Every travel magazine, site, and company worth their salt has a “x best cities list.” While yes, some cities do generally feel a little better than others, the truth is… it’s all subjective. The city that steals one person’s heart may leave another with a stolen wallet, and the pair will return home with two very different tales to tell their friends of foreign hospitality.
So, with that in mind, here’s my ranked list of my 20 favorite cities in the world.
And as they say: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. Feel free to give me suggestions for cities you think I’d like in the comments!
New York, New York, USA
My climbing partners and friends from home are always baffled when I say New York is my favorite city in the world. After all — there are no mountains. As anyone who knows me can tell, I like playing in the mountains. A lot. But New York City is the center of the world. Everyone here has a dream, has a hustle, and is working towards it. I like that. I like that a lot.
Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina
I was in Sarajevo for only three days, but the city stole my heart. I cannot wait to go back. I wish I could have seen it before the war, when it was a cosmopolitan world capitol. Now, it is a different place — but it still has an ineffable magic.
Americans will tell you Paris is gross, dirty, and doesn’t live up to the hype. I showed up with these expectations in mind, and was absolutely blown away. One of the world’s great cities, Paris is almost painfully romantic. It deserves every ounce of its reputation.
Boulder, Colorado, USA
Home is home, as they say. In all my travels, I have never found a place quite like Boulder. The closest I have ever come is Bozeman, Montana, which you will also find on this list. Boulder offers an amazing mix of old hippies, ambitious young people, college students, and outdoors-loving dirtbags. All nestled at the base of some world-class rock climbing, and only a few hours away from great skiing. For the outdoors-lover, there’s no better place to be. If you can afford it.
It’s all about the food. Taipei is the most gastronomically-appealing city I’ve ever been to. The street food scene is astonishing, and the people here are friendlier to Westerners than in mainland China (and certainly more likely to speak English!)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Digital-nomad nirvana, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second-largest city, and a magnet for backpackers and digital nomads alike. The people are friendly, the city has a hip attitude which permeates everything, and prices for food and accommodation are cheap. What’s not to like?
Barcelona, Spain (Catalonia)
I found myself in Barca for three days at the tail end of my 2-month trip around the Balkans. The Balkans are grey, drab, and generally less-than-cheery. So Barcelona, with its palm trees and sunny, Mediterranean climate, felt like my personal Garden of Eden.
Bozeman, Montana, USA
Bozeman’s similar to Boulder: a Western university town, with a good, quiet community and great access to the outdoors. I could see myself moving here some day.
Pokhara itself isn’t that great, but I couldn’t leave Nepal unrepresented on this list. And I certainly wasn’t going to be putting Kathmandu on here. Pokhara’s a nice chilled-out town near the Annapurna Range. There’s a good two-mile long tourist stretch along the lakeside, but if that’s not for you, the rest of the city is pretty local. And the treks in the Annapurna area make for great stories 😉
Tagaga initially struck me as a gross, dangerous place. It certainly isn’t pretty, as a German woman warned me in Medellin. The Lonely Planet description of Taganga is more likely to scare you off than draw you in. But I had a great time here, in this tiny fisherman’s village just outside of Santa Marta. I spent three weeks here. When I think of Colombia, I will think of Taganga.
A very cool city, besides the eye-wateringly high prices for everything. The aesthetic, vibe, and attitude of the people here was great. I wish I had both a little more money and a little more time to explore this intriguing place. I think it would be an awesome place to study abroad, for example. A week’s vacation just doesn’t cut it.
A cool little town by the bay. A relaxing spot, there’s not a lot to do here, especially if you visit in the off-season like we did. Nonetheless, something about this place was still special. I messaged my travel partner months after we parted ways, telling him I missed him. “You’re telling me,” he said, writing from back home. “I think about Kotor a lot.” That should tell you something.
I’ll be honest: I was a little nervous going into Albania. I had absolutely no idea what to expect in this country. Mostly, we had to pass through here on our way to Greece. We were initially planning on just spending one night in Tirana, more of a stop-over than a visit. But after seeing the city, we decided to stay two extra nights. And if I had the chance to go back, I’d spend a lot more time in Albania. It’s a fascinating place, just beginning to emerge from a long period of darkness.
Another digital nomad hotspot, emerging from a long period of darkness, Medellin is beautiful and cosmopolitan — but it didn’t really steal my heart the way I thought it might. It didn’t help that I was there during the rainy season (April-May). I did find an awesome hostel while I was there though.
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Another city I wished I had more time in. I only got a one night in Nashville — but the vibe was awesome, both in the hipster neighborhood where we stayed with some friends, and in the famous, honky-tonkin’ downtown. Would definitely love to go back.
I had one of the greatest party nights of my life here. That alone earns it a spot on this list. No photos, since we were advised to leave anything we couldn’t part with in San Diego. Which was probably good advice. I’ve got some great memories — the ones the alcohol and shame haven’t obliterated, anyways.
Singapore earns a spot just for their airport. Singapore Changi Airport is the nicest airport in the world — everyone agrees. If you need to layover in this region of the world, try and do so at Changi. The Hawker Centers are also an amazing spot for diverse, cheap food in the city. If you’re a luxury traveler, staying at the Marina Bay Sands is a pretty swell experience, too.
I don’t have great memories of Hong Kong, for obvious reasons, but it’s the only city I’ve ever been to that felt like it rivaled New York in scale. I’m sure there’s so much to this metropolis. I just didn’t have the opportunity to really explore it. Earns a spot for potential.
My climbing partner Shawn lives in Budapest (read his thoughts on being an expat in Hungary). I went out to visit him for a month, with grand ambitions of climbing our way across Europe. We never left the country — and rarely left the city. Budapest is a cosmopolitan enclave in an insular, dark country. There’s lots to see, the architecture is beautiful, and the low, low Eastern European prices are always nice — especially when drinking at one of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs. $1 for a draft beer is always welcome — as is 200 Forint for a great slice of pizza.
Guatape is very much a tourist town, famous for “El Penon” (the rock) which rises high above the town and provides a killer view from the summit (pictured above). El Penon is worth a visit, as is the extremely colorful city center, but the reason I like this town so much is entirely due to the hostel I stayed at. A thirty-minute walk from town, Casa Kayam Artist Residency is the coolest place I stayed in Colombia. Full of Argentineans and other hippie types, located on a huge plot of land, this place is awesome. I would have stayed here for weeks and done nothing but write, if I wasn’t chasing a girl back in Medellin 😋
To Wrap Up
That’s my totally arbitrary list of my 20 favorite cities in the world! That said, I haven’t visited near enough! What are your favorite cities? Tell me in the comments, and I’ll make sure to try and get there at some point on my travels!