Everyone would like to think that they live in the best city on the planet. No matter where you go, locals will talk about their respective home cities with reverence, citing all of the reasons that theirs is the greatest city in the world. The food, the art, the culture and events that make their home unique, livable, and special.
Table of Contents
The Cultural Capital of the World
The Economic Capital of the World
If we take the personal connection out of it, what in fact makes a city “great”? Beyond the culture, cuisine, music and art scenes of any given city, there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered. Economically speaking, is the city on the rise, with a good gross domestic product, livable wages, and affordable and accessible housing? Is the city safe and easy to navigate? Is the quality of life really that much better than any other city? Using this criteria, here are just a few of the fastest growing, liveable, and culturally exciting cities in the world for you to explore (or even potentially call your home).
Throughout history, there have always been cities that dominated their economic and cultural competition across the world. Whether fostering a society that encourages creativity, or whether it’s thriving economically and investing in cutting edge science and technology, certain cities have always drawn people from all over the globe to experience what they have to offer.
While certain cities can fall from grace, either through a minor exodus of inhabitants or a complete dismantling of their local economy, there will always be another city to take its place among the best. A city’s influence on the world relies on a certain magnetism; its inherent ability to draw in people, money, and business enterprises from around the world. Think of things like livability, economic potential, accessibility, and cultural interaction like small marbles, and cities like bowling balls of different weights. If you put all of these on a bed, the cities will make deep depressions, which pull those smaller “marbles” in close to them. This is essentially how cities grow.
Different cities tend to have different strengths and weaknesses, and comparing them all directly to one another is like comparing apples to oranges. Because of this, when measuring the most important cities in the world, it is easier to break them up into smaller, more manageable categories. This makes it easier to identify if a city is great because it has a fantastic economy, or if it is one of the best cities for artists to flourish in.
The Cultural Capital of the World
Culture is difficult to measure because of the subjective nature of art, music, cuisine, etc. — however, it is not impossible. There are quantifiable ways to look at a city’s cultural impact, whether it be measuring the number of art galleries in operation, or the amount of Michelin stars held by the restaurants in a certain city. In no particular order, these are some of the cities that have the largest cultural influence in the world.
New York City, USA
Though New York City is one of the world’s top economic hubs, it also regularly makes it to the top spots on lists of the world’s most creative cities, and for good reason. Thriving design studios and numerous digital firms make finding a permanent job or engaging in freelance work achievable, making it one of the best places for artists to live. If you’re looking for more art strictly for arts’ sake, New York City still boasts some of the world’s most impressive art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Met Breuer.
New York City does not disappoint on other cultural fronts either. All of the Manhattan neighborhoods have their own unique culinary, music, and art scenes for you to explore. When visiting The Big Apple, you might have trouble convincing yourself that it is anything other than the greatest city in the world.
Cape Town, South Africa
In Cape Town, South Africa, you can’t travel too far without experiencing art in some for or another. Having borne many lauded contemporary artists exhibited both locally and internationally, Cape Town’s art scene is heralded as one of the world’s greatest. Despite, or perhaps because of, South Africa’s violent past, some of the century’s most beautiful and thought-provoking works have been created here.
For a taste of everything that makes Cape Town one of the most important cities in the world artistically, look no further than their absolutely enormous quantity of high-quality art galleries. The SMAC Gallery, Stevenson Gallery, and Christopher Moller Gallery should all sit at the top of your list if you are looking to enjoy some contemporary fine art. If you’re more interested in the raw side of art, Cape Town’s Woodstock area is teeming with beautiful street art murals, from international and local artists alike.
Even if you’ve never been to Hong Kong, you’ve likely seen it represented in Hollywood, as it is a popular backdrop for action and drama films alike. However, don’t let Hong Kong’s film history fool you, as it has one of the world’s most interesting and evolving art scenes. As a city torn between identities, it has forged a unique path of its own, which citizens express through their art, music, and absolutely mind-blowing food scenes. This, combined with the economic prowess of Hong Kong, makes it one of the world’s most influential cities.
Hong Kong is an incredibly easy place to visit, with cheap flights to and from the city, along with a well maintained and planned out public transportation system. Getting around Hong Kong is easy either by subway or your own two feet, as it’s streets are laid out in a no-nonsense grid. Despite this, the architecture is absolutely stunning, and hotels for any budget are readily accessible.
This city from down under packs a serious cultural punch. A thriving music, art, and culinary scene attracts young Australians to Melbourne, and the celebrated creative studios that make their home here provide ample opportunity for employment to the creatively inclined. Due to the year-round mild weather, there is no off season for events and galleries, making it a fantastic place to visit any time.
Because of the climate, Melbourne is home to a truly insane number of festivals celebrating food, art, and music. It’s a fantastic place to party on New Year’s Eve, at the NYE on the Hill festival, and later in the year the city spends an astonishing fifteen days enjoying food and music at the AO Live Stage festival. If you’re looking to be in the thick of the action, Melbourne could be the greatest city in the world.
Berlin is one of the best cities for artists in Europe, and for good reason. A hub of avante-garde art, street food that rivals any brick and mortar establishment, innovative design, and techno music, Berlin has something for anyone with a creative slant. Industrial and charming, it is easy to find beauty in the tree-lined canals here.
Berlin is so artist-friendly, the Neu West Berlin restaurant, club, exhibition space and studio hosts regular events ranging from dinner parties to art shows. Neu West Berlin also offers up a few rooms for resident artists and chefs to live and create in. Like the famous Paris Bar of the 1970’s Berlin art scene, popularized by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Neu West Berlin allows for bartering, accepting art as payment for services.
