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The 37 best cities in the world

We quizzed 27,000 city-dwellers to rank the best cities in the world right now. Ready?

Edited by
Huw Oliver
&
Sarah Medina
Contributors
Time Out editors
&
Time Out contributors
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You’d think a pandemic might defeat the point of living in a city. During lockdowns, much of the fun and culture and social life that define urban living are off the table. And these being big, sprawling metropolises, it’d be easy to feel a bit hemmed in when you can do little else but hang out in your flat.

But there you’d be wrong. Our cities adapted. Communities rallied like never before. We fought to help our businesses survive. And – somehow – we even found ways to have fun.

Now many of us have emerged from lockdowns and are taking tentative steps back towards semi-normality, we thought it was time to recognise all the great things our cities have achieved over the past 18 months. So, once again, we launched the Time Out Index: a poll of 27,000 city-dwellers from Melbourne to Madrid, Chicago to Copenhagen and Tel Aviv to Tokyo.

We wanted to find out which cities really stepped up and pulled together this year. So we asked you not just about food and culture, as we always do, but also community projects, green space and sustainability. We were after the cities that were not only thinking about the now, but also the future. The ones making life better both for us and for our grandkids.

And here are the results: the best cities in the world in 2021. This list was put together based on answers across every category in the poll, along with insights from Time Out editors and experts worldwide. Read on to find out how your city fared – and what it can learn from other amazing places across the globe.

Don’t agree with our list? Have your say next time! Follow Time Out Everywhere on Facebook, @timeouteverywhere on Instagram and @timeout on Twitter, and you’ll be the first to hear when we launch our next global survey.

The 37 best cities in the world for 2021

What makes us great: San Francisco has never been known to follow the pack. And when things got tough over the past year, SF sprang into action with one of the strictest Covid responses in the US. But that didn’t dampen community spirit in the Bay Area: businesses got creative to stay afloat, while innovative initiatives like the SF New Deal put restaurant employees to work making meals for those in need. Neighbours stepped up to take care of each other through far-reaching mutual aid networks, and one genius even had the idea of hanging sourdough starters from trees to fuel all the baking people took up.

If only all cities had: Hundreds of beautifully crafted parklets that now make the city feel like one giant street party (plus the kind of weather that allows for outdoor dining year round).

We’re leading the way in: Progressive politics. This former hippie enclave came first in the ‘progressive’ category – with 73 percent of respondents describing it as such – and second in ‘sustainability’. It was also the most likely to be called ‘accepting’. —Clara Hogan, Time Out San Francisco

Explore the city:
Parklets, politics and weed: Why San Francisco is the best city in the world right now

📍 Discover the best things to do in San Francisco

What makes us great: During the pandemic, Amsterdam has felt the absence of culture and social life more acutely than most. Yet the city has used the time wisely, focusing inwards on its famous beauty, history and community spirit – while vowing to do away with the coffeeshops, brothels and drunken debauchery that so blighted its historic centre. In this year’s poll, 47 percent of Amsterdammers said the city was ‘green’ and 27 percent described it as sustainable. That may sound low, but for those descriptors, Amsterdam’s scores were among the highest. During last year’s lockdowns, the city aimed to cement its status as a modern, environmentally-aware metropolis. Seemingly, the strategy has worked.

If only all cities had: Vondelpark, an immense oasis right in the centre that plays host to everything from jam sessions to theatre to sports – truly, the city’s lungs. 

We’re leading the way in: All things green. Amsterdam came third in the ‘sustainability’ category, third in ‘green’, and was rated the second best place for ‘taking a walk in nature’. Derek Robertson

Explore the city:
How Amsterdam is fighting back against overtourism

📍 Discover the best things to do in Amsterdam

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What makes us great: Manchester sure is a resilient place. All things considered, we’ve thrived over the past year – with communities here really banding together through the toughest of times. Mancunians are a very proud people, and so it’s no wonder 71 percent described the city as ‘creative’ in this year’s Index. This is the home of Factory Records, the Fall and the Smiths, after all, and in 2021 the likes of Manchester International Festival (MIF) and Grayson’s Art Club have continued to show this city really punches when it comes to big, splashy cultural events. On a more local level, small firms like Result CIC offered free mental health support to frontline workers, while the Eagle and Child pub gave away 4,500 meals to vulnerable locals.

If only all cities had: The vision that has brought new venue The Factory to life. It’s about to open as a permanent home for MIF, bringing world-class art and performance to Manchester all year round.

