Golden Gate Bridge

10 Liveable Cities Around the World

The Golden Gate Bridge rising from the fog.

Perhaps every traveler is looking for that one place to call home. When we find it, it seems to call us by name and whisper, “Psssst. Stay here. Settle. You belong.

We often define a city that stood out to us in no particular way. “There’s just something about this place,” we might say. “I could see myself living here one day.”

But we all move on. On to the next destination, the next adventure. We’re eager to strike our pen through yet another item on the bucket list, and though we might always remember the feelings we had while we were sipping coffee along the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang or befriending locals along the shores of Barcelona, deep down we know we’ll probably never settle there. We might never settle anywhere.

Our toes itch with a burning desire to see the world. The whole of it. And though we often dream of staying put, owning a house, having a steady income, etc., we know those ideas don’t fulfill us in ways that walking aimlessly through the desert in India do, or riding a motorbike through Chiang Mai.

This blog didn’t materialize until I knew my move to Thailand was imminent. Therefore, until now, I’ve only written about my travels around Southeast Asia, China, India and a few things I’ve done since, like rock climbing Smith Rock and attending my friends’ destination wedding in Cabo.

But before all that, I spent nearly four months in Europe – three studying Spanish in Spain, and three weeks traveling with two of my best friends through Switzerland, Croatia and Italy.

In honor of my upcoming move to Fort Collins, Colorado (next week, EEEEK!), where I’m attempting to stay for the next two years (minus weekend excursions around Colorado and summer plans to visit South America), I want to share my list of cities that spoke to me when I arrived. Each of them told me to stay, and each in their own way. I couldn’t stay then, but I made silent promises to each of them to return.

Here they are, in no particular order. It was hard enough just to narrow the list to 10:

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Of course, no list of mine would be complete without mentioning my beloved Thailand. It I were to move back, I’d want to live in Chiang Mai, a lively city in the northern hills that is everything Thai, but has all the things a Westerner might need. It’s famous Old Town is surrounded by a large man made mote and crumbling walls with four main entrances. Outside the walls and just out of the city, one can see almost anything the heart desires amid the most beautiful scenery. I’ve visited Chiang Mai twice, and the first time left me wanting more. The second time, I began looking for jobs. It turns out, Chiang Mai University requires teachers to have a masters degree, and that’s exactly what I’ll have in two years…

You never know.

2. Interlaken, Switzerland

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Breathtakingly gorgeous, Interlaken is a small mountain town in the Swiss Alps that screams home. With it’s crystal blue lakes and rugged, snowy mountains, Interlaken is a famous tourist destination in Switzerland and it’s easy to see why. It’s sheer beauty, however, invites one to stay a while, to forget about the tourist attractions, and just breath.

3. Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is a paradise for anyone. Are you an outdoors lover? Hong Kong has hikes and beaches to satisfy your desire. Do you love a wide variety of international cuisine? Yep, it has some of the best from around the world. Are you more into shopping for high quality goods? Hong Kong has you covered, with almost every designer boutique one might imagine.

For me, Hong Kong was a welcome respite from China, where everybody speaks English and follows the rules. I fell in love the first time I was there, en route from Thailand to the USA, and it seduced me even more the second time. You can read my love letter to Hong Kong here.

4. Luang Prabang, Laos

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Oh, idyllic Luang Prabang. This is quite literally the jewel of Laos, with it’s buildings and food reminiscent of days gone by, when England left her footprint. It was here, along the banks of the Mekong in February 2012, that I was forced to decide between more school or more travel. It comes as no surprise to those of you who follow this blog that I chose the latter. How could I not, with Luang Prabang begging me to never leave?

5. San Francisco, California

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San Francisco was another stop on my long journey home from Southeast Asia, and I wasn’t expecting to like it. I lived in Los Angeles for three years after high school, and though my memories are fond and my resume rich from my time there, I had no desire to return to live in California. San Francisco changed my mind. The city is compact, and different neighborhoods, with their varying personalities, cultures and colors somehow blend seamlessly into one another. It has good public transportation, decent weather, and beautiful views. Not to mention it’s now home to thousands of travelers who know how to cure a good case of reverse culture shock. San Francisco did that for me, and so much more.

6. Venice, Italy

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Venice probably speaks for itself. It’s crumbling homes sit perfectly along the narrow waterways, waiting for passing gondolas to brush quietly by. What’s not to like about cute, Italian cafes filled with aromatic coffee and succulent tiramisu? Who doesn’t love getting on a boat taxi? And shopping? Don’t even get me started.

