You would be hard pressed to find a single quality of life index that doesn’t include Vancouver in the top 10. This beautiful Canadian city, squeezed between snow-capped mountains and the Georgia Strait, glistens with prosperity and wellness. Though it doesn’t have Toronto’s cultural muscle or Montreal’s old-world charm, Vancouver has a lot to offer—especially for those who enjoy leisure activities in the great outdoors. With the Pacific Ocean on your doorstep and one of the world’s greatest ski destinations, Whistler, just a road trip away, there is no excuse to be a couch potato in Vancouver. Sea kayaking in the Georgia Strait; doing the ‘Grouse Grind’ (a gruelling run up a local mountain) in North Vancouver; rollerblading along the city’s ocean beaches; cycling around Stanley Park—the options are limitless. Vancouver also offers a happening food and nightlife scene, and is especially popular with craft beer lovers and sushi fanatics. Neighbourhoods such as West Vancouver, Granville Island, and Kitsilano burst with cafés, bars, and restaurants that feature local, organic seafood and produce. On warm summer nights, these areas are alive with excitement until the wee hours.
Austin is one of those cities that almost everyone agrees has ‘it.’ In this case, ‘it’ is a warm, welcoming vibe infused with stellar cultural events, great neighbourhoods, lots of green spaces, and a unique Mexican-American culture. Austin always ranks high on best places to live in the U.S.A., but there is more to the city. It makes for a great holiday destination. Sample this: In an online survey, it scored an ‘A’ for nightlife and an ‘A+’ for diversity. South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits are just two of the cultural and music festivals that draw crowds of tourists, and help give the city its unique character. These festivals encourage diversity, innovation, new voices, and a kind of exuberant cultural freedom that you cannot find in the more conservative U.S. cities. Austin is also noted for its vibrant dining scene—picture breakfast tacos—and outdoor spaces. The Colorado River slices through town and is lined with riverfront parks that feature art exhibits, music stages, and food trucks. Mexican-American history and culture can be found in the cuisine, street art, and the magnificent Mexic-Arte Museum. The warmth of the town is matched by the climate—temperate in winter and hot in summer.
The first thing you notice about Chandigarh is that people drive in their lane. This might not be true elsewhere in India. But in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana, people seem to appreciate order above freedom. One of the only planned cities in India, Chandigarh was designed in the 1950s by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to be the ideal city. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern; markets, hospitals, schools, and other civic amenities are evenly spaced; trees, parks, and green spaces predominate; and public buildings are nothing less than works of art. Chandigarh’s attractiveness as a city is aided and abetted by its location. It is a short enough train ride from Delhi, while far away enough to get you close to India’s wilderness-, near the foothills of the Himalayas. Often called the cleanest city in India, it is also noted for being the happiest. Pollution is almost non-existent, gardens are everywhere, and when you walk in the forest around Sukhna Lake, you will feel you are far from the humdrum of city life. A feeling of peace, the sounds of bird songs, and a fresh breeze blowing down from the Himalayas reinforce the idea that Chandigarh is indeed the ideal city.
With more than 19 million people, it’s hard to imagine Osaka as the ‘little city that could.’ But compared to its glamourous rivals Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka doesn’t get a lot of tourists, and therein lies the charm. The third largest city in Japan, Osaka doesn’t have the historical and cultural cache of other Japanese cities—it is largely an industrial city—but it is known for its friendly people, and a vibrant party and food scene. Quickly gaining a reputation as a culinary capital, there are some local dishes you just can’t miss. Okonomiyaki is a kind of cabbage pancake made with a wide variety of meats, or seafood, and flavoured with a Worcestershire-like sauce, ginger, and spring onion. Takoyaki are wheat balls with an octopus centre, and katsuneudon is a distinctive broth made from kombu (a type of seaweed) full of thick noodles, deep-fried tofu, and other meats or seafood. Affordability is another draw. It’s much cheaper to eat and stay in Osaka than Tokyo or Kyoto, and you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well. The city has a youthful, quirky vibe, and you can spend hours exploring neighbourhoods like Ura-Namba (a hidden gastro gem), admiring street art, and discovering interesting places to eat and drink. Two-Michelin-starred Kigawa and trendy Torame Yokocho top the list.
Kaohsiung may seem like an unlikely tourism hub. The second largest city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung is the country’s largest port and an industrial centre. But it’s also a modern city that has embraced and reinvented its manufacturing past. Kaohsiung has worked hard to develop its tourism industry and create attractive urban landscapes that include wide streets, al fresco cafés, bicycle lanes, and cultural spaces. At the revitalised Pier 2, shipping warehouses have been converted into hubs of art, creativity, and innovation. Designer workshops, boutiques, and trendy coffee shops are interspersed with theatres, art galleries, outdoor art installations and gardens made with materials from Kaohsiung’s industrial past—think old railway tracks covered in flowers. Some of the best night markets in the country can be found in Kaohsiung, such as Ruifeng for small plates of food, and Xinjuejiang for non-stop shopping at bargain prices. The city is a multi-ethnic hub, adding cultural richness to the cuisines, art, and merchandise on offer. Add to this a sunny and pleasant climate, two swimming beaches within city limits, and a nearby 1,000-hectare forest where you can enjoy nature. Visitors who take the time to visit Kaohsiung will find a fun, modern city with lots to do, indoors and out.