We’re leading the way in: General great vibes. This city has a rep for knowing how to have a good time, and it came as no surprise to us that it was voted top for ‘nightlife’, ‘creativity’, ‘community spirit’, ‘friendliness’ and ‘getting to know your neighbours’. Rob Martin, Time Out Manchester

Explore the city:
Why Manchester is the greatest city in the UK, by mayor Andy Burnham

‘It’s the place I felt most welcome’: A love letter to Manchester nightlife

📍 Discover the best things to do in Manchester

What makes us great: Denmark is widely regarded as one of the happiest places in the world, so it makes sense that 66 percent of Copenhageners said the city was ‘relaxing’ in our poll. General quality of life is high here, and no doubt the city’s many innovative green initiatives help put locals’ minds at ease: 60 percent of us think of the city as ‘green’. But there’s so much more to Copenhagen than hygge and radical dual-purpose energy plants like CopenHill. In fact, 82 percent of residents find it easy to discover ‘new and surprising things’ in the city – and we can all raise a glass of aquavit to that.

If only all cities had: A cycling infrastructure that not only reduces pressure on the planet, but keeps residents’ commute times down too.

We’re leading the way in: All things green (and we really are – sorry Amsterdam). The Danish capital came top in the ‘sustainability’ category and second in the world for ‘green’. Sorcha McCrory

Explore the city:
From ski slopes to slow fashion: How Copenhagen became the greenest city in Europe

📍 Discover the best things to do in Copenhagen

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What makes us great: If there’s one thing that defines New Yorkers, it’s a certain brash resilience. That’s why it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that NYC got high marks for just that quality in this year’s survey, coming in as the ‘most resilient’ of all North American cities. From the continued success of its Open Restaurants initiative (which transformed sidewalks into vibrant community hubs) to its new Key to NYC programme (encouraging vaccine uptake), Gotham has managed to survive and thrive over the past 12 months. Thanks in large part to that iconic can-do attitude, it found creative solutions to changing health precautions – and now the streets are buzzing once again.

If only all cities had: Their very own floating ‘island’ park hosting cultural events that are free to all.

We’re leading the way in: Being a truly exhilarating place to live. NYC was voted the most ‘exciting’ city in the world and ranked second for ‘discovering new things’. —Will Gleason, Time Out New York

Explore the city:
Five facts that prove New Yorkers are the most resilient folks in the USA

📍 Discover the best things to do in New York

What makes us great: When the pandemic hit last year, Montrealers rallied. This city is famous for its community spirit, and up against the biggest crisis in a generation, we showed enough of it to make any city proud. As our famous music and politics make abundantly clear, conformity has never been in fashion here, and it’s those differences that bring us together: 73 percent of locals would describe Montreal as ‘diverse’, and even more say it’s easy to ‘express who you are’. Our city may be in a perpetual state of construction, with seemingly endless protests, frigid winters and boiling summers too – but at least we’ve got each other.

If only all cities had: The ambition to plough ahead with a wealth of innovative green projects, like plans to ban single-use plastics and transform downtown boulevards into urban forests. —JP Karwacki, Time Out Montreal

📍 Discover the best things to do in Montreal

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What makes us great: Lockdowns hit Prague suddenly and severely – but thankfully, the city’s eye-popping beauty remains unscathed. In this year’s Index, in fact, some 82 percent of Prague locals still sung the praises of the city’s looks. The Golden City’s gradual reopening has presented amazing opportunities to simple pleasures unthinkable in pre-pandemic Prague: having Charles Bridge almost to yourself, the audible chirrup of birds in Old Town Square, a contemplative morning coffee down a deserted sidestreet. Add in the fact that the Czech capital is incredibly walkable – with 89 percent of us saying it’s easy to get around without a car – and you’ve got hands down one of the world’s most liveable cities.

If only all cities had: The huge swathes of greenery in Prague 6 borough – all-year playgrounds where you can jog, read, picnic, play frisbee or go sledging.

We’re leading the way in: Just being really damn good-looking. Prague was most likely to be described as ‘beautiful’ by residents. Perhaps as a result, it also came second for ‘relaxation’. David Creighton

📍 Discover the best things to do in Prague

What makes us great: Tel Avivians are a hardy bunch. When Covid hit tourism, this high-tech hub hit the Reset button. The pandemic caused the ‘city that never stops’ to take a well-needed pause. Spaces like Dizengoff Square and Park HaMesila played host to picnics, gigs, screenings and talks. After the lockdowns, Israel led the vaccination race and before long locals were back sipping cappuccinos in cafes and doing yoga on the beach. In our poll, 81 percent of Tel Avivians said their city was ‘fun’ and 84 percent said they can ‘express themselves’. Indeed, TLV is home to the region’s biggest Pride Parade, the widest choice of vegan options, and its nightlife always offers a real alternative.

