Photo: Ralph Arvesen
1. Austin, USA
There are just so many opportunities in Austin for tech-inclined, entrepreneur-minded millennials. The cost of living is lower than the national average (not to mention, way lower than that of San Francisco), small-business loans are easier to come by, and about 17.5% of the population is between the ages of 25 and 35, according to research done by Nerdwallet. And you don’t have to go it alone, TSU’s Small Business Development Network has an entire list of resources developed specifically for the new entrepreneur.
There are more than 250 live music venues, a vibrant art scene to keep inspiration fresh, and of course, there’s the Austin City Limits festival, which attracts approximately 450,000 people every year.
2. Cambridge, USA
For millennial artists who want to become friends with creative thought leaders, Cambridge, Massachusetts is the place to be. And it has been for some time, actually — at least 16% of Nobel Prize winners have been in some way affiliated with the city’s schools. Data collected by Niche found that not only is the higher education rate sitting pretty at 73.1%, thanks to the likes of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but there are plenty of museums, restaurants and coffee shops to keep the mind entertained.
And even if you’re just interested in art and maybe not a professional (yet) Cambridge’s Center for Adult Education offers tons of classes in the performing, visual and literary arts — all for reasonable prices. Not to mention, Cambridge is nestled right between Boston and the quaint city of North Adams, another artist haven in the Berkshires with 21 art galleries.
3. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina feels like a small town. It’s got a laid-back vibe going on and it’s tucked right into the Blue Ridge Mountains — so trails, rapids and Instagram-perfect outlooks are all just a 15-minute drive away. Downtown is easily walkable and there’s pretty much a great restaurant or two around every bend: Curate is the place to go for interesting tapas, Wedge is a great meet-up spot to just chill and drink a beer outside, Jack of the Wood always has a great band playing, and Over Easy is where you can nurse your Sunday hangover with lavender french toast topped with housemade granola and some lavender yogurt. If millennials were a brunch menu item, that lavender French toast is probably what we would be.
If you’re into the craft beer scene, this is probably the best city for you on this list. There are dozens of breweries varying from local standbys like Wicked Weed Brewing to new endeavors like New Belgium Brewing Company, which just opened its doors on May 2nd. To try them all, you really just have to go to the Thirsty Monk, which is a great brewpub because it not only features its own beers, but it supports everyone else’s as well.
Another great thing about Asheville is that it really nurtures a broad range of creativity. Matador editor Emma spent a week here and was able to attend an open mic pretty much every night. Some were at restaurants and bars, while others were at community centers and an antique marketplace. And while open mic nights in other cities are often just about the music, the ones in Asheville showcased poetry, comedy and political movement as well.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen has next-level design; some of the world’s coolest, environmentally-sound architectural projects have launched there over the last few years. Prime example: a $389 million, 60-megawatt power station fueled entirely by the city’s waste is currently in the works. Oh, and it’s going to double as a massive ski slope.
This innovation and care toward environmental friendliness is a direct extension of the way of life in Copenhagen. It’s the most bike-friendly city on the freaking planet and it’s even embraced forging practices in its culinary scene, thanks to a little restaurant named Noma. The social scene for millennials isn’t half bad either, microbreweries are a dime a dozen and the Danes are known for their stunning good looks. So yeah, this is a great city for young people.
5. Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm is a lot like that cool kid in high school who rocked trends before they were trendy and always had the best music recs. It’s the hip stomping ground of ACNE, Tove Lo, Icona Pop and music producer Max Martin — who has credited Stockholm’s excellent public school system for his success in the industry.
From LBGTQ rights to gender equality, Sweden is a place where social progress reigns. There’s even a current motion to put the popular We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi in the hands of every 16-year-old across the nation. Of course, there’s still work to do (which has become especially apparent through the past year’s refugee crisis), but the population is up for the challenge and a lot of millennials are moving in and working together to create some positive change.
