My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

La Jolla

I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

bogota

This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

Ferrying up the Dalmatian Coast

Growing up on the West Coast, I’ve spent my fair share of time on ferries. But the magical voyage to Vancouver Island that I remember from childhood didn’t quite hold up into adulthood. These days ferries have come to represent painful lineups, multiple sailing waits, crowded decks, and exorbitant fees. Not so glamorous eh?

So it was with mild trepidation that we boarded an overnight ferry from Italy to Croatia. Although, glamorous still isn’t a word that I would choose to describe sleeping on a row of chairs in public… it wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, the views at sunset and sunrise were quite spectacular from the sea.

The following day we endured a painful, five hour bus ride with no air-conditioning from Split to Dubrovnik. After that, travelling by ferry was once again starting to sound a bit more magical.

With nearly 1800km of rugged coastline and over 1000 islands, ferries really are the ideal mode of transportation in Croatia. Over the course of a few days we spent over 20 hours ferrying up the Dalmatian Coast and to be honest… I loved every minute of it. It was so calming and refreshing to be at sea. Perched on the edge of the railing with the breeze blowing through my hair, I was entertained by windsurfers and sailors, while passing peaceful seaside towns and subtropical islands. Starting to sound more glamorous after all? Sure it wasn’t a yacht (and we saw tons of those) but for this budget travelista… it was the next best thing!

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Ferry

Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

Nearly 8 years ago, I received a book of the 100 most beautiful cities in the world. Croatia had never really crossed my mind until I opened the page to Dubrovnik – The Pearl of the Adriatic. One glance and I was sold. Someday, I told myself, I will go there! And now, after many missed connections, planes, trains, ferries, and buses, I’m finally there!

Dubrovnik is a tourism mecca. As a popular cruise port, throngs of visitors pour into the old town’s narrow streets in search of the quintessential European charm and coastal beauty that makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site and a top contender for the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

The city is steeped in stunning architecture and sculptural detail, boasting spectacular churches, monasteries, museums, and fountains. And despite past violence and destruction from earthquakes and war, the magnificent 13th-century walls that surround the Old Town still stand as the highlight of my trip so far.

This is where we found ourselves after a leisurely dinner in the main square observing three joyful wedding parties on their celebration marches. The 2km city walls that wrap around the Old Town provide the most beautiful panoramas of the city including Lokrum Island nestled near the harbour mouth and beyond… the Mediterranean Sea. We spent more time than we care to admit wandering around the walls on this warm summer evening, drinking in the picture perfect vistas and filling our cameras with complimentary souvenirs. Every turn led to more ooh’s and aah’s and I really never got sick of photographing those red-tiled roof tops. Trust me, I have evidence. And isn’t it curious how laundry hanging to dry somehow becomes magical in a foreign land? In the end, our one  night in Dubrovnik was all too short but worth every bit of effort.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This is one of those days that you hope never happens but end up reliving for years to come because it makes for a great story.

The Good
On our last day in Rome we spent the day exploring the nearby neighbourhood Trastevere. We started early in the hopes of beating the heat and enjoying breakfast in an outdoor cafe. We accomplished both tasks and even discovered the riverside boardwalk lined with white tents that I had read about online. It’s a festival that takes place every night during the summer months called Lungo il Tevere Roma. During the day it is very quiet and makes for a great bike ride and at night it turns into an open air night club containing more than a kilometer of stalls along the Tiber river, each one a shop or cafe, restaurant or bar.

Trastevere

Trastevere

After some final shopping near the Pantheon and a delicious piece of buffalo mozzarella and tomato pizza to go, we headed to the Rome train station to catch our 2:50pm train to Bari, Italy where we were scheduled to board an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia. This of course had been carefully researched and booked in advance to secure the cheapest and best way of getting around. After our 20 minute city bus ride we were watching the giant train screens to see from which track our train would be departing.

The Bad
The number finally came up on the screen about 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart: Track 18. Great! It was right in front of us. This was very good news since Rome is the second largest train station in Europe. Unfortunately Track 18 was actually 400 metres further down. We started walking but then quickly began to feel uneasy as we thought we heard that our train had been switched to another track. This happens quite often and they announce the changes over the speaker in Italian and English if you are able to catch it. We stopped and I stayed with the bags while Mindy went ahead to check. Nothing was showing on the sign so we gambled and decided to go anyways. Wrong decision. It was not our train but since we were 400m away from the main screen and now only had 5 minutes we knew we weren’t going to make it.

We started running and calling for help like hopeless idiots. The police, customer service, other passengers, and a poor travel agent named Marina couldn’t help us. We had missed the only train that could get us to Bari in time to catch our ferry. The next ferry didn’t leave for 2 days. After switching our train tickets twice, going to an Internet cafe, talking to a travel agent for about an hour, and waiting in line for customer service for about an hour we had a new game plan. We called our landlord Sergio and were able to get another night in our same apartment in Rome. We also had new train tickets (this time to Ancona, Italy) and a new ferry ticket from Ancona to Split, Croatia for the next day. We would still make it to Dubrovnik but it just meant a lost day, a 5 hour bus ride down the coast, and a lot of extra money.

The Ugly
After sweating more than I thought was humanly possible we finally made it back to our apartment for an impromtu final night in Rome. We were so physically and mentally exhausted from our 4 hour ordeal at the (non-airconditioned) train station that we were almost delirious. Unfortunately not quite delirious enough to miss the fully naked man standing in the balcony outside our window. It was actually quite a fitting end to our day and actually made us laugh out all the stress we had been carrying.

Next up: Croatia at Last!