If only all cities had: Carmel Market, the pulsating heart of the city where locals sell spices, hummus, falafel and other fresh, organic produce – plus raise the odd glass of beer or arak too. 

We’re leading the way in: Lots of things. For the second year in a row, we were voted the ‘funnest’ in the world, and were also most likely to be described as ‘good for people like me’. We came second in the ‘food and drink’ category, behind only Shanghai. —Dan Savery Raz

📍 Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv

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What makes us great: Some 73 percent of Porto residents said their city was great for ‘culture’ – and even in the midst of a pandemic, you’d struggle to disagree. Throughout the past year, Porto’s legendary graffiti artists have been busier than ever, splashing the streets with some much-needed colour, while our many, many galleries have been surprisingly active too. The city has also begun to give back public space to citizens, with ample pedestrianisation, more cycling infrastructure, expanded terraces and new community gardens. We attended concerts in parks, bought books under the shade of trees, supported local businesses and discovered new ones. Many people started baking bread, cakes and cookies at home, and now many of them have gone pro.

If only all cities had: Maus Hábitos, an inclusive arts space that really kept us going through the pandemic. While most bars were closed, it was a cultural oasis of gigs, drag shows, screenings, exhibitions, poetry nights and stand-up comedy – with some decent pizza and craft beer.

We’re leading the way in: Making friends, apparently. After Manchester, Porto was voted the second-best place in the world to find new pals, with 62 percent of locals saying it was ‘easy’. Ana Patrícia Silva, Time Out Porto

📍 Discover the best things to do in Porto

What makes us great: The face mask, that quintessential pandemic-era staple, was already a common accessory among Tokyoites way before Covid hit, which is perhaps why life here never really slowed over the past year. An overwhelming 82 percent of survey respondents said Tokyo was great for ‘discovering new things’ – look around and you’ll notice loads of new venues and attractions have cropped up across the city over the past 18 months. Some 73 percent of those polled also said the city is great for ‘getting around without a car’. The city’s super-efficient public transport system ensures everyone can easily enjoy all that the city has to offer.

If only all cities had: Designer public toilets. Over the past year, state-of-the-art bathrooms have popped up all over the city – all designed by top architects. Some look like art installations (like starchitect Kengo Kuma’s wooden design) while others are so high-tech they are voice-activated (like the all-white dome by Kazoo Sato). —Lim Chee Wah, Time Out Tokyo

📍 Discover the best things to do in Tokyo

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What makes us great: L.A.’s best assets have always been outdoors, but the past year and a half spurred new appreciation for all-season farmers’ markets, beach weather in the winter and a bit of solace on a canyon trail. Angelenos are always inventive (hence why it voted the second-most ‘creative’ city in the world) – and that was especially the case as entire city blocks turned into art installations, holiday cheer went to the drive-through, mutual aid networks sprouted up on sidewalks and seemingly every parking lot became a drive-in. Now if we could just use some of that creativity to rein in the housing crisis (87 percent described L.A. as ‘expensive’; the rest must’ve just sold their two-bedroom bungalow for a cool million).

If only all cities had: Such a beautiful bounty of botanical gardens that stayed open and provided peace and fresh air when we needed them the most.

We’re leading the way in: Diversity. It should come as no surprise, but this sprawling metropolis that beckons to all was voted the third-most diverse city in the world. Michael Juliano, Time Out Los Angeles

📍 Discover the best things to do in Los Angeles

What makes us great: Chicago came in as the third-most resilient city in the world, which isn’t that surprising when you consider the city’s storied history of survival (starting with a gigantic fire back in 1871). Faced with the difficulties of the past year, Chicagoans came together to share food, support out-of-work musicians and protest injustice – it’s why we also got high marks for ‘community spirit’ and being ‘friendly’ (though maybe you can just chalk that up to Midwestern charm). Now – finally – we’re celebrating together with weekly parties in the streets and the return of summer festivals.

If only all cities had: A community-funded, Black- and trans-led LGBTQ+ centre that’s providing assistance, food and housing to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

We’re leading the way in: Being pretty and popular. Chicago was voted the second-funnest city in the world as well as the second-most beautiful. —Zach Long, Time Out Chicago

📍 Discover the best things to do in Chicago

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London
Photograph: cktravels.com / Shutterstock.com

13. London

What makes us great: A lot of Londoners took their city’s best qualities for granted before the pandemic. Not a surprise, that. We do like to moan. It took for the end of a long, merciless lockdown for Londoners to fall back in love with their food and drink scene (read: pubs), but the main thing this city has going for it (and this is backed up by 2021’s Index stats) is diversity. In fact, a whopping 88 percent of locals described the city as ‘diverse’. Nowhere in the world is as mixed. Nowhere is as inclusive. Once again, you can do you. With a pint in your hand, of course.

