My dear friend Lauren, who runs the lovely blog, Writes with Wolves, recently asked me for my ten favorite cities. And I realized with some surprise that I had never really thought about it before. How was that possible? I had to soul-search a bit, but when I put my brain to it, the list pretty much wrote itself. I guess that’s the thing with love, isn’t it? When you know, you know!
My Ten Favorite Cities
Okay, here we go, my list of ten favorite cities, in a loose order of love and preference…
You know, I wrote this list of my ten favorite cities, and while I was uploading photos for the post, realized I’d completely forgotten Vienna. What is wrong with me? Lovely Vienna! There are so many incredible museums (you cannot miss the Museum of Military History—I know it might sound boring to most of you, but truly, don’t miss it). There is so much amazing coffee (don’t you dare stop at that Starbucks!). There’s great food, and history, and beautiful city blocks… it’s just a treat. I can’t believe I forgot her. Tut mir leid, liebes Wien!
Beautiful Barcelona is chock-full of whimsy. Colorful, warm, and vibrant, it’s the perfect pick-me-up location. We loved taking in the view of the city from Parc Güell, wandering the leafy boulevards in search of the perfect pintxos, and soaking up the sublime light at Sagrada Familia. When the Spanish sun gets too hot, you can hit the beach or splurge on a rooftop pool pass. Between the amazing food, vibrant nightlife, and great weather, Barcelona makes my list of ten favorite cities very easily.
I spent about a quarter of 2021 in Zürich—traveling there for work every few weeks throughout the year. And while it’s not hard to fall in love with a place when your company is picking up the tab, Zürich won me over with its easy Swiss charm. As cities go, it’s fairly small and cozy. It’s easy to find new favorites; I found it quick to orient and establish myself. When we think of Switzerland, we often think of mountains and bankers. But Zürich surprised me with how off-beat she can be. Funky beer gardens, party bars lining the Limmat river, independent bookstores left and right. Dear Züri gave me a great time, and in exchange, stole my heart.
Copenhagen will always have a soft spot in my heart, as it was the first place I ever traveled to completely alone. Having been there since that first solo trip with both friends and my love, I can say it ticks the boxes for all kinds of getaways. Its beautiful art, architecture, and people (those Danish daddies!) always give me a welcome infusion of inspirational Scandinavian chicness. Don’t miss the Louisiana Museum—it’s outside the city, but well worth the day trip, not only for the art, but for it’s position on the Danish coast. Also, don’t miss the 711 pizza. I’m not joking. That alone would get this city ranked among my ten favorite cities.
Forget Paris, Rome is always a good idea. My first visit to Rome was a weekender with Tim in February 2020—the exact weekend that the Coronavirus hit Italy. Luckily it didn’t make it to Rome until Friday (our flight was among the last allowed out before the completely quarantined first the region, then the country). That gave us three blissful days to fall completely in love with the Italian capital. The food is stunning (this city is the home of pasta carbonara, cacio e pepe, AND amatriciana… you can’t go wrong!). The ruins, breathtaking. Catholic or not, don’t miss touring the Vatican and papal gardens. But mostly, just wander. Get good and lost and then stop for a gelato. Or glass of wine. Or both. When in Rome!
6. Cape Town
Few cities have given me as much energy as Cape Town does. I’ve been there once with Tim on holliday (we spent Christmas in South Africa, and it was a fantastic idea), and once on a work shoot. Both times the city was thrumming with life. The coastline, Table Mountain, and the botanical gardens are all spectacular. But what I really love about Cape Town is that it challenges you with its history. While the history books tell us apartheid is over, there is still a lot of racial and class disparity. Feeling uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing—and Cape Town gives me a dose of that, while also reminding me of the sheer vibrancy and resilience of South Africans and their blend of cultures.
Possibly the cleanest city on the list (well, Zürich does have cleaners who scrub down the public trashcans, so is that really true?), Singapore makes my list not only for its maintenance, but for it’s mixing. East and west, old and new, tech and nature, Singapore is a feast for the senses. Scrumptious street food from one-man (or woman) tin carts sit at the feet of incredible skyscrapers—literal feats of engineering. There’s a robust nightlife scene, but you can just as easily take a short train ride away is the southernmost tip of Asia, located in on Sentosa Island. I’d be surprised if this lovely Asian gem doesn’t end up on your list of ten favorite cities, too!
Hulking and moody, Edinburgh rises out of the mist like from a movie. I’ve visited Edinburgh in both fall and spring, and both are prime times to explore this gorgeous, grand dame of a city. In fall, definitely visit for Halloween, where Samhain is celebrated with flaming torches and pagan revelry. In spring, the gardens around Edinburgh castle, and the hike along Arthur’s Seat, all bloom in wild purples and yellows, softening the city’s rough stone. I loved learning about the history of tartans at the Tartan Weaving Mill, and spent way too much money on plaids by the end of it. I also highly recommend eating the haggis (surprisingly delicious) and drinking as much whisky as possible.
3. Rio de Janeiro
The third of my ten favorite cities? Breezy Rio de Janeiro! I was lucky to be shown around Rio by one of my best friends, who is Brazilian. Partying in the Lapa, tanning at Ipanema, touring the botanical garden, and eating as much pão de queijo as humanly possible—what’s not to love? Similar to Cape Town, Rio is a city whose beauty glimmers with danger and decay. It’s natural beauty (and it is stunning) sits at odds with its extreme poverty. I love that tension, and think it’s worth experiencing it while you soak up the sun, beer, and beautiful Brazilians at the same time.
Sweeney Todd sings—There’s no place like London! And that’s just it. Edgy, bustling, bright, crazy, gorgeous. What I love about London is that it’s so terribly old, but also so modern at the same time. Every new year puts its stamp on the city, and every new wave of people put their stamp on its culture. Century-old pubs flooded with immigrant tongues, incredible art and theatre exhibitions. Culture is available to everyone (the museums are literally free!) and everyone belongs to culture. It’s somewhat ironic to me that the place I feel most like I can claim and make my own is famous for having done that to so many other countries… but maybe this is the ultimate post-colonial revenge? Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of this city’s gritty magic.
1. San Francisco
And topping the list of my ten favorite cities… my very first love, San Francisco, has changed enormously since I first fell in love with her back in the 90s. But beneath the start-up jargon and behind the new skyscrapers is still the old bohemian beauty who captured my heart. I can think of nothing better than powering up the hills with a coffee in hand and the California sun beating strong on my face, watching people, parrots, and the views. You can eat, you can drink, you can party—you can hike, you can look at amazing art, you can shop. It’s everything all wrapped into one comprehensive 7x7m package. The perfect treasure to unbox.