6. Granada, Spain
Granada is an ancient city enhanced by this sangria-soaked bohemian vibe. There are surreal murals creeping across its walls and shutters, and it’s actually relatively small with just under 250,000 residents. Granada routinely hosts an onslaught of international students though, so there’s constantly new and interesting blood flowing in and out. Grenada also continues to operate under the traditional ‘free tapas’ model, so tapas bars like Los Diamantes are usually where you’ll find your fellow millennials — taking advantage of free stuff. Then, it’s typical to head over to Calle Elvira or Calle Pedro Antonio streets for the late-night action.
7. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is a southern city with this unique, artistic edge. Creative-minded students flock from all over the country to attend Savannah College of Art and Design and many stay after graduation to pour their talents into the local community. Artisan eateries, like the James-Beard-nominated Back in the Day Bakery are a major draw, while interesting boutiques line the streets and home-grown, gone-national shops like the Savannah Bee Company offer educational tastings and the best honey-inspired lattes you will ever have — if you’ve ever thought about having a ‘honey-inspired’ latte before. If you’re searching for strictly SCAD goods from alumni, faculty and current students, check out the popular shopSCAD.
Also, you can take your drinks to go so, there’s that.
8. Portland, USA
Rolling in an always Instagramable, perpetual fog, Portland, Oregon is known for its charm, grit and heavy dose of Portlandia quirk. It’s a community that not only attracts hoards of artists and foodies, but also welcomes innovative industry leaders with open arms, like Airbnb, Google and Yahoo!. Portland is a city where startups thrive, collaboration is encouraged and the weed dispensaries are as hip as the craft breweries.
On the food side of things, restaurant-lined boroughs are the norm. There’s the impressive Olympia Provisions in the Industrial District, St. Jack over in the Alphabet District and the now famous Korean eatery Pok Pok on SE Division Street. For something sweet, you just have to go to the ever-expanding empires of Salt and Straw and Blue Star Donuts.
9. Lisbon, Portugal
To be young in Portugal is to live a life filled with cafe lounging, live music, late nights and carafes of five-euro wine. (Plus beaches, freakin’ awesome beaches.) Lisbon’s bright, pulsing capital, is one of the most affordable capitals in Western Europe and it has a friendly culture and legendary nightlife that rarely kicks off before midnight. Millennial club-seekers get their fill in the Barrio Alto district after late-night dinners and live Fado performances.
Trendy, notable restaurants include Cruzes Credo, a well-priced and intimate gastropub, the modern Sea Me that debuted to high praise in 2010 and finally, Cantinho do Avillez, a more accessible concept by one of Lisbon’s top chefs, Jose Avillez of Bel Canto. For a day of shopping with friends, just go to LX factory. It features artisan shops, restaurants, galleries and sky-high street art. Oh, and if you visit on Sunday you’ll be greeted by a pretty incredible street market.
10. Costa Rica
Ok so maybe this one isn’t just a city, but I needed to make some room on this list for the entirety of Costa Rica. It’s obvious that plenty of millennials are interested in tech and beginning their own businesses, but there’s also a large pocket of us who want to go back to the land and help the environment through farming. If you’ve ever considered WWOOFing or something like it, then you’ve probably considered Costa Rica.
Learning to live entirely off the land (without destroying it in the process) has thankfully become a major point of interest to environmentally-minded millennials. Costa Rica, with its rich farmlands, sustainable agricultural methods and plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021, is the perfect place to see this way of life in action. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities and work-trade programs scattered throughout the country along with breathtaking natural wonders to explore during your off hours.
11. Vienna, Austria
No matter how travel savvy you are, relocating to an entirely new country in your 20s requires a fair amount of courage, especially if the destination isn’t keen on foreigners. Thankfully, this isn’t the case for Vienna, Austria. The City of Music came out on top of Mercer’s 2016 Quality of Living Rankings for excelling in making international employees feel safe and right at home. Crime rates are low, affordable housing aplenty, and the economy is strong. Another draw for millennials is the youthful, diverse demographic brought in by 14 Viennese universities and 10 international schools.
12. Chiang Mai, Thailand
If a nomadic way of life is what you’re looking for, Thailand has probably crossed your mind a few times. There are lush forests to explore, cities that are the very definition of “sensory overload” and affordable price-points to make backpacking a breeze. Chiang Mai is probably the best pick if you’re setting up for an extended stay. It’s calmer than Bangkok, culturally rich with temples, quirky shops, and galleries. Plus, it’s easily walkable and has a nice balance between nature and city.