Bristol may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of England. But that could change as more people discover this liveable, artsy, and historic city. Located on the River Avon, inland from Bristol Channel (in the country’s southwest region), Bristol is quirky and creative, diverse and fun. There’s a lot to do and see here, and locals say it’s impossible to be bored. Visitors will be hard pressed to see all the historic sites such as the Georgian buildings of Clifton Village; the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Victorian engineer Brunel; Bristol Cathedral, with its 12th century Chapter House; and the Old City, where the original bridge over the Avon was first built in the 13th century. Neighbourhoods such as Harbourside and Wapping Wharf, among others, are filled with lively cafés, bars, and restaurants, with cuisines from every corner of the world. The city also pulses with street art festivals, art exhibits and galleries, and music events. Renowned street artist Banksy hails from Bristol. Perhaps because Bristol is a bit off-the-map, it supports indie culture and diversity, making the city all that more interesting.
India is not the only country with a Pink City: Toulouse, France, is known locally as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the pink stone used to construct many of its buildings. But it’s charming hue is not the only reason why Toulouse is called the best city in France. Let’s start with the location. Midway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Toulouse is also close to the Pyrénées mountain range and the fantastic medieval city of Carcassonne. It is both a university town with a youthful, progressive vibe, and a city rich in history, culture, and incredible architecture. A spectacular tourist destination, Toulouse boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Canal du Midi, and the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, which is the largest Romanesque building in Europe. The Place du Capitole is one of the most majestic squares in France. There’s lots of green space. The air quality is good and the climate sunny. There is one more thing that deserves a mention: Toulouse is considered the gastronomic capital of southwest France. Covered markets, outdoor bistros, lively bars, award-winning restaurants, and farmers’ markets offer local specialties such as foie gras, cassoulet, fresh oysters, aged cheese, and Spanish-influenced tapas.
Punta del Este is the St. Tropez of South America. A sun-drenched peninsula jutting into the South Atlantic Ocean, it is a glamorous resort town that boasts the best beach in Uruguay. Arguably the most famous resort town in South America, this is also where the rich and famous go to play. High-rise apartment buildings, glitzy hotels, and a yacht harbour give it a look reminiscent of Miami. White cruise liners bob on the horizon against a cloudless azure sky, and the beautiful people stroll along the beachfront boulevards, frequenting the endless watering holes and chic restaurants. Celebrity watching here is practically a contact sport. In summer, it is an extremely popular destination for Argentines, Brazilians, and cruise ship passengers. While Punta del Este is the most expensive place in Uruguay, the entire country has a higher standard of living than most of South America. Crime rate here is lower too, making Punta del Este a popular expat haven. You can easily wile away your days lounging on the beaches, browsing the main shopping avenue, Avenida Gorlero, and drifting from one watering hole to another in search of the next celebrity-studded party.
Perth is the fourth-largest city in Australia, and it is about as far from the country’s capital, Sydney, as you can get—4,000 kilometres away on the coast of Western Australia. Spread out along flatlands, where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean, the city has recently experienced a regeneration. A massive waterfront development project, Elizabeth Quay, created an outdoor space to complement Kings Park and Botanic Garden. Two-thirds of the land, preserved as national bushland and native trails, not only provides residents with leisure space but is also a step towards the reconciliation of Aboriginal native rights of the Nyungar people. Another recent redevelopment project saw the historic State Buildings developed into a vibrant cultural destination. The three iconic heritage buildings, located in the heart of the city, now house restaurants, bars, cafés and boutique hotels. Round out the city’s cultural landscape with hip neighbourhoods such as Leederville. Residents of Perth like to spread out and enjoy the natural abundance the city is blessed with: golden beaches, well-maintained parklands, seafood, and an average of 8.8 hours of sun per day—making it the sunniest capital city in Australia. Visitors are welcome to do the same.
Durban not only ranks as the South African city with the highest quality of life, it is also the coolest city in the country. Though it may not make you fall in love at first sight the way Cape Town and Table Mountain do, Durban is one of those cities that grows on you. Getting to know Durban with a walk on The Golden Mile at sunset is a good start. Durban’s redeveloped beachfront is South Africa’s best. Here, you can witness both a glorious display of nature and the sight of South Africans from every walk of life enjoying an evening stroll. This waterfront also extends to the harbourside town of Point Waterfront, which is where the uShaka Marine World is located. The theme park houses a water park, an aquarium, and a restaurant where you can dine inside a shark tank. To get to know the local culture, visit Durban’s art museum. The museum was the first in the country to start collecting African art. To buy local crafts, a trip to at the African Art Centre is well worth your time. Finally, pay your respects to Mahatma Gandhi at the Phoenix Settlement. In 1904, Gandhi bought land and lived here, opening a printing press to spread his ideas. Both his home and the press are open to the public.
Mariellen Ward is a professional travel writer and digital storyteller. She is the publisher of Breathedreamgo, a travel site inspired by her extensive travels in India (and elsewhere). Though Canadian by birth, Mariellen considers India to be her "soul culture” and spends as much time in country as she possibly can.