If only all cities had: A guy like Dom Cools-Lartigue. This Londoner opened year-long community-focused mega-pop-up Tramshed Project and the incredibly effective Plate For London charity initiative. Respect is due.

We’re leading the way in: Offering surprises basically everywhere you look. Some 88 percent of Londoners said it was easy to ‘discover new and surprising things’ – the highest for any city, anywhere in the world. Joe Mackertich, Time Out London

📍 Discover the best things to do in London

What makes us great: Sure, 2021 may not have worked out quite how the people of Barcelona imagined (or 2020 for that matter), but the ingenuity and solidarity they’ve shown should definitely be cause for optimism. The city rallied behind the motto #CulturaSegura (‘Culture is Safe’), with cultural organisers finding savvy ways to put on live music, exhibitions, theatre and film screenings pretty much throughout the pandemic. No wonder, then, that 83 percent of locals rated the city highly for ‘culture’ – with some 85 percent giving it top marks for ‘food and drink’ too. Want to know one good thing that came out of Covid? Like in many cities, street parking spaces throughout the centre were given over to adjacent bars and restaurants; unlike in many cities, these will now be made permanent.

If only all cities had: Finestres, a 600-square-metre bookstore dedicated to the pleasure of reading. It’s not only one of the best places to find new books, but also a thoroughly relaxing spot to sit back and read. Most impressively, it only opened in April this year. María-José Gómez, Time Out Barcelona

📍 Discover the best things to do in Barcelona

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What makes us great: Melbourne gets locked down, but we get up again. As the city struggles through its sixth hard lockdown in 18 months, there is still a lot of love to be found in this fine Australian city. It’s clear Melbourne’s food and drink culture is the best in the country, with more than 94 percent of locals ranking the city highly for its bars and restaurants. Even in the depths of lockdown, Melburnians can still get their fix of top-notch lasagne, incredible Indonesian staples or sticky-sweet desserts delivered to their doors – and it’s great to see the community supporting each other with such zeal.

If only all cities had: A cohort of incredible community-minded groups, like Sikh Volunteers Australia, that distribute food and necessities to their neighbours.

We’re leading the way in: Equality. A measly 10 percent of respondents called Melbourne ‘unequal’ – the lowest of any city in the world. —Rebecca Russo, Time Out Melbourne

📍 Discover the best things to do in Melbourne

What makes us great: It’s not exactly surprising that more than two-thirds of our respondents described Sydney as ‘beautiful’. Whether you’re in one of our national parks, sunbathing on one of our 100-plus beaches or enjoying a harbourside sundowner at the Opera Bar, there’s barely a corner of this town that isn’t drop-dead gorgeous. But she’s not just a pretty city. Sydney has one of the most diverse, multicultural populations in Australia, particularly in the western suburbs, where life is especially tough right now under lockdown. The good news? Vaccination rates in Sydney are the highest in the country, so as we approach summer, we’re getting ready for the revival of the city as lockdown lifts.

If only all cities had: The Greening the City initiative, a huge project to improve parks, green roofs and plant thousands of new trees. The aim is to cover more than 40 percent of the city with greenery by 2050. —Maxim Boon, Time Out Sydney

📍 Discover the best things to do in Sydney

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What makes us great: Shanghai might be a hard-edged business city, but when it comes to letting our hair down it’s all about dining out and getting sloshed. Ranked first in the world for food and drink – with a whopping 97 percent of respondents giving it top marks – this city has everything from hole-in-the-walls to Michelin-starred fine-dining, along with a burgeoning craft beer and cocktail scene. Unsurprisingly, that also makes it one of the world’s easiest cities to meet new people (with 73 percent of locals saying it’s pretty straightforward) – just don’t be alarmed if talk revolves around business.

If only all cities had: Iconic views of old and new on the Huangpu River are now complemented by ever-increasing cultural options such as the Shanghai Astronomy Museum, the world’s largest planetarium.

We’re leading the way in: Safety. Not only were we ranked top for physical safety, but thanks to effective testing and contact tracing we’re safe from Covid and living a normal life. —Mark Andrews 

📍 Discover the best things to do in Shanghai

What makes us great: What would Madrid be without its bars and restaurants? Without its museums and theatres? Those may be obvious questions to ask, but it is precisely these things, or their absence, that have reminded Madrileños why exactly they live where they do. Despite the difficulties and restrictions, Madrid has remained true to its spirit and is now beginning to claw back those cultural riches that make it one of the best cities in the world, both to visit and to live in. In our poll, 64 percent of locals also said they found it ‘easy’ to make friends here, and we’d be inclined to agree.