And because Chiang Mai caters to travelers working remote jobs, there’s a huge community of international visitors to travel and collaborate with, as well as many sleek co-working spaces — like Mana Co-Working and Punspace Nimman.
13. Paris, France
From science to fine art, Paris, France has a centuries-long reputation of producing world-class leaders and professionals. While it’s true that Paris had a sobering 2015, it hasn’t become a community crippled by fear. There is still plenty of joie de vivre in Parisians and those who study there. Today, the city has 18 leading universities in this year’s QS World University Rankings® and Parisian tuition rates don’t typically climb to absurd heights like other European cities. (I’m looking at you, London.) The culture, romance, and history of Paris caters to millennial students, too, through discounted, or even free, museum and site passes.
14. Nashville, USA
In recent years, Nashville has seen the successes of artists varying from Taylor Swift to Kings of Leon to recent Grammy-winner Chris Stapleton. The city is bursting with musical talent, opportunity and small-town charm that can be more difficult to come by in places like Los Angeles and New York. While the notable Music Row is lined with famous country-focused recording studios, places like Third Man Records, owned by Nashville-dwelling Jack White, and the beloved Grimey’s Record Store showcase the city’s diverse and local musicality.
There are also plenty of attractions and food options to keep young musicians with shoe-string budgets happy. Mas Tacos in East Nashville is a local favorite as is the hot chicken at Prince’s Hot Chicken and Gabby’s Burgers and Fries. For late night dancing, hit up The Five Spot on Monday nights — yes, Mondays. This is a music city, remember?
15. Sydney, Australia
Sydney has the millennial gap-year market cornered thanks to a sky-high, $16.28-an-hour minimum wage. Pretty much every local is friendly and the culture is both laid-back and always up for a party. Millennials can find work at a trendy hostel, local bar or traditional office, then spend their off hours lounging on one of the city’s beaches — Bondi, Coogee and Manly are just a few highlights of the 100-plus options. If you have a full day to spare, head to the Blue Mountains or vineyards of Hunter Valley.
16. Bogotá, Colombia
Bogotá is a huge city of 6 million people that teeters at an almost stratospheric altitude of 8,660 feet. To say there’s plenty to do there is an understatement — from music festivals like the Bogotá Music Market to the colorful, fruit-lined markets that happen daily, it’s rare to get bored with that much life happening all around you.
There’s also a lot of restaurant and bar options that are trendy and affordable enough for millennials to go to, like Mini Mal Chapinero Alto and the coffee shop Café Rec with its collection of interesting tape recorders. And no matter what you do, you can always go salsa dancing in the La Candelaria district afterwards.
17. San Juan, USA
San Juan, Puerto Rico is a champion of easy-going Caribbean culture, and it’s remained youthful despite being steeped in rich history. This is particularly true in Old San Juan where restored pastel-hued alleys and passages are tour-guide talking points by day and rowdy party pipelines by night, filled with people on their way to the clubs and street performers. There are a host of unique attractions including the inebriating tasting tour of the Bacardi Distillery, open areas (check out the space next to El Morro) to fly kites while sipping on tropical street-cart smoothies, and, of course, lots of beaches to bum around on.
18. New York City, USA
There’s a reason for all the songs, stories, TV shows and movies about New York — it’s mecca for dreamers. NYC is the best place to climb the corporate ladder while defying (or defining) the millennial stereotype but it’s also where you can party like there’s no tomorrow and zip through boroughs on late-night subway lines. And one thing that NYC has that some of the small cities on this list don’t, is anonymity. As a millennial, you can be free to go out on a limb and try something new, without that pressure that you might fail with the whole world watching. Sure, it’s expensive and you’ll likely spend a fair share of nights dining on $2 pizza rather than at Blue Hill, but it’s a culture of many cultures that allows you to seek out passions while bravely embracing the struggles, disenchantments, glories and triumphs that come with growing up.