Venice spoke to me. Loudly.

My friends Karolina and Patryk provide some great travel tips for Venice here!

7. Split, Croatia

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Split was built around a crumbling palace. Enough said? The old palace walls create narrow alleyways around the majority of the city, and walking down them at night will lead one to candlelit bars filled with laughing customers, live music and delicious food. It’s romantic and surprising and fabulous.

Split sits on the Mediterranean and boasts a long boardwalk along the sea filled with shopping and restaurants and scenic views. It also boasts of comfortable temperatures year round. Two days were simply not enough.

8. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona sung to me when I first arrived. Barcelona is warm, sunny beaches. It’s tapas and tinto. It’s friendly locals, great nightlife and quirky architecture from the famous Gaudi. Any Barcelona itinerary invites tourists to come for a while and leave, but it makes it easy to stay.

When looking through my photos for this post, I realized I lost all of them from Barcelona and other parts of Spain when my hard drive crashed in Thailand. My heart sunk and I nearly cried, but then I knew I’d definitely return.

9. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

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I’m not sure if it’s even fair to call Cabo San Lucas Mexico. It’s probably far from Mexico City in more than just distance, but then again, it’s far from everything. Cabo does everything bigger and better, from the waves rushing up on the Pacific shores to resorts one can get lost in. But I’d love to live there, to immerse myself in the local side of things, practice my Spanish and still be able to fall asleep with the doors open on my balcony doors and the ocean right underneath it.

10. Bend, Oregon

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I lived in Bend for two years and yet every time I visit, it leaves me wanting more. With 300 days of sunshine each year, beautiful snowy mountains nearby and lakes and rivers galore, Bend is the ultimate destination for an outdoors lover. Plus the small city is filled with friendly locals, great restaurants and has just enough of everything one might need, but not too much.

If I can’t live in each of these cities, at least I can vow to return. Now, my promise is no longer silent. I will see them again.

Until next time.

Have you ever had anywhere whisper to you to stay? If so, where?

10 Liveable Cities Around the World
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

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  1. Frank says:

    Great article Jessica! I think I love the same places, I would also live in Chiang Mai, San Francisco, and Interlaken (actually I would stay in nearby Lauterbrunnen, I love both HK and Venice but you have to like a lot of people, great for visiting but don’t know if I could live there. Luang Prabang honestly I was disappointed with:
    Any seaside town in Italy or Croatia would sound great too!
    Great list!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • jessicajhill says:

      Our time in Switzerland was far too short, but Lauterbrunnen looks beautiful! I’ll have to read why you didn’t like Luang Prabang. I felt so cozy there! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Suzanne says:

    I have actually never lived anywhere else but in Holland… but as a result of all the travelling, I do have a ‘potentials’ list 😉

    It started with Rome. I have to say I love the Mediterranean as a whole, so no wonder Barcelona is also on that list, and so is Granada 🙂 Scandinavia seems nice, but I don’t think I can bear the lack of sunlight! Berlin definitely is on there too. London (tried to get a job there, but nowadays I just satisfy myself with visiting often :)). Zurich (can’t go without the Alps)

    A little further away, I would say: San Francisco (I also applied for a job there once, being ‘stuck’ in Holland in not for lack of trying :)), Toronto (though I only saw it in summer, Canadian winter seems less appealing), Chiang Mai, and finally Munnar (but in a solitary, high up in the mountains kinda way).

    Liked your post! It made me remember how nice this world actually is, so many places to go, so many things to see 🙂 I have to disagree on Venice though… I loved walking around, it’s a cute place for a couple of days – but the herds of tourists… it reminded me too much of downtown Amsterdam 🙂 (Ams is actually really nice just outside of the centre!)


    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Suze! I would also like to visit some of the places on your list, namely Toronto, Rome and Munnar! I loved Zurich, too. I’ve heard wonderful things about your homeland and would love to come visit one day. If you feel stuck in Holland, it sounds like you’ve done a good job of escaping, at least for short periods of time! Good luck with the job search. Let me know how it goes!

      What kind of jobs are you looking for?

  3. James says:

    Istanbul. It’s Asia AND Europe with bonus spires. Loved it.

