The Best Cities in the World
Last year, during the first COVID lockdown, I asked my wife and kids to rate every country that we had traveled to. I added in my votes and ranked them, and the result was my post on the The Best Countries to Visit. As we’re still not traveling, I wanted to do the same with cities. We all rated 120+ cities that we’ve visited and this ranking of our favorite cities in the world is a de facto list of the Best Cities in the World (according to us!). Our kids, at the time of voting, were 10, 13 and 15.
As before, we ranked each city 1-10. I’ll count down our top 20 cities below, and include with each its average rating. A note: the top city in our rankings got a 9.25. The bottom city received a 3.0. And no, I’m not going to reveal the cities that finished at the bottom of our list – people take it very personally when we didn’t love their cities! Plus, others have likely had different experiences everywhere and would have very different lists of the best cities in the world. This list is simply based on our experiences. In some cases we’ve visited these cities dozens of times, but in a lot of cases we’ve only visited once. Hopefully this list inspires future travel planning with your kids!
19 (tie). Zagreb, Croatia (8.0)
Things to Do in Zagreb: Explore the city on foot; search out markets; dine outside; take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Favorite Hotel: We loved the iconic Hotel Esplanade and the city/park view from our room.
Relevant Blog Posts: Croatia With Kids: Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes
19 (tie). Venice, Italy (8.0)
Things to Do in Venice: Hire a guide to show you the best of Venice away from the crowded main walkways; blow glass on Murano; take a water taxi ride (or a gondola ride if you want the full tourist experience); have drinks overlooking the Grand Canal; walk around the main sites at sunrise when virtually no one else is awake.
Favorite Hotel: We LOVE Hotel al Ponte Antico and wouldn’t stay anywhere else, with or without kids.
Relevant Blog Posts: Venice in High Season with Kids
18. Oia, Santorini, Greece (8.10)
Things to Do in Oia: Have lunch at Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, our favorite restaurant in the world; walk around at sunrise; visit Atlantis Books (and buy something!); enjoy the view. And try to avoid spending time in Oia when cruise ships are in port.
Favorite Hotel: We still don’t have a favorite hotel in Oia. The family setup at Alexander’s Suites was very good, but we didn’t love the busy street between the hotel and town. Last year we were booked at Aqua & Terra Cave Houses (they sleep five) but cancelled due to the pandemic.
Relevant Blog Posts: A Day Trip from Naxos to Santorini
16 (tie). Bergen, Norway (8.17)
Things to Do in Bergen: Wander the streets; buy berries from the market stalls; take the Fløibanen funicular to the amazing overlook; find the totem pole from Seattle in Nordnes Park; take day trips to see the fjords.
Relevant Blog Posts: None. Sorry!
16 (tie). San Francisco, California, USA (8.17)
Things to Do in San Francisco: Buy one of everything in the Ferry Building; walk the central downtown area; eat amazing meals (Slanted Door is one of our favorites); take a ride on a cablecar; cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take a photo from the Vista Point.
Favorite Hotel: My favorite hotel became a Four Seasons a year ago and I can’t vouch for it yet. Last time we stayed at Hotel Griffon and liked the location not far from the Ferry Building. Parking was expensive though.
Relevant Blog Posts: None. We’ve traveled to San Francisco many times but I’ve never written about it.
14 (tie). Brisbane, Australia (8.25)
Things to Do in Brisbane: Stroll the central downtown area; rent a mini-Segway across the river; do day trips to Australia Zoo and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Favorite Hotel: We stayed at the Hilton Brisbane and loved the location. A year ago we were going to return and then my daughter changed her mind and we headed to Bali instead. We were booked at Ovolo The Valley Brisbane and I was really looking forward to checking it out. Next time.
Relevant Blog Posts: A California Getaway to Australia to Cuddle Koalas
14 (tie). Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (8.25)
Things to Do in Winnipeg: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, no matter what age your kids are; The Forks Market; bird banding and canoeing at Oak Hammock Marsh outside of the city; the Assiniboine Park Zoo and nearby Assiniboine Park.
Favorite Hotel: We had a suite at the Fort Garry Hotel and loved the room setup and hotel location. Parking was easy too.
Relevant Blog Posts: Manitoba, Canada with Kids
13. Cortona, Italy (8.33)
Things to Do in Cortona: Enjoy the small town; get gelato; eat very well; and use Cortona as a base for day trips all around Tuscany and Umbria.
Favorite Hotel: We rented a villa during the month we stayed in Cortona, so I don’t have hotel recommendations from personal experience. Based on location and reviews I’d look at La Mangiatoia and Belvedere Apartments.
Relevant Blog Posts: A Villa in Tuscany for a Month
10 (tie). Wanaka, New Zealand (8.50)
Things to Do in Wanaka: Hike or relax; go wine tasting; enjoy the lake; head to Puzzling World.
Favorite Hotel: There are amazing places all around the area so definitely do a search on TripAdvisor or Hotels.com. I can’t remember where we stayed – probably a motel in the city center? Based on location and reviews I’d look at Lakeside Apartments next time.
Relevant Blog Posts: None! Someday we’ll return and I’ll write about it.
10 (tie). Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile (8.50)
Things to Do in Hanga Roa: After seeing the Moai all around the island, enjoy Hanga Roa’s Polynesian vibe, markets and restaurants. And there are Moai in and around town as well.
Favorite Hotel: We stayed at Taura’a Hotel right in Hanga Roa. It was basic, but breakfast was good, the location was great and the owner drove us all over the island.
