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List! Our Favourite Cities in the World

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Currently enjoying our time in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the great cities in the world, we found ourselves thinking about which cities really ARE our favourites. Cities aren’t always are thing, if I’m being honest, and if you follow Routinely Nomadic on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve kind of gotten more into the whole hiking thing. You know, all those photos of Laynni walking away down a path with some mountain or other in the background. My personal photographic specialty.

However, it’s not like we don’t also fall for the charms of a big city now and then, too. Cool architecture, people everywhere, restaurant options limited only by our (admittedly also limited) imagination. Predictable electricity, fast wifi and flushable toilet paper (usually). Cultural events and drinkable tap water (sometimes). Top-notch milkshakes (now and then).

Classic old street covered in street art

So, while we have enjoyed far more cities than we can discuss in a single post, sitting in Cape Town basking in the glow of one of our newest favourites feels like the perfect time to highlight some of our favourite cities around the world. We have divided them up into some handy categories to give a better idea of how we feel about them, and because in some cases we aren’t actually even sure why we like them.

Now, obviously, these lists are very subjective and could theoretically change from day to day, depending on how I slept that night, how many Spanish churches I’ve recently walked past or how badly I am currently craving some Thai noodles. So just because your favourite city isn’t mentioned, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a great place to get gleefully lost or wander a gritty old neighbourhood solemnly pretending to understand the symbolism of some clever street art. It just means that your favourite city sucks compared to these ones.

Unquestionable Favourites

Ok, we’ll start with the best of the best. These are the cities that both of us love, would go back to any time and would happily choose for a long stay. These are all places that, if we happen to be in the area, we will definitely make time for another visit.

Istanbul

Boats on the Golden Horn with Karakoy in the background

The Crossroad of Europe and Asia, Home of the Ottoman Empire, etc. Realistically, we don’t actually care much about that stuff. Istanbul just has that certain… SOMETHING… that is hard to pin down or describe. Just the perfect combination of scenery, people, food, prices, bridges, weather and pointy buildings. Or maybe we just like the kebabs.

Check out: Reasons to Stay in Karakoy Istanbul

Paris

Eiffel Tower from Jardins du Trocadero in Paris

Arguably the most famously beautiful city in the world. Which is a hard label to live up to. Paris gives it a good try, though, even if it is taking them the best part of a decade to fix Notre Dame (apparently even 300 mil can’t get those French construction dudes to rush the job). It isn’t just the famous landmarks, though, Paris just has a feel to it that we enjoy. Not in an “amor” kind of way, though, more “I like how wide this sidewalk is” kind of way.

Check out: 24 Hours in Paris

Buenos Aires

Every neighbourhood in Buenos Aires feels like a completely different city. Different architecture, different food, a different class of black-market money changer. Of all the places on this list, I think I could most easily picture myself living in Buenos Aires, just moving from area to area as my mood changes. Feeling adventurous: La Boca. Craving a leafy suburb: Recoleta. Looking for a sordid, anonymous tryst in the bushes: Madero.

Check out: Lest the Streets be Paved with Dulce de Leche

Lisbon

Lisbon is historic and confusing and hilly and cheap and scenic and it has this amazing tart thing that tastes like euphoria and I like their old trams and the graffiti is cool and the ocean is, like, right there. It would be practically perfect if I could just properly pronounce a single word of Portuguese.

Check out: Reporting from Portugal

Cape Town

Rocky Camps Bay Beach in front of Twelve Apostles mountain range

Ever since we started travelling we have had ONE rule that we never break. Nope, not the one about using leaves as toilet paper. Sometimes needs must, you know? And, no, it has nothing to do with trying to make cab drivers laugh even when you don’t share a language. Although maybe it should.

No, the rule I’m talking about is:

Places don’t get called “the best” until well after the visit is over.

Recency bias and all that. We’ve found that we really need the benefit of hindsight and perspective – preferably several months and multiple additional destinations worth – before we truly understand our feelings about a place.

But I’m going to say to hell with that rule in this case because, let’s face it, Cape Town is pretty GD awesome.

Check out: Routinely Nomadic on Instagram

Tough to Explain – They Just Have Something That Sucks Us In

These are the cities we love, even though when we try to explain it to someone else the whole thing quickly starts to sound fake and desperate. “Oh, you really love the way Koh San Road stinks, do you? Although that does sound just pretentious enough to be real.”

Bangkok

Of course it’s dirty. Of course it’s a mess. Of course there are people there doing things they shouldn’t be doing. But it’s a fun place. For up to 3 days, at which point we start coughing up tuk-tuk grease and it is time to head back to the islands.

Check out: Pit Stop Bangkok

Hanoi

Scooter and walkers on a street in the Hanoi Old Quarter

Hectic, fascinating, confusing, welcoming, gross, beautiful, aggravating, cheap and loud, so damn loud. We literally don’t understand why we like it. But we really like it.

Check out: The Best Hanoi Photo Spots

Mazatlan

Colourful colonial buildings in Old Town Mazatlan

“So tell me again, what is so great about Mazatlán compared to all those more popular Mexican beach towns?”

“Well, it has a really long beach, a colourful old town, a nice malecón. Yeah, I guess they all have those. Great tacos! Ok, not that unique, either, I suppose. There’s this one hill you can climb… You know what, screw you, we can like it if we want.”

Check out: Mexico Group All-Inclusive: A Survival Guide

Incredibly Scenic but a Week is Probably Long Enough

Every photo stream should experience these cities at least once in their digital lives.

Venice

Bridge in Cannaregio Venice

We could wander Venice for hours, never know where we are or where we’re going, and not care at all. In fact, we have. But it’s also fun even when you’re NOT hopelessly lost.

Ronda

View of bridge from a gate

Puente Nuevo means “New Bridge”, which is a pretty misleading name these days, considering it is now (checks notes) 285 years old. But it is also pretty as hell, from just about everywhere in town.

Edinburgh

The Royal Mile is probably already fielding sponsorship offers to change the “royal” to something at least slightly less offensive, like maybe the Philip Morris Mile or FIFA Kilometre, but it’s still worth spending a few hundred photos on.

Fez

Getting lost in the medina in Fez is like stepping back in time. In a good way, I mean. Exotic carpets, colourful spice pyramids, medieval candelabras, desiccated sheep heads, oranges, stuff like that. And a lot of donkeys. A LOT. Probably more than you’re thinking right now.

Bruges

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?” – Ken, In Bruges

Honourable Mention: Nice, Just Not Nice ENOUGH

All these cities are quite pleasant, very enjoyable, perfectly nice places. And that’s fine. Not every place can be the best. Sometimes being next best is fine, too. McDavid knows what I’m talking about.

London

Red double-decker bus, Big Ben and Westminster in London

I have a lot of fun in London. Laynni has SOME fun, just not as MUCH fun. It might be an Arsenal thing.

Copenhagen

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

Lovely, really lovely. Plus, everybody rides bikes. It’s like travelling from Saskatoon to the future.

Mexico City

Chaotic, impressive, “bustling”, always fascinating. So many great taco places. And just the right amount of dangerous? I don’t know for sure, but we could always ask one of the many armed policía.

Sydney

A wonderful location, incredible scenery, some truly memorable attractions. Maybe a just a few too many Aussies. For some people, I mean. Personally, I’m fine with them. Mate.

Victoria

The Canadian one. It is a very pretty place. Lots of history (by Canadian standards, at least). Diverse cultures. Loads of beautiful natural areas. The best weather in Canada. Except for that one glorious day every July when Saskatoon shines.

Prague

If Prague had about 50% fewer tourists stumbling around (far too many of whom insist on calling it Praha) it might have made the elite list. The utilitarian beer halls alone almost got it there. But, my goodness, it has gotten popular.

