What’s the greatest city in the world? It’s a hotly contested title – but after asking 15,000 people all over the world, we think we’ve come up with a pretty convincing answer. Having quizzed thousands of urbanites for this year’s Time Out City Life Index, we scored 32 cities on criteria such as food, drink, culture, friendliness, affordability, happiness and liveability. Here’s our final ranking: the most exciting cities in the world to live in and visit in 2018. Start stacking up that bucket list.
The most exciting cities in the world right now
A big hand, please, for Chicago: the greatest city in the world, beating all comers. Chicagoans raved about their city’s bar scene, its live music and culture, its local neighbourhoods and its affordability. It was one of the happiest and proudest cities worldwide. In fact, it only fell short on safety and whether it had become a better place to live over time. Don’t go changing, Chicago: we love you just the way you are.
It may be Portugal’s second city, but pleasant Porto is the best place in the world for making friends, finding love, feeling free to be yourself and keeping in touch with family – beating Lisbon in most categories across the board, and ranking second overall. For travellers, it’s also the most affordable city for a night out. Watch out, though: a fifth of locals say ‘too many tourists’ is the city’s biggest problem.
Despite ranking joint first as the most stressed city in the world, New York excelled when it came to culture, nightlife, eating and drinking. It also scored perhaps surprisingly high for happiness, with a huge majority saying they’re free to be themselves and they’d still live in the city if money were no object.
The British capital is one of the world’s best cities for culture and eating, and Londoners are happier than you might expect. But a low liveability score (with the most stress and the longest commutes in Europe, plus poor affordability) pushed it down into fifth place.
Putting the ‘mad’ into ‘Madrid’, Madrilenians go out to bars and clubs more than anyone else on the planet and are the most likely to send naked pictures of themselves to a stranger. Their city’s strong food scene and great culture and nightlife propelled them into sixth place overall.
After a tough 2017, locals said that the best thing about Manchester is that ‘We carry on, no matter what.’ It’s also the place with the most people who can’t get through the day without a cuppa, while its great drinking scene, live music and friendliness saw it end up ranked seventh.
Despite lagging behind Porto, Lisbon was one of the proudest and most liveable cities we surveyed, with most people still expecting to live there in five years. It was one of the cheapest cities for travellers, but not necessarily for locals: more Lisboans felt they needed to earn more to be comfortable than people in any other city.
The Catalonian city’s buzzy food and culture scene saw it enter the global top ten. It’s one of the most enjoyable cities in the world to live in, and second worldwide in terms of locals wanting to stay if money were no object – despite being one of the least affordable cities in our survey. It’s also a community-spirited place, with more people volunteering than anywhere else.
Up there with the happiest and proudest cities on earth, the Scottish capital placed eleventh overall. It’s affordable (even though it has the lowest employment rate of any city we quizzed) and its local neighbourhoods are fantastic. Oh, and it’s the top city in the world for gin drinkers. No wonder people love living here.
Tel Aviv, Israel’s so-called ‘bubble’, has a reputation for hedonism – and as the top city in the world for drug use, one-night stands, late nights and short working hours, it seems it’s deserved. But it’s not all about wild times: Tel Aviv also has the world’s best local neighbourhoods and an incredible food scene. Only low scores for happiness and liveability marked it down.
Thought that whole ‘city of love’ thing was a myth? Au contraire, mon amour: Parisians are having more sex than anyone else in the world. (Unsurprisingly, they’re also the most sleep-deprived.) Paris was unbeatable for culture but suffered on happiness and liveability, with most city-dwellers thinking the City of Light has got worse since they’ve lived there.
The people of Mexico City soak up more culture than anywhere else, and their food scene is great too, though the city’s ranking suffered because of concerns about safety. Perhaps that’s why most people said they would leave if they could afford to. It’s a great place to visit, though, as one of the cheapest places in the world for a night out – and more than half of citizens say they actually quite like tourists.
The highest-scoring Asian city in our study, Shanghai has changed for the better: residents rate its public transport and safety, and it’s easy to make friends. However it’s a transient place, with more renters than anywhere else and most people expecting to move out within five years.
Friendly Berlin is the least lonely city in the world: more people know their neighbours here than anywhere else. But its food scene leaves a lot to be desired, people aren’t crazy about their local areas, and the city’s famous nightlife scene lags behind New York, Madrid and Paris. And despite its reputation as a haven for European creatives, people don’t generally feel like they can be themselves here.
LA is the cocktail capital of the world, with more people mixing it up than anywhere else, and also the most anxious city on the planet. It scored highly for its restaurant and culture scenes, but people didn't feel it had changed for the better since they'd lived there, and it was one of the hardest cities to make friends in.
The US capital scored badly for eating and affordability, and was one of the least enjoyable cities to live in. It’s a Tinder hotbed, with the highest rate of dating app use – though its residents are also more likely to ghost potential love interests. Could that be why, along with New York, it’s joint first in the world for stress?
It’s official: Hong Kong has the best public transport in the world, according to locals. But that didn’t make Hong Kongers want to stick around: more than anywhere else, they couldn’t see themselves still living in the city in five years’ time. No wonder, when the autonomous territory has one of the lowest overall happiness scores of all the cities we surveyed.
Miami was let down by officially the worst public transportation in the world, and Miamians hate drivers like no-one else. But the city’s nightlife was way above average, its restaurant scene was one of the buzziest, and people generally felt Miami had got better, not worse.
It’s all work and no play if you live in Dubai, where people have the longest working hours of any city. (They’re also the biggest networkers, using LinkedIn more than anyone else we surveyed.) So it’s no surprise they don’t have much time for culture, a field in which the Emirati capital scored especially poorly. It’s also one of the least affordable places in the world.
Boston was one of the worst-performing cities overall, with poor scores for bars, nightlife, live music and culture bringing it in at number 30 out of 32. It was also one of the least affordable cities surveyed. But people here are pretty happy, and it’s the safest US city we surveyed apart from New York.
Of the cities we surveyed, Singapore was the worst rated by its residents for culture. But it scored well for safety and public transport, it’s a healthy place – doing more exercise than the global average – and it has a much buzzier restaurant scene than other cities towards the bottom of the ranking.
Oh, Istanbul. People here aren’t happy at all: they think their city is a rip-off and that it’s unsafe. They don’t feel proud or enjoy living there, or free to be themselves. Poignantly, if given a one-way trip in a time machine, more people here than anywhere else would choose to live in their city’s past. But there’s still a magic to this ancient, continent-straddling metropolis: a quarter of residents say the city always holds something new to discover.