Top 10 cities

1. Paris, France

The city of light has proven time and time again its ability to shine brightly in the face of all else. Resilient, defiant and endlessly romantic, regardless of the number of tourists that pour into the city each year, Paris never loses its charm.

No matter how many times you visit, Europe’s dynamic capital of style, intellectualism, arts and culture offers something new at every turn. Venture down an unassuming backstreet and you’ll stumble upon a one-of-a-kind boutique; head east to find speciality coffee shops and hip bars; tour the city’s galleries for world debuts of the latest exhibitions; or simply wander the streets to feel like the flâneurs of old.

Visitor numbers have dipped in the wake of the 2015 attacks, making the tourism industry more crucial than ever to supporting the city and the values of freedom and expression it has always championed.

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2. Isfahan, Iran

Tourism to Iran is steadily on the rise as sanctions continue to lift. The country has so much to offer, from camel-back journeys along the Silk Road’s desert dunes to skiing in the Alborz Mountains, but the city of Isfahan remains the jewel in the country’s crown.

The splendour of centuries spent as the former capital of the Persian Empire has not faded, and you’ll find some of the Middle East’s most beautiful architecture here. Marvelling at the masterfully-designed Imam Mosque, strolling the gardens of majestic Imam Square and treasure-hunting beneath the awe-inspiring arches of one of the world’s oldest and largest bazaars should be top of any itinerary. Yet the highlight for most visitors will be the incredible warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people.

Note that travel restrictions do still apply: some nationalities must be accompanied by a guide and local rules of dress must be followed.

3. Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi, East Africa’s youngest, fastest-growing metropolis and the beating heart of the continent’s largest economy, has for too long been overlooked. En route to Kenya’s national parks and palm-fringed beaches, most visitors only make forays into the city for the traditional art markets, coffee stores and museums.

Make time to explore further and you’ll find a dynamic urban landscape with cool restaurants, groundbreaking art projects and a burgeoning fashion scene (be sure to dig around the cluttered thrift markets as well as the latest boutiques).

Style blogs, artist collectives and innovative young designers are challenging the often narrow expectations of what African art and culture are supposed to look like. Skip Nairobi now and you’re missing out, big time.

4. Bristol, England

The most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England. – John Betjeman, former British Poet Laureate

Bristol stands as a shining example of one of the UK’s most forward-thinking, innovative and dynamic small cities.

An economy once built upon the traffic of rum, tobacco and slaves has ebbed, though the old mansions remain perched high in the hills above the city. Today, it’s the creative and tech industries that propel this city towards the future. Retired factories house design-minded craftsmen, independent publishing houses and new wave magazines; nightlife is fuelled by a diverse but first-rate music scene; and the city is adorned with incredible street art (Bristol is the home of famous graffiti artist Banksy after all).

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Yet amid all the hubbub, the appeal of classic landmarks like the tree-lined River Avon and the Clifton Suspension Bridge never wanes, and there are still enough charming old pubs to keep everybody happy.

5. Antwerp, Belgium

Although not as populous as nearby Brussels, Belgium’s beautiful second city is arguably the country’s cultural hub – and still large enough to offer all the excitement of a big metropolis.

Antwerp has long been a source of Flemish pride, home to one of the world’s largest ports dating back to the middle ages. Today you can trace the city’s history through gorgeous Gothic and Renaissance architecture, fantastic museums and bars serving some of Europe’s most storied beers.

It has carved out a place as one of the world’s fashion capitals, thanks in no small part to the famously avant-garde designers known as the Antwerp Six. Creatives continue to gravitate here, bringing with them a superb café scene, design boutiques, art spaces, frequent pop-up events and absolutely wild nightlife, especially in the south of the city.

Pixabay / CC0 Image by Darren Sweeney on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. Medellín, Colombia

Few cities have managed to turn themselves around so successfully as Medellín. Once dubbed the “most dangerous city on Earth”, headquarters of the notorious Escobar cartel, Medellín has now become one of the most exciting destinations in Colombia.

