Narrowing down the world’s cities to a succinct “best of” list is an almost impossible task for a writer, so we asked our most trusted experts: our readers. Some of the results were surprising, some not so surprising, but all of your responses underscore the enduring appeal of this mid-sized city. These unassuming but charming places offer the amenities of a big city without the crowds and sprawl of big city centers. Discover your next destination, or find out if your favorite mid-sized city is on the list.
1. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (winner)
Victoria is a good example of part of the appeal of a mid-size city: a balance of culture and accessibility. One of the biggest draws for tourists is the Butchart Gardens, an impressive botanical feat that offers lovely flowers, stunning scenery, and seasonal events like Christmas lights.
Victoria is also the cultural center of the region. Its Royal BC Museum has many fascinating exhibits and programs. The Greater Victoria Art Gallery offers a wide range of works from a diverse group of artists. The small-town Victorian feel keeps the cultural scene down-to-earth and engaging.
2. Galway, Ireland
Galway is the ideal gateway to discover the charm of the Emerald Isle. The city’s historic center is full of shopping, dining and drinking, especially around Eyre Square. For more seasonal events, check Galway’s festival schedule. From movies and music to sports and food, all interests are covered year-round.
Literary lovers will be delighted to discover that Galway is a UNESCO City of Film, Literature and Music, with interesting attractions such as Nora Barnacle’s childhood home and the Druid Theater Company. The stunning architecture of Galway Cathedral is also worth a visit.
3. Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is a beautiful city full of history and culture. Visitors to the city flock to landmarks like Mozart’s Birthplace and Salzburg Cathedral, but the city is also a hotbed of Austria’s coffee culture.Other popular attractions include Mirabell Palace and Gardens and other filming locations of classic films sound of music.
Although Salzburg is a fairytale city all year round, it is especially magical during the Christmas market season. The market on Residenzplatz square in front of the cathedral is like something out of a storybook. Like any good Christmas market, there’s an assortment of handmade gifts and hot food and drink.
4. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s largest city can be a bit out of the way for most travelers, but those who get there always say it’s worth it. Nestled in Iceland’s unforgiving beauty, Reykjavík is the jewel of the north. The city is home to some fascinating architecture, such as the stunning modern Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center and the iconic Hallgrim Church.
For relaxation, visit one of Reykjavik’s thermal pools and spas, such as Vesturbæjarlaug or the Blue Lagoon. Other activities include tasting local cuisine, visiting museums and bar-hopping.
5. Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne seems to exist outside of time, perched in the Alps and on the shores of the lake. Taking a leisurely cruise or paddle boarding out to sea is an enjoyable way to see this mid-sized city from a different perspective.
If you want to see Lucerne from another angle, go to Mount Pilatus. Once at the top, visitors can take a walk and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area. Explore the Chapel Bridge and the Old Town of Lucerne to experience the beauty of the city up close.
6. Bath, UK
Bath is a city with a rich history dating back to Roman Britain. Visitors interested in history enjoy exploring the ruins of the Roman baths that gave the city its name. Explore medieval Bath Abbey and the Georgian architecture of the Royal Crescent and Circus as you travel through history.
Not far from the Royal Crescent is the Royal Victoria Park, popular with locals and tourists alike for its grounds, botanic gardens and more. Finally, the Bath Festival turns the city into a hub for music, film, art and other cultural events. The city certainly punches above its weight.
7. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges (or Bruges) may be called by many in bruges — the 2008 film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson — but the midsize city is more than just a beautiful backdrop for the film. The center of Bruges has been recognized by UNESCO for its well-preserved medieval architecture. Highlights of the building include the Clock Tower, Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
In addition to its architecture, Bruges maintains a strong tradition of lacemaking, brewing and chocolate making. The city’s guests have been enjoying the fruits of these crafts for centuries and they have undoubtedly contributed to making Bruges one of our readers’ top picks.
8. Lucca, Italy
One of the smaller cities on this list, Lucca is famous for its Renaissance walls, but the history doesn’t stop there. Lucca is also known as the “City of a Hundred Churches”, full of historic and artistic churches. One of its most famous religious buildings is the Basilica of San Martino, a marvel of architecture and art.
