The Most Exciting Cities in the World

City crowds throng beneath the colourful neon signs of the Akihabara shopping district in Tokyo, Japan.
City crowds throng beneath the colourful neon signs of the Akihabara shopping district in Tokyo, Japan. | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sian Atkins
5 April 2021

From London to Tokyo, the world’s most exciting cities have a few things in common: a vibrant cultural life, great food, spectacular sights and rich architecture. But they’ll need a unique star quality to make it onto our list of the most fun cities in the world.

New York City

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Skyline of New York City, Lower Manhattan. Ellis Island appears in front of the Financial District?s skyscrapers
The skyline of Lower Manhattan, New York City | © Francois Roux / Alamy Stock Photo
With its iconic buildings, unbeatable shopping, vibrant cultural life, and expansive food scene, The Big Apple is undisputedly one of the most thrilling places on Earth. A leading hub for entertainment, fashion and technology, it attracts an ambitious, vibrant crowd with a strong commitment to innovation. This is a city that never sleeps and for good reason. Bars stay open until 4am, meaning there are limitless opportunities for those looking to keep the party going into the small hours. The food culture has to be seen and sampled to be believed, with restaurants, cafes and take-outs spanning almost every country and cuisine in the world. Above all, New York is a feast for the senses. The buzzing street life, the lights of Times Square and Broadway, the mesmerizing skyscrapers and panoramas all combine to create a powerful sense of being right at the heart of the action.

London

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London is a a key world capital with more than enough sights, activities, shows, events and festivities to fill a lifetime. It is perhaps the most multicultural city in the world. Decades of immigration have created an invigorating melting pot of people, cultures and food. Highlights of the British capital include iconic landmarks, world-class performing arts and museums, endless historical sites, market shopping and street art. And that’s not to mention the social scene. In the summer you can weave between trendy canal boats and buzzing parks; in the winter there are hundreds of cozy pubs to hole up in. Once night falls, London’s world-famous clubs, gig venues and thriving warehouse scene will keep you dancing until dawn. And best of all? The locals have finally stopped talking about Brexit.

Barcelona

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One of Europe’s most dynamic and youthful cities, Barcelona packs a real punch with its world-beating art scene, beach lifestyle, and hedonistic nightlife. It’s large enough to have plenty to do yet sufficiently dense to be manageable and easily traversable on foot. There are certainly many big-ticket sights, such as the Picasso Museum and La Sagrada Familia. But to experience the true essence of Barcelona, follow the example of the locals. Spend an afternoon exploring one of the many eclectic neighbourhoods and the carefree Bohemian atmosphere. Join the exhilarated crowds in the city’s frequent football celebrations or come for the music during Primavera Sound festival. Above all, be sure to dine in one of the hundreds of trendy tapas bars and then dive into the city’s lively and always surprising bar scene.

Rio de Janiero

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A dancer with the Vila Isabel Samba School performs in the Sambadrome during the Rio Carnival February 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vila Isabel's parade theme this year was an ode to Brazil's northern state of Pernambuco, one of the hardest hit by t
A dancer with the Vila Isabel Samba School performs in the Sambadrome during the Rio Carnival February 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. | © Agencia Brasil / Alamy Stock Photo
One of South America’s best-loved destinations, Rio is renowned for its festivals and laid-back beach vibe. The proximity of the coast and mountains provide plenty of outdoor thrills, from football to surfing to hang gliding, all guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping. Time your visit to coincide with the Rio Carnival, the biggest festival in the world, which is held every year before Lent, and you’ll witness colorful parades, energetic samba dancing, fireworks, larger-than-life characters and strings of endless street parties.

New Orleans

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New Orleans is renowned for its music culture, Creole French and Spanish architecture, and mouthwatering Southern cuisine. The city has more bars per person than anywhere else in the US, and the locals love sport. Embrace the city’s hospitality with some bar-hopping, or simply while away the hours drinking in the color and surprises of everyday life in The Big Easy. All in all, the infectious and hedonistic feel makes it hard to tire of life here.

Tokyo

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Japan’s fast-paced, bustling capital is one of Earth’s most captivating cities. It enthralls visitors with a unique mix of ancient traditions and cutting-edge modernity. Tokyo is home to many of the world’s latest technological innovations as well as some truly bizarre, mind-bending concepts. From robot restaurants to high-octane karaoke, massive video game parlours and unthinkable food creations, as well as more shopping, restaurants and nightlife venues than you can shake a stick at, Tokyo will set your heart pumping. Above all, be prepared for its street life to bombard your senses as you lose yourself in the fast-moving masses, neon lights and jumbotrons. Tokyo is anything but laid back. So if you’re in search of excitement, the constant stream of stimuli, activities and unexpected experiences means there’s no better place.

Berlin

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Berlin skyline with famous TV tower at Alexanderplatz in twilight at dusk, Germany
The Berlin skyline with its famous TV tower at Alexanderplatz. | © Scott Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo

Let’s face it, Berlin is one of the coolest cities in the world: fast-changing and infused with youth culture. The city has a large young population, thanks in large part to its affordability. It is also popular with creatives of all types working in film, fashion, music and the visual arts, resulting in an endlessly stimulating and ever-changing environment. Berlin also boasts some of the world’s best nightlife. Cheap beer, late-closing times, and the seamless co-existence of edgy underground venues with techno-pumping super clubs makes it a night owl’s dream. Beyond this, there’s always something new and unique to discover to awaken the senses and inspire the mind, from innovative architecture to evocative artwork and ultra-cool gentrified neighborhoods.

Dubai

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Packed full of superlatives, the “City of Gold” has to be seen to be believed. Towering buildings, gigantic themed malls, man-made islands, scorching desert, seductive souks, and luxurious hotels all combine to produce a real treat for the senses. Dubai is well known for its over-the-top extravagances. Check out the alpine indoor ski slope, stay in an underwater hotel, or marvel at the gold-filled interior of the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel. Sports lovers will be spoilt for choice as opportunities abound for fun-filled activities out on the water or in the dunes, as well as numerous world-class sporting events. Immigrants and expats make up a large proportion of the population, which contributes to the cultural diversity and unique convergence of Arabic tradition and 21st-century innovation.

Sydney

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Australia’s most popular city is a cosmopolitan, exuberant metropolis, with a diverse population, world-beating attractions and a laid-back feel. An outdoor lover’s paradise, its home to the world’s most striking harbour, with its beautiful coastline and iconic architecture, along with a host of other stunning natural attractions. Adrenaline junkies will find plenty to occupy their time. Get your thrills surfing at the iconic beaches, embark on a nerve-jangling jet boat ride under the Harbour Bridge, or dive with sharks at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. Complement all this with a booming foodie scene, dynamic cultural landscape, and vibrant nightlife, and Sydney is hard to beat.

Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 13, 2019: Fremont East District of Las Vegas at dawn. It is among the most famous streets in the Las Vegas Valley.
The Fremont East District of Las Vegas at dawn, one of the most famous streets in the Las Vegas Valley. | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
One of world’s most infamous destinations, this pulsating city with its gambling heart, situated right in the heart of the Mojave Desert, is an assault on the senses. Cruising up and down the Strip, the theme park feel, sheer decadence and sense of unrestricted revelry create a buzzing energy. Gigantic 24-hour casinos offer an incessant stream of thrills, fueling dreams of hitting a fortune. World-class performances, concerts, exhibits, and dancing fountains will keep you entertained at all hours. On top of all this, Las Vegas has some of the most lavish accommodation to be found anywhere.
These recommendations were updated on April 5, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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