The world is a cool place. Understatement of the century? Probably. The title pretty much says it all. These are what I consider to be the ten best cities in the world, based on all of the ones I’ve ever been to. These are obviously my opinions based on my experiences, so don’t go commenting telling me I’m dumb. I already know I am.
Quickly, though, I’ve got to give some honorable mentions out. New York City, London, Budapest, Amsterdam, Rome, I love y’all but my wallet was suffering out there. Mexico City and Oaxaca, y’all would have been 11 and 12. Havana, Antigua, and all you other cute ass colonial Latin American cities, just punching a bit out of your weight class. Maybe I’ll do one for almost-big-enough-but-not-quite-cities. Berlin, I’ll put you on the list if I can have my dignity back. Without further ado, I bring to you…
10. Tel Aviv, Israel
We are going to start this thang off with a city where I spent an unfortunately meager amount of time. If I had more than just four days there, I could imagine Tel Aviv might work its way much higher up this list. Tel Aviv was a city of many surprises to me. When my friend suggested we make the trip over to Israel, I had in mind a lot of temples and churches and history and culture and the like. Nothing wrong with that of course. Jerusalem was a surreal city to walk through and as non-religious as I am, I even shed a few tears as I knelt in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But Tel Aviv on the other hand.. Yeesh. I would call this the Barcelona of the Mediterranean but Barcelona is already the Barcelona of the Mediterranean. A beach city with incredible nightlife, the most beautiful people in the world, and as laid-back a vibe as you could imagine? Consider me in love. The Israeli youth are among the most fun people I have ever had the pleasure of partying with. I’ve met a lot of them in my travels and they have always been a raging good time. So to go to a country where everyone is a raging good time? Again… Yeesh.
Tel Aviv was a stunner of a city. Cycling along the beach, wind blowing through my hair and an absolutely electric buzz around the boardwalk, that’s the stuff travel dreams are made of. Throw in that completely unobstructed view of a beach sunset and damn, what a scene. Once the sun sets, the night starts buzzin’ with life. The nightlife in Tel Aviv is eclectic. You can find whatever scene fits you best. But man, if you want to party hard, Tel Aviv has got you covered.
Throw in some cool markets, laid-back parks, and some unique cuisine and you’ve got it made in this city by the beach.
9. Bangkok, Thailand
If you’ve been following my blog for the last couple of years, you probably know how much I love Bangkok. I am obnoxious about how much I love Bangkok. If you say I hate Bangkok three times, I will mystically appear in your mirror and provide a twenty-page dissertation on why you are wrong.
The people that hate on Bangkok are the ones that don’t experience it to its fullest. They are the people that see the chaos and decide they’d rather be elsewhere. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to see the rest of Thailand’s beauty but there’s no need to bash Bangkok on the way out. Yes, the grimy, slimy, gritty, shitty backpacker slum of Khao San Road might be the worst place on the planet. I can’t deny that I’ve drowned many of my sorrows there followed by feeling significantly worse after. I literally ate a tarantula there once.
But there is so much more to Bangkok than what backpackers and fast travelers experience. My first real run-in with a different side of Bangkok was when my passport ran out of pages and I had to hang around the Si Lom and Sukhumvit area close by to the U.S. Embassy while that entire mess was getting figured out. I felt like I was in Wall Street or something. Everything was so modern and high-tech. I was next to Lumphini Park where I could run amongst more nature than I could have imagined could be found in Bangkok.
The city is massive. To hate on the entire expanse of Bangkok based on your experience on the actual worst street on the planet is just ignorant. I could go on all day but I won’t. Because I already have. Here you go. Read these if you want more of my strange boner for Bangkok.
8. Medellin, Colombia
You know, I first heard of Medellin when I was like 12 years old and my favorite golfer was from there. It’s weird. Everyone knew it for Pablo Escobar and I was like maybe I’ll see Camilo Villegas while I’m here. Oh yeah, Medellin kind of has that reputation still doesn’t it? 25 years later and internationally, it is still in the shadow of the world’s greatest drug lord.
Well, it shouldn’t be. Medellin does not try to hide the history of Pablo Escobar but as a city, it is much more than its past. The future of Medellin is what is most exciting about it. It is modern, it is vibrant, and it is fun. And it is only getting better from there. For a city with such a bloody and notorious past, it is moving on quite well from all of that.
