Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock
Factors including its highly rated nightlife landed Madrid, Spain, 12th on this list of world’s best cities.
It’s not just about good weather or great food and nightlife. Unlike other best-of lists, Resonance’s annual ranking also considers a city’s diversity and, yes, the number of Instagram hashtags shared online to give a comprehensive view of what it’s like to visit and live in these places.
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To figure out where you should travel to next, there are plenty of lists out there ranking the world’s best cities. Some use reader polls to determine which place lands at the top, while others base rankings on data like its livability or how easy it is to bike there. But Resonance, a consultancy group in real estate, tourism, and economic development, wanted to create a ranking that was more comprehensive.
“Our goal here was not to just create an index for tourism or just for business or just for livability. It was really to provide and create a ranking that took a holistic view of the city,” Chris Fair, president and CEO of Resonance Consultancy, told AFAR. “When we say ‘best cities,’ it’s not just best city to live, it’s not just best city to work, or best city to visit. It’s taking a cross section of all those factors.”
To determine which cities would be considered for this list, Resonance Consultancy looked at cities with populations of more than 1 million. Then each of those cities was ranked by using a combination of core statistics (like GDP and homicide rates) and qualitative evaluations by both locals and visitors (from online channels like Instagram and TripAdvisor).
“Many of the factors that people told us were important in choosing a city to live or do business or visit were related to the experiential quality of the city—things like culture, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, and sports,” Fair said. “There are no core statistics for those kinds of factors. What really distinguishes our rankings is that we are mining user-generated data in channels like TripAdvisor and Yelp to measure those experiential factors.”
Those 22 areas they ranked cities on were grouped into six core categories, including Place, People, Programming, Product, Prosperity, and Promotion.
Place: This includes weather (the average number of sunny days), safety (homicide rate), as well as neighborhoods and landmarks (specifically the number of which were recommended by locals and visitors) and outdoors (or the number of parks and outdoor activities recommended by locals and visitors).
People: The People category takes into account the city’s diversity (percentage of foreign-born residents) as well as the educational attainment (percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher).
Programming: This is what most guidebooks would call “things to do” and includes experiences offered in the areas of culture (specifically performing arts), nightlife, dining, and shopping recommended by both locals and visitors.
Product: The Product category, on the other hand, includes each city’s infrastructure and institutions. This is where attractions and museums are considered, as well as other areas like airport connectivity (or the number of direct destinations served by the city’s airports), university ranking (specifically the ranking of the top local school), and the size of the local convention center.
Prosperity: This category includes the number of Global 500 corporate headquarters located within each city and the GDP per capita. While most travelers wouldn’t necessarily factor these things into choosing a destination, Resonance believes greater “prosperity” draws more people to live in these cities, which eventually drives more economic growth and development. That means better dining options, cultural institutions, and airports in the long run.
Promotion: In addition to relying on user-generated data from locals and visitors to vet dining and shopping recommendations, this list also looked at how popular each city was online. The Promotion category—or how a city’s story is shared through online channels—is based specifically on the number of Facebook check-ins, Google searches, TripAdvisor reviews, and Instagram hashtags shared online about each city, as well as the popularity of each city in Google Trends over the last 12 months.
With all of those things factored in, here’s how the rankings of the world’s best cities landed in 2020:
Highlighted rankings: Programming (1), Promotion (1)
Why we love it: London’s main sights might date back millennia, but the capital’s shops, bars, hotels, and restaurants emerge and evolve on an almost weekly basis. Whether you’re outdoorsy, hungry, or bringing a family in tow, there’s a distinct London neighborhood to investigate—and it will likely look different from your last visit. For hotel options, there’s everything from sleek new offerings like Vintry & Mercer to revitalized historic classics such as the Belmond Cadogan. Just don’t bring up Brexit.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to London
Highlighted rankings: Culture (1), Promotion (2)
Why we love it: New York’s performing arts scene—both on Broadway and off—is beloved by visitors and locals alike, so it’s no surprise that the Big Apple took the number one spot for culture in this ranking. But it’s not just about musicals. New York also came in fifth for museums, which are continually improving as evidenced by the 2019 renovation of the Museum of Modern Art and the brand-new Fotografiska photography museum that opened in Manhattan’s Flatiron District at the end of the year.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York City
Highlighted rankings: Shopping (1), Neighborhoods and Landmarks (2)
Why we love it: The Notre Dame fire was a devastating reminder of how well-loved Paris is by travelers worldwide, and as the capital gears up for the 2024 Olympics, it’s only getting better. Improved infrastructure and 24 new hotels in the past year alone add to a city we love for its world-class art (there’s still time to catch the Da Vinci show), shopping (it beat New York and London in this year’s Resonance list), and global cuisine.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Paris
Highlighted rankings: Restaurants (2), Global 500 Companies (2)
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Why we love it: With the 2020 Summer Olympics fast approaching, all eyes will be on Tokyo this year. But even if you couldn’t land tickets to the opening ceremonies at the newly finished national stadium, it’s still worth going this year. Whether you choose to visit the new location of the Tsukiji fish market or wait in line for life-changing ramen, this is a destination worth planning an entire trip around food (it ranked number two for its restaurants). And if most of your travel budget goes to eating, don’t worry. There are plenty of affordable hotels in Tokyo to book.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Tokyo
Highlighted rankings: Airport Connectivity (1), Museums (1)
Why we love it: The Russian capital is well known for its iconic attractions like Red Square’s colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral. But did you know that it’s also one of the best cities to fly in and out of in the world? In addition to taking the top spot for airport connectivity in Resonance’s ranking, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International was recently named the most on-time airport in the world in Cirium’s annual On-Time Performance Review.