The Economic Capital of the World
Unlike more nebulous qualities like cultural impact, a city’s economy is clearly defined and an easy way of quickly seeing how well a city is doing. Looking at a city’s GDP can tell you a lot about it, from how much each citizen makes (on average), to how densely collected it’s wealth is based on geography and population. Taking these factors into account, here are five of the world’s top economic powerhouses.
Tokyo tops this category for the simple fact that its GDP simply cannot be beat. At $1.89 billion it is categorically the richest city in the world, and the only city that has a GDP even remotely close to this is New York City. The reason for this prosperity comes from a few different factors. Of the global fortune 500 companies, 51 are found in Tokyo alone.
While the city itself has around 13 million residents, the metropolitan area surrounding Tokyo is home to some 50 million people. While it consistently ranks among the most expensive cities to live in, the earning potential here is astronomical. It is also home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the largest in Asia and one of the most important to the global economy.
Seoul, South Korea
If you want an inspirational story on how quickly a city can rise to global importance, look no further than Seoul, South Korea. As recently as the 1960’s, Seoul’s economy was largely agriculturally based, but has quickly grown to one of the world’s largest economies in 2016. Despite lacking abundant natural resources, Seoul had to rely on business and trade in order to rise to the top of the economic landscape.
Seoul is home to the largest shipyard in the world, run by Hyundai Heavy Industries, a subsidiary of the also formidable automobile manufacturer, Hyundai Motors. Samsung, a massive technology company that has humble beginnings as an exporter of dried fish, is the only real competition to Apple when it comes to smartphones. Despite the controversy surrounding Samsung in recent years, it still remains one of the world’s largest technology exporters.
From humble beginnings as a Roman settlement, London has survived numerous catastrophes and come out on top. Plagues, massive fires, and direct participation in two world wars were not enough to stymie London’s progression into one of the most important cities in the world. While historically, much of London’s wealth and power were acquired through violent imperialism, modern London relies on business and banking for the bulk of its economic prowess.
London is home to the sixth largest stock exchange in the world and is home to a large concentration of high net-worth individuals. Due to Brexit, a good portion of these high net-worth individuals have fled the country for greener pastures. Even with the financial woes that came with leaving the EU, London’s history proves that there is not stopping it from getting back to the top of the heap.
Much of China’s recent economic boom can be attributed to the economic center of the country: Shanghai. Shanghai not only boasts the 4th largest stock exchange in the world, its economic might also comes from the fact that it is the outright largest city in the world, with an estimated 24 million residents. Finding a nice, inexpensive hotel in Shanghai is about as easy as it gets, as the hospitality industry has had to develop rapidly to accommodate the sheer number of tourists and business-oriented visitors that the city caters to. Despite its massive size, Shanghai actually ranks among the fastest growing cities on the planet as well.
While Shanghai makes a decent portion of its money through chemical and steel production, tourism is rising as one of the main industries in the massive city. Flights to Shanghai tend to be cheap, and once you are there it makes a great leaping off point to anywhere else in Asia. That is, if you even want to leave.
Best Cities for Long Stays: Where Growth and Quality of Life Intersect
Growth means very little in a city if it’s infrastructure isn’t properly maintained and developed. Marrying quality infrastructure and public works with economic and cultural growth can lead to a city that is comfortable and easy to travel in. This allows for the citizens to live just about anywhere, and get anywhere, within a city relatively easily. Here are a few of the world’s most liveable and well designed cities.
Vienna has been recently named the world’s most livable city, citing the city’s overall safety, political, social, and economic conditions. Vienna is unique in that it is permeated throughout with incredible greenery, with around 50 percent of the city made up of green areas. These green areas are not just parks, but forested areas as well, allowing residents to feel like they are in the great outdoors while still being close to their favorite coffee shop.
The infrastructure in Vienna is legendary, with easy and affordable access to public transportation. Daily, weekend, and week-long tickets are available to those who plan on staying for an extended period. Culturally, Vienna is a gem due to their booming culinary scene, rich history, and beautiful architecture.
Osaka, Japan is one of the safest cities on earth, and combined with great healthcare, business freedom, housing, and leisure gives Osaka a very high quality of living. Unlike the non-stop goings on in Tokyo, Osaka is generally more laid back. The streets are cleaner, and due to its smaller size, getting around Osaka is far less stressful than many other Asian cities.
The food in Osaka is to die for, and they have no problem living up to their nickname as “the nation’s kitchen”. While there are many styles of cuisine to try, you would be remiss if you didn’t try okonomiyaki, a delicious half-pancake-half-omelette concoction developed in Osaka, during your visit there. If street food is more your style, head to one of the many carts serving takoyaki, delectable octopus fritters served up hot with the freshest ingredients possible.
Only recently knocked from the position, Melbourne has held the title of world’s most livable city for the majority of the last decade. The temperate climate year-round combined with the city’s formidable food, music, and art scenes contribute to the livability of Melbourne. Additionally, getting around Melbourne is incredibly easy, either by foot, bicycle, or public transport.
The city streets are meticulously planned and ultra-wide, and citizens generally don’t have to feel worried when walking down an alley alone as the crime rate in Melbourne is quite low. The city is welcoming to visitors, and the locals have no qualms helping you find the closest bar with a Galaga machine tucked away inside. Overall, Melbourne is a relaxing, fun, and interesting city that deserves a spot among the greatest cities in the world.