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Photo by Shutterstock
Doha moved up 11 spots in the list of World’s Best Cities in one year, nearly cracking the top 10 for 2022.
Unlike other best-of lists, Resonance’s annual ranking considers a city’s diversity, cultural programming, as well as its response to COVID and ability to rebound.
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 in January 2020, when the list made its debut on AFAR.com. “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.”
Resonance also considered how a city responded to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. Welcome to the World’s Best Cities of 2022, which for the second year in a row includes considerations like outdoor experiences, clean air, and an ability to innovate.
“Given the new rules of pandemic migration, the rise of remote work, and the never-ending search for housing affordability, new cities are catching the imagination of global talent,” reports Resonance Consultancy. To determine which cities would be considered for this list, Resonance Consultancy looked at those 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 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, the GDP per capita, the income equality index, and the unemployment rate. 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 for the 2022 report, released September 21, 2021:
Highlighted rankings: Nightlife (1), Airport Connectivity (1)
Why we love it: While a pandemic recovery is slowly afoot, London held on to its reign as the world’s best city for the sixth year in a row. “Its position at the top, however, has never been more tenuous,” says Resonance. “In our pre-pandemic rankings, ‘best’ had much to do with quality of life factors like Programming, and London is no. 1 for that category, which includes Culture, Restaurants, Shopping, and Nightlife.”
Despite near-total shutdowns in many of those categories, London tentatively reopened this summer. “A full-capacity Wimbledon and Euro 2020 (final match aside) pumped tens of millions into the economy,” says Resonance. “The ‘Let’s Do London’ campaign by London and Partners, which promotes business and investment in the capital, also had some success getting Britons to enjoy their capital without the usual crowds.”
London’s main sights might date back millennia, but the capital’s shops, bars, hotels, and restaurants continue to 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 new hotel options, there’s everything from sleek offerings like the NoMad London to revitalized historic classics such as the Dilly.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to London
Highlighted rankings: Sights and Landmarks (3), Shopping (3)
Why we love it: As Paris gears up for the 2024 Olympics, it’s only getting better. Improved infrastructure and a handful of new hotels in the past year alone add to a city we love for its world-class art, shopping, and global cuisine.
“Almost as soon as the pandemic started, Parisians poured out of their close quarters onto the iconic Rue de Rivoli, the famed artery that intersects the heart of the capital, when it became off-limits to cars,” says Resonance. “The Champs-Élysées is next on the city leadership’s list, set to be transformed over the next decade into a massive garden, with vehicle access cut in half and millions of euros invested in pedestrian-focused amenities.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Paris
Highlighted rankings: Google Trends (1), Culture (2)
Why we love it: “New York City is reawakening, with infrastructure upgrades, a packed cultural calendar, world-class hotels, a new outdoor dining scene, multicultural neighborhoods to explore and many more vibrant offerings on display across all five boroughs this year,” Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, told Resonance in May. In other words: NYC isn’t dead, folks.
“The City” consistently ranks for its culture; it came in seventh for museums, which are continually improving as evidenced by the 2019 renovation of the Museum of Modern Art and the Fotografiska photography museum that opened in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. New to the Sights and Landmarks list: suspended arts-and-culture park Little Island in—yes, in—the Hudson River. And as Broadway starts to turn its lights back on this month, we expect visitors will follow.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York City
Highlighted rankings: Museums (1), Sights and Landmarks (1)
Why we love it: “The first so-called ‘post-Soviet generation’ of Muscovites has traveled the world, returning with suitcases full of ideas that they’re unpacking to huge effect in their always-proud city, sanctions be damned,” says Resonance. The Russian capital is well known for its culture and landmarks, like Red Square’s colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral, but it also rose in the rankings this year to no. 2 for Place: “The Russian capital ascended this vital category rapidly over the past three years, powered by the aggressive (and divisive) My Street program that launched in 2015. Costing more than $3 billion, according to local sources, My Street is narrowing Stalin’s tank avenues (and Moscow’s car-centric roads) into more walkable experiences. Small wonder it’s ranked sixth for most hashtagged global city on Instagram.”