Highlighted rankings: Outdoors (5), Safety (6)
Why we love it: You may associate Dubai with its record-setting skyscrapers and that reputation is well earned. In 2020, Santiago Calatrava’s the Tower at Dubai Creek will surpass the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world when it is completed. Yet, you won’t have to spend your entire trip here indoors. Ranking fifth in the outdoors category on Resonance’s list, the emirate has plenty of man-made islands and even a new nature-inspired shopping mall that has a rooftop park and 200,000 total square feet of open-air gardens to explore.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Dubai
Highlighted rankings: GDP per Capita (4), Safety (4)
Why we love it: The Little Red Dot, as the city-state is affectionately called, earned its top spot in these rankings for its high GDP and safety. Singapore earns top spots in our eyes (and stomachs) for its famous hawker stall street food, its garden-like airport terminal, and the newly renovated Raffles Singapore hotel, which has been welcoming travelers since 1887.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Singapore
Highlighted rankings: Nightlife (3), Promotion (8)
Why we love it: Often seen as the poster child for overtourism, Barcelona’s popularity is yet to dissipate. Bested only by New York and London in this ranking for nightlife options, Barcelona is a city that is equally lovely during the day to explore its beaches and Gaudí’s iconic architectural landmarks. Just be sure to make reservations in advance, especially for Barcelona’s biggest attractions.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Barcelona
Highlighted rankings: University Ranking (4), Promotion (7)
Why we love it: L.A. welcomed over 50 million visitors in 2019, arriving from across the globe for the city’s beaches, movie studios, museums, and star-spotting potential. But Los Angeles has also undergone a culinary renaissance, so much so that it hosts two separate restaurant weeks to showcase the options, offers an abundance of rooftop bars from downtown to West Hollywood, and has seen both coastal communities like Venice Beach and east side spots including Echo Park raise their game in recent years.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Los Angeles
Highlighted rankings: Neighborhoods and Landmarks (4), Shopping (6)
Why we love it: The Eternal City’s ancient charms are evident in every cobbled street, but Rome never rests on its laurel wreaths. New reasons to visit the city include a new hotel in a 17th-century palace and Europe’s first amaro bar—but be careful where you eat and drink.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Rome
Highlighted rankings: University (3), People (8)
Why we love it: The Resonance list credits the lure of high salaries for San Francisco’s influx of talented workers, but San Francisco has long been one of our favorite destinations. The airport itself is a worthy destination, with a new(ish) SFO food hall offering Tartine pastries and other high-end delights, and the on-site Grand Hyatt, which was designed by the same team as the city’s Proper hotel and runs a vibrant public art project. The city itself is packed with things to do, and they don’t all require a sky-high techie paycheck.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Francisco
Highlighted rankings: Nightlife (6), Place (13)
Why we love it: Spain’s capital is best explored on foot—strolling its wide boulevards or wandering down the halls of the Reina Sofia or Prado museums. But be sure to indulge in an afternoon siesta, since Madrid’s nightlife scene is not to be missed. In fact, when AFAR recently sent novelist Mira T. Lee on a last-minute trip to Spain, she rediscovered her love of late nights watching flamenco shows and dancing at clubs in the city’s Cheuca neighborhood.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Madrid
Highlighted rankings: Culture (7), Airport Connectivity (8)
Why we love it: It may not receive top ratings for its frigid weather, but Chicago makes the best of it by winterifying even its rooftop bars for year-round enjoyment. Perhaps the poor weather makes its indoor cultural activities like a comedy show at Second City or visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum such major draws. The city’s fine dining scene is also on the up and up, but be sure to also make time for some classic deep dish pizza while you’re there.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Chicago
Highlighted rankings: GDP per Capita (2), Weather (3)
Why we love it: A quieter alternative to Dubai’s over-the-top shopping malls and skyscrapers, the capital of the UAE is working hard to establish itself as a center for arts and culture. Resonance currently ranked it 231st for museums, but that will surely change in the coming years. Already, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is open and several other institutes are currently being built, including the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Norman Foster–designed Zayed National Museum, Tadao Ando’s Maritime Museum, and a performing arts center designed by the late Zaha Hadid.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Abu Dhabi
Highlighted rankings: Airport Connectivity (7), Educational Attainment (8)
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Why we love it: With nonstop flights available from most U.S. cities, Amsterdam’s easy accessibility—and beautiful canals and world-class museums—make it a popular stop for any Euro trip. In addition to its top-notch cultural offerings, Amsterdam is also on the forefront of sustainable tourism. In 2018, one hospitality company started to repurpose Amsterdam’s out-of-use bridge houses into charming stand-alone hotel rooms, and by 2030, all gas and diesel cars will be banned from the city.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Amsterdam
