The pandemic has put a limit to the fun, culture, and social life that defines urban living. Because of the limited movement allowed in big cities, you might think that people would evade the metropolises for a while as no one would want to be locked up inside their flats. 

But with communities rallying like never before to prevent their dwellings from being ghost towns, and cities learning to adapt, most city dwellers have found ways to have fun.

And with many of us slowly emerging from lockdowns and taking slow steps back towards the new normal, it’s time to take a look at which cities around the world stepped up this year. Time Out asked 27,000 city dwellers to name their best countries for 2021, in terms of food and culture, community projects, green space, and sustainability. The respondents chose these cities with the future in mind. 

Read on to find out the best cities in the world in 2021. 

San Francisco

San Francisco tops the list of the best cities in the world in 2021. When things got tough during the pandemic, San Francisco was among the US cities that implemented the strictest Covid response. Still, that didn’t dampen the San Franciscan community spirit. Businesses in the Bay area came up with creative ways to survive, while the local government’s initiatives, like the SF New Deal, provided meals for the needy with the help of restaurant employees. The community took care of each other through mutual aid networks, and one resident even hung sourdough starters from trees for baking people to get for free. 

Seventy-three percent of the respondents on Time Out’s poll chose San Francisco as the most progressive as well as the most accepting, and it came second in terms of sustainability. 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is probably one of the cities in the world that suffered the most from the lack of culture and social life during the pandemic. But the city used the time well to focus on improving Amsterdam’s beauty, history, and community spirit. In Time Out’s poll, the city was described as “green” by 47 percent of Amsterdammers, while 27 percent vouched for its sustainability.

While the scores may sound low, Amsterdam was actually one of the cities that received the highest scores in those categories. Amsterdam also came in second place as the best city for a nature walk. During the 2020 lockdowns, the city worked on securing its status as a modern and eco-friendly city, and it seems that they have reached those goals. 

Manchester

Manchester has proven itself to be a resilient city. During the pandemic, the place saw its communities joining forces to make it through the tough time. In this year’s Index, 71 percent of the respondents described the city as ‘creative’. Manchester is home to the Factory Records, and the Fall and the Smiths. In 2021, the city continued to show how big it is when it comes to cultural events through the Manchester International Festival (MIF) and Grayson’s Art Club.

Small firms offered free mental health support to frontline workers, while some pubs fed the vulnerable locals. Manchester is known for its great vibes in general. In fact, it was voted the best city for ‘community spirit, ‘friendliness’ and ‘getting to know your neighbors’, ‘nightlife’, and ‘creativity’.  

Copenhagen

Denmark has always been on the list of the happiest places in the world, so it’s no surprise that 66 percent of its residents describe it as ‘relaxing’. The overall quality of life is high in Copenhagen, with 66 percent of the locals describing it as a “green” city. 82% of Copenhageners also said there’s always something ‘new and surprising things’ to discover in the city.

Copenhagen boasts of a cycling infrastructure that not only lessens carbon footprints but also reduces the commute time of residents. It also came in first in the ‘sustainability’ category of Time Out’s poll and was also chosen as the second ‘greenest’ city in the world.  

New York

There’s no denying the resilience of New Yorkers, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the city got the most votes as the ‘most resilient’ of all cities in North America. With its Open Restaurants initiative that mandated food establishments to expand their outdoor seating options and the Key to NYC program that encouraged employees to receive vaccines, the metropolis has managed to survive and thrive over the last year. Because of New Yorkers’ persistence, the city has found creative solutions to make the streets alive once again. Respondents described New York as the most ‘exciting’ city in the world, and the second-best city for ‘discovering new things’. 

Montreal

Montrealers are famous for their community spirit. The city was never one to conform, a trait that is very evident in their music and politics. In this year’s Index, Montreal was described as ‘diverse’ by 73 percent of its locals, with more saying it’s a safe place to ‘express who you are’. Montreal has several green projects it aims to implement, like banning single-use plastics and building urban forests amidst downtown boulevards. 

Prague

Prague felt the effects of the pandemic rather suddenly and severely – but thankfully, it didn’t harm the city’s astonishing beauty. In fact, some 82 percent of Praguers praises the beauty of their city. Prague’s gradual reopening has opened up opportunities for simple pleasures that were unimaginable during the pre-pandemic, like enjoying your morning coffee down a deserted sidestreet, listening to the chirrup of birds in Old Town Square, and having the Charles Bridge to yourself.

Prague is also incredibly walkable, with 89 percent of locals describing it as a city where you can easily get around by foot. The Czech capital also boasts of huge patches of greenery where locals can read, picnic, jog, or play frisbee. The majority of the respondents also described their city as beautiful and was voted as the second-best city for relaxation. 

Tel Aviv

The pandemic has caused this high-tech hub to take a well-needed pause. Israel was one of the countries that led the vaccination race, and it didn’t take long before locals were back to their pre-pandemic routines. For 2021, 81 percent of Tel Aviv locals described their city as ‘fun’, while 84 percent said the place allows them to ‘express themselves’. Since 2020, Tel Aviv has been voted the ‘funnest’ in the world. They also came in second to Shanghai in the ‘food and drink’ category.

Porto

According to 73 percent of Porto locals, their city is great for ‘culture’. Throughout 2020, the streets of Porto have been filled with much-needed color by the city’s legendary graffiti artists. Many of the galleries found in the city also remained active. The city also provided more space to its residents, including more cycling infrastructure, and new community gardens. Maus Hábitos, an inclusive art space, became an oasis for cultural gigs during the pandemic, which helped local weather through the pandemic. 62 percent of Porto residents said it’s easy to make friends in their city. 

Tokyo

Even before the pandemic, the face mask was already a common accessory among Tokyo residents, which may explain why the Covid-19 never really slowed the Tokyoite’s life over the past year. 82 percent of Tokyo residents said their city is great for ‘discovering new things.’ In fact, many attractions and venues have cropped up over the past year. 73 percent of the survey respondents also said that it’s easy to get around Tokyo without a car.

Add in the city’s super-efficient public transport system, and everyone will surely enjoy all the things that Tokyo has to offer. Tokyo is also known for its designer public toilets that you can see all over the city, with some being technologically-advanced, and some looking like art installations. 

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