When people hear that I have been to 55 countries, the inevitable next question that I get is “Which one is your favorite?”. After all these years, I always know this question is coming, and I still don’t have a good answer to it. I have lots of favorites and no favorites at the same time. It can be hard to boil down and compare whole countries and whole experiences into a few short sentences and memories.
I find it easier to choose my favorite cities. There is something more manageable about that. There are many commonalities between cities, which makes them a little bit easier to compare.
Personally, I love city travel and prefer city break getaways over a beach holiday or a camping vacation. Cities make me feel alive, and I love exploring how people live. Plus, I am a huge foodie and cities are always excellent sources of restaurants and culinary adventures. I’ve been to a lot of cities and many of them have similar offerings – a major tourist attraction, a pretty waterfront or riverwalk, interesting local people.
If a city stands out to me, it has to have something really special about it.
Typically, that something special is a vibe. I know how ambiguous and unscientific that sounds; but there is something about the way a city feels. When it is a good feeling, you notice it and pick up on the subtle ways a city speaks to you. Whether it is the architecture, cool neighborhoods, or strong local culture, there is some sort of a secret magic sauce that comes together in certain cities around the world that I find endearing and memorable.
These are My 10 Favorite Cities in the World
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Why I Love Buenos Aires
For an all-around enjoyable city break getaway, it is hard to find a better option than Buenos Aires. The weather is pretty nice all-year round. The architecture is beautiful. The culture is diverse, open-minded, unique, and friendly. There are tons of historical and cultural attractions to enjoy. It is a great jumping off point for more Argentinian travel adventures. Buenos Aires has something for everybody, and that makes it hard to beat!
Two of my favorite things about it are the food and the street art. Buenos Aires is a city where you can eat very well on a moderate budget. Argentina’s capital city offers varied and delicious restaurant scene that rivals cities around the world in its quality. I was incredibly excited about and impressed by the meals that we ate in Buenos Aires because I felt like I really understood what modern Argentinian cuisine looked like, but also got a sense of the global influence that has made this city so unique.
More than most cities I’ve visited, Buenos Aires is a city that embraces and enjoys street art. You’ll immediately notice murals on buildings, tunnels, and overpasses all around the city, creating a vibrant patchwork of art in nearly every neighborhood. Buenos Aires has a long history of street art which I had the pleasure of learning about on a guided street art walk hosted by a local BA artist collective Graffiti Mundo. The sheer number of pieces around the city is astounding and you are sure to discover many large and small murals yourself just by walking around. It makes an average neighborhood meander have a sense of discovery. You are bound to find a mural that you love!
Kansas City, USA
Why I Love Kansas City
Kansas City is one of the US cities that regularly pops up on my lists of favorite places. I have a soft spot for Midwestern travel destinations — what can I say, I’m true to my roots! One of my favorite cities for a weekend trip in the Midwest is Kansas City because there are a lot of things to do, but it is also relatively undiscovered by the tourist masses. Plus, flights there are pretty affordable, as are the accommodation and restaurant options.
Sitting at the literal and historic crossroads of the United States, KC lies at the heart of the United States, offering a unique intersection of gastronomy, arts, and culture. Kansas City has a long culinary history that has seen a recent revitalization from local residents reclaiming their food and restaurant scene. From famed BBQ to avant-grade new American cuisine, Kansas City’s delicious restaurant scene offers a little something for any type of eater.
One of the things that always stands out to me on my visits to Kansas City is the sheer amount of independently-owned boutiques and shops all around the city. I never expected to discover so many beautifully designed boutiques and shops in a city like KC, but Kansas City is a creative place—you can just feel the artistic energy in the air! Whether it is the food, art, shopping or local people, Kansas City is a memorable destination for a city break getaway. I have visited Kansas City four times over the last few years (thanks to a close friend who lives there), and with each visit, I discover something new to love about KC.
Why I Love Dresden
Once known as the “Florence of the North,” Dresden is a beautiful German city with a curious mix of old world and new world blending together almost seamlessly. Dresden is an awesome city with tons of impressive architecture and interesting neighborhoods, two of my favorite things to explore on a city break getaway. Plus, it is a fairly under-the-radar city for North American travelers, so we were excited to be surprised by all of the things we discovered for ourselves in Dresden!
Although much of Dresden was destroyed by American fire bombing during WWII, there has been significant restoration and rebuilding in the years since the war. Dresden now looks similar to how it did pre-war, serving as a nice example of the prosperity of eastern German provinces during the 1700 and 1800s. The architecture in Dresden, especially in the Old City, is magnificent. I think the Zwinger is one of the most beautiful palaces in all of Germany. Bonus points if you visit Dresden in December, because it has one of Germany’s most charming Christmas Markets.
