My Favorite Cities in the World

Though I’ve done a post on my least favorite cities (twice!), I’ve realized I have never done a post on my all-time favorite cities, though longtime readers might be able to guess at which ones I really love. (There are a lot of posts about Stockholm, Paris, Bangkok, right?)

Given that I’ve written about the places I dislike, I figured it was finally time to write about the places I love the most. Below are my 9 favorite places in the world. (What makes a place my “favorite?” It’s a place I would actually consider moving to!)

Amsterdam canals
I can’t say exactly how many times I’ve been to Amsterdam, but it’s in the double digits. And, for a brief time at the end of 2006, I lived there as a professional poker player. (Seriously). The fast-paced life, friendly locals, easy access to the rest of Europe, picturesque canals, and great architecture keep me coming back. In some ways, Amsterdam reminds me of my hometown of Boston, which might be why I love it so much. Either way, I never step foot in Europe without making plans to go there.

Favorite activity: Boating through the canals with friends.

Ever since I stepped out on the Champs Elysees, I knew Paris was it. I was in love. It had that “je ne sais quoi” that people talked about, and I was unable to ignore its magic. Sure, Paris is large and expensive, and the people can be rude. But what big city isn’t like that? Paris is just too beautiful, vibrant, and filled with great food and history. Being here is like being in a real life romantic comedy, but better.

Favorite activity: Picking up some good food at the market and having a picnic.

streets of Bangkok, Thailand
I hated Bangkok the first few times I traveled there. It was simply a dirty, polluted city with no redeeming qualities. It wasn’t until I moved there that I fell in love with it. Bangkok, it turns out, is an easy city to live in – there’s lots to do, plenty of events, great bars (Cheap Charlies), wonderful food (nothing beats Thailand street food), and even more wonderful people. Plus, it’s easy to get around. Bangkok showed me that looks can be deceiving, and that there is more to a city than what is on the surface. I loved my time living there.

Favorite activity: Gin and tonics at Cheap Charlies.

autumn in Stockholm, Sweden
I have a strong affinity for all things Scandinavian, and Stockholm is no exception. I’ve been there three times, and am considering moving there next summer to learn Swedish. I think this city is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The reds and greens of the buildings have an old world charm that rivals cities like Prague, and, during the fall, the changing leaves only highlight that beauty. Stockholm is also very historic, has a high quality of life, and the Swedes in the city are super friendly and welcoming. I’ve been 3 times already.

Favorite activity: Getting lost in the maze of historic streets.

New York City
New York City skyline
I never really liked New York until after I lived in Bangkok and got used to big city life. Now, whenever it is I decide to move back to the United States, I will move to New York City. I lived there last summer and came back every other week between trips around the U.S.  New York City is a place where dreams are made into reality, and there is always something to do, something to see, or a new place to eat.  The city is so multi-cultural that when I feel like I need to travel but I can’t, there’s an ethnic area of the city that will give me my fix. Moreover, it’s constantly stimulating. And, as someone who can’t sit still very well, it’s perfect for me.

Favorite activity: Walking the High Line and cooling off with drinks at The Frying Pan.

Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan
After NYC, Chicago is my favorite U.S. city. In the summertime, there is just something about Chicago that draws me. This lake-side city seems to come to life after it emerges from its long and cold winter. Along with its lively atmosphere, the food there is delicious and the architecture is second to none. I’ve only been there twice and haven’t seen much of the city, but I like what I have seen. I never get bored of visiting Chicago.

Favorite activity: Cub’s game!

Granville Island, Vancouver
I think this must be one of the most livable cities in the world. I’d live in it, which is my benchmark for whether or not I like a place. In Vancouver, you can go from the city into the mountains in minutes. I think that is really the highlight of the city for me – the fact that I don’t have to go far to be with nature. Moreover, there’s a park so big in the middle of the city, I often feel like I am in the center of a forest. Add in a vibrant food and art scene, and Vancouver is definitely a world-class city.

Favorite Activity: Hanging out on Granville Island or walking around Stanley Park (tie).

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand
Perched in the stunning south island mountains of New Zealand, Queenstown is a place for adventures. There’s bungy jumping, hiking, rafting, zip lining, boating, and tons more. Travelers come here because they want to be outside. Situated on a lake near the Remarkable mountain range, Queenstown is a high-energy resort town. It’s small, prettier than a postcard, and perfect for people who like the outdoors. I would jump on a plane and head back there right now if I could.

Favorite Activity: Hiking in the surrounding mountains.

kangaroo statue in Perth, Australia
Perth, Australia is more like a big town than a city, and I think that’s what I like about it. It’s big enough to have a lot to do, but small enough to feel cozy. I love Perth because of that small town, big city feel, the fact that it is on the water and has great nightlife, that it’s a great jumping-off spot to see the western Australian parks and natural sites, and that it is close to hip Freemantle, which is home to my favorite Australian brewery, Little Creatures. I find it much more personal than other Australian towns.

Favorite activity: Relaxing at the beach, followed by a Sunday Session at “The Cott.”

  1. Tookta

    Wow, you have been to so many places. I’m glad that Bangkok is on your list. And now so curious to get to know the other cities too! :-)

  2. Im actually in Paris right now & agree with you 100%. I too fell in love with it right of the back and know that I love this place. I could see my self living here in the future. I also loved NYC. I guess I love big cities, but of all the places I have been to so far my heart is still in Nicaragua. One day I am going back and living there. I will be in Amsterdam for PRIDE so I am sure its going to be a blast and well haven’t been to any of the other cities you mentioned, but hopefully soon. Ummm what about HOUSTON?

  3. I haven’t been to Chicago and Vancouver, but I prefer the islands to any cityl…I love the Greek isles, the small islands off the coast of Maine, the magical Aran Islands…LOVE island life!

  4. Great list and cheers for mentioning my home town, Perth! Haven’t lived there for over 6 years now but it will always be home for me, and Freo will probably always be my favourite hangout :)

  5. I saw Amsterdam on the list and you had me…it is so beautiful, clean, and safe for a capital city. I loved how laid back the people there were.

  6. I’d have to start with Sydney, my hometown, for the beaches and lifestyle – 15 mins from city to beach or to bush. Then I’d say Tel Aviv: if NYC is the city that never sleeps, then TA is it’s younger brother hyped up on speed. It’s phenomenal, beaches, bars, cafes that stay open til 3am, friendly locals. My third fave is a little place in the south of Brazil called Guarda de Embau. Remote, laid-back and with great surf it’s a great place to relax.

  7. Wow, 9 favorite places. All are fantastic, too. Well, I guess they all are, as I have not been to all of your selections.

    A few of my faves:
    — in US: Portland Oregon, Denver, Monterey/Carmel, Florida Keys, Maui
    — others: Amalfi Italy, Sydney Australia, Montreal Canada, St. John USVI

    There, that’s 9 but I have not been everywhere yet.

  8. louise

    Faves in Europe: Paris, Seville, Prague
    Faves outside of Europe: San Francisco, Melbourne, Chiang Mai

    Matt, since you say that NYC and Chicago are your favorite US cities, what about San Francisco?! I’m assuming you’ve never been or it would probably be on the list… ??

  9. I guess you change your mind after you live in the city for a while, and it kind of grows on you. Living in a place is so much different, than just visiting it.

  10. I like ‘garden cities’ with lots of green/water and areas with a strong community feel, such as
    New Orleans
    London, where I live (believe it or not, more than a third of London is green space)
    and surely
    Vienna, my hometown.

    I think Vancouver would be on my list if I had been there!

  11. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been to any of these cities…unless you count a couple of stops at Schiphol Airport, or a trip to Disneyland Paris…nope? didn’t think so.

    My favourites in the world would have to be Sydney, Istanbul, Daegu and Newcastle Upon Tyne.

    NYC, Amsterdam & Bangkok are definitely on my must-visit list, though.

  12. Paige

    I definitely agree with Perth and Paris, will now try my best to visit the rest to check them out! By the way, Fremantle (only 1 “e”, hehe) is also called Freo by the locals! Will look out for you at Little Creatures :)

  13. Cool post. Next time you are in NYC, let’s go to the area between Alphabet City & East Village where they have some great Indian Restaurants (Like 7th & A).

    I just saw Midnight in Paris and it made me very interested in Paris.. not for the attractions and sights, but for the possibility of the inspiration it can give you, and at least it’s something different than NYC (inspiration-wise).

    Also, Chicago is great. That’s really the only place I’ve ever traveled to other than L.A. & parts of Colorado. I went in the summer of ’09 and I remember it being hotter than NYC… :-/

  14. Vancouver and Stockholm are similar in my mind just because of how they’re both laid out around the water. Something about that physical set-up seems to make a city a little bit more relaxed and friendly, since how stressed can you really be when you’re right next to nature rather than surrounded by skyscrapers?