If only all cities had: The Paisaje de la Luz (‘Landscape of Light’), formed by the Paseo del Prado and the Retiro Park, which is now on the Unesco World Heritage Site list.

We’re leading the way in: Culture, culture, so much goddamn culture. The city was voted second-best in the world for its cultural offering this year, after only Paris. Marta Bac, Time Out Madrid

📍 Discover the best things to do in Madrid

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What makes us great: It’s been a year of great change in Mexico City – and not all grim. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen terraces emerge all over the city and new bike paths pop up on formerly desolate main avenues – plus, we’ve got our first zero-waste bar, Casa Prunes. And while things are a little uncertain at the moment, it’s hard to get bored. In fact, only 1 percent of respondents called Mexico City ‘boring’ – the least in any city in the world. Consider that a seal of approval for the fast pace of life here in CDMX. 

If only all cities had: Arca Tierra. Mexico City doesn’t just do great food, it also knows how to create a community around it. This multi-use restaurant serves delish organic meals in a chinampa (floating garden) at Xochimilco using ingredients from local producers, and also sells those same fruits and veg to the masses – along with honey, milk, chocolate – for less than your average supermercado. —Anaid Ramírez, Time Out Mexico City

📍 Discover the best things to do in Mexico City

What makes us great: Hong Kong is one of only a few major cities that managed to avoid a full lockdown, so things have felt relatively normal this past year. Even with phased venue closures and strict social-distancing restrictions, restaurants, shops and transport never stopped operating, and major events like Art Basel and Art Central returned. Today, you could wine and dine in the city or even hit up the club – it’s almost like it’s 2019 over here. 

If only all cities had: The entrepreneurial spirit and sense of togetherness that helped the city keep its residents safe during last year’s world crisis. 

We’re leading the way in: Public transport. Hong Kong was named the third-best city for ‘getting around without a car’. —Tatum Ancheta, Time Out Hong Kong

📍 Discover the best things to do in Hong Kong

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What makes us great: Lisbon was on a roll before the pandemic. The food scene was buzzier than ever; the bars, parties and concerts were drawing visitors from all over the world. But then we had to adapt. Collectives and ad hoc collaborations blossomed; smaller, nicher, artisanal businesses cropped up city-wide. Product quality and seasonality are big trends here, and it seems our readers appreciate the effort: a massive 87 percent rated their city highly for ‘eating and drinking’. Cultural events may have been put on pause this year, but 75 percent would say the same for the arts. And now it’s time to get back out there again, Lisbon has done what any city in southern Europe should – occupy terraces, riverbanks and basically any other outdoor space available. If there’s anything we’ve all learned to love this past year, it’s alfresco everything, and this city really knows how to do it.

If only all cities had: New Kids on the Block, a collective of young chefs with a fine-dining pedigree who are breathing life into traditional Portuguese cuisine in small restaurants across the capital. Hugo Torres, Time Out Lisbon

📍 Discover the best things to do in Lisbon

What makes us great: If the pandemic had any upside, it’s that we Bostonians have learned how truly charming our city can be. Confined to our 250-square-foot studios (which 80 percent of our survey respondents said are too expensive), we downtown-dwellers started to look outwards. Our restaurants, which rarely had any outdoor seating prior to 2020, have sprouted makeshift patios to meet all of our alfresco needs (erratic New England weather depending). Meanwhile, we’ve gained a newfound appreciation for the parks that have given WFH warriors a safe space to stretch our legs and regain some semblance of sanity. In fact, we grew to love these walks so much that 80 percent of respondents called Boston a great place for ‘taking a walk in a green space’. We’ll take it.  

If only all cities had: Our gorgeous public parks, like the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Emerald Necklace, which connect many of the city’s neighbourhoods and provide those communities with a peaceful escape. —Olivia Vanni, Time Out Boston 

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What makes us great: Milan was ground zero of the coronavirus crisis in Europe in early 2020. Once the lockdowns ended, the no-nonsense Milanesi quickly took action to prevent the pandemic from killing the spirit of the city. Kilometres of bicycle lanes have been added, many streets have been closed off to cars to become ‘pedestrian zones’, and restaurants and bars have pivoted in order to be able to serve clientele outdoors – even if the northern Italian city’s climate is not always conducive to eating or drinking alfresco. In our survey, 91 percent of locals rated Milan’s cuisine highly, and we can’t say we’re shocked.

If only all cities had: Places like Cascina Cuccagna, an eighteenth-century farmhouse that – despite its very urban location near Porta Romana – has been renovated to serve as a gathering place promoting sustainability and urban agriculture. The sprawling space houses a restaurant, cooking school, farmers’ market, and has two courtyards and a large garden.

