The 20 Best Cities to Visit Before You Die

Grab a tailored suit in Hong Kong and nosh on the decadent cuisine in Barcelona. The world is yours.

The 20 Best Cities to Visit Before You Die

Grab a tailored suit in Hong Kong and nosh on the decadent cuisine in Barcelona. The world is yours.

When you’re breathing your last, you want to be able to rest easily in the knowledge that eaten several animals that you couldn’t hope to identify, missed a connection to a city with a name you couldn’t spell, paid for a lavish meal with less money that you could expect to find in the back of your sofa, used a squat toilet, and pretended to be Canadian. As convenient as it may be, you just can’t get all that done at Sandals. So put those air miles to use and hit up as many far-flung destinations as you can. Here are the 20 best cities to open your eyes, give you a chance to flex your problem-solving and people skills, and engender a feeling of oneness with your fellow humans. What are you waiting for? Read on, then start checking off these 50 Things to do Before You Die!

Sydney best cities

1
Sydney

The capital of New South Wales is Australia’s largest city. You’ll know it for its harborfront Opera House, with a distinctive sail-like design and one of the world’s most famous beaches: Bondi. But it’s also a vibrant and ethnically diverse place that truly deserves its place among the world’s most dynamic cities to live in or visit. Although there are a few other cities on this list that are surrounded by water, Sydney’s waters are probably the only ones you’d want to dive into unthinkingly. Massive Darling Harbor and Circular Quay are hubs of waterside life in the city, with the towering, arched Harbor Bridge and esteemed Royal Botanic Gardens nearby. Sydney Tower’s 268-meter glass viewing platform, the Skywalk, offers 360-degree views of the city, harbor, and suburbs.

Vancouver

2
Vancouver

This city, just a few clicks north of the U.S. border, possesses a beauty that rightly causes people to gasp when they first see it. The steel-and-glass downtown core of has a perimeter of sandy beaches and a thickly forested provincial park. Marinas abound along the inlets and fjords that encircle the city, which is flanked by majestic mountains to the city’s north: a physical barrier which has limited significant human settlement of much British Columbia’s 25,000-mile coastline. While many Vancouverites make the most of the easily accessible great outdoors, the city has an impressive number and variety of bars, restaurants, clubs and sports venues. It’s no wonder that it frequently tops lists of the best cities in the world to live. Why not make it a road trip, in one of these 14 Sports Cars to Buy Now?

Rome

3
Rome

For more than six centuries, this city had an iron-clad claim to being the center of the western world. Italy’s capital, Rome is a sprawling cosmopolitan place that boasts nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture, and culture. It also has the unique claim of being founded by two orphaned brothers who were suckled by a she-wolf. So there’s that.

Ancient ruins such as the Roman Forum and the Colosseum evoke the power of the former Roman Empire while the current power of the Catholic church is represented by Vatican City, where you can check out St. Peter’s Basilica, the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. Once you’ve had your fill of history and culture, enjoy teetering in and out of the cities innumerable chic bars and eateries.

New York best cities

4
New York

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” So said John Updike, and it’s easy to see why many other denizens of North America’s most populous city would be inclined to agree. Simply put, this town has all the action you could ever want and an energy that any visitor can plug into to power their visit. Eclectic neighborhoods, fantastic food from around the world, incredible nightlife and the inescapable feeling that you’re at the center of the world — or at the very least, somehow starring in a frenetic scene in the movie of your life. Taking more trips is one of 40 Things to do in Your 40s — make this one.

Rio de Janeiro

5
Rio de Janeiro

Overlooked by the imposing Christ the Redeemer and stretching between rainforests and beaches frequented by offensively beautiful people, Rio is one of the most readily identifiable cities in the world. It’s a vibrant and youthful city fueled by an inexhaustible energy that can be experienced on its sands, in its restaurants and in its nightlife. Carnaval is its most famous yearly spectacle and takes place in February, but an atmosphere of sexy revelry goes on year-round.