Highlighted rankings: Safety (1), Foreign-Born Population (1)
Why we love it: You may associate Dubai with its record-setting skyscrapers and that reputation is well earned, but “the Burj Khalifa’s time in the sun may be nearing an end,” reports Resonance. “Santiago Calatrava’s Tower at Dubai Creek will eclipse the skyscraper as the tallest building in the world when completed, in 2022 at the earliest. More certain for the city is Expo 2020 (to take place, in fact, in 2021-2022), a multibillion-dollar half-year fair aiming to draw 25 million visits. Nearly 200 nations will be showcased at the pavilions, adorned, like Italy’s 3D-printed David by Michelangelo, with cultural celebrations of the future ahead. Speaking of the future, the city’s sensory overload of a Museum of the Future should also be done later this year, providing more magnetism to a place eager for its post-lockdown.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Dubai
Highlighted rankings: Restaurants (1), Global 500 (2)
Why we love it: “Despite the pandemic and subsequent derailment of Japan’s plans—or perhaps because of them—the Japanese government remains steadfast, keeping its target of 60 million visitors and $136 billion in tourism revenue by 2030. It’s not as delusional as it sounds: the country enjoyed record tourism for seven straight years and can now accommodate even more visitors to Tokyo, with the expansion of the international terminal at Haneda, the city’s main airport,” says Resonance.
Ranked no. 1 for its restaurants, Tokyo is home to some life-changing ramen, making it a destination worth planning an entire trip around food. 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: Safety (2), GDP Per Capita (5)
Why we love it: “Singapore’s reinvestment into research, talent and corporate headquarters recruitment ensures it will be home to a sustainably wealthy citizenry for decades to come. It’s why the city-state continues its ascent among the planet’s most prosperous cities,” says Resonance. The Little Red Dot, as the city-state is affectionately called, earned high rankings for Safety and Foreign-Born Population; it earns top spots in our eyes (and stomachs) for its famous hawker stall street food, its garden-like airport terminal, and the reopened Raffles Singapore hotel, which has been welcoming travelers since 1887.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Singapore
Highlighted rankings: Google Search (3), University (4)
Why we love it: “L.A.’s cultural and culinary leaders—so willing to step up and declare the city open for business after a series of natural disasters, helping the city rank no. 7 in our Promotion category—will be called upon again soon,” says Resonance. “The city was on a culinary trajectory like few others in America and the momentum has returned. When it opens on Olvera Street at LA Plaza Village, L.A. Plaza Cocina will be the first museum and teaching kitchen dedicated to Mexican food in the U.S.” L.A. also 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: Nightlife (3), TripAdvisor Reviews (5)
Why we love it: “Barcelona is an almost ideal European city, one with near-perfect weather year round, miles and miles of beaches, iconic parks, striking architecture and colorful neighborhoods that march to their own beat—artistic, sophisticated, bohemian. No wonder it ranks Top 5 in our Place category, which measures both the natural and built environments of a city,” says Resonance.
Often seen as the poster child for overtourism, Barcelona’s popularity likely won’t dissipate into 2022, especially with the lure of 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: Nightlife (6), Google Trends (6)
Why we love it: “The city, in our Top 10 for only the second year in a row, is getting back on its feet [from the pandemic], continuing a much-needed investment in its bounteous (but long-dormant) infrastructure and public assets that is fueling the Spanish capital’s city-building legacy,” says Resonance.
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 sent novelist Mira T. Lee on a last-minute trip to Spain in 2019, she rediscovered her love of late nights watching flamenco shows and dancing at clubs in the city’s Cheuca neighborhood. COVID has curtailed some of the nocturnal fun, but investments in outdoor dining and walking infrastructure should see the city bounce back when the virus eventually recedes.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Madrid
Highlighted rankings: TripAdvisor Reviews (2), Place (4)
Why we love it: “Few cities serve up the ability to walk Western history like Roma. Heck, Palatine Hill alone invites you into two millennia’s worth if you’ve got an hour,” says Resonance. “Mix in a safe, accessible modern city and its thousands of portals back in time and it’s easy to see how Rome almost cracked the Best Cities Top 10 again this year.” Rome’s ancient charms are evident in every cobbled street, but the city never rests on its laurel wreaths. New reasons to visit the city include the city’s first Hoxton hotel and upcoming renovations to the Colosseum—just be sure not to sit on the Spanish Steps when you return.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Rome
Highlighted rankings: Prosperity (1), Foreign-Born Population (3)
Why we love it: Doha is up 11 spots in this year’s ranking, thanks to all the infrastructural work being done to prepare it to host the 2022 FIFA 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 many new five-star 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: Google Search (6), Product (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. This year, “ground will be broken on the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, a marquee attraction on Chicago’s South Side,” says Resonance.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Chicago
Highlighted rankings: Foreign-Born Population (1), 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 241st for museums, but that will surely change in the coming years. Already, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is open and several other institutes are 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: University (2), Google Search (4)
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: Airport Connectivity (8), Shopping (9)
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: Educational Attainment (1), Attractions (4)
Why we love it: “Imperial capital for two centuries, city of 40 islands and 342 bridges, St. Petersburg has been steadily climbing the rankings, from no. 54 to no. 35 to no. 16 and, now, just one spot down after one of the most challenging years in the city’s recent memory,” says Resonance. “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,” says Resonance.
