The Friendliest Cities in the World
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe—to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise lines, spas, airlines, and more. When voting on cities, readers considered a variety of specific qualities, including sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, shopping, and, of course, friendliness: that uncanny ability to make a visitor feel comfortable in a foreign place.
The No. 1 city comes from the Buddhist country of Bhutan, bordered by India and Tibet. "The people are happy, genuine, accommodating, and the nicest I have ever seen," said another wowed reader. This should come as no surprise, given the country bases its overall health on the happiness of its people.
And when it comes to cities in the United States, nowhere is more welcoming than the South. The only three American cities on the list are all in that big-on-charm region: Charleston, Savannah, and Nashville. Unsurprisingly, they're also hailed as some of the friendliest cities in America. Ireland also boasts three winners (Galway, Dublin, and Cork). That's pretty impressive for a country close in size to the state of Indiana.
Notably, the other top spots are clustered in two parts of the world: Australia and New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. Down Under, high-ranking destinations include both major metropolises like Sydney and smaller cities, such as Christchurch in New Zealand. Despite having been ravaged by multiple earthquakes in recent years, Christchurch's locals prove that adversity has done nothing to diminish their openheartedness.
"It is still devastated from the earthquake," observed a survey respondent, "[but] the people are wonderful. Couldn't be friendlier. It is very interesting to walk around town and see how resourcefully they have adapted."
No matter how fancy the hotel or incredible the food, one thing is clear: What really sticks with readers when traveling is the people they meet along the way.
No. 20 Reykjavík, Iceland
While Reykjavík rounded out Travel + Leisure's 2016 list of the friendliest cities in the World, Iceland ranked third on the World Happiness Index (behind Denmark and Switzerland). Across the entire island and in this small, cosmopolitan capital, locals are like one big, happy family—and they treat visitors the same.
No. 19 Hoi An, Vietnam
This is the first time the ancient port city in Vietnam—known for its well-preserved historic buildings, including temples that date back to the 1600s—has earned this honor. Readers referred to locals as lovely, charming, and exceptionally friendly.
No. 18 Siem Reap, Cambodia
Cambodians are some of the kindest people you’ll ever come across, and that applies to those you’ll meet in Siem Reap. "Their friendliness was first-rate compared to any other country I'd visited," said T+L reader Ryan Piela. Others echoed the sentiment about their trip to the gateway of Angkor Wat.
No. 17 Nashville, Tennessee
No. 16 Auckland, New Zealand
The biggest city on New Zealand’s North Island is incredibly easy to navigate—but if you do get lost, you can bet on a Kiwi offering to help.
No. 15 Hobart, Tasmania
You’ll find no better cheerleaders for Hobart (and the island state of Tasmania as a whole) than the individuals who live there.
No. 14 Christchurch, New Zealand
Devastating earthquakes have hit this South Island, New Zealand city hard in the last few years—but that hasn’t stopped its residents from maintaining their upbeat, happy demeanor.
No. 13 Sydney, Australia
"Aussies are a barrel of fun and are always up for a good time," said T+L reader Sandra Olinger. Australia's vibrant harbor front city is one of five destinations Down Under to clinch a spot on this list.
No. 12 Edinburgh, Scotland
No trip to the convivial capital of Scotland is complete without meandering the medieval streets of Old Town and sampling what’s brewing in the craft beer scene.
No. 11 Ubud, Indonesia
Indonesia’s culture-rich city is filled with welcoming artisans who make everything from woodcarvings to paintings. "Everyone in Indonesia is friendly," furthered a survey taker. "Never met a cold soul."
No. 10 Cork, Ireland
With three cities in the top 10—including this cheerful seaport—we’re ready to book the next flight to Ireland.
No. 9 Luang Prabang, Laos
The first thing you’ll notice on a visit to Laos and the ancient town of Luang Prabang is how warm and gentle the residents are.
No. 8 Savannah, Georgia
Good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality—not to mention picturesque tree-lined streets and top-notch restaurants—put this coastal Georgia city high on the list.
No. 7 Dublin, Ireland
The capital of Ireland is the place to go to experience what locals call craic: the Gaelic term for fun and enjoyment.
No. 6 Galway, Ireland
Want to really learn about what makes this waterfront city on Ireland’s west coast tick? Cozy up to a regular at one of the many traditional pubs. "Galway was a very welcoming city," said a pleased traveler. "The people were charming and open to tourists." Last year, Galway took the No. 1 spot on this list.
No. 5 Queenstown, New Zealand
The self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world, this city on New Zealand’s South Island beckons with bungee jumping, jet boating, skydiving, and other adrenaline-inducing activities. Fittingly, travelers observed Queenstown has a palpable friendly, laid-back atmosphere.
No. 4 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
"San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful city, where tourist and [local] alike greet one another daily with a smile," observed an impressed T+L reader. This UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico, beloved for its rich arts scene and colonial architecture, also makes guests feel right at home.
No. 3 Chiang Mai, Thailand
"Romantic, charming and fun! Chiang Mai wins on all fronts," said a T+L reader. Those who live in Thailand’s northern capital (the No. 1 city in Asia) are always happy to welcome visitors, whether at one of the many markets or beautiful temples.
No. 2 Charleston, South Carolina
No. 1 Thimphu, Bhutan
While most countries measure their economy’s health by gross domestic product (GDP), Bhutan relies on an alternative barometer: gross happiness product (GHP). And in the report published in 2016, an impressive 43.4 percent of Bhutanese were “extensively” or “deeply” happy—a mood that’s on full display in the capital of Thimphu. Here, you’ll encounter residents in traditional dress who were only introduced to television broadcasting and the Internet in 1999. Come August, there’ll be a new way to experience all the Buddhist country has to offer, with the launch of a circuit of Six Senses properties in Thimphu, Bumthang, Punakha, Gangtey, and Paro.