16 best mid-sized cities around the world

Narrowing down the world’s cities to a succinct list of the “best” is an almost impossible task for a writer, so we asked the experts we trust most: our readers. Some results were surprising and others not so much, but all of their responses highlight the enduring appeal of the mid-sized city. These humble but endearing places offer the amenities of a big city without the crowds and sprawl of large urban centers. Discover your next destination or find out if your favorite mid-sized city is on the list.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria

Photo credit: CAN BALCIOGLU / Shutterstock.com

1. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (Winner)

Victoria is a great example of part of the appeal of the mid-sized city: a balance between culture and accessibility. One of the biggest draws for visitors is Butchart Gardens, an impressive botanical feat offering beautiful flowers, stunning scenery and seasonal events like Christmas light displays.

Victoria is also a cultural center for the region. Its Royal BC Museum is home to many fascinating exhibitions and programs. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria offers a wide range of works by a diverse range of artists. Victoria’s small-town feel keeps the cultural scene realistic and inviting.

Galway harbor docks

Galway harbor docks

Photo credit: Rihardzz / Shutterstock.com

2. Galway, Ireland

Galway is an ideal gateway to the charm of the Emerald Isle. The historic center of the city is full of commercial, gastronomic and drinking establishments, mainly around Eyre Square. For more seasonal events, explore Galway’s festival schedule. From cinema and music to sports and food, all interests are covered throughout the year.

Literature fans will be pleased to discover that Galway is a UNESCO City of Film, Literature and Music, with interesting sites such as Nora Barnacle’s childhood home and the Druid Theater Company. The impressive architecture of Galway Cathedral is also worth a visit.

Salzburg skyline

Salzburg skyline

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3. Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is a beautiful city full of history and culture. Visitors to the city flock to sights like Mozart’s house and Salzburg Cathedral, but the city is also a hotbed of Austrian coffee culture. Other popular stops are the Mirabell Palace and Gardens and other classic movie filming locations. the sound of music.

Although Salzburg is a fairytale city all year round, it is particularly magical during the Christmas market season. The market on Residenzplatz square, opposite the cathedral, looks like something out of a storybook. Like any good Christmas market, there is a wide range of handcrafted gifts and hot food and drinks available.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik

Photo credit: romeovip_md / Shutterstock.com

4. Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s biggest city might be a little out of the way for most travelers, but those who do get there always say it’s well worth the distance. Set in Iceland’s stark, unforgiving beauty, Reykjavík is a jewel of the north. The city is home to fascinating architecture such as the stunningly modern Harpa concert hall and conference center and the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church.

To relax, visit one of Reykjavík’s thermal pools and spas, such as the Vesturbæjarlaug or the Blue Lagoon. Other things to do include sampling the local cuisine, visiting museums and going to a bar.

Mount Pilatus in Lucerne

Mount Pilatus in Lucerne

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5. Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne seems to exist outside of time on its perch among the Alps and on the shore of the lake. Getting out on the water on a cruise or paddle board is an enjoyable way to get a different perspective on the mid-sized city.

For more perspective on Lucerne, take the trip up Mount Pilatus. Once at the top, visitors can hike and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area. Experience the beauty of the city up close by exploring the Chapel Bridge and the Old Town of Lucerne.

6. Bath, England

Bath is a city with a layered history dating back to Roman Britain. Visitors interested in history love exploring the ruins of the Roman baths that gave the city its name. As you go through history, you can explore the medieval Abbey of Bath and the Georgian architecture of The Royal Crescent and The Circus.

Not far from The Royal Crescent is the Royal Victoria Park, where locals and tourists alike enjoy the gardens, botanical gardens and much more. Finally, the Bath Festival transforms the city into a hub for music, film, art and other cultural events. This city certainly pushes its weight.

Spiegelrei Canal in Bruges

Spiegelrei Canal in Bruges

Photo credit: Noppasin Wongchum / Shutterstock.com

7. Bruges, Belgium

Brugge (or Bruges) may be known by many as the place to in bruges – the 2008 film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson – but this mid-sized town is much more than a beautiful setting for a movie. Brugge’s city center has been recognized by UNESCO for its beautifully preserved medieval architecture. Architectural highlights include the Belfry Tower, City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

In addition to its architecture, Brugge maintains strong traditions of lace-making, beer and chocolate. Visitors to the city have enjoyed the fruits of this craft for centuries and it has undoubtedly contributed to Brugge becoming a top choice for our readers.

8. Lucca, Italy

One of the smaller cities on this list, Lucca is known for its Renaissance-era walls, but the story doesn’t stop there. Also known as the “City of 100 Churches”, Lucca is dotted with historic and art-filled churches. One of its most notable religious buildings is the Cathedral of San Martino, a marvel of architecture and art.