Ljubljana

Triple Bridge in Ljubljana

Judged solely on the 6-block radius around Triple Bridge, Ljubljana is right up there with the best cities in Europe. However, that is about the extent of the place from a tourist perspective, so a short visit is fun. And plenty.

Impressive but We Just Don’t Love Them as Much as Most People

These cities are all quite famous, and for good reason. They are intriguing, exciting and full of things tourists love, like famous buildings, famous streets, famous plazas. But, shockingly, all that crazy fame has also made them quite popular with the masses (i.e. us). Bottom line: all are bucket list destinations that every avid traveller should check out. But now that we have, we no longer go out of our way to return, if you know what I mean.

Barcelona

A truly beautiful city. Shame about all those people.

Rome

I get that your most impressive attractions are all, like, thousands of years old. So “old and crumbling” is kind of your thing. But would it kill you to break out a broom every now and then?

Cartagena

I have to say, I am a sucker for a long walk atop an historic stone wall. However, it turns out that is not a sustainable daily plan when you’re there for a month.

New York

At this point, we’ve seen so many movies and TV shows set in New York that walking around it feels like being at Universal Studios or something. But without the animatronic Jaws. So, not quite as good, is what I’m saying.

Tokyo

Couple dressed as Pikachu forming a heart while driving Monkey Kart go-karts

A very, very cool place. So much weird stuff to do, so much weird stuff to see. But even weird has its limits.

Embarrassing but True

It is possible for a place to be objectively objectionable, yet still a lot of fun.

Las Vegas

If there is one thing you have to admit about Vegas, it’s that they don’t harbour any delusions of morality, principles or values. The Cradle of Capitalism just wants your money. And they make it a lot of damn fun to hand over.

Failed the Return Visit Test

It hasn’t happened often but it is always disappointing when you try to recreate a fond visit and just end up whimpering about the long lines and sky-rocketed prices while repeatedly getting bullied out of narrow alleys by exuberant tour groups.

Dubrovnik

The Walls of Dubrovnik
Walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Which is exactly what happened when we went back to Dubrovnik. Although, on the plus side, all the shops now stock an impressive selection of rubber GOT dragons, so maybe it’s a wash.

Unique and Memorable but Kind of Awful

The types of places that will stick in your mind forever, just not always in the spots you’d like.

Kathmandu

Thamel, Kathmandu

What a shitshow. Seriously. Yet, somehow, we’re always kind of excited to arrive, mainly because it means we’re only days away from trekking in the Himalayas. Which is, typically, good fun. But fighting your way even a few blocks through the crowded alleys of Kathmandu can take even longer than it takes me to get my traditional Kathmandu Flu, both of which are, typically, not fun.

Cairo

Insane traffic, relentless hassle, too many feral cats by half, and what is that smell, anyway? Those pyramids will do, though.

Delhi

Insane traffic, relentless hassle, too many holy cows by half, and what is that smell, anyway? Those palaces will do, though.

Ulaan Baatar

Just a strange, strange place. Not only do they call Genghis Khan “Chinggis Khan”, but they feel the need to honour him on every street sign, statue, building and kebab shop in town. At least we weren’t there in winter when, apparently, “the sky turns black with coal smoke”. Delightful.

Los Angeles

I didn’t think it was possible to design a city that is so spread out yet still paralyzed by gridlock the whole way through. But it’s a big place, I get it, and I could probably get past that eventually. But there’s no getting past the nickname “La La Land”. Not for me.

Straight Out Shitty

Some places just weren’t put on this Earth for our enjoyment. Some literally make the world a worse place.

Surabaya

I’ve been holding this grudge for 24 years now. I don’t care if your creepy Indonesian mall did have a completely nonsensical snowmobile display, I still don’t like you.

Summary

Well, that wasn’t exactly scientific, was it? However, it went perfectly with the weird mood I was in, so think of it a little like therapy. Therapy for me, not you, the kind where you are forced to listen to my chaotic inner monologue, but without getting paid for it. Ouch.

Funny about LA, though, right?

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