Cartagena

6
Cartagena

A South American HQ of the Spanish Inquisition — surrounded by 13 miles of colonial stone walls and riven with narrow cobbled streets, palmed squares and lively terraced bars and restaurants — Cartagena de Indias on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has a fairy-tale quality that has to be experienced. While the old town is bustling, quaint and European-feeling, Bocagrande feels like a mini-Miami beach and, if it’s perfect beaches you’re looking for, you needn’t go far. The arresting Playa Blanca is just a short ferry ride away.

Paris best cities

7
Paris

Like London or New York, Paris is a city of contrasts but the City of Lights is just that much more … romantique. In fact, it’s virtually impossible not to get caught up in the romance of a visit to Paris. Exploring Montmartre, wandering around the Left Bank by the Seine … it’s easy to see why this city of innumerable delights and surprises is one of the premier honeymoon and getaway locations in the world. Paris is also easy to travel around by subway, and it’s one of the best cities for accessibility in Europe. For more tips on how to keep the romance alive, check out these Secrets of the Best Relationships!

London

8
London

While human settlement of the London area stretches back millennia, it was the Romans who gave the place its initial cosmopolitan swing shortly after they invaded Britain in AD 43. It’s a sprawling city of over 8 million souls, covering 609 square miles, and each area has a distinct look and feel informed by the ethnic group that chose to call it home. If you can navigate the high prices and famously damp and changeable climate, you’ll find London one of the best cities for unforgettable experiences.

Berlin best cities

9
Berlin

The German capital has long been always been a mecca for creative types from across Europe and beyond, but when World War Two ended, the city’s bohemian draw became exponentially greater. That’s partly because West Berliners were exempt from the military service that all other Germans had to perform. This exemption drew social activists, pacifists and anarchists, while musicians and artists received state subsidies to support their projects causing droves to arrive in the western portion of the divided city. The legacy of Berlin being a honey pot for creative Germans is that the city is liberal, laid-back and, compared to most other Western European capitals, particularly affordable. And traveling smart is just one of the 25 Things Rich People Always Do!

Marrakech

10
Marrakech

Ready to feel like Indiana Jones? You can be in Marrakech as easily as you can be in Paris or Berlin. The former imperial city is a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The medina — which possess more atmosphere — is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire with labyrinthine alleys where thriving marketplaces, called souks, sell traditional textiles, pottery and jewelry. Food vendors line Djemaa el-Fna, a broad square where storytellers and musicians perform.

Amsterdam best cities

11
Amsterdam

Cultural ambassadors of the Netherlands will tell you that their low-slung city is known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled facades, legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. They’ll tell you about the city’s 400km of cycle paths and how cycling has informed Amsterdam’s character. All of it’s absolutely true. But when someone says Amsterdam, it’s admittedly difficult not to automatically think about the city’s laissez-faire attitude towards things that remain illegal elsewhere. Your best bet for a successful Amsterdam trip is to enjoy your pot and your culture in responsible doses. To make your travel planning a breeze, follow these Top Tips for Booking a Luxury Vacation.

Athens best cities

12
Athens

Before there was Rome, there was Athens — the center of Greek civilization for some 4,000 years. Although it’s the capital of modern Greece, Athens is still dominated by 5th-century-BCE landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings such as the colonnaded Parthenon temple. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s also a contemporary city, and it’s not uncommon for the nightlife hubs of Kolonaki, Psiri and Gazi to stay busy until the last plate is smashed at dawn.

Barcelona best cities

13
Barcelona

Defined by quirky art and architecture, imaginative food and vibrant street life, Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. Old-world charm? This town has it in spades. In fact, Barcelona has medieval roots, which can be clearly seen in its labyrinthine Gothic Quarter. However, it has a modernist personality that’s most notably represented by architect Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical Sagrada Família church. The city’s incredible restaurant scene, centered by the central Boqueria market, ranges from lavish fine dining to tiny tapas bars with muchisimo character.