We’re leading the way in: Change – and largely for good. The city was most likely to be described by locals as ‘dynamic’ (81 percent) and the second-most likely to be named ‘ambitious’ (64 percent). And what does that all mean? We’re well ahead of the curve in a lot of areas, notably the greening of the centre. Michelle Schoenung

📍 Discover the best things to do in Milan

What makes us great: Peek out the windows at 39 Amoy Street on a weekday afternoon, and you’ll see queues forming outside restaurants, cars zooming past and crowds forming at the nearby hawker centre. While life seems almost normal again, a lot has changed in the past year. Bars and restaurants are still not allowed to serve alcohol after 10.30pm and most of us haven’t been to a live gig in months. On the bright side, this strange and slow year has made Singaporeans more appreciative of their surroundings and green spaces – which is probably why Singapore was voted the greenest (and cleanest) city in the world in this year’s Index. Hiking and exploring abandoned or hidden places have become popular pastimes, along with hobbies like kayaking and longboarding. Playing tourist in our own backyard has led to some amazing discoveries and having skyscrapers and tropical forests coexist on our small island is probably our biggest flex. 

If only all cities had: So many lush rooftop gardens. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they’re also great places for residents to take a breather or get to know their neighbours. We’re not just about corporate culture, y’know.

We’re leading the way in: Environmental initiatives – perhaps surprisingly, for this concrete-and-steel megapolis. Singapore was the city most likely to be described as ‘green’ by locals, and also the least likely to be called ‘dirty’. Delfina Utomo, Time Out Singapore

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What makes us great: Like so many things in Miami, lockdown seemed like a flash in the pan: our city reopened almost as quickly as it shut down. You could chalk it up to denial about the ongoing health crisis but we choose to see ourselves in a kinder light. This city is just plain resilient. One of the first cities to resume regular business, Miami became a respite for so many around the country. South Beach seemed like a mini, seaside Las Vegas as clubs returned with 2019 intensity. It’s no wonder Miami ranked third in the world for ‘nightlife’. Oh, and 72 percent of you said we’re a ‘fun’ city – second in the world, in fact. So what if takeout didn’t take off here? We were too busy living it up to notice.

If only all cities had: The tendency to roll out the red carpet for folks like Miami does. This being one of the most diverse cities in the world, you’ll find people, food and culture from just about everywhere blissfully commingling in neighbourhoods across the city.

We’re leading the way in: Partying. We came second in the ‘fun’ category and third in the world for ‘nightlife’. No one parties like Miami does. Virginia Gil, Time Out Miami

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What makes us great: Home to the world’s tallest building, biggest shopping mall and, soon, the largest observation wheel (Ain Dubai, launching in October) – not to mention Time Out Market Dubai, which opened in April this year – Dubai sure thinks big when it comes to new urban developments. So it’s little wonder the city was described as ‘ambitious’ by 66 percent of Dubaians in this year’s Index. And what happened when a city that loves to go out had to stay in? We adapted with style. Fine-dining restaurants pivoted to home delivery, massive New Year’s Eve shows were live-streamed globally and, in 2021, gigs and Dubai’s most popular pastime – brunch – returned to the city’s social agendas, thanks to strict social distancing, mask wearing and an on-it vaccination programme. And with Expo 2020 fast approaching (kicking off on October 1), Dubai is ready for 190 countries to showcase their innovation and culture – confirming why 79 percent of the city call it diverse.

If only all cities had: Expo 2020 – 182 days based around sustainability, mobility and opportunity (plus big-name performers and a whole load of food pop-ups).

We’re leading the way in: Like we say, thinking really friggin’ big. Nearly two-thirds of locals said Dubai was ‘ambitious’ – and we suspect the ever-changing skyline could be part of it. Amy Mathieson, Time Out Dubai

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What makes us great: Beijing is where young Chinese go to prove themselves to the world. The city is the centre of China’s art, culture, media and business (and politics, unfortunately, but that’s a different story). We are dreamers, innovators and plain hard-workers, from the musicians rocking School Bar and Modernista (which, like most venues, have been open since March 2020, when the city contained Covid) to the couriers who criss-cross the streets on scooters, saving up their money to send home to family. And respondents feel the same way: 51 percent called Beijing a ‘dynamic’ city (which feels 49 percent too low). Some 73 percent also called the city polluted, but they’re still here for a reason: Beijing is where you need to be.

