ranks #45 for Culture.
In recent years, Mexico City has been cleaning up its act, with safer streets and revamped public spaces, new designer hotels and exciting cultural offerings. And, of course, there’s the culinary scene, arguably one of the most intriguing and deeply complex on the planet. Is it any wonder that CDMX has finally made it onto our Top 100 list? In this cosmopolitan jungle of more than 20 million inhabitants, there’s plenty to see and do, from the Casa Luis Barragan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Instagrammer’s eyecandy to strolling the stylish neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa, which drip with greenery and an explosion of color in its century old mansions. The city lands at #40 for Neighborhoods, #16 for Museums and $47 for Restaurants.
Tampa’s natural and built environment are in synch: the city has pleasant weather in its 361 days of sunshine per year and sprawling, diverse parks, including nearby beaches like Fort de Soto Park and Clearwater. Chief among the parklands is the Tampa Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile continuous waterfront corridor along the banks of the Hillsborough River and the Garrison Channel. It’s bookended by the Florida Aquarium and the popular Ulele restaurant; in between, there’s the Tampa History Center, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, the convention center and other stops of interest that contribute to Tampa’s #66 ranking in Attractions. The latest addition is the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, which invites visitors to get onto the water via row boats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
Natural bounty rules here, as far as visitor and resident perception is concerned. The city’s Outdoors rank #12 globally, with almost too many to count despite the city’s diminutive size. Roam the paths leading to one of the 48 dormant volcanic cones, many of which offer spectacular views, or cross the island on foot (just a five-hour hike)—just to be able to brag that you swam on one coast and surfed on the other, all on the same day. But Auckland is also its neighborhoods. Parnell is for food lovers, markets and “made in NZ” design. Downtown’s Ponsonby has a New York West Village vibe and good restaurants.
Sneaking into the World’s Best Cities ranking for the first time ever, “Steel City” has always prided itself on building bridges—between newcomers, students and careers and past and present. There are also 446 literal bridges in town that span the three rivers flowing through it. It’s that connection and resilience that’s allowed Pittsburgh to maintain its industrial age standard of living that has eluded so many other (now) Rust Belt U.S. cities. Ranking #41 in our global Prosperity category, the city is powered by its #31 ranking for GDP per capita and #61 for Global 500 companies headquartered here. The future of the city’s innovation has always been supplied by Carnegie Mellon University (ranked #24 globally) and Pittsburgh today boasts industries focused on tech, education and medicine, all working in the city that built so much of America.
The northern Bavarian city is sprinkled with medieval architecture and the ancient fortifications and stone towers of its Altstadt (Old Town). Amidst the red-tiled buildings rises Kaiserburg, the Imperial Castle. A short stroll away is Frauenkirche, a Gothic cathedral from the 14th century. There are also beer gardens, gingerbread bakeries and the dark memories of Nazi rallies and subsequent Nuremberg Trials to bring those who partook in the atrocities to justice. Adding to its complex tapestry today is a business climate that’s one of the strongest in Europe. The city—which ranks #73 in GDP per capita and #61 for Global 500 companies—and its environs are home to iconic companies like Adidas, Puma, Diehl, Faber-Castell and Playmobil.