Someday, we will start a story without referencing the “pandemic pause”—but this is not that day. Things are still in flux for the world’s best cities. In the past year, the global population started moving again en masse, in pursuit of the ideal place to work, live, and play. Hundreds of thousands left major metropolitan centers like New York, San Francisco, and Rome for more affordable pastures; meanwhile, LinkedIn reports that one in six job listings is “remote,” fueling somewhat of a planet-wide existential crisis. Does this spell the end for the big city?
“Far from it,” said Chris Fair, president and CEO of Resonance Consultancy, whose 2023 World’s Best Cities list was released today with many familiar destinations at the top.
For the past 15 years, Resonance—a consultancy group in real estate, tourism, and economic development—has taken a holistic approach to a popular “best-of” list. Rather than just rely on data around, say, a place’s livability or how easy it is to bike there, Resonance uses 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) to paint a more comprehensive picture of a world’s best city. “It’s not just best city to live, it’s not just best city to work, or best city to visit,” said Fair. “It’s taking a cross section of all those factors.”
The cities on this year’s list—all with populations of more than 750,000—have used the “pandemic pause” to roll out 464 miles of bikeways (San Francisco), spend billions on hotels and waterfront development (Washington, D.C.), expand or open major museums and finally finish that LaGuardia airport renovation (NYC). One destination even changed its name—remember, it’s now Istanbul, Türkiye. And common across so many of these top-tier cities is a commitment to diversity and sustainability: no longer “forward thinking,” now just the norm of the biggest thinkers.
One notable exception this year: “In our view, no city can be a ‘Best City’ that is part of a country that is taking unprovoked action against another,” says Fair. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “we have removed Moscow and St. Petersburg from this year’s report, two cities that finished in the Top 20 last year,” and named Kyiv the 2023 Honorary World’s Best City.
How the best city rankings work
“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 sights 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 considers educational attainment (percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher) and percent of citizens participating in the labor force.
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.
Here’s how the world’s best cities ranked in the 2023 report, released November 9, 2022:
1. London, England
Highlighted rankings: Nightlife (1), Museums (1)
Despite a year when England’s longest-reigning monarch passed away … despite three prime ministers in mere months … “Despite much-warranted hand-wringing about the flight of talent and capital due to the pall of Brexit (and the follow-up specter of an airborne pandemic), London is hanging in just fine,” says Resonance, “relying on a dipping currency to attract investment and, of course, previously priced-out tourists. And new residents. New wealthy residents who can now afford to check off a big item on the multimillionaire bucket list: property in the best city on the planet. … According to fDi Markets, the Financial Times’ foreign investment tracker, London has pulled in the most foreign direct investments into tech from international companies since 2018, ahead of New York, Singapore, and Dubai.”
Why we love it: 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 the much-hyped NoMad London to hip One Hundred Shoreditch to revitalized historic classics such as the Dilly.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to London.
2. Paris, France
Highlighted rankings: Sights and Landmarks (1), Shopping (2)
“What returning visitors find is a city that has codified pedestrianism and alfresco living,” says Resonance. “To ensure cars didn’t take back control of Paris streets as pandemic urban pilot projects waned—as was the case in many other cities—Mayor Hidalgo legislated that the 60,000 parking spots loaned to restaurants for outdoor seating simply remained. … Nowhere is the transformation more dramatic than along the River Seine in the heart of Paris’s tourist district, near Notre Dame Cathedral and city hall itself. With the reduced car traffic, this is now Paris’s town square (in a city with dozens of historic spots worthy of the honor). The riverside promenade hosted thousands night after night, even after Paris’s Right Bank summer event wrapped up. The Paris-Plages urban beach initiative welcomes picnicking and other low-cost access to a city long criticized as pricey and exclusive.”
Why we love it: As Paris gears up for the 2024 Olympics, it’s only getting better. Improved infrastructure, a commitment to pedestrianism, 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.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Paris.
3. New York City, United States
Highlighted rankings: Promotion (2), Culture (2)
NYC is welcoming back visitors in style with major upgrades to its international gateways, says Resonance. LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport all have new terminals, “with the new Terminal B at LaGuardia alone boasting 35 gates” and looking fine. “Back on the ground, Moynihan Train Hall is a new 17-track expansion of Penn Station that, if you squint, can pass for a northern European transit hub from the future.” And if you haven’t heard of the biggest hotel opening in the city this summer, just check out AFAR’s review of the new $3,200-a-night Aman.
Why we love it: “The City” consistently ranks for its culture; new this year is a Museum of Broadway, an expanded Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Bronx Children’s Museum, a jazz club with Lincoln Center acoustics at Aman. New to the Sights and Landmarks list: a slew of seriously legit food halls like the Singaporean/Malaysian Urban Hawker Center and the Tin Building by Jean-Georges at revamped South Street Seaport. And as Broadway comes back with a full roster, we expect visitors will follow.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York City.
4. Tokyo, Japan
Highlighted rankings: Restaurants (1), Shopping (1)
“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. There’s much ado around Japan’s recent reopening to international travelers—and as the world’s best city for shopping, wallets will likely open on their return.
Why we love it: 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.
5. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Highlighted rankings: Safety (1), Facebook Check-Ins (2)
Dubai is riding the high of Expo 2020 (which technically took place 2021–2022), a multibillion-dollar, six-month world’s fair showcasing nearly 200 nations with future-forward pavilions and seemingly round-the-clock cultural celebrations. Now the UAE hub wants to inspire loyalty (and repeat trips) among its visitors: Dubai is aiming to be the world’s most-visited tourist destination, targeting 25 million visitors by 2025. A new United direct flight between Newark and Dubai launches March 2023—that should help.
Why we love it: its new Museum of the Future; greater accessibility with more affordable hotel options; a new Michelin guide featuring 69 restaurants, including a Green star sustainability honor; and the lure of Santiago Calatrava’s Tower at Dubai Creek, expected to eclipse the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Dubai.
6. Barcelona, Spain
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, Gaudí’s iconic architectural landmarks, and “colorful neighborhoods that march to their own beat—artistic, sophisticated, bohemian,” says Resonance. Now it can add “bike-friendly” to the list. “What visitors will find is more non-vehicular access to the city. Mayor Colau has delivered on her promise to reach 125 miles of bike lanes, with another 20 to be completed by 2023.” As part of the mayor’s “superblock” initiative, parking and roads have been replaced with playgrounds and public seating.
Just look to Passeig de Sant Joan, recently named one of the world’s best streets by Time Out. “Sant Joan is one of Spain’s first green corridors, designed for self-propelled mobility and exploration with its bicycle lanes, expansive sidewalks, greenery and sprawling outdoor seating,” says Resonance. “Extra bonus: it’s also home to the city’s beloved food market, Mercat de l’Abaceria (at least until it moves into more permanent digs later this decade).”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Barcelona.
7. Rome, Italy
Highlighted rankings: TripAdvisor Reviews (2), Sights and Landmarks (3)
“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. “A dozen other museums and cultural landmarks have also just reopened or have been unveiled for the first time,” says Resonance. “Don’t miss the reopened Mausoleum of Augustus as well as the Casa Romana, a 4th-century residence underneath the Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco. Newcomers include the Museo Ninfeo, which chronicles the ruins of a… let’s call it ‘vacation property’… for Roman emperors.”
Why we love it: 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.
8. Madrid, Spain
Highlighted rankings: Nightlife (6), Trip Advisor Reviews (7)
Up from the 10th spot, Madrid has “bounced back on its feet deftly, 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 like few eras before,” says Resonance. “Perhaps the biggest news is Madrid’s beautiful measures to combat climate change and pollution, by way of a 47-mile urban forest network with nearly half-a-million new trees that will connect the city’s existing forest masses and reuse derelict sites between roads and buildings. Upon completion, this ‘green wall’ is projected to help absorb 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, and mitigate heat generated by urban human activity.”
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 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: Safety (4), Google Trends (4)
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. Keep an eye out for the results of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which includes “800-plus miles of bike lanes and the recently reopened nine-mile Rail Corridor,” says Resonance.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Singapore
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Highlighted rankings: Income Equality (3), Labor Force Participation (5)
“The smallest city in the Top 50 is a tiny but mighty dynamo to keep an eye on, led by visionary mayor Femke Halsema (literally: she’s also a filmmaker), the first non-interim female mayor in the city’s history,” says Resonance. “Her administration’s practical stewardship of a place (and citizens) often abandoned to the tourist euro is co-authoring a future of accountability by everyone who calls the magnetic Dutch capital home.”
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.
To see the full list of the world’s 100 best cities, visit bestcities.org.
This article was originally published in 2020. It is updated annually.
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