If only all cities had: Old Beijingers, the straight-shooting, proud, potty-mouthed, chess-playing retirees found in the city’s ancient hutong (alleyways) who speak in the no-frills slang of a bygone era, and are neither afraid to criticise the government nor tell you to get off their proverbial lawn. —Anthony Tao

📍 Discover the best things to do in Beijing

What makes us great: Uh, what list of the world’s greatest cities would be complete without the City of Light? Obviously, it’s been a year of ups and downs for Parisians – the big downs being the super-restrictive curfews and curbs on movement during last year’s lockdowns. But boy has the city bounced back. Even last year the city’s arty types had shown great ingenuity in hosting outdoor exhibitions like ‘A Visage Découvert’, which featured the cream of contemporary art (Bacon, Basquiat, Abramović). And in this year’s poll, 76 percent of locals said it was ‘easy to discover new things’ in Paris. That sounds about right: since the start of June alone, no fewer than eight giant new warehouse complexes have been transformed across the French capital, combining epic events space, rich cultural programming and community initiatives that’d make any city proud. Here’s to many more innovative projects getting off the ground over the coming months.

If only all cities had: The Bourse de Commerce, a hugely ambitious new art museum in a former exchange building. It opened this year and houses the world’s largest private art collection.

We’re leading the way in: Surprise, surprise: culture. A massive 96 percent of Parisians rated the city highly for it, and that frankly comes as no shock at all. Houssine Bouchama, Time Out Paris

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What makes us great: It’s not just all that amazing architecture that led 72 percent of locals to describe Budapest as ‘beautiful’ in this year’s Time Out Index. As Covid forced Budapest’s VII District bars to close, the city’s social life shifted away from downtown to greener neighbourhoods, with hikes through the Buda Hills, drinks at riverside terraces or park picnics becoming even more popular. Even within the centre, the city thrived outdoors as bar, restaurant and café terraces were the first places we could officially socialise again. There are now initiatives to invest more in outdoor hangouts, like pedestrianising the banks of the Danube by Parliament, and we’re very here for it.

If only all cities had: Budapest’s hills. Here you’ll find beautiful hiking spots, as well as upcoming areas by the Danube River populated with parks, bars – and in some places – even beaches. Jennifer Walker

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What makes us great: It might not have the glitz and skyscrapers of Dubai, but the UAE capital more than holds its own when it comes to quality of life, world-class restaurants and big-hitting attractions. Despite the global pandemic, 72 percent of Abu Dhabians would describe the city as ‘relaxing’. This might be down to the year-long sunshine and the ability to blow off steam on the world’s fastest roller coaster (at Ferrari World) – or just to do with the layout of the city. With more than 200 islands, you’re never far from a sea view and coastal wander. Plus: 99 percent said that they wouldn’t describe the city as overcrowded – and in a year when social distancing was a necessity, this was very welcome indeed.

If only all cities had: Access to free vaccinations and easy, affordable PCR testing. As elsewhere in the UAE, the authorities here have acted fast and competently. Amy Mathieson, Time Out Abu Dhabi

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What makes us great: With creatives from all over the world leaving their mark on our ever-shifting city, São Paulo is constantly in a state of flux – so it makes sense it was ranked the third most ‘dynamic’ city in the world this year. Despite the pandemic, changes kept coming: giant graffiti made their home on city walls and old creative spaces shuttered just to make room for new ones. Many of the city’s museums are now open again, exhibiting up-and-coming Brazilians, while even smaller venues like Lona Galeria are embracing digital options as supplements to their exhibitions. 

If only all cities had: The creative initiatives and activist movements working hard to build a fairer and more empathetic city, such as Señoritas Courier and AppJusto, which are fighting for better working conditions for delivery workers. —Biju Belinky

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What makes us great: Life in Johannesburg has been quite the ride this past year. But if the city is known for anything, it’s resilience. People have adapted, and businesses are now opening up again. There’s still a curfew in place, but Joburgers have found a way to make it work – and still have fun. Many locals have seen their income dwindle, not aided by recent riots that forced the closure of many businesses across the city, but as ever, this city ultimately came together as one. In our survey, some 54 percent of locals rated Joburg highly for ‘community spirit’, and the period of growth and learning that followed the turmoil is testament to that.

If only all cities had: Cradle Moon, an inner-city hiking area perfect for a spot of exercise (with some properly epic waterfall views). 

