I’ve only visited 18 countries so far, but will soon be expanding the number to about 40 after my travel and study abroad experience in Europe starting in December. However, I’ve compiled a list of my top 11 favorite cities in the world, which includes some smaller towns in the United States. Here are the top 11 in order:
11. Hong Kong, China
Although at the bottom of the Top 11, Hong Kong makes my list for one reason: the food. While the EXTREMELY CROWDED metro system on a Friday night overwhelmed me (which is saying a lot coming from a New Yorker), my experience with Hong Kong’s culinary scene was unforgettable. I went to One Dim Sum, which is the cheapest Michelin-star rated restaurant in the entire world. The recognition and the hype lived to its reputation, after ordering seven delicious rounds of food while only footing a 20 USD bill. I also signed up for a 5-hour food and history tour around the Central District which includes the best wonton soup I ever had in my entire life. The city is also home to the most number of tall skyscrapers in the world, dotting the skyline amidst lush green mountains in the background. Like Singapore, Hong Kong started as a small fishing village and has a long and rich history. Today, it is one of the most influential and wealthiest cities in the world, home to luxurious hotels, big banks, and a lot of Louis Vuitton stores. But yes, if you’re a peasant like I am, go for the wonton soup.
10. Washington, USA
Besides the approach to LaGuardia Airport in New York City (and for my fellow AVGeeks, specifically Runway 4), nothing beats flying into DC’s Reagan Airport (DCA) on a fine clear day and seeing the nation’s capital. One of the best things I love about DC is the abundance of museums, all within walking distance from each other. My favorite, unsurprisingly, is the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum which houses an entire nose section of a former Northwest Airlines Boeing 747. I once connected through DCA and decided to take the risk and take an Uber to the museum to watch a 1-hour documentary about airplanes. I ended up almost missing my flight to Syracuse after insisting that I needed to finish the movie despite knowing that I had to be at the airport for my flight. Cutting it close? Yes. But so worth it. I can literally spend all day at that museum and go there again and again and still feel like it’s my first time. Although the city hasn’t felt the same ever since the Purge took place on November 8, 2016.
9. Burlington, USA
What’s cute, progressive, and charming and also home to a cute, progressive, and charming politician? Burlington is without a doubt the best small city I’ve ever visited. I’m a big fan of smaller cities in general but Burlington takes the cake for its proximity to Lake Champlain, one of my favorite outdoor spots in the country. In addition, its downtown area has an abundance of great cafes, shops, and restaurants. I visited Burlington both in the summer time and winter time, and each season brings its own set of beauty. From experience, it is also home to some of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life. Last time I visited, there was a woman who noticed that a stranger’s car was parked in a metered-parking area. The time was about to expire in a few minutes and the driver was nowhere to be found, so she kindly took some quarters from her purse and paid it for them. She said, “I wouldn’t have them to have a bad day! That would be quite awful.” WOW!
8. Dubai, the United Arab Emirates
Dubai is without a doubt one of the most popular cities in the world. It is home to the world’s tallest skyscraper, a gigantic mall with an indoor ski resort, and anything else you could imagine that sounds impossible. Despite the almost unbearable heat in the summer time (it was up to 117 F when I visited), I still fell in love with Dubai’s crazy opulence and glitz. In one phrase: it is the most bougie out of all bougie. My cousin who worked as a flight attendant for Emirates hosted us during our visit which made our visit even better. We had lunch at this fancy restaurant near the Burj Dubai (a self-proclaimed 7-star hotel on the water). It was one of the fanciest places I’ve ever eaten at, considering that the menu didn’t list the price. That’s how you know. But despite popular belief, Dubai is actually pretty affordable, both in terms of visiting and living. If you look up hotel rates, even the Shangri-La could cost you around $100 a night, and if you really want to splurge with your friends, the Armani Hotel which is located at the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) is *only* about $300 a night. If you get the chance to visit, don’t forget to do the desert safari tour which includes a dinner under the stars, a belly dancing show, and a chance to ride a camel!
7. San Francisco, USA
What used to be my dream city to live in before I realized it wasn’t fiscally possible for a recent college grad with a recent college grad salary, San Francisco is still one of my favorite cities to visit and I’m sure I will never get tired of visiting. The Bay Area in general is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen but what makes it more beautiful is the weather. Although consistent fog delay and cancel flights, the year-round fall-like weather is absolutely where I thrive. While I generally love the cold (that’s why I’m in Syracuse!) I find the mid 50s temperature to be the best. The city’s cable cars, architecture, and food scene makes it incredibly charming. There is something about San Francisco that truly makes it unique and makes me want to keep coming back. Maybe because I love the city so much but know I can not afford to live there.
6. Agra, India
Agra makes the list for one big reason: the Taj Mahal. Our drive to Agra from New Delhi was also one of the most memorable road trips I’ve ever been in. India is completely a different world, which I will further elaborate on a separate post. But Agra’s mesmerizing streets jammed with cars, pedestrians, and cows, was everything I’d imagine what India would be like and then some. I saw wild monkeys jumping from rooftops to rooftops. But of course, the main attraction is the Taj Mahal. What’s even more fascinating than its architecture and its grandeur is its incredible story behind it. It was one of the very few places I’ve ever been in that truly made me speechless. Agra was also part of a 6-week trip I did with my parents right after graduating high school. We started the journey in Tokyo, Japan, then spent some time in the Philippines with family, flew to Singapore, and then visited India, and ended our trip in the United Arab Emirates. It was definitely one of the most memorable moments of my life spending time with my family.
5. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is overwhelmingly beautiful. When I landed at Narita Airport, it was instant sensory overload. English signs were minimal and language barrier was immediately apparent. However, this didn’t stop from locals to eagerly and kindly try their best and help you with directions. Unsurprisingly, it is also home to the best sushi I ever had in my life which was unfortunate because every other sushi I ever tasted since could never compare. Tokyo’s subway system is also extremely efficient and surprisingly easy to navigate. Unlike the New York City MTA, it is clean, on-time, and despite the crowds, it does not smell like butt and urine. The city’s blend of old and new makes it extremely special as well. While modern skyscrapers dot the vast expanse of this urban jungle, century-old temples, shrines, and parks are still woven into the city which, as a history nerd, makes for a good Instagram post on how AP Global History really changed me.
4. Sevilla, Spain
Visiting Sevilla was just like a dream. The city’s geographic location and rich history lives through its architecture. The beautiful and unique blend of Christian and Muslim influence is evident through the presence of century-old Churches and Mosques, standing alongside the same street. The entire city feels like a movie set, which is unsurprising, given that the infamous Plaza de España was where Star Wars Episode I filmed one of its most iconic scenes. I remember eating a $3 seafood paella right after noon while sitting across the Plaza in an outdoor restaurant: it was quintessentially and unforgettably Spanish. It is one of the very few cities where I definitely will go out of my way to visit again.
4. Rome, Italy
As you now know, I’m an avid history nerd and love a historic city and I don’t think there is any other major city in the world that could possibly beat Rome in that regard. But what makes Rome extra special for me is the fact that it was my first solo trip abroad. My $70 a night hotel was only a few minutes away from the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo. I had a balcony that overlooked a beautiful courtyard and had access to a rooftop that had a 360 view of the Eternal City. Right across from the hotel was this nice Italian restaurant where I ordered a seafood spaghetti, a cappuccino, and some Nutella gelato for dessert…because when in Rome. As I was walking down the tiny cobbled stone streets of the city, I was constantly amazed about its authentic beauty and rich history. When I saw the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with my own eyes, I could not help but think how lucky I was to be standing there. I used to just read about all these things from a history textbook in class, but there I was standing in the same cobbled stone streets where Julius Caesar once stood. Rome is the living embodiment of why I love history and being there was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life.
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is the one city in the world that literally made me tear up. As my friends and I ascended Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, a 1300-foot steep mountain that rises straight from the water edge around Rio, the view left me absolutely speechless and in tears. The sun was beautifully setting in the horizon and the city lights started to light up and flicker with an unforgettable and mesmerizing golden haze. And way pass Ipanema and Copacabana, one of the most iconic beaches in the world, are dozens of more secluded beaches that are within a taxi ride from city center with pristine white sand beaches . The nightlife in Rio is also something to be part of. Although we were warned about petty crimes and armed robberies, our four-day trip to Rio went without a hitch. Food and drinks, just like the rest of Brazil, come at an extreme bargain. Much like the rest of Brazil, there is an extremely laid-back vibe in Rio. Match that with what is perhaps my favorite cuisine in the world (can’t beat Brasilian barbecue) there are plenty of reasons to go back to Brazil over and over again.
2. New York, USA
Okay. Here’s the deal. I had to. I know New York is technically my hometown and I shouldn’t rank it because it’ll be biased, but New York City is also one of the greatest city in the world, if not, the greatest. Where else could you find an Ethiopian, Lebanese, Japanese, Filipino, Armenian, Chilean, Mongolian, and Angolan restaurant within a few miles from each other? Every nationality and nearly every language in the world are represented in this global city, which is also home to the United Nations World Headquarters which makes it by default the capital of the world. Yes, the subway smells like absolute ass and the people can sometimes be rude, but what New York lacks in cleanliness and hospitality makes it up with everything else. It is the crossroads of the world and it is here where my family moved to the United States 10 years ago and where we began to find our own version of the American dream. As sappy as it may sound, Frank Sinatra was right: if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. As much as I hate walking through Times Square or being stuck on the F train for 45 minutes to an hour, New York is in a league of its own and no matter where I’ll be in life, it will always be home and I’ll always be proud to call myself a New Yorker. Square up if you think otherwise bih. Now can I get a deadass? (Shout to my best friend Brandon for always reminding me to embrace my inner Queens)
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
For those of you who knows me or read my first post on this blog, this should not come as a surprise. Copenhagen, Denmark is my favorite city in the world and that’s why I voluntarily chose it to be my home for next semester when there were 59 other cities and countries to choose from. What really drew me to Copenhagen actually started more than fourteen years before I first visited the city. I was five years old and my mom gave me this kid’s encyclopedia that detailed all the countries of the world. As I was flicking through the pages, this colorful photo of vibrant little houses caught my attention. It was the iconic Nyhavn area, a 17th Century waterfront, canal, and entertainment district in Copenhagen where yellow, orange, green, red, and blue buildings line up the pier with restaurants and coffee shops, and antique boats floating in the water. It was a scene that was completely different from what I’ve seen growing up in the Philippines. For many reasons that I really didn’t start to realize until recently, seeing that page about Copenhagen inspired the little traveler in me. For as long as I could remember, that was the exact time in my life that I had my Moana moment: there is more beyond the reef. And less than twenty years after that moment, I get to live in the very city that made me fall in love with the world and spark a lifetime obsession to see every corner of it.
More to come!
And there’s my list. For the next 6 months, I will be visiting more than 30 new cities that will definitely change the list. Some of the confirmed ones will be: Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Denpasar, Dubrovnik, Lisbon, London, Marrakech, Paris, Porto, Reykjavik, Shanghai, Split, Venice, and Zurich.
What’s your favorite city?