a tree with pink blossoms in front of a building

I love asking the world what they want to read, in part because I never have enough ideas to write. Today, in our usual discussion on Twitter, someone posed a question: can you write anything positive to give me faith in humanity. Someone then posed another question, asking about my favourite cities.

To honour both requests, I thought it’d be fun to talk about my favourite cities around the world, why I love them and why you might too. Deals are fun, points and miles are fun, but they are just the tool for the true ultimate goal, which is seeing the incredible world we live in. In semi particular order…

Before we start, honorable mentions to: New York, Madrid, Washington DC, Kyoto, Melbourne, and Rio De Janeiro.

a city with many colorful signsTokyo, Japan

I love Tokyo for many reasons, but in part because it takes me out of my comforts in a very comforting way. It’s a city with so much order, grace and respect for everything, so even though I don’t speak the language and find some thing challenging, I find that I’m always picked up by my fellow man. The bow, which is very real, is a beautiful sign of respect. Even little things like how much care goes into a basic meal is admirable.

As a lover of food, I find the quality at every price point is just staggering. As a nerd of sushi, I am in total heaven, though it does ruin me in most other cities around the world. As a lover of nature and all things peace, I find the endless array of gardens throughout the city to be amongst the finest in any place I’ve ever been. It’s impossible not to feel inspired as you walk through Imperial Palace Gardens or anywhere really.

But then there’s this weird, eccentric buzz, where you can’t help but say “only in Japan”, as you stand on a street corner and people dressed like Super Mario in Go-Karts zip by. Or the hoards of Harijuku girls in their high fashion gear on patrol. Or the cat cafes where you can have coffee with cats. It’s the best kind of weird and I am just so happy. Plus, when you leave, the airport ground staff bow to your plane.

a group of red telephone boothsLondon, United Kingdom

Here’s a tip: sit on the right side of the plane when you fly into London. With any luck, you’ll end up along the Thames on approach, and your eyes will nearly pop out as you see Parliament, Big Ben, The 02, and just about every famous landmark you can imagine, usually including Buckingham Palace. The thing I love about London, is that despite being a global icon and all these picture perfect attractions, it never feels like a busy city.

Neighbourhoods are so spread out and varied that each person can find exactly what they seek, and enjoy walking around room to explore. I love Brick Lane as much as I love posh Mayfair, and I love dirty Shoreditch as much as I love Park Lane. Depending on what you want, there’s a time and a place for everything. Speaking of which, when there is a time or a place, the Tube is easily one of the greatest transit systems in the world, which makes getting to all the zones and brilliant neighbourhoods easy.

There’s something special about the abundant parks and the multicultural, multi faith existence that just works in London. People always overlook that it’s one of the most Michelin starred cities in the world, and that it’s usually home to at least two or three bars in the World’s 10 Best. As a massive fan of tea (and cake), I love the ritual of afternoon tea. As a total slob, I love the sophistication and effort of making a thing of it. There’s also something just magical about the 5PM buzz as people spill out of offices and rather than putting their heads down to get on a train, they go to the pub – rain or shine.

35857495 - colorful bathhouses at muizenberg, cape town, south africa, standing in a row.Cape Town, South Africa

This place is a breath of fresh air in every way, and not just because it’s on the coast. You can’t arrive without understanding the brutal history, but you can’t leave without feeling like the world is getting better, slowly. Cape Town is almost unfairly beautiful, with mountains overlooking beaches and views from above the clouds.

Pastry icon Eric Lanlard and I were recently wondering how it’s possible that Michelin hasn’t released a guide on Cape Town yet. Even by the most exacting standards in Europe, Asia or California, the food is off the charts. Not only is each dish presented beautifully, the ingredients are so unique to Cape Town’s locale. It’s a place where your palette expands in the best way. All that – plus the super quaffing wine will be cheaper than the cheapest swill on the menu back home.

Out of the struggle so many cool areas have popped up in Cape Town. There’s an awesome coffee scene, surf scene and art community. I love hiking Lions Head with 360° views of each corner, feeling like I’m on top of the world. Throw in day trips to Cape Point or the simply stunning wine country and you’re in for a real treat. Whatever the weather, if someone asks, I’m always in for a Cape Town trip.

Sydney Opera House with pointed roof and stairsSydney, Australia

I’ll be honest, this totally could’ve been Melbourne too. Melbourne is like the hippest place on the planet, with world class beaches and the highest standards at every meal time. I love it there more than just about anywhere else, but Sydney is just such a treat. For starters, I love commuting on water taxis. After so many years in tubes, subways, trains and taxis, it feels so neat to sit on the bow of a boat and zip under the Harbour Bridge to Balmain.

I think one thing, like London, which makes Sydney so remarkable is how many looks you can enjoy. The CBD is like a buzzy, view centric version of any business district, but then you have central but quaint residential areas like Balmain, Potts Point, Double Bay and Bondi, which each have their own totally unique identities. Getting around to them is a breeze, and that’s because there’s usually one on the boat.

Australians just seem to enjoy daily life at a higher level than most, and that sort of happiness is contagious. That, and it’s hot, so cold pints or glasses of wine feel extra good. You can get so much enjoyment out of the simple things like sitting outside a great cafe, but with nearby attractions like the Blue Mountains and Bondi Beach, there’s plenty to explore as well. If you don’t love Sydney, you may not enjoy anything in life…

palm trees aviosLos Angeles, USA

I may just love it because so many people hate it, but I’m convinced I love it, and people just need to be educated on how to enjoy it. As someone who lives in a city and doesn’t really drive, I love driving in LA because it’s a novelty. I’m not saying I want to live in traffic there, but as a visitor, it’s amusing. Ultimately, LA is on the list because like these other gems, you can do it your own way, and there isn’t a wrong way.

I’m a Laurel Canyon Airbnb rental kind of person, and I adore it up there. Away from the hustle of Hollywood but only a few minutes drive down the beautiful canyon to everything LA, including Sunset Blvd. I love watching the sunrise from elevation, going for a hike in the amazing hills and then hitting the neighbourhoods which range from ultra luxe to obscure, to outright dangerous. The thing about LA, is that there’s a reason and a draw to each. For me, the pursuit of food, unique designers or great coffee is usually an initial draw. Each area looks different, feels different, but is all woven together.

I love that you can get some of the best Mexican food north of the border, arguably better Korean food than parts of Korea and the same goes for China and even Italy too. The only thing LA doesn’t quite yet know: a New York bagel. Watch the sunrise in the Hills, watch the sunset in Santa Monica then go for dinner in Malibu. The next day, go have Indian stoner food in Downtown LA, after a trip into the Valley. It’s always an adventure, and always a fun one too.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Love this, the way it makes you smile either because you’ve been there (London, Washington, Madrid) and understand or know that you’ll experience the place soon. For me Tokyos next on the BIG list, thanks T🎈

  2. Since you like tea, have you been to a tea service in Japan? We did one at the TI office in Narita. One person explained the process to us in English while a second person went through all the proper preparations and serving. I would highly recommend trying this on your next trip to Japan. Japanese tea has such a different taste than English.
    We also loved visiting a revolving sushi bar at 1 am in Tokyo – very unique experience to have and figuring it out without speaking the language.

  3. Well If you love Tokyo and Japan and Tea you’ll want to go to the Conrad Hotel in either Tokyo or Osaka for tea time….it’s over the top

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