Close-knit communities and spectacular surroundings raise the bliss in these urban oases.
Koh Samui, Thailand
Photograph by Thomas Linkel, laif/Redux
This list was first published in the book The World's Best Cities.
One of Thailand’s largest islands after Phuket, Ko Samui’s prosperity and quality of life has risen steadily with the recent influx of visitors drawn to its intoxicating blend of street food stalls, hidden Buddhist temples, jungle waterfalls, and palm-fringed beaches.
San Sebastián, Spain
Photograph by Jens Schwarz, laif/Redux
Featuring Michelin-rated restaurants, three picturesque beaches, and the Monte Igueldo amusement park that promises the best views of the city, San Sebastián charms locals and tourists alike. The city also boasts a state-of-the-art culinary school and was recently deemed a 2016 European Capital of Culture.
Auckland, New Zealand
Photograph by Amy Toensing, National Geographic
From world-class dining and a vibrant nightlife in the bustling city to serene escapes on its tranquil black-sand seashores, lush forests, and 48 volcanic cones, Auckland’s appeal isn’t lost on its 1.5 million residents. The locals enjoy a thriving economy, impressive education system, and spacious green parks, along with New Zealand’s universal public health care.
Photograph by David Nevala, Getty
Locals stay active all year round in the Wisconsin capital, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and jogging along landscaped lakeshores. The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum boasts prairies, savannas, and 20 miles (32 km) of hiking trails.
Photograph by Mauricio Alanis, Getty
The capital of Nuevo Léon, Monterrey was founded in 1579 as a Spanish settlement. Although there are booming industries, residents point to their emphasis on their social lives over their professional lives as the basis for the city’s strong community bonds.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Photograph by Mohd Rasfan, AFP/Getty Images
Kuala Lumpur may mean “muddy estuary” in Malay—it’s located where the Klang and Gombak Rivers meet—but development has transformed the former colonial capital into a thriving, multicultural, cosmopolitan center with top-notch restaurants and services, dominated by the landmark Petronas Twin Towers skyscrapers.
Gold Coast, Australia
Photograph by Kelly Cestari, ASP/Getty Images
Marked by miles of seaside resorts, this coastal city in Queensland is on perpetual holiday, constantly hosting crowds of surfers drawn to the golden beaches and world-class waves breaking off such famed spots as the Spit and Rainbow Bay.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Photograph by Nawfal Jirjees, National Geographic
Renowned for its gleaming new everything, from roads to rails, the city in the sand boasts the world’s only “seven-star” hotel, free education and housing for Emiratis, and the world’s tallest building at 2,717 feet (828 m) high, the Burj Khalifa. The city also boasts white, sandy beaches, and an indoor ski slope.
San Jose, California
Photograph by Justin Sullivan, Getty
Organic produce flourishes in this sunny California city southeast of San Francisco Bay. Residents get their hands dirty in over two dozen community gardens, as the warm climate is ideal for farming.
Photograph by Kaare Viemose, The New York Times/Redux
Coastal Åarhus, one of Scandinavia’s oldest cities, blends a medieval Old Town with modern living around its large natural harbor. Local residents celebrate their city’s income equality, free health care and day care, and excellent education from the many local colleges and universities.
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