We’re leading the way in: Neighbourliness. In the Time Out Index, 56 percent of locals said it was easy to ‘get to know your neighbours’ – second only to Manchester – while 76 percent said it was easy to ‘meet people different from you’. Thando Mpembe

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What makes us great: Though the city is so rooted in tradition, the pandemic has indisputably propelled Rome into the twenty-first century. With brand-new bike lanes, electric scooters for rent on every corner and an explosion in outdoor dining, it’s never been a better time to enjoy alfresco entertainment in the Eternal City. Some 90 percent of locals said Rome was good for ‘culture’ and new pre-booking options at the city’s major museums and attractions are helping offer a safe and enjoyable experience for travellers. This is a great year to get outside and stroll through the city’s many panoramic villa parks: 30 percent of respondents agreed this is one of the ‘greenest’ cities they’ve visited (believe it or not, that’s a lot compared with most cities). And you can finally book a table at your favorite trattoria online – see, there are some silver linings.

If only all cities had: Fresh drinking water flowing out hundreds of fountains dotted throughout the city. (Don’t forget to bring your reusable bottle!) Livia Hengel

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What makes us great: When someone says ‘Moscow’, you might well think of the Red Square, or Saint Basil’s Cathedral, or some other breathtakingly grandiose sight known the world over. History glares at you from every corner here, and this year the Russian capital will be celebrating its 870th anniversary. But this marvellous city isn’t living entirely in the past. Moscow has morphed into a vast, bewildering, fast-moving place filled with amazing museums, first-rate restaurants and incredible contemporary architecture. ‘Community spirit’ may have flagged here since the days of Soviet comradery – with only 34 percent of respondents rating Moscow highly for that quality – though 50 percent did describe the city as ‘ambitious’ in this year’s Index. And yet what Moscow lacks in communal spirit, it more than makes up for in cultural offerings, with a whopping 95 percent of locals giving it top marks for ‘culture’. Pushkin would be proud.

If only all cities had: The Moscow metro, arguably the most beautiful and efficient public transport system in Europe. You’ll hardly ever have to wait more than three minutes for a train.

We’re leading the way in: Valuing culture in all its forms. The city was third most likely to be rated highly for its art and music scenes, behind only Paris and Madrid. —Uliana Pavlova

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What makes us great: Whether you want to devour your own weight in steak, sip skin-contact wine or dance all that off to tango (or all three), Buenos Aires is bursting with late-night gratification. Though the city has not yet bounced back to its pre-pandemic buzz, BA was still voted the world’s second-best for nightlife. A drawn-out six-month lockdown was tough for Porteños, but 62 percent still think it’s a great place to ‘discover ‘new things’, like taking alfresco merengue or boxing classes in the city’s 1,000-plus squares and parks, or helping cultivate urban gardens (one organisation created 180 during the pandemic).

If only all cities had: Free admission to museums and cultural centres. This inclusive approach to the arts means it doesn’t cost a penny to get into world-class exhibitions at many cultural hubs like the CCK. Little wonder, then, that 86 percent of people gave BA top marks for its culture. —Sorrel Moseley-Williams

📍 Discover the best things to do in Buenos Aires

What makes us great: Istanbul has taken a big hit from Covid, but the city hasn’t been beaten. Turkey’s biggest city and its intrepid entrepreneurs have done their best to weather the storm and have really rallied in step with the vaccine rollout. Istanbul kept its spirits up during the pandemic through community projects like the Sen Güvende Kal (‘You Stay Safe’), a Unesco-commended initiative from Umut Karakuş of meze bar Muutto. This brought chef-cooked meals to the doorsteps of over-65s across the city. A proposal by the mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, meanwhile, encouraged wealthier citizens to come to the aid of families adversely affected by the crisis. Istanbul has always offered some of the best culture this side of Europe – with 71 percent of locals rating the arts scene highly in our survey – so it was fitting enough that theatre was one of the first things to come back to life as lockdown lifted.

If only all cities had: Outdoor events spaces like Küçükçiftlik Park, which put on several alfresco plays to help locals cope with stringent social-distancing regulations. —Deniz Huysal, Time Out Istanbul

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What makes us great: Bangkokians have always taken pride in their city’s dining culture and readers seem to agree: 96 percent of Bangkok residents love what their home city has to offer food-wise, and this year proved that they will do whatever they can to support the scene. When many of Bangkok’s food businesses, especially small restaurants and street stalls, were struggling to survive, non-profits stepped in, encouraging consumers to patronise their fave locals. Delivery platforms lowered their commission rates. And local media joined in by celebrating community heroes. In response, the food world has given back, with more than a few Michelin-recognised chefs cooking gourmet food for frontline workers. The past 18 months have tested the resolve and mettle of Bangkokians, but we’ve also witnessed more humanity and empathy than ever before. 

If only all cities had: Online community groups where strangers can support small businesses in their neighbourhood. One example, Ari Community, has more than 33,000 members offering everything from home-cooked food to handyman services. —Top Koaysomboon, Time Out Bangkok

📍 Discover the best things to do in Bangkok

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