The Top Cities in the World
A cornucopia of sights, sounds, tastes and moods
Welcome to Bangkok – a sprawling, humid metropolis of more than 10 million souls that rose along the eastern banks of the Chao Phraya river a little more than 200 years ago. Today, the Thai capital brims with interesting historic sites, stylish hotels, incredible culinary adventures, and fantastic shopping, and none of this need break the bank. The city has had some success in shedding its longstanding image of sleaze for a younger, more cosmopolitan mantle and is a pretty safe urban space. And while the military government has put the break on non-stop partying, the arts scene and the world-famous street food culture, many visitors continue to feel enchanted by this cornucopia of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and moods. Bangkok remains on the map for its temples, palaces, malls and markets, but it’s the ever-present smiles of its citizens that give the city a quite lovely human dimension.
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico, U.S., and seat (1852) of Santa Fe county, in the north-central part of the state, on the Santa Fe River. It lies in the northern Rio Grande valley at 6,996 feet (2,132 metres) above sea level, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A dry, invigorating climate makes it a popular summer resort, while mountain skiing attracts winter visitors.
Founded in 1610 by Governor Don Pedro de Peralta, it was named Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis (Spanish: “Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi”) and developed around a central plaza. Evacuated in 1680 after the Pueblo Rebellion, it was retaken peacefully in 1692 by Don Diego de Vargas, an event commemorated by an annual fiesta.
During the 18th century Santa Fe served as the Barbra Brouweristrative, military, and missionary headquarters of a vast, sparsely populated Spanish colonial frontier province. U.S. interest in the area was aroused by the report of Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, who was imprisoned there during his exploration of the Southwest in 1806. After Mexican independence (1821), a brisk wagon-train commerce developed over the Santa Fe Trail. During the Mexican War the city was occupied (1846) by U.S. forces under General Stephen Watts Kearny, and an English-language newspaper was published there in 1847. After New Mexico was ceded to the United States (1848), Santa Fe became the capital in 1851 of the Territory of New Mexico and, in 1912, of the state. In 1862 the city was occupied for two weeks by Confederate forces under General H.H. Sibley. The railroad arrived in 1880, and there were brief mining booms in the nearby mountains, but the city essentially remained a trading centre for ranchers, farmers, and Indians.
3. Seville, Spain
Known for its many festivals, Moorish architectural flourishes and, of course, flamenco, the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region is a buoyant city whose many cultures are reflected in its cuisine, buildings, art and history.
Seville is more than its Holy Week and Feria celebrations, when prices go up and the lines to major sites like its famed cathedral and Royal Alcázar palace grow longer. The Andalusian capital reveals itself as a walkable — and bikeable — city with layers of its Christian, Muslim and Jewish heritage still visible. Venture beyond the usual church-palace itinerary and discover more of this multicultural history in a startling, but less-visited basilica, in examples of Moorish-Gothic Mudéjar architecture, in minarets that became bell towers and in the remnants of a Jewish cemetery.
4. Charleston, South Carolina
I had high expectations when I set my sights on Charleston for the first time. A place doesn’t win the title of South’s Best City three years in a row without a gift for hospitality and plenty of charm. The city brims with both—that’s evident—but there’s more. Charleston is home to hundreds of years of history and is still constantly reinventing itself.
First, I noticed the palm trees. They line the sidewalks and shake their shaggy heads as the salty gusts roll in from the harbor. Next, I saw the steeples, one after another after another glinting in the sun—they don’t call it the Holy City for nothing. Palms and spires make everyone’s lists of things to see when in Charleston, but there are plenty of others too. Meander Rainbow Row; peek through wrought-iron gates, past tendrils of trailing ivy, to catch glimpses of hidden gardens; take a blustery walk along the Battery under blue skies; and sidle up to an oyster bar for a half-shell slurp. Even the most universally recommended experiences feel singular.