  15. I love Paris, not sure I would live there, I would add Shanghai to the list, I’ve lived there for a year and it’s very easygoing, super organized and plenty of things to do. You made me wonder what made you move to Bangkok if you hated the first times you went..

  16. Patricia

    I wonder where you will be studying Swedish and how long your course will be. We would also like to go to Sweden to study the language or to Finland. Lund University would be our choice.

  17. Great list Matt. You have some cities in here I can’t wait to check out and the minute I stepped into Paris I also fell in love. Would move there in a heartbeat.

  18. Totally share your sentiment about Bangkok. Hated it the first time I visited, but by the 4th visit I was absolutely in love with the place.

  19. Though having New York City on the list usually is a no-brainer, I still feel proud to hear that my hometown is someone’s fave. Come by whenever you move to town, and I’ll be happy to show you around Queens and Brooklyn.

  20. I agree with all of these! I live in Chicago now, and it’s great to see it listed, as I think sometimes it doesn’t get as great a rep amongst frequent travelers, as it’s a very “american” (vs international) city. However, no matter how many places I go I always come back and appreciate just the way it is laid out, how everything faces the lakefront, and as you mentioned, how wonderful the summers are.

    The only city I would add is Hong Kong! Definitely on my top ten.

  21. Great choices. Been to most of them except Perth and Bangkok. My top fave is New York and would drop everything if given a chance to live there.

  22. I’m a Perth native – interesting fact, Perth is the *most* isolated city on earth, the closest city is 2700km’s away! (Adelaide). For the American readers, it’s comparable to living in Los Angles, and the CLOSEST city is New Orleans.

    I have been to six of your nine, and agree with all of them – great cities.

  23. Vanessa

    You’ve just created my bucket list. I’ve been to NYC and love it, although now I need to add The Frying Pan to my next trip to the big apple. I don’t get to travel much (married with children) but I do LOVE it!

    Italy has always been at the top of my list of daydreams. I’m surprised there is no mention of Rome, Florence or anyplace in Italy on your list. Is it not as wonderful as I imagine?

  24. Favourite cities…lets see…Calgary, NYC, Chicago, Madrid, Rabat, Vienna, Rome, London, Perth, Quito, Cartagena, HongKong.
    Could go on but at the moment its trying to decide which one I might like to live one day…not London, already lived there for awhile.

  25. Great list – although the main thing that jumped out at me was your love of Little Creatures. It’s truly one of our best Aussie beers!! :)
    I’m heading to Chicago in a couple of days and can’t wait to see what all the hype is about…

  26. Charlotte

    Amsterdam and Barcelona are my two best trips i’ve ever made.

    Me and my family booked some great canalcruises and we did loads of things in Amsterdam. A friend told me about , I really recommend it for people who go to amsterdam.

  27. I’d have to add Las Vegas to that list. I was not looking forward to it (being a conservative old guy) but I really enjoyed the ‘fantasy’ of the place, very surreal and amazingly cheap.

  28. NomadicMatt

    I love Rome. It’s a wonderful city but not one of my favorites. And yes, the Philippines is very high up on my places to visit.

  29. Ara

    I totally agree with Chicago. My experience was like love at first sight, it is the only place I’ve ever been that I wanted to move to immediately.

  30. Stephen

    I agree almost 100% with this list, although I would choose San Francisco instead of Bangkok. Of them all, Amsterdam is my favorite. What a great city!

  31. Lindsay

    Happy to see Chicago on here!! I got out for year to travel and teach, but it will always be home and my favorite city :). Minus the weather….

  32. Jimmy

    Agree with Amsterdam being tops.
    Ever been to my neck of the woods
    in Dublin, Ireland?
    Would love to have your comments.
    Best wishes.

  33. TubbyJeff

    Agree with much of you thoughts.

    Not sure what it is that makes the connection for someone traveling. Eg, So many people love Vienna, but I just don’t get it.

    Sydney for it’s vibrance, Prague for night wandering and gazing up, Madrid on football evenings with the cerviccerias overflowing, Annecy or Queenstown for the best of outdoors.

  34. No Toronto? Hehe, I joke, I joke! I agree with most cities you listed above! I am surprised that your like Paris, though…Most men don’t put Paris up there! But so glad you did! And like you, Chicago is my 2nd fave city after NYC!!! I recently revisited Chi-town and wrote my little ode to Chicago – Chicago Ain’t No Sissy Town!