Oh god and don’t get me started on the weather. The city of eternal spring. As someone who will melt as soon as it goes over 80, Medellin was perfect. Nestled away in the hills of Colombia at a high enough altitude to never get sweltering hot, I was absolutely in heaven (especially after Cartagena where I needed to shower as soon as I stepped out of the shower).
7. Chicago, USA
I always told myself I would move to Chicago after I graduated. I’m not mad at where I ended up, trust me, but occasionally I still picture myself living life on the loop. A city of silver skyscrapers nestled along the Great Lakes, history abound in every building and street, pizza that is made from heart attacks and clogged arteries… Gotta love it.
I always tell people I meet abroad that Chicago is the best city in the U.S. And surprisingly enough, the people that have made it to Chicago tend to agree. It is not nearly as overwhelming as New York or Los Angeles. It has a strong community vibe to it that I haven’t really felt in other big cities. The international communities are among the richest and most diverse in the country, as well.
Which means, EVEN MORE AMAZING FOOD. I could go on and on about Chicago’s food scene. I could go on and on about Chicago’s music scene. I could go on and on about Chicago.
6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Like Tel Aviv, this was a city where my time was abysmally brief. Rio de Janeiro is one of the most naturally gifted cities I’ve ever seen. The beaches and mountains are juxtaposed together in breathtakingly beautiful ways. I’ll never forget the sunset from Pao de Acucar Mountain. A panoramic view of all the glory that Rio had to offer.
Enjoy the beauty of Rio captured on an iPhone 4s. Voila.
My four days in Rio went by depressingly quick. I hardly even got a chance to live up to my name and party hard. I think I went out maybe once in those four nights. But quite frankly, I was exhausted from all of the exploring we were doing. As nice as Rio is to just relax on the beach, there is a lot to do in the city.
We rented bikes and just rode around aimlessly, stopping only for some killer views or a tour of one of the city’s dozens of soccer stadiums. This city is a paradise unlike any other. A lifetime would be too short here, Rio.
5. Cusco, Peru
I named Cusco as my favorite city in South America a while back and someone seriously got so mad at me in the comments that I’m putting it on here again. I mean, it deserves to be on here but I just want to acknowledge that dude again in case he comes back to read this also.
I am a man of the mountains. Or at least, I aspire to be. I like a little beach here and there but my true happiness lies when I’m crying like a bitch because my legs hurt and there’s still like three hours until we reach the top. I cried a lot in Cusco.
Not really, but yes really. It all started at Rainbow Mountain. When I thought I got away without altitude sickness because I survived my first day in Cusco without any struggles. Knowing full well that I had to be up at 3 AM to hike Rainbow Mountain the next day, I got drunk (had one beer) and partied hard (passed out drunk at about 9 PM). In hindsight, yeah, totally not adjusted to the altitude.
After feeling like absolute death within the first hour of the hike, I had to borrow a horse from a 70 year-old indigenous woman as she trotted up the mountain alongside me. Living my best life up in the mountains. The stuff dreams are made of, I’m tellin’ ya.
Cusco is one hell of a city where nature and culture intertwine together like my arms around a fluffy alpaca. And also, theres that Machu Picchu place that everyone always talks about.
4. Prague, Czechia (Apparently it’s not the Czech Republic anymore)
Prague is the birthplace of ~ the partying traveler ~. Back when I was 20 years old and drinking at beer gardens, drinking straight out of beer taps, almost falling off boats because I was too drunk, and just being drunk in general. There’s a Snapchat video somewhere out there of a cop asking me “have you been drinking alcohol?” and me responding with “dude, I am alcohol.”
But beyond that, Prague is an incredible city. The architecture is seriously among the most beautiful in all of Europe. From their galleries to museums to palaces and theatres, Prague has no shortage of incredible sights and wonders. The Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and Prague Palace are iconic places but you can stumble into some stunning things everywhere you go in Prague.
I split off from the group a few times to wander off by myself and would always find myself in some incredibly beautiful place. Palaces, libraries, parks, and bridges that don’t show up in your typical travel blogs and guidebooks are everywhere if you just wander around. Those 6 AM drunken walks around the city are some of my favorite memories ever.
3. Bali, Indonesia (Yes, I’m aware it’s an entire island)
I hate Denpasar. I hate Kuta. I hate Seminyak. I hate pretty much every city in Bali except maybe Uluwatu and Ubud. I don’t know how I’m going to weave my way around this logic so you’re just going to have to accept that for this list, the entire island of Bali qualifies as one city. Somehow, hating almost every part of the island adds up to me loving the island. Don’t question it. It’s a new school of pseudo-calculus.