  4. We visited Chiang Mai during our last visit to Thailand and although I can see the appeal it has to so many expats, we personally didn’t find it very compelling at all! There was nothing objectively wrong with it, but we were pretty bored while we were there; I guess we are more Bangkok people! 😀

    That said, we did wind up visiting the little city of Pai and it completely captured our hearts. We were only supposed to stay 2 days and wound up spending 10 days there… and we kept talking about getting a house out in the countryside and settling down there. It’s one of the places that has most strongly felt like I place I would love to call home one day since we’ve started this journey.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Steph! I loved Pai as well, but even further up the road is a tiny little village called Pang Mapha where one of Thailand’s largest cave systems can be found. It’s amazing. I believe the river that goes through the biggest cave is seven kilometers long, and you can take a boat tour through it. I’d recommend that on your next trip!

  5. I would never have thought of Interlaken! And Cabos I found to be as expensive as Manhattan 🙂

    But the others sound right up my alley!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Oh, isn’t Interlaken just gorgeous? I would live anywhere that offers views like that! You’re right, Cabo is expensive unless you get out into the less touristy places. Then you can find delicious tacos and beers for locals prices, and meet some of the friendliest locals around.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Marsha says:

    Split and Venice are two cities that I definitely want to visit soon. The photos are gorgeous! Fantastic list; hope to visit most of these places someday. When I was in Munich, I did not want to leave. I adore that city; it definitely called to me.

    • jessicajhill says:

      I haven’t been to Munich yet, but I hope to one day! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Marsha. Where’s your next trip?

      • Marsha says:

        My next trip is February – Moscow, Sochi for the Winter Olympics and Prague. It’s about a month-long trip. I can’t wait. How about you? Any plans for a trip?

        • jessicajhill says:

          Oh my goodness, that sounds amazing! I would love to see the Olympics, and visit Prague. I can’t wait to read about it!

          I just moved to Colorado this week, so this entire summer has been a series of fun trips – Cabo, rafting Hells Canyon, Idaho, American road trips, etc. – so for now I just have lots of fun weekends planned to explore Colorado. Next summer, I’m hoping to make it down to Peru and Argentina, but that sounds like forever away right now.

          • Marsha says:

            Lots of good road trips. I took a short one to visit my family in July. Road trips can be so much fun.

            Peru and Argentina both sound great; would love to go there someday! I love planning trips but hate having to wait to take them. Waiting can be torture! I’ve been planning my Russian trip for several years now. Torture!!! 🙂

          • jessicajhill says:

            Several years? That is torture! My toes get itchy every few months, but I never do much planning. I just book my ticket, read a bit about the country (usually on the plane) and go! Russia will be amazing after such a long wait.

          • Marsha says:

            Olympic trips take a bit more time to plan plus I’m a crazy planner. I swear one day I will be super spontaneous and just do it. Ha!

          • jessicajhill says:

            I hate planning! I would imagine Olympic trips require a lot of it though, and far in advance!

  7. Lily La says:

    Great post! I've reached 6 months in Korea, and looking for my next "home". Chiang Mai sounds great! So does Laos… hard decisions.

  8. Great list of places – we could certainly spend a looooong time in Croatia :-). Cabo San Lucas is great for chilling out too – we luv it so much we wrote an iphone/Android travel app “CABO INSIDER” on Los Cabos (and are kinda proud it’s the top user-rated app on Cabo). Be we think you should put Vancouver on the list too (that’s our home city, and it’s beautiful :-).

    • jessicajhill says:

      I’ve only briefly been through Vancouver, but it did leave good impressions and a desire to return! Perhaps it will make it onto the next list, after a bit more exploring 😉

      Congrats on the app – that sounds amazing!

  9. Susanna says:

    Hello Jessica!
    Just want to say that it is my first journey over to your blog and I love your style of writing – I can’t explain what about it is so great but I find your posts captivating in a really good way 🙂 Beautiful post! My cities that call me home would have to be Kathmandu, Nepal; Kandy, Sri Lanka and Florence, Italy 🙂 I really want to live in all 3 in some point of my life xx

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Susanna! I’m flattered by your compliments on my writing – thank you! I have yet to visit Nepal or Sri Lanka, but they’re definitely on the list. I just couldn’t squeeze them in last time I was in Asia…but it sounds like there must be something special there.

      I’m glad you found me and left some love. Looking forward to checking out your blog as well – from the title, it looks like we have a lot in common! Cheers.

  10. Nice list! Luang Prabang is a great city but for some reason I can’t imagine living there. Kuching, in Sarawak, Malaysia would be one of the better places to live in Southeast Asia.

  11. Dana says:

    What an interesting list!! Definitely some places on here I wouldn’t have considered. I’ve been to Fort Collins and am sure you’ll be adding it your list soon–it’s definitely liveable, especially for someone so active! Great place to live.

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