Between visiting churches and exploring the narrow streets, visitors can enjoy incredible Italian cuisine, attend festivals and events, or hop on a bike and explore the city without having to struggle with big city traffic.
9. Guanajuato, Mexico
Similar to Bruges, Guanajuato is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. travel waiting Writer Louisa Rogers chronicles her time as an expat in this historic colonial city.Some of her favorite experiences include exploring alley (alleys), visit houses of worship and churches, go hiking and make new friends.
The city’s colorful architecture mesmerizes visitors, as does taking the Guanajuato Cable Car or simply walking through the streets and markets. The city is easier to explore than larger locations like Mexico City.
10. Rotorua, New Zealand
One of the reasons people love visiting Rotorua is that it gives them the opportunity to experience Maori culture first hand. For example, just 20 minutes from Rotorua is Te Pā Tū (formerly Tamaki Māori Village), a cultural experience that exposes guests to Maori culture, food, songs and stories.
Rotorua is also known as a hotbed (no pun intended) of geothermal activity. Kayakers can explore the steaming cliffs of Lake Rotomahana, and anyone in need of relaxation can take a dip in the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. All of the activities mentioned take place amidst the legendary natural beauty that has made New Zealand famous.
11. Lausanne, Switzerland
While Swiss cities seem to share a certain charm, Lausanne’s location on the shores of Lake Geneva has an undeniable appeal. Slightly smaller than nearby Geneva, this modest city offers all the pleasures of being close to the water – from boat trips to quiet walks along the shore.
Lausanne’s other claim to fame is as the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and home to the excellent Olympic Museum. Visitors are also sure to enjoy Lausanne Palace, Furlong Quarter, and Promenade de Ouchy.
12. Toledo, Spain
Toledo is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” because Christians, Jews and Muslims were able to coexist there during the Middle Ages – an absolute rarity. This fusion of cultures has resulted in a diverse mix of architecture, cultural sites and cuisine.
An interesting example of cultural intersection is the Cristo de la Luz Mosque, a Catholic church that was once a mosque. You can see a third culture in the city’s Jewish Quarter and its Sephardic Museum.
Toledo is also associated with the famous El Greco, which is evident throughout the city, especially in the El Greco Museum.
13. Rhodes, Greece
Rhodes is another mid-sized city with a rich history, especially popular with visitors who enjoy culture, great weather, great food, and great water views. It would be remiss for guests not to go to the Acropolis to experience its temples and ruins.
Step back into the 21st century, and weary travelers can indulge in some of Rhode Island’s delicious dining, or settle in at one of these unique places to stay. Those with more energy left to see the sights can drop by the Palace of the Masters of Rhodes or the Medieval City of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
14. Rouen, France
In some ways, Rouen is like France in microcosm; it combines world-class art, life-changing cuisine, and interesting history with lovely architecture and a beautiful natural setting. Of note are the half-timbered buildings, as well as the Rouen Cathedral, the Great Belfry and the Museum of Joan of Arc.
Rest and recharge after a day in Rouen, travel waiting Writer Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey recommends Tandem, L’Espiguette, and the French Coffee Shop. Also, consider Richard Naham’s pick: Jill. The Old Market Square is a great place for a stroll after dinner.
15. Cascais, Portugal
Cascais has a lot in common with other cities travel waiting Readers chose it this year, but what really sets it apart is the incredible coastline.A full breakdown of Cascais beaches can be found online, but one coastal feature that stands out is the hell mouth, or “The Mouth of Hell.” Despite the drastic name, this is a great place to watch the sunset.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris – Two travel waiting Writer retiring to Portugal – took on the difficult task of narrowing down the best sea view restaurants in Cascais. For more views and vistas, explore the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
16. Ubud, Indonesia
Ubud is a charming mid-sized city on the Indonesian island of Bali. Guests can explore the local culture by visiting the Agung Rai Art Museum, take part in dance events at Ancak Saji Ubud Palace, or visit the carved shrines at Gunung Kawi Temple.
The city is also an ideal base for exploring Bali’s natural beauty. Ubud Monkey Forest is a sanctuary for hundreds of vervet monkeys, and Bali Bird Park has a similar effect on native birds.
Find out more from our 2023 Best of Travel Awards: