Cities: Best-Ever

by Dom Nozzi

The cities found on this list represent what I believe are the best cities in the nation and world. They tend to excel in quality of life, largely because they feature memorable, charming, livable, romantic, walkable, compact, vibrant places loved the world over. They are cities where residents tend to be happy, healthy and intelligent. Where residents tend to show high levels of civic pride and sociability. Where non-residents love to visit to experience the magnificence. Walking, bicycling and transit use are pleasant, joyous, sociable experiences. Historic, lovable architecture characterizes many buildings. Unforgettable outdoor adventures are close by. The nightlife, culture, restaurants, and “third places” are diverse and conducive to making and nurturing friendships. Residents and locally-elected officials are fiercely proud of their city, and have the courage and wisdom to protect and promote it from efforts to make the city less authentic. In large part, the high quality of life in the city is derived by its successfully and equitably providing for the full range of lifestyle and travel choices, and the fact that timeless, historic, traditional design features have been largely retained. Note that I only list those cities I have visited. There are countless other great cities I hope to visit someday, and encourage you to let me know of such cities.

Mostly, then, my assessment criteria ask: Does the city establish and honor a high-quality, human-scaled public realm — the public streets, sidewalks, and parks? Are the streets and the spaces between buildings within the human “habitat” modest enough to make humans — not cars — feel comfortable? Do the streets and buildings create an enjoyable, human-scaled sense of enclosure, instead of leaving people feeling exposed and assaulted in an Anywhere USA parking lot moonscape?

Has public life blossomed? Is there a sense of place? Does a person often find oneself in an outdoor living room providing ample opportunities for social interaction with neighbors and fellow citizens?

Has the community avoided the path so many contemporary American cities have taken, whereby the community turns its back on, and neglects, the public realm — striving instead to single-mindedly make cars happy — and focusing its attention solely on improvements to the private realm (the insides of homes, offices, cars and stores)? A car-happy place, in other words, where there is public squalor and private grandeur? Where “quality of life” can only be found inside a luxurious McMansion home or an expensive car?

Primarily, a quality city recognizes that the foundation for livability is to create a magnificent public realm that instills civic pride. A place where residents are intensely protective of the cherished features of their beloved community, and therefore always working to improve their streets, their sidewalks and parks — knowing that these are the wellsprings of a high quality of life. Where the needs of people are the prime focus, instead of the downwardly spiraling path of providing for the “needs” of cars.

Here are the criteria I use when assessing the livability (or quality) of a community.

  1. A livable city has walkable, mixed use, higher-density, mixed-income neighborhoods where it is a pleasant, short walk to a store, an office, a transit stop, a friends’ house, a school or a park.
  2. A livable city has vibrant, exciting, sociable, human-scaled pedestrian experiences.
  3. A livable city has little or no wide, multi-lane, high-speed highway and road infrastructure within its central area. And few, if any, one-way streets, strip commercial development or cul-de-sacs.
  4. A livable city has modest, traffic-calmed, tree-lined streets with on-street parking. Few, if any, roads are larger than 3 lanes in size.
  5. A livable city has high-quality public squares and public parks.
  6. A livable city has quality, locally-owned cuisine — some of which feature outdoor cafes found on a vibrant sidewalk.
  7. A livable city has quality transit. The service is frequent and easy to use.
  8. A livable city has a quality nightlife. The city does not close down at 5 pm.
  9. A livable city has quality bicycle and pedestrian facilities and a large number of bicyclists and pedestrians. Life without a car is perfectly possible and enjoyable.
  10. A livable city has little in the way of surface parking — particularly FREE off-street parking. I firmly believe that “any city worth its salt has a ‘parking problem.’”
  11. A livable city has a compact downtown full of higher-density housing and diverse retail.
  12. A livable city has quality culture (entertainment, speeches, arts, etc.) and a quality university.
  13. A livable city has a high degree of civic pride, and a tradition of working to protect their unique, treasured features.
  14. A livable city has magnificent historic architecture.
  15. A livable city has little in the way of excruciating, infuriating noise pollution (screaming emergency sirens, leaf blowers, vacuum trucks, helicopters, etc., are under control).

Best Cities in the World

  • Rome
  • Copenhagen
  • Barcelona
  • Malmo Sweden
  • Paris
  • Florence
  • Venice
  • Lucca
  • Sienna
  • Montreal
  • Sorrento Italy
  • Salerno Italy
  • Palermo Italy
  • Siracusa Italy
  • Catania Italy
  • Victoria British Columbia
  • Ragusa Ibla Italy
  • Bormio Italy
  • Innsbruck Austria
  • Taormina Italy

Best Cities in the United States

  • Boulder CO
  • San Francisco
  • New York City
  • Nantucket
  • Saint Augustine FL
  • Madison WI
  • Portland OR
  • Charleston SC
  • Martha’s Vineyard
  • Key West FL
  • Alexandria VA
  • Burlington VT
  • Georgetown
  • Asheville NC
  • San Luis Obispo CA
  • Eugene OR
  • Missoula MT
  • Davis CA
  • Palo Alto CA
  • Annapolis MD
  • Savannah GA
  • Bozeman MT
  • Ann Arbor MI
  • Portland ME
  • Ft. Collins CO
  • Athens GA
  • Winter Park FL
  • Mount Dora FL
  • Amelia Island FL
  • Boston
  • Seattle
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis


I urge you to email me ( or leave a comment if you have a suggested addition or subtraction from this list. Or if you have any other thoughts about this list.


Each list in this blog contains my own personal opinions based on my personal experiences. I acknowledge that there may be a need to add or subtract from these lists (or to create a new subject list), and I welcome such suggestions. The lists are not ordered from higher to lower quality. Each list is a work in progress.

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here:

Paperback = Hardcover =

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

My Adventures blog

My Best-Ever Lists blog

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

My Town & Transportation Planning website

My Plan B blog

My Facebook profile

My YouTube video library

My Picasa Photo library

My Author spotlight


About Dom Nozzi

Urban designer, Complete Streets instructor, smart growth specialist, town planner, walkable & bikeable streets & trails specialist, writer, editor, speaker, world adventurer, skier, kayaker, SCUBA diver, bicyclist, hiker, dancer, book reader, urbanist. Make my own beer, wine, pasta, bread. Live by the motto that it is the things we do NOT do that we later regret. Life is too short to not live it to the fullest.
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