I have such a love/hate relationship with Bali but at the end of the day, it is mostly love. You can’t truly hate a city unless you loved it in the first place. Despite my initial misgivings about Bali, there are plenty of reasons why it is the world’s premier travel destination. It is the gold standard for resorts and luxury.
“I hate Bali”, I tell myself as I get my second $8 massage of the day following a lengthy day at my office next to the beach spent mostly flirting with surfer girls who are entirely out of my league.
Bali is no longer as authentic or untouched as it was back in the day. Parts of it have become a playground for tourists and expats. And ugh, influencers. Where wannabe celebrities who couldn’t afford to live in LA or Sydney or London decide that they’re going to move to Bali to live a life centered around fake Internet points.
*Looks up briefly from my 7th hour of scrolling Instagram*
“Nah, couldn’t be me.”
Anyway, Bali is what you make of it. It can be the luxurious getaway that you dreamed of. It can be a local experience spent strolling along the rice paddies, hidden jungle waterfalls, and any of the thousands of temples scattered along the island. Hiking volcanoes at sunrise, swimming with manta rays, and bathing in waterfalls are just a few of the incredible things you can do in Bali. You can also get $8 massages.
Check out my huge Bali photo gallery and I’ll shut up.
2. Barcelona, Spain
As far as songs go, Barcelona has at least three good songs written about it. If that isn’t the only metric you need to know about why Barcelona is ranked this high, then I guess you are a reasonable person and clearly not as easily convinced as I am.
Barcelona was the first city that I went to my first time traveling on my own without my parents. My friend and I literally had no idea what we were doing. Imagine going to Barcelona and not seeing La Sagrada, Parc Guell, Passeig de Gracia, and so on. The thing is, we still absolutely loved Barcelona. The vibe of the place is indescribable. You can’t help but be happy in a city like Barcelona. The people are buzzin’, the aura is electric, and the parties are plentiful.
For a while, nothing was able to dethrone Barcelona as my favorite city in the world. It is still hard to say for sure that it isn’t. I wondered if maybe it was just the high from traveling somewhere on my own with all the freedom in the world that had me hooked that first time. So I went back to Barcelona in October of 2018, over four years since my first stop in the city.
Nope. Still absolutely fell in love with it all over again. The post break-up bender was also the most necessary thing I have ever needed in my life. My only regret was getting half my bottom lip chewed off by an aggressive Turkish girl. I looked like I had herpes for the following weeks but it was a necessary stage of life, okay?
Six straight nights of going out until 6 AM or later. I didn’t know I still had it in me. And I’ll never forget the night that really embodied traveling and Barcelona the most for me. My friend and I went up to Carmel Bunkers to catch a sunset. And it was absolutely electric up there. Seeing Barcelona basked in the Mediterranean golden hour was an absolute jaw-dropper of a scene. And everyone knew it.
Seeing everyone share in that wonder and awe is what traveling is all about, sharing experiences with people from all over the world and forming those bonds that unite us. I went up there with one Filipina-Canadian girl and walked back down with an Iraqi dude, a Dutch man, two Argentinian girls, a Swedish guy, and a Vietnamese girl with a ukulele. We sang ukulele songs up atop Carmel Bunkers for a while before I smuggled all of them back into my hostel and I really don’t remember a damn thing after that obnoxious but unforgettable karaoke sesh we had in the hostel common room.
Oh yeah, and I still haven’t seen La Sagrada or Parc Guell.
1. Cape Town, South Africa
Yoh, where do I even start with Cape Town? I couldn’t dream up a more perfect city if I tried. A city smack dab in the middle of the ocean, a lion-shaped mountain, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I am absolutely obsessed with this place and literally get sad thinking about it every day as if it were one of my exes or something.
Cape Town is a battlefield where the burning African sun clashes with the ever-roaring ocean and the mountains stand omnipresent, never wavering in their defense of the city. The violent waves crash incessantly and when the wind blows, it shrieks and howls. The history of Cape Town is laden with shipwrecks, and many of those who find themselves here are just survivors washing up on her rugged shores. One can wash up on the shores like debris and ascend the mountains a conqueror. The magnificence of the nature surrounding Cape Town is rivaled and perhaps outshone only by the raucous culture that brings the city to life.
There are few things I want more in life right now than a bag of biltong, a braai on the beach, and a beer with my brus. Lekker lifestyle.