    Hope you are well :)

  35. Hi Matt, I did not know that you were professional poker player, in Amsterdam? Your life is just incredible!! Hopefully I will travel like you
    Ciao from Italy :-)

  36. Chris JL

    I find it weird that the Champs Elysses was what made you love Paris. It’s just a noisy boulevard with AMERICAN stores left and right. It feels like an oversized Times Square. For me, Paris overall was disappointing as a backpacking tourist. All the big landmarks made me feel like I was in a cultural Disneyland, while my short stay prevented me from experiencing the city life at a normal pace. I think it’s a city you have to live in to truly appreciate.

    Amsterdam is a great city, but there are too many loser pothead tourists. It would be great to live in one of those quiet neighborhoods though, at least seasonally.

    My favourite cities in Europe have been Salzburg and St. Petersburg.

  37. SunnyBreeze

    Yay! Vancouver! You should try renting a bike and biking the entire seawall. Nothing beats it on a nice summer day.

    Sydney is definitely on my list. San Francisco and Portland are also great cities! Can’t wait to visit more of these.

  38. ANN

    Am hurt you did not have New Orleans as a favorite spot. I did like your other favorite spots. I look forward to traveling internationally. You have no idea how much I envy all of your travels.
    You must be very good at cards.

    Happy New Years!

  39. DJ Yabis

    My favorite region in Europe is Scandinavia and I also looooooooove Stockholm. I lived there for 6 months and I visit often. It’s the best! Move there and let’s go for dagens lunch one of these days ;D

  40. Interesting choices. All seem logical as they’re b?g cities and gateways also. Queenstown and Perth are closest to home as an Australian but I also see them as options more for the older or chilled set – a place to relax or retire.
    Queenstown would be a fun place work and party at for a while.

  41. james

    i’v been travelling for many years now. i must say that i love the non-major European cities alot more then the major ones. i love green landscapes and water in my city. I have lived in perth my whole and i love it but i must say it is very sad to see it turning into a shit hole and somewhat dangerous and i experienced that not long ago with my family. Also it has some of the worst public transports compared to most other cities. Why does mass immigration have to ruin such nice cities? Vancouver is amazing to say the least but i need somewhere to surf haha. Queenstown is an awesome holiday but im not sure if i could live there. Im planning to visit new york after hearing such mixed reviews (mostly good ) about it but it still looks like a great holiday. I just booked a Scandinavian holiday because i have some family over there and from what iv heard looks amazing.

  42. I believe Paris is a little overrated. I am glad you liked it, I didn’t find it so nice, though I have only been there once. People were very rude, information stand people did not speak English – some did, but only a few – and everything was really crowded.
    Though, I completely agree with all the other choices. I have not been to New Zealand yet, but it must be amazing. :)

  43. I’m with you on Amsterdam and Paris. I didn’t find Paris overrated at all. Wandering the amazingly beautiful city was a dream. I’d like nothing more than to sit down at a cafe table in Paris with a baguette and Coke and read a book all day.

  44. ais

    I totally agree with NYC :) Been there 4 times and still couldn’t get enough of it. There’s always something to do and see and it’s just full of energy. I haven’t been to Paris but I am sure I’d fall in love with it too!

  45. Alexander

    Great to see my hometown Amsterdam on top of the list 😉 Come by for drinks at Cafe De Koe when you guys are here.
    Other favorite places for me are Vancouver and San Francisco. And of course… New Amsterdam… ehh… New York that is!

  46. Cameron

    Although I haven’t visited even half of them, I can see your reasons for choosing the places you have. However, I’m quite saddened that you haven’t included my home town of London on your list… It may not be one of the most beautiful places (we can probably partly thank Hitler for that!), but It’s one of the most vibrant and diverse cities on the planet and there is so much to see and do and such a buzz about the place. It’s a melting pot for so many different cultures, it has many faults like any big city, but imo it’s unique and there’s no where quite like it if you take the time to explore it properly. I would also add Rome to the list over Paris any day, it’s the most beautiful and romantic place I’ve ever been and full of history. Also perhaps Auckland as I lived there for 3 years.

  47. I love Bangkok as well. It is a city of paradoxes. On one side there are mega malls, and right across the street are some slums. They city is also home to some of the best food in Thailand.

  48. Beth

    Wow, I’ve visited Chicago in summer, and yes, I had SO much fun. But nice to know how it stacks up to other world cities.

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