Relevant Blog Posts: Easter Island with a 6-Year-Old
10 (tie). New York, New York, USA (8.50)
Things to Do in New York City: See a Broadway show; walk from Wall Street to Central Park to see different neighborhoods; cross the Brooklyn Bridge; eat (our favorite restaurant is Osteria al Doge); and just enjoy the city and its parks.
Favorite Hotels: We’ve stayed in over a dozen hotels around the city depending on how many kids we had with us and where we wanted to base. Our favorite hotels overall are Hotel Giraffe (great for families), Library Hotel, Loews Regency, Conrad NY Downtown and The Pierre.
Relevant Blog Posts: A Wonderful New York Weekend Getaway
9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (8.60)
Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende: Take a walking tour and then explore on your own, check out Fabrica la Aurora, and eat very, very well!
Favorite Hotels: We stayed at Live Aqua San Miguel de Allende shortly after it opened. Really liked the hotel and the location (near Fabrica la Aurora), and hopefully the few issues we had were fixed quickly. Would stay there again.
Relevant Blog Posts: San Miguel de Allende with Kids
8. Cartagena, Colombia (8.75)
Things to Do in Cartagena: Wander the colonial city and walk the city walls.
Favorite Hotels: We enjoyed Casa Pestagua.
Relevant Blog Posts: None.
7. Naxos Town, Naxos, Greece (8.80)
Favorite Things to Do on Naxos: Soak in the Greek Island life! Take the short walk from town to the Temple of Apollo. Rent a pedal boat. Have late-afternoon drinks at 1739 overlooking Naxos. Take a day trip to Paros. Drive around the island one day. And eat lots of loukoumades (fried honey balls)!
Favorite Hotels: Nissaki Beach Hotel is the only place we stay. It’s on the beach and just a few minutes’ walk to town.
Relevant Blog Posts: Three Weeks on the Greek Island of Naxos with Kids
3 (tie). Cascais, Portugal (9.0)
Favorite Things to Do in Cascais: Cascais is a great base for exploring the area including taking a day trip to Sintra. Otherwise with a toddler we mainly spent time exploring the city and at the beach. The outdoor restaurants are excellent too.
Relevant Blog Posts: None.
3 (tie). Luang Prabang, Laos (9.0)
Favorite Things to Do in Luang Prabang: We climbed Phousi Hill twice, loved the night market, did a day trip to Kuang Si waterfalls, gave rice to the monks walking through the city at sunrise, and explored many temples!
Favorite Hotels: We loved Colonial Satri House.
Relevant Blog Posts: Asia with Kids: A Crazy Three-Week, Six-Country Itinerary
3 (tie). Torshavn, Faroe Islands (9.0)
Favorite Things to Do in Torshavn: Torshavn is small and easily explored on foot. We loved the mini football (soccer) pitches in town and all over the islands and kicked a ball around at the national stadium too. Otherwise we used Torshavn as a base and explored several islands from there. My blog post below summarizes everything we did.
Favorite Hotels: You won’t have a lot of choice since places fill up quickly in peak season. Hotel Føroyar in Torshavn was ok. We really liked Gjaargardur Guesthouse Gjógv. And when you go to Mykines, stay overnight at Oda’s B&B.
Relevant Blog Posts: An Amazing Week in the Faroe Islands (with Kids)
3 (tie). Florence, Italy (9.0)
Favorite Things to Do in Florence: Everything! Get a guide for a day, but then on subsequent days wander and get lost. Take a cooking class and art classes. Do a gelato-tasting tour and then return to your favorite places often. Dine outside as much as possible. Visit Orsanmichele on a Monday. My blog posts below have a lot more things to do!
Relevant Blog Posts: Florence with Kids: What to Do and Where to Stay | Our Favorite Restaurants in Florence | Why You Should Never Do a Day Trip to Florence or Rome | A Week in Florence without Kids | A Perfect Trip to Florence with Kids
2. Paris, France (9.10)
Favorite Things to Do in Paris: Walk and explore! We love picking a new destination on the map in the morning, taking the Metro there and then walking back to our apartment or hotel – it’s the best way to see neighborhoods between famous sites that you’d otherwise miss. Have a picnic dinner at the Eiffel Tower. Take a cooking class (we made macarons). And there are a lot of amazing kid tours of the city and museums.
Favorite Hotels: We usually rent an apartment in the 7th arrondissement. If you don’t mind small rooms Cler Hotel is a perfectly-located hotel and relatively inexpensive.
1. Tokyo, Japan (9.15)
Things to Do in Tokyo: We love Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine/gardens nearby. Visit Tsukiji Market when you’re hungry. Watch gamers in Ikebukuro. Do a food tour through Asakusa. Spend hours at TeamLab Borderless. And eat amazing food everywhere!
Favorite Hotels: Park Hyatt Tokyo is perfect – straight out of Lost in Translation and one of our favorite hotels in the world.
The Best Cities in the World – Your Turn
I first posted this list on Instagram and received a lot of comments – some strongly agreeing with the top 20; many surprised; and some disagreeing, particularly with the choice of Brisbane over Sydney. For the record, I like Sydney more than Brisbane, but Brisbane does have great animal attractions near the city, and in the eyes of my daughter that’s all that counted!
What are your favorite cities? What would your top-five list of the best cities in the world look like? And do you have hotels you love in any of our cities above?