Similar to Berlin, Dresden has a grittiness to it and I think it has that distinct urban European vibe that people look for in eastern German cities. If you know what to look for, you can see how Germany’s dark and recent history informs and interacts with modern German life in Dresden. There are plenty of things to fill a visit to Dresden for 4-5 days, but I think a 48 hour visit is a minimum. Three days is even better because you can fit in a visit to the interesting attractions surrounding Dresden.
Why I Love Toronto
In a lot of ways, Toronto and Chicago feel like sister cities. Maybe that’s why I love Toronto so much – and why you’ll find both of them on this list! Toronto is not necessarily a scenic city in the sense of traditional urban beauty nor is it a city designed for tourist attractions. What really stands out about Toronto is that it is a city that has a strong sense of place and a palpable soul—two qualities that would endear me to any city!
There are a few reasons why I love Toronto so much. The first is it’s diversity. I find it special that you can walk around the city and see so many different types of people, restaurants, and cultures all existing together. The different neighborhoods have distinct identities, and you don’t need to know about the city’s history or culture in order to notice it. Toronto is well known for this diversity and it feels very tangible when you are traveling there.
Similar to Kansas City, Toronto has a lot of thriving small businesses. You can walk along one street, like Queen Street for example, and see shop after shop after shop, all seemingly doing quite well. There is such a creative and unique assortment of businesses, and I love that there is a minimal corporate presence in the heart of Toronto. Locally owned storefront create a city fabric and bind together communities, and in a city the size of Toronto, I think that is really endearing.
Finally, Toronto has amazing restaurants and delicious food. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I am obsessed with foodie cities and Toronto has an awesome culinary scene. Although they aren’t Michelin accredited, they should be! There are definitely some James Beard and Michelin quality spots in the city, as well as amazing food trucks and hole in the wall spots.
Mexico City, Mexico
Why I Love Mexico City
Mexico City, the largest city in North America, has recently exploded onto the tourist circuit. All in support of this, I would love to see lots of people visit Mexico City because it’s the best! I have a real soft spot for Mexico in general, because I think it is underrated and underappreciated by Americans. It’s sort of like your home city–you take it for granted because it feels so accessible–but when you actually take a second to reflect, you realize how special it is.
Long gone are the scary days of Mexico City. Here to stay are the days of Mexico City as a cosmopolitan oasis for travelers. The bustling, artistic, culinary-focused beating heart of Mexico continues to be one of my favorite long-weekend destinations from the US. You’ll often see Mexico City referred to as CDMX (Ciudad de México) or the DF (Distrito Federal) by locals to encompass the entire sprawling footprint of this massive city.
It goes without saying that food is one of the reasons why I love Mexico City. Aside from that, I really enjoy exploring the artistic and cultural sides of CDMX. There are some inspiring museums worthy of a visit, and you’ll have a blast riding on a party boat through the canals of Xochimilco. You can also enjoy lots of different vibes based on which neighborhoods you stay in or wander through.
Why I Love Istanbul
Sitting at the crossroads of two continents, Istanbul is a deeply historical, culturally significant, and beautifully diverse city. Home to nearly 20 million people, Istanbul has this amazing clash of old and new, east and west, Christian and Islamic. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world because the city itself has a palpable soul that is unique. You can sense the dynamism of a city that is always changing.
From sprawling spice markets to ancient mosques, there is so much to see and do in Istanbul. I spent 5 days in Istanbul and still don’t feel like I saw it all. You will not be bored here! Istanbul is a place that you can keep coming back to again and again, because you’ll never run out of things to try. There are lots of special experiences here, like learning how to do water marbling art or sampling enough Turkish delight to make you sick. Istanbul is such an endlessly fascinating place to explore with tons of museums, galleries, markets and historical sights to visit.
I think Istanbul is the perfect jumping off point for exploring other parts of Turkey, or it can be a destination in it’s own right. You’ll need a minimum of 48 hours to really get a handle on the city. It is one of the most fascinating cities I have traveled to thus far – and I am dying to make a return visit now that I live much closer in Germany! It doesn’t hurt that Turkish food is amazing and Turkish people are so warm & welcoming.
Why I Love Lisbon
Largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, Lisbon is a perfectly blended mash of old world and new world. When my husband and I chose Portugal for our honeymoon, I knew we would have a great time; but I didn’t expect how much we would fall in love with Lisbon and Portugal more generally. Lisbon has become a social media darling in the last few years, getting flooded with digital nomads and tourists alike.
