Tuesday 17 September 2019

10 of the world's happiest cities

And the best things to do in each.

Copenhagen (Nyhavn district) on a sunny summer day
Copenhagen (Nyhavn district) on a sunny summer day
NAHA, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12: A conductor drives the Okinawa Monorail November 12, 2012 in Naha, JP. Opened in 2003, it's currently the only public railway in Okinawa and the first since World War II.
Vancouver, Canada
Helsinki Cathedral at dusk
Wellington Harbour at dusk
Beautiful Bergen, Norway
Conceicao lagoon, Florianopolis, Brazil
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Looking for a city break to put a smile on your face? Here are 10 of the happiest cities on the planet... and the reasons they're so chipper.

Copenhagen, Denmark

There's something annoyingly amazing about the Danes. Just 5.5 million people live in a country half the size of Ireland, and yet they've managed to create some of the best welfare models, restaurants and TV shows on earth.

Little wonder Denmark topped the UN's last World Happiness Report ("the word happiness is not used lightly," it states). Copenhagen (above) is its flagship city.

Happy days: Sup a beer at Nyhavn, check the hip restaurants, bars and boutiques on emerging Jaegersborggade, and skip Noma for more affordable Nordic cuisine at Manfreds & Vin (manfreds.dk) or Host (cofoco.dk). The Meatpacking District is party central.

Sad face: Copenhagen, like its Scandinavian colleagues, is dispiritingly expensive.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne Docklands

Melbourne retains the crown of "most liveable" city in The Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Livability Report for 2014. In plain English, that puts the Australian city top of the pile when it comes to stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure.

Happy days: As well as being a great place to live, Melbourne makes a super visit. Genuinely cosmopolitan shopping, a whizz foodie scene (check out the Italian eateries on Lygon Street), Ned Kelly's last haunt at Old Melbourne Gaol ("Such is life ... ") and top sporting events such as the Australian Open, Melbourne Grand Prix and 2015 Cricket World Cup seal the deal.

Sad face: In a word? Distance. Melbourne is more than 10,000 air miles from Dublin.

Florianopolis, Brazil

Conceicao lagoon, Florianopolis, Brazil

Where? Don't worry, you wouldn't be the first to ask. But readers of 'Conde Nast Traveller' recently voted Florianapolis the world's friendliest city.

Happy days: Brazil is enjoying a big couple of years, hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Although not as well-known as Rio or Sao Paolo, Florianapolis (the capital city of Santa Catarina in the south of the country) has 42 beaches, great surf, buzzy markets and laid-back locals who Conde Nast readers found super-generous with their time and advice.

Sad Face: For Irish travellers, flights alone start at more than €1,000.

Vienna, Austria

MT Markets VIENNA Christmas1 Depos.jpg
Traditional christmas market in Vienna, Austria

Vienna occupies the No.1 spot on the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, ranking for several years now as global consulting companies' top city (Zurich and Auckland followed as second and third)..

Happy days: The Austrian capital is sorted. Transport runs like clockwork, the city is dotted with beautiful palaces and green spaces, there are Klimt masterpieces at the Belvedere Museum, and tourists can visit Sigmund Freud's apartment and gorge on sachertorte at his favourite Cafe Landtmann. And that's not even starting on the carnivals.

Sad face: Vienna may be a top place to live but its residents are obsessed with death. Don't believe us? A quick visit to the Funeral Museum may change your mind.

Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver may have more Starbucks than soul, but it's rarely absent from lists of the world's happiest, most livable and beautiful cities. Most recently, it finished third behind Melbourne and Vienna on The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2014 Global Livability Report.

Happy days: "Why does everyone look so frickin' healthy?" You'll be asking yourself the question within seconds of arriving. The answers are all around – in the Canadian Rockies, the city beaches and rainforests on its doorstep, the safe streets, gleaming galleries and a young, multicultural population that shines through in Vancouver's food and culture.

Sad face: Vancouver is great to visit. To live, not so much. Many Irish people who decamp there find it expensive and – whisper it – boring. It's undeniably beautiful, but for some, Vancouver lacks the grit, heritage and lived-in authenticity of less livable cities.

Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny Castle is just one of the attractions that have drawn visitors to the city over the years.

And sure why not? If any Irish city deserves to make this list, it's Kilkenny.

The Marble City was voted ninth-friendliest on Earth by readers of 'Conde Nast Traveller' as well as adding two Michelin Stars to its mantlepiece last year, and was recently shortlisted as one of Ireland's top 10 tourism towns.

Happy days: Festivals like Savour Kilkenny (savourkilkenny.ie) mount genuinely creative programming (I loved the medieval night feast in Kilkenny Castle's kitchen) alongside the usual markets and demos. Its cathedral is always worth a nose, Shutterbug is an ace vintage clothes shop on Patrick Street and there are loads of pretty villages within a short drive.

Sad face: Kilkenny consistently ranks among Ireland's most expensive cities for hotel rooms. You can get around this, however, by travelling mid-week or on Sundays.

Bergen, Norway

Beautiful Bergen, Norway

Bergen featured on CNN Travel's World's Most Underrated Cities list recently, thanks to its combo of small-town charm and big landscape hits. As Norwegians, its citizens are second-happiest in the world, according to the UN's World Happiness Surve.

Happy days: Bergen is a brilliant little find. A city where the intimate size, easy-going folk and waterside location pack as big a punch as a break in any capital. Bryggen, its old harbourside quarter, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There's a cool cafe culture, you can visit the former home of composer Edvard Grieg and it's the perfect staging post for sightseeing trips to the fjords.

Sad face: Oslo is the most expensive city on Earth, according to consulting firm ECA International – and you can rest assured that Bergen is not far behind.

Naha, Japan

Naha, Japan.jpg
The Okinawa Monorail, Naha, Japan.

Naha is the capital of Japan's Okinawa Islands, famous for the sheer number of citizens living to astonishingly ripe old ages. Its population is said to include the largest proportion of centenarians in the country and even gave its name to a book – The Okinawa Way – that drew on their diet to boost health.

Happy days: Backpackers needn't fret. Naha is as well known for its raucous nightlife as its remarkable population of older citizens. Tourists, students and American GIs can all be found rocking International Boulevard on weekends, though there are plenty of traditional tourist activities to enjoy too – principally Shuri Castle and the city's many lively markets.

Sad face: Alas, it will take more than a visit to Naha to book your ticket to the 22nd Century. The Okinawan diet is a lifelong undertaking, not a quick fix.

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki Cathedral at dusk

Rather brilliantly, Helsinki can claim to be Earth's most honest city. How so? A 'Reader's Digest' experiment last year saw reporters "lose" wallets containing their contact details in 16 cities around the world. In Helsinki, 11 out of 12 were returned.

Happy days: "Finns are naturally honest," one local told 'Reader's Digest'. But the Finnish capital is more than a noble state of mind. It's a dynamic, waterside city offering art nouveau buildings, fab design, atmospheric cafes and summer cruises. Think of it as Copenhagen before Noma.

Sad face: It's pricey. Helsinki can be very quiet in the winter, too.

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington Harbour at dusk

It may be the Pacific's last bus-stop, but Wellington has more cafes per capita than New York, and lonely Planet dubs it the "coolest little capital" on Earth.

Happy days: Culture and a coastal setting adds to Wellington's charisma, but the jewel in the crown is its people – a friendly bunch who re-booted their city on the back of Lord of the Rings. Don't miss the Te Papa museum.

Sad face: Intimate, or just plain small? Its size sometimes spills into parochialism.

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