Between visiting the churches and exploring the narrow streets, visitors can enjoy amazing Italian food, attend festivals and events, or ride a bike and explore the city without having to deal with big city traffic.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato

Photo credit: RM Nunes / Shutterstock.com

9. Guanajuato, Mexico

Similar to Brugge, Guanajuato is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Travel Waits writer Louisa Rogers chronicled her time as an expatriate in this historic colonial city. Some of her favorite experiences include exploring the alleys (alleys), visit chapels and churches, go hiking and make new friends.

The city’s colorful architecture enchants visitors, as does a ride on the Guanajuato funicular or simply walking through the streets and markets. The city is much more manageable for exploration than larger locations like Mexico City.

10. Rotorua, New Zealand

One of the reasons people love visiting Rotorua is that it gives them a chance to experience Maori culture first-hand. For example, just 20 minutes from Rotorua is Te Pā Tū (formerly Tamaki Māori Village), a cultural experience that exposes guests to Maori culture, cuisine, songs and stories.

Rotorua is also known as a hotbed (no pun intended) of geothermal activity. Keen kayakers can explore the steaming cliffs at Lake Rotomahana and anyone in need of a little relaxation can take a dip in the Waikite Valley Hot Springs. All of the aforementioned activities take place amongst the legendary natural beauty that put New Zealand on the map.

Chateau d'Ouchy in Lausanne

Chateau d’Ouchy in Lausanne

Photo credit: Mihai-Bogdan Lazar / Shutterstock.com

11. Lausanne, Switzerland

While all Swiss cities seem to have a certain charm, Lausanne’s location on the shores of Lake Geneva is an undeniable appeal. Slightly smaller than neighboring Geneva, this mid-sized city offers access to all the fun that comes with being close to the water – from boat trips to peaceful walks on the beach.

One of Lausanne’s other claims to fame is its status as the location of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters and the excellent Olympic Museum. Visitors also love the Lausanne Palace, the Flon district and the Ouchy Promenade.

12. Toledo, Spain

Toledo is known as the “City of Three Cultures” because Christian, Jewish and Muslim populations were able to coexist there during the Middle Ages – a decidedly rare occurrence. This mix of cultures makes for diverse architecture, cultural sites and cuisines.

An interesting example of the crossroads between cultures is the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, a Catholic church that was once a mosque. You can see the third culture in the city’s Jewish quarter and its Sephardic Museum.

Toledo is also associated with the famous El Greco, which is evident throughout the city, especially at the El Greco Museum.

Palace of the Grand Master of Rhodes

Palace of the Grand Master of Rhodes

Photo credit: Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock.com

13. Rhodes, Greece

Yet another mid-sized city with a long history, Rhodes is particularly popular with travelers who enjoy culture, good weather, good food and scenic views of the water. Guests would be remiss if they didn’t take a trip to the Acropolis to see its temples and ruins.

Upon returning to the 21st century, weary travelers can feast on the excellent cuisine of Rhodes or settle into one of these unique places to stay. Those who still have a little more energy to see the sights can stop by the Palace of the Grand Master of Rhodes or the Medieval Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO-listed site.

14. Rouen, France

In a way, Rouen is like a microcosm of France; combines world-class art, life-changing food and interesting history with enchanting architecture and beautiful natural surroundings. The half-timbered construction is noteworthy, as are Rouen Cathedral, the Gros-Horloge and the Joan of Arc Museum.

To rest and recharge after a day exploring Rouen, Travel Waits writer Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey recommends Tandem, L’Espiguette and the French Coffee Shop. Also, she consider Richard Nahem’s choice: Gill. The Old Market Square is a pleasant place for an after-dinner stroll.

Guincho Beach Portugal

Guincho Beach Portugal

Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

15. Cascais, Portugal

Cascais shares many of the traits of the other cities that Travel Waits readers selected this year, but what really sets it apart is the incredible coastline. A full description of Cascais beaches can be found online, but one coastal feature that stands out is the mouth of hell, or “Boca do Inferno”. Despite the intense name, it is a good place to see a sunset.

Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris — two Travel Waits writers who retired to Portugal – took on the difficult task of finding the best restaurants overlooking the sea in Cascais. For more views and vistas, explore the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.

16. Ubud, Indonesia

Ubud is a fascinating medium-sized city on the Indonesian island of Bali. Guests can explore local culture by visiting the Agung Rai Art Museum, attending a dance event at Ancak Saji Ubud Palace, or viewing the carved shrines at Gunung Kawi Temple.

This town is also a great base for exploring Bali’s natural beauty. The Ubud Monkey Forest is a sanctuary for hundreds of long-tailed macaques, and the Bali Bird Park serves a similar function for local bird species.

Read more about our Best Of Travel Awards 2023:

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