Highlighted rankings: People (4), University (9)
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 encounter 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: People (7), Parks and Outdoors (14)
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. Those big outdoor spaces “likely helped the city weather the pandemic during its first year,” says Resonance. “Some green spaces saw double the usual number of visitors.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Sydney
Highlighted rankings: Museums (8), Nightlife (5)
Why we love it: Though the city’s famed nightlife was curtailed due to the pandemic, Berlin was busy renovating cultural landmarks and building new infrastructure. “Soon, vital major cultural institutions will reopen in Museum Island after years of renovations, including the Pergamon Museum, which is the city’s most visited,” says Resonance. “In a much-needed boost for a decimated tourism industry and events business, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport opened in late 2020 after nearly a decade of delays, fully ready for our pandemic reality with integrated on-site COVID-19 testing and other screening.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Berlin
Highlighted rankings: Attractions (5), Weather (7)
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 Singapore-style hawker center that opened at Resorts World Las Vegas in 2021, while offering more intimate lodgings like 2019’s NoMad atop the Park MGM.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Las Vegas
Highlighted rankings: Google Search (1), Educational Attainment (6)
Why we love it: “Before COVID, 2020 was going to be one of the busiest ever for D.C. development, and a lost year will only accelerate the planned $10 billion in the city-building pipeline,” says Resonance. “Food and dining is also helping D.C. pursue equity with Market 7, a sprawling food hall touting Black-owned businesses. The jewel in the city’s culinary crown is the $250-million RiverPoint, two blocks from Audi Field, between Capitol Riverfront and the Wharf, with piers, waterfront activity, and plans for new restaurants.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Washington, D.C.
Highlighted rankings: Instagram Hashtags (3), Shopping (7)
Why we love it: “Everyone is talking about Kanal Istanbul, the $15-billion artificial 28-mile waterway on the European side of Istanbul, which is proposed to run roughly parallel to the Bosporus and is expected to significantly reduce congestion on the river—currently one of the busiest waterways in the world,” says Resonance. “The government’s placemaking promises to the city—already the third-most Instagrammed on the planet—are tantalizing, including new archaeological parks lining the canal, and new, earthquake-resistant residential developments expected to house 500,000. But its many critics say it may also displace thousands of people, bulldoze endangered ecosystems, and jeopardize the city’s already-strained water supply. To say nothing of a shifting shipping reality that may never deliver the promised usage and funds to cover the investment. Whatever its fate, the Kanal is yet another fiery chapter in the 1,600+ years of city-building kicked off by Constantine the Great.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Istanbul
Highlighted rankings: Airport Connectivity (12), Weather (15)
Why we love it: Vienna is up eight spots in the rankings since 2020, thanks in part to how livable the city is. It not only has high scores for income equality and widely used public transportation, but also has easy access to the outdoors at the English garden-inspired City Park and even a national park just outside of town. Its cultural attractions also make it a great place to visit. “There are the UNESCO-ranked coffeehouses, of course, like the Landtmann and the Central—places where radical philosophical and aesthetic movements were hatched,” says Resonance. “And the iconic annual Vienna Design Week is back where it belongs—on Vienna’s streets—for its 15th anniversary in late September 2021.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Vienna
Highlighted rankings: Global 500 (1), Airport Connectivity (5)
Why we love it: “The spectacular, $12-billion Zaha Hadid–designed Daxing International Airport opened its doors in late 2019, just in time to slam them shut as the pandemic hit,” says Resonance. “Airport officials say it will eventually see high-speed rail, inter-city services and downtown-to-airport express trains all stopping right beneath the terminal.” While its Airport Connectivity ranking is already in the top five, the 2021 opening of Beijing Universal Studios should help improve the city’s no. 75 Attractions rating in coming years.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Beijing
To see the full list of the world’s 100 best cities, visit bestcities.org.
This article was originally published in January 2020. It was updated October 26, 2020, September 21, 2021, and again on September 28, 2021.
>> Next: The 2021 Best Cities in the U.S.
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