Tokyo

14
Tokyo

Ready to get lost in translation? Perhaps more than any other city on this list, Japan’s capital may by the one to cause your brain to short out from sensory overload. We’re talking neon-lit skyscrapers and anime shops, cherry trees and temples, electronic stores from ten years in the future and the most incredible food you’ve ever eaten — all in a setting than that makes New York City feel like Topeka. Need to take a breath? Head to The Imperial Palace, which sits amid sprawling public gardens. Wanna get back into the mix? Head to the Shibuya and Harajuku districts, the heart of the city’s trendy scene. An unexpected perk: Japan has become one of the Best Beer-Brewing Countries in the World!

Buenos Aires best cities

15
Buenos Aires

Argentina’s large, cosmopolitan capital is known for its European atmosphere, passionate tango, vibrant nightlife and its unofficial religion: futbol. At the city’s center is the 16th-century Plaza de Mayo, lined with stately buildings including Casa Rosada, (the appropriately named “pinkish house”), the iconic, balconied presidential palace. Perhaps the most fun per square mile can be found in Palermo, a vibrant district that’s full of bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants. While many cuisines are on offer in Buenos Aires, be sure to hit up a parilla (grill), where some of the most succulent steak and incredible wine you’ve ever tasted can be enjoyed at prices that beggar belief.

Cape Town best cities

16
Cape Town

This eclectic port city on South Africa’s southwest coast is nestled in the shadows of the imposing Table Mountain, where slowly rotating cable cars climb to the mountain’s flat top. From that vantage, you can catch sweeping views of the vibrant city, the busy harbor and the charming seafront, where you can board a boat whose crew are only to happy to shove you in a cage and plunk you in into Cape Town’s Great White-infested waters. If that’s not your ideal combination of cages and boats, it’s from here that you can board a boat heading for Robben Island in Table Bay. It all makes Cape Town one of the 8 Best New Luxury Vacations!

Hong Kong

17
Hong Kong

Vibrant and densely populated, Hong Kong is a major port and global financial center famed for its tower-studded skyline. The British had the run of the place for 156 years, and although the city reverted to Chinese control in 1997, the Brits certainly left their mark on the city’s architecture, institutions and culture. The city is known for its lively food scene – from Cantonese dim sum to extravagant high tea – and its shopping, with options spanning chaotic Temple Street Night Market to the city’s innumerable bespoke tailors.

Dubai bets cities

18
Dubai

Ever feel like Vegas is too tame or not hot enough? Then Dubai ought to be on your itinerary. This city in the United Arab Emirates is known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene. Like skyscrapers? Burj Khalifa, an 830-meters-tall tower, dominates the skyscraper-filled skyline. At its foot lies Dubai Fountain, with jets and lights choreographed to music. On manmade islands just offshore is Atlantis, the Palm, a resort with water and marine-animal parks. For more exotic travel ideas, check out these Best Exotic Vacations in the World!

Jerusalem best cities

19
Jerusalem

Israel is called the Holy Land because for the world’s three major monotheistic religions, this place is sacred. The most revered area is, of course, Jerusalem, a walled Middle Eastern city west of the Dead Sea that has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims since the Biblical era. The Old City retains significant religious sites concentrated around the Temple Mount compound, including the Western Wall (which is sacred in Judaism) and the Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century Islamic shrine with a gold dome.

Mumbai best cities

20
Mumbai

Formerly called Bombay, Mumbai is a sprawling, densely populated city on the west coast of India. On the Mumbai Harbor waterfront stands the iconic Gateway of India stone arch, built by the British Raj in 1924. Offshore, nearby Elephanta Island holds ancient cave temples dedicated to Shiva, one of the three major deities in Hinduism. The city of almost 12.5 million people is also famous as the heart of the Hindi-language Bollywood film industry.

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