Today the city is a welcoming, modern place, where you’ll find delicious food, buzzing bars and a lively club scene. Though tourism surrounding the history of fallen drug lord Pablo Escobar is still a morbid must, great coffee in a peaceful pueblo, paragliding in the mountains on the city’s outskirts and getting to know locals in one of Medellín’s many attractive parks hold much greater appeal.

Year-round temperatures averaging 24°C and the still-low international tourist numbers are all the more reason to come.

7. Atlanta, USA

When it comes to the American South, sprawling Atlanta is too often overlooked. Yet in the last few years this dynamic, tremendously progressive and famously artistic city has blossomed.

Regeneration initiatives are breathing new life into the once little-visited city centre. The BeltLine trail has connected neighbourhoods once only accessible by car, while Ponce City Market has transformed the derelict Sears, Roebuck & Co. building into a foodie utopia.

Atlanta? I think it's the greatest city anywhere I know of. – Ivan Allen, former Mayor of Atlanta

Elsewhere, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in the country, serving everything from reinvented Southern cuisine to down ‘n’ dirty barbecue.

If you’re more into rhythm than ribs, Atlanta is home to a seemingly limitless run of chart-topping, influential artists; musically, the city forms the third component of America’s hip-hop holy trinity along with New York and LA.

This is also a year to reflect on the city’s history – Atlanta is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, and was the first city to ever elect a black Mayor – at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

8. Osaka, Japan

Often cast into shadow by Tokyo’s frenetic neon lights, Osaka has gone to great lengths to create international tourist appeal. But the truth is that Osaka has always been worth a visit; it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in Japanese city life outside the crush of the capital.

Attractions like the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, taiko drumming classes and the much-loved Instant Ramen Museum are heaps of fun, if admittedly a little over-the-top.

For something more low-key, try chowing down at street food stalls or at any of the old-school izakaya along seventeenth-century Hozenji Yokocho Alley, a favourite drag of Osaka celebrities. You’ll find the locals are warm, welcoming and happy to mingle before launching into the city’s sake-fuelled nightlife and superb music scene.

When it’s time to recover head to Ōsaka castle, one of the most enduring images of old Japan. In spring, when blossoming cherry trees send pink petals fluttering in the breeze, it’s quite possible to think you’ve been swept back to a bygone era.

9. Guadalajara, Mexico

Mexico’s second-largest city strikes a stark contrast to the country’s capital. With clear, smog-free skies, peaceful colonial plazas, tree-lined boulevards and a general lack of traffic jams, it’s safe to say that the citizens of Guadalajara enjoy a more relaxed pace of urban life.

Don’t think that makes the city any less exciting. While steeped in tradition – it’s the beloved birthplace of mariachi and tequila – Guadalajara is also a vibrant, forward-thinking metropolis. Home to an annual International Film Festival and International Book Fair, the city was recently dubbed “the Latin Silicon Valley” for its groundbreaking innovations.

Cheap rents and a wealth of glorious Art Deco architecture have drawn creatives here from around the world, resulting in a range of cool galleries, shops, architecture firms, restaurants and bars. Take a peek at hotspots like Hueso, Alcalde, Curro y Poncho and Travesía Cuatro for a taste of the latest talent. And all this unfolds with quintessentially Mexican colour and flair – and the added bonus of tequila tours to Jalisco’s scenic distilleries just beyond the city limits.

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10. Palma, Mallorca

Mallorca has garnered an unfortunate reputation for tacky high-rise hedonism – but Palma is a different story. This warm, lively city is home to more than half the island’s population, and is an entirely separate entity from the tourist enclaves in the surrounding azure bay.

Still blessed with the island’s wonderful weather, Palma also boasts jaw-dropping architecture, ranging from Gothic to Gaudí, but the highlight is undoubtedly the flourishing food scene. You’ll find no shortage of family-run restaurants serving paella, tumbet and colourful platters of fresh Mallorcan bread with locally farmed tomatoes, olives, cured meats and cheeses.

New foodie-centric establishments like San Juan Gastronomic Market are a testament to the city’s exciting culinary evolution.

This good-looking space hosts seventeen unique food stalls, a gourmet cocktail bar, a café and a huge public kitchen for cooking courses and other year-round social events.

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