Upscale travel magazine Conde Nast has released it’s 2013 “Reader’s Choice” top 24 cities in the world to visit. I’ve been to less than half of the cities, so I guess I don’t qualify as part of that crowd.
I’m fine with that because my travel philosophy is different from what I see as that of the Conde Nast crowd. I used to subscribe to their travel magazine but dropped it for Budget Travel when I realized that Conde Nast focuses on the “luxury” side of travel. I prefer a more “authentic” travel experience, closer to how the locals live.
For example, I’ve been to San Francisco many times but I’ve not been to Top of the Mark, a restaurant, located on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental at the top of Nob Hill. A Thai beef lunch salad is $20 per person but for that price Susie and I can both enjoy a delicious meal at a “hole in the wall” Thai restaurant frequented by locals.
Based on 80,000 votes, the top cities (of which the ones I’ve visited are bolded) are:
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
2. Budapest, Hungary (tie)
2. Florence, Italy (tie)
4. Salzburg, Austria
5. Charleston, South Carolina, United States (tie)
5. San Sebastián, Spain (tie)
7. Vienna, Austria
8. Rome , Italy
9. Siena, Italy
10. Québec City, Canada
11. Cape Town, South Africa (tie)
11. Bruges, Belgium (tie)
13. Vancouver, Canada
14. Kyoto, Japan
15. Prague, Czech Republic
15. Kraków, Poland
17. Victoria, Canada (tie)
17. Sydney (tie)
17. Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States (tie)
20. Seville, Spain
20. Beirut, Lebanon
22. Paris, France
22. Melbourne, Australia
24. Venice, Italy
24. Barcelona, Spain
I’m not sure what “standards” (if any) voters were supposed to use in voting besides “I like it.” But even if there were specific standards, most “top cities” travel lists are very subjective.
So I’m going to…subject… this list to my own rigorous, subjective evaluation. Let’s go…!
The first thing that raised my eyebrows is that there is only one Asian city on the list: Kyoto. Amazing…! And ridiculous…
I’d think one or two Chinese cities would be on that list. If I’d been voting, Hong Kong would have been my first vote. But maybe not enough voters have made it to Asia…
I also sense a Euro-centrism in this voting. Conde Nast readers seem to me to be folks who prefer sipping cappuchino on Rome’s Via Veneto, where they can see and be seen, rather than enjoying a $5 pot of Tom Kha Gai soup for two outdoors at dusk along Bangkok’s Sukhumvit. I’ve done both and will take Sukhumvit over the Via Veneto any day. And I suspect if the voters had been Lonely Planet readers, Bangkok would beat out Rome too!
Along that thought, notice that the top city is in Mexico. And Mexico borders…the United States! Yes, San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage site but there are many of those. I have to wonder whether the ease of traveling to Mexico accounts for that city receiving top billing since presumably most of the voters are American.
Another eyebrow raiser for me is the two American cities: Charleston and Santa Fe. I’ve been to Charleston and I wasn’t impressed. I’ve also been to Santa Fe and while I agree that it’s a “charming” city there’s only about three days of charm there. And that charm is very pricey.
I’m shocked, shocked I say, that San Francisco didn’t make the list. I’ve no plans to return to Charleston or Santa Fe. But I’ve been to San Francisco many times and it’s a city I’ll return to again and again. Because, as the song goes, I left my heart in San Francisco, not Charleston or Santa Fe.
Three Italian cities are on the list: Florence, Rome and Venice, in that order. I spent three weeks in Italy in 1988, visiting those three cities as well as Naples and the Amalfi coast.
Although Rome is a “must” for the historical sites, including day excursions, the “return to” city is, hands down, Florence. It’s a very walkable, charming city and a good base for excursions into the Tuscan countryside. So I do agree with the voters in the ranking order of the Italian cities.
There are also two Spanish cities on this list: Seville and Barcelona, in that order. I spent a month in Spain in 2006, including Barcelona and Seville. Barcelona has Gaudi, the Ramblas and a thriving harbor area. Seville has…a train station.
Seville does have a magnificent cathedral, an interesting alcazar (fort), and the Santa Cruz barrio (the Jewish ghetto before the Jews were expelled from Spain) but the train station is why most folks come to Seville. From Seville, you can hop a train north and be in Cordoba, with its candy-cane striped mezquita, in an hour. Or, head south and be in Jerez in an hour for a self-guided sampling tour of the sherry bodegas. There are many other day excursions to southern Andalucia that make Seville a good base for exploring this part of Spain.
I’m surprised that Madrid didn’t make the list and would have voted for it over Seville. For me, Madrid is the “return to” city in Spain. I still long for indulging melted chocolate and churros while sitting at Plaza del Sol or any similar large plaza. With only five days in Madrid, we were barely able to visit the main attractions plus Segovia, and there were many day excursions we wished we had time for.
As for the remaining cities, Budapest, Bruges, Prague and Vienna are on my “bucket list” but I’ll settle for the first two. I also want to visit Amsterdam.
That’s my take on Conde Nast’s ranking. I welcome your views on any of these cities… As well as cities you think were overlooked.