There is a lot to love about Lisbon, and I can understand why so many people have moved there. Like so many of the other cities on this list, the food is one of the big reasons why I love Lisbon. Some of Portugal’s top chefs have outposts in Lisbon, and you can eat some really incredible meals. At the same time, you’ll find tiny hole in the wall joints that have been around for decades (or centuries!) dishing out Portuguese comfort food. I wrote a whole blog post about what to eat while traveling in Lisbon!
Lisbon is a lovely and charming place to explore on foot. It’s obvious which parts of the city survived the quake based on the architecture and street layouts. I really enjoyed just getting lost in some of the neighborhoods around Lisbon, photographing cute alleys and colorful Portuguese tiles. The Number 28 tram is a nostalgic way to explore the city. It is largely only used by tourists now, but it is a cheap and easy way to ride your way around Lisbon at a leisurely pace. We spent a whole day exploring the streets of the Baixa and Alfama neighborhoods, hopping on and off the Number 28 tram that runs throughout the city.
Cape Town, South Africa
Why I Love Cape Town
By far the most beautiful city on this list, Cape Town is stunning. No if ands or buts about it. The backdrop of Table Mountain is just the beginning of the natural beauty that characterizes Cape Town. In a single day, you can go to the beach, explore the unique Fynbos ecosystem, and marvel at large penguin colonies.
I think Cape Town is a city that is worth making its own trip, because there is probably enough to fill a week-long itinerary; but for most people, Cape Town will serve as the jumping off point for exploring a longer itinerary in South Africa. This is a bucket list destination in Africa that is welllllll worth the long flight to get there.
One of the things I love about Cape Town is the sheer number of things you can do and experience in one place. Cape Town is a city that truly has something for everyone because it has everything. There is excellent shopping, amazing restaurants, friendly locals, exciting outdoor adventure activities — basically there is anything a traveler could want!
I also find Cape Town to be a fascinating place to learn about and experience first hand. It is full of complexities, a place where history is still unfolding and not neatly back in the past. Cape Town is a place with danger but also discovery. It has an ever changing dynamic and a strong feeling of resilience. The natural beauty contrasts interestingly with the dark history of apartheid and colonialism in this way that is distinctly Cape Town. It is like nowhere else.
Why I Love Chicago
There is no better city in the US than Chicago. Fight me, I stand by it. I am proud to have lived in Chicago for 5 years and during that time, I grew a deep love and appreciation for the Windy City. Chicago is a complicated, dynamic place with plenty of dark parts and light parts. Not scared of its flaws or its challenges, Chicago has an earnestness about it. Maybe it’s the long, dark, cold winters or the down-to-earth people that call it home. Whatever it is, there is nothing simple about Chicago, and that makes it feels human in a way that New York and LA don’t to me.
Ok enough about the philosophical reasons why I love Chicago. There are plenty of tangible things to enjoy when visiting (and living) in the Windy City. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Chicago is the amazing food. Hands-down, this is a city for foodies. Bad restaurants can’t survive here, and the good ones are truly great. I’ve written a lot about my favorite Chicago restaurants and the culinary scene. It is the thing that I miss most about not living there, although my wallet is grateful to have moved to Germany.
Another thing I love about Chicago is its distinct and unique neighborhoods. The city is a pathwork of little cities, each with its own identity, set of shops and locals that live there. You could explore Lincoln Park and then go to Pilsen for a completely different perspective on Chicago. I am a big fan of all the western neighborhoods, like Wicker Park or Logan Square, but you can really appreciate the architectural beauty of Chicago in the West Loop or enjoy lakefront scenery in the South Loop. Regardless of which Chicago neighborhood you explore, you can expect to fall in love with something about it.
Why I Love Budapest
I expected to enjoy my 5 days of slow travel in Budapest, but I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the city. It was the first eastern European city that swept me off my feet! Budapest has a humble vibe about it that I could feel from the minute you arrive. The historic architecture is really beautiful, especially along the riverfront, but then you also find cool things like ruins bars in the same city. It’s a curious mix that you don’t find elsewhere, and that is exactly what is special about it.
One of the reasons I enjoyed Budapest so much was the palpable commitment to local makers and independent boutique owners in every neighborhood around the city. In my opinion, shopping in Budapest is cool, because it offers so many independent boutiques, vintage collections, and local Hungarian brands. It feels edgy & trendy because there are so many under-the-radar brands that I would not have learned about otherwise.
There are a lot of things that I loved about my experience in Budapest, but one of my top highlights was visiting a few of the city’s famed thermal baths. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, then you know how much I love visiting spas and saunas around the world. A stop at one of 9 thermal baths in Budapest is an absolute must-do activity. They don’t call it the City of Spas for no reason!