Highlighted rankings: Global 500 Companies (1), Airport Connectivity (3)
Why we love it: With the recent opening of the Zaha Hadid–designed Daxing airport, it’s no wonder that Beijing ranked third in Resonance’s Airport Connectivity category. At 7.5 million square feet, it currently can serve 45 million passengers annually but will eventually serve 100 million passengers per year. Combine state-of-the-art infrastructure projects like this with ancient architectural wonders like the Great Wall of China and the Temple of Heaven, and it’s likely that Beijing will continue to skyrocket through these rankings in the coming years.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Beijing
Highlighted rankings: People (3), Global 500 Companies (7)
Why we love it: Nearly half of Toronto’s population was born abroad, making it a wonderfully diverse city to live in or visit. Like any other major city, there’s a downtown, but Toronto is best explored through its multicultural neighborhoods—and the foods you can find there. You’ll find not one but three Chinatowns, a Korea Town, as well as a heavy Ethiopian influence in Queen West and Latin American parts of Kensington Market.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Toronto
Highlighted rankings: GDP per Capita (1), Safety (8)
Why we love it: Doha jumped from 44th to 18th on this list in one year, thanks to all the infrastructural work being done to prepare it to host the 2022 World Cup. Already, the I.M Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art and the Jean Nouvel–designed National Museum of Qatar are open. By the time 2022 rolls around, there will also be 21 new hotels to choose from as well as skyscrapers and shopping malls to rival the ones in Dubai. Among all those shiny new things, keep an eye out for the traditional souks and marketplaces to wander around, too.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Doha
Highlighted rankings: Global 500 Companies (10), Diversity (12)
Why we love it: Long a hub for international business, Hong Kong draws a diverse set of foreign-born residents, which is evident in the city’s cuisine and architecture. In 2019, Hong Kong’s tourism industry suffered majorly from protests as locals fought for their autonomy from mainland China. Currently, unrest still persists, but when things settle down, tourists—and their dollars—will be greatly needed.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Hong Kong
Highlighted rankings: Outdoors (8), University (10)
Why we love it: San Diego’s near-perfect year-round weather, seemingly infinite sand, and massive Balboa Park contributed to the city’s top score in Resonance’s Outdoor category. But there’s plenty of reason to head indoors (or at least to a patio), not least the abundant fish tacos and craft beers and beachside hotels like the historic Hotel del Coronado or the boutique L’Auberge del Mar a short drive north of the city.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Diego
Highlighted rankings: University (1), GDP per Capita (6)
Why we love it: Boston may be the oldest city in the United States, but a constant influx of students who attend its top-notch universities help keep its arts and culture scene new and fresh—even among all the historical sites.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Boston
Highlighted rankings: Diversity (6), Outdoors (11)
Why we love it: Located right on the water and home to some of the world’s most beautiful swimming spots and beaches, Sydney obviously ranked highly in the outdoors category in this list. Which makes the fact that many of the wildfires currently blazing in Australia are nearly on Sydney’s doorstep all the more upsetting. But once the smoke clears, the New South Wales area will need tourism dollars more than ever to help rebuild what was burned.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Sydney
Highlighted rankings: Attractions (5), Promotion (14)
Why we love it: Las Vegas is burned in our collective consciousness from a thousand heist movies, but you don’t really know the city until you’ve experienced it in all its neon glory. It’s also evolved substantially in recent years, becoming a family friendly destination (yes, really) and even more of a food lover’s paradise with the new Eataly, while offering more intimate lodgings like last year’s NoMad atop the Park MGM.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Las Vegas
Highlighted rankings: Diversity (4), Instagram Hashtags (8)
Why we love it: Miami’s always warm weather has made it a popular beach vacation spot for decades. But in recent years, it has emerged as an international arts hub thanks to Art Basel. If you’ve already been to South Beach, next time be sure to visit the art-focused Design District and Wynwood neighborhoods to see how the city is evolving for the better. You’ll find there are plenty of cool restaurants and rooftop bars to check out over there, too.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Miami
Highlighted rankings: University (2), Educational Attainment (3)
Why we love it: It may be a head-scratcher that this Silicon Valley city outranked popular tourist destinations like Lisbon or Copenhagen. Yet this prosperous California tech hub is not only near one of the world’s best universities (Stanford) but it also draws some of the world’s brightest people to live there, earning it top scores for its highly educated and diverse residents. Right now, it doesn’t rank particularly high for tourism draws like museums or restaurants. But who knows? With all that tech money, it could change for the better soon.
To see the full list of the world’s 100 best cities, visit bestcities.org.
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