All over the world there are popular cities that beckon to international tourists. You might be able to name 50 that you’ve specifically heard people rave about, or perhaps that you’ve read tempting articles about. This, really, is perfectly natural! It’s a big world, and it only makes sense that there would be a ton of incredible cities in it. Even so, however, some meet the hype a little bit more effectively than others.
This is by no means a complete list, and to a great degree it’s a subjective topic. Anyone might feel differently. But by my estimation, these are five cities that live up to the hype, or appear to, fairly consistently.
1. Paris, France
Paris almost seems like a cliché in and of itself because of how frequently it’s recommended as a bucket list travel destination. And it’s easy to forget about the specifics and assume Paris is a city just for chocolate, bread, and a generally romantic vibe. To be clear, these are all present in abundance – as are wine, street-side cafés, and beautiful displays of architecture at each turn. But when was the last time you really thought about all there is to do in Paris?
One look at the city’s most popular attractions serves as a nice reminder that Paris isn’t just about indulgent food or a pervasive vibe. It’s a city in which you can see world-class museums, famous cathedrals, monuments built right into streets and city squares – and of course, towering above it all, the Eiffel Tower. It’s truly unlike any other city in the world, and almost everyone who’s been (it seems like at least) will say as much.
2. New York, U.S.
Once you get over the sheer size of the city, and the unmatched splendour of its skyline, you start to notice the crowds, the noise, and occasionally even a smell of trash that never seems to go away fully. Throw in the fact that New York is stiflingly hot in the summer and bone-chillingly cold in the winter and it can be a little bit uncomfortable in ways.
Sounds wonderful, right? Well, the thing is, once you get over the initial shock of New York, you can start seeing its beauty in limitless ways. There are a lot of landmarks to see, as with Paris (Central Park, the Empire State Building, the new World Trade Centre, etc.). But in New York, the beauty is exploration. It’s a massive city that defines the term “cultural melting pot,” and the result is endless expression that shows up in food, theater, art, street performers, architecture, music, and just about everything else. Soaking in New York is like experiencing 50 wonderful cities at once.
3. London, England
London, somewhat surprisingly, is the only city on this list that was among the top five most visited cities in the world, per a late-2017 study. It makes a certain sense given that London is something of a crossroads for international travellers visiting Europe from the West. Still though, one might expect to see Paris or New York as high on the list.
Whatever the case, London rarely disappoints. It too can be a shock for a moment. The traffic is rough, and locals can occasionally be abrasive – but these two points are true of most major cities! Beyond initial impressions, London is positively packed with landmarks and fun public areas, and its theatre and culinary scenes are constantly improving. As with Paris, you’ll get a nice mix of historical and modern destinations within the city, such that it’s perfectly easy to learn history in Westminster Abbey in the morning, watch a football match at a pub in the afternoon, and catch a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the evening.
4. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
The primary reputation of Rio abroad is that it’s a party town. Its dense, passionate population is well-known, and the clubbing and dancing are legendary. Case in point, the dancing has indirectly inspired “Carnival” festivals around the world, and in Europe there’s now even a popular internet game based on these festivals. Challenging players to dig out their dancing shoes, the game actually encapsulates how a lot of outsiders see Rio: pulsing, colourful, festive, and all about letting loose.
This reputation for Rio doesn’t come out of nowhere, but it also fails to capture the raw beauty of the city, as well as its laid back nature much of the time. The simple truth of the matter is that one look at Rio in person will take your breath away. The massive bay, the rounded mountaintops surrounding the city, the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer with arms outstretched over it all…. It’s not hard to see why the city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
5. Sydney, Australia
Sydney is actually a fairly natural follow-up to Rio in that it’s a large city built around a bay that can stun you with its pure, natural beauty. Some are surprised to see how big it actually is geographically, and yet it’s not quite so densely populated as cities the same size elsewhere in the world. That alone leads to a different sort of feeling to the whole place.
As is natural with a harbour this size, most of Sydney’s attractions are on, over, or near the water. The Harbour Bridge is perhaps the most famous attraction in town, save for the Sydney Opera House, which also happens to be right by the water. Additionally, Sydney is the only city on this list aside from Rio that can claim to have incredible beaches within the city limits (some New Yorkers will claim the same, but it’s fudging things a bit!). It’s a city you can fall in love with in a moment.