The concept of bleisure travel — combining a work trip with free leisure time for activities like urban sightseeing — has taken US cities by storm in recent years, transforming business travel as we know it and proving that work and play don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And now, the trend is extending to overseas trips, as well. If your company is footing the bill for that international airfare and covering most of your accommodations and meals, then why not take the opportunity to see and experience a bit more of the world for a fraction of the cost?
Not all bleisure cities are created equal, requiring factors like solid public transportation, top-notch infrastructure with digital connectivity and modern amenities, orderliness, safety, and a wealth of leisure activities like local dining experiences, museums, and more. Checking all the bleisure boxes, these cities are embracing their new identities as top international destinations for bleisure travel.
Asia is one of the fastest-growing destinations in the bleisure travel trend, and Tokyo sails above the competition. Japan’s capital city of over nine million is a major hub for industries like consumer electronics, automobiles, and manufacturing; combine that with the recent boom in tourism, and Tokyo is ripe for bleisure-time fun. Served by two major international airports, business travelers love the city’s fast and reliable public transportation, rich blend of historic culture with modern innovation, stunning architecture and cityscapes, world-class gastronomy, and high ranking as a safe city. And with a business culture focused on formality, efficiency, and proper etiquette, Japanese hosts are committed to showing visiting guests a good time during and after business hours, with after-work drinks and meals taken in izakaya gastro pubs.
But travelers can easily navigate the city on their own, and Japanese society’s high premium on politeness means that it’s easy to ask for help or assistance. Plus, thanks to Japan’s famed high-speed rail, it’s also easy to venture out of the city for a day to see the countryside; depending on what station you leave from, Mount Fuji is anywhere from over half an hour to an hour-and-a-half away.
2. Hong Kong
In the elite world of high-rolling global centers, the city of Hong Kong is in a league of its own. An alpha-plus city that is one of the world’s biggest financial centers and boasts of a huge commercial shipping port, this sky-scraping contemporary metropolis towers above Victoria Harbor with a necklace of green mountains and hills at its back, providing the perfect combination of outdoor and urban adventure.
After meetings in the high-powered central business district, grab the tramcar up to the Peak, a verdant, hilltop park that has one of the best views of the city, or hop on one of the Star Ferry harbor tours to see the skyline or visit outlying islands for a taste of a more laid-back lifestyle. Dinner calls for world-famous dim sum in historic neighborhoods like Sham Shui Po, followed by partying in the legendary Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district, where there are more than 60 bars and restaurants to choose from for long nights of bar hopping, dining, and entertainment. There’s also plenty of cultural attractions like temples and museums in the heart of the city not far from offices, making it easy to squeeze in sightseeing before, after, or between work.
Australia’s biggest city, Sydney makes for a great bleisure destination with its uniquely laid-back vibes, hip sensibilities, happening fusion food scene, and jaw-dropping modern skyline set against a scenic harbor. With an efficient and broad-reaching public transportation system, it’s easy to get around to all the different neighborhoods, but many of the top spots are within walking distance of the business district, like the trendy downtown area, Darling Harbor; the Royal Gardens; the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which adventurous travelers can climb to the top of; and Sydney’s crown jewel and most iconic landmark, the Opera House.
If you’ve tacked on a few extra days to your trip, spend one of them at Bondi Beach, the world-famous leisure spot and gorgeous sandy beach, perfect for sunning, swimming, surfing, supping, and shopping. While the Outback might be a bit too far away for a bleisure outing, you can still get out of town to visit Blue Mountains National Park — home of mountainous forests, winding rivers, and dramatic rocky outcrops — or the picturesque coastlines of Royal National Park.
“London calling!” The siren song of England’s capital city is equal parts work and hitting the town these days for bleisure travelers. A global leader for business travel, lovers of culture, history, art, and architecture will find plenty to divert and entertain during their downtime. Sightseeing tours of famous landmarks like Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace are a must that can be squeezed into a lunch break, as can visiting world-class museums like the British Museum or the National Gallery.
London has also undergone quite the culinary renaissance in recent years, with some of the world’s top restaurants to be found in little hole-in-the-walls or design-forward spaces, as well as deliciously diverse street eats from market food trucks. A center for theater and performance, in the evening you can take in a show at the legendary Globe Theater (where Shakespeare debuted many of his plays) or musicals and plays in the West End. There’s also tons of fashionable shopping to be had at local boutiques or high-end brands. With top-notch public transportation and easy access to Heathrow Airport, it’s also convenient to get around, and with the eastern United States just an eight-hour flight away, there’s definitely time to extend your stay for a weekend while being back to the office on Monday.
This island city-state of over five million was a renowned center for work and play way before Crazy Rich Asians thrust it into the spotlight. But now business travelers are getting a taste of that crazy rich lifestyle Singapore is known for. Attracting business travel for its booming manufacturing industries — as well as construction, finance, insurance, and real estate — here it’s “work hard, play harder.”
After those business meetings wrap up, hit the spectacular Gardens by the Bay installation, shop on the high-end Orchard Road to find the most fashionable and luxe brands, stroll the Marina Bay waterfront park, sightsee in the historic Geylang neighborhood, and, of course, eat your way through Singapore’s multicultural mix of cuisines at a hawker center. And the city is also a hot spot for top-notch hotels, with epic stays like the heritage Raffles Hotel or the famous Marina Bay Sands with its rooftop infinity pool.
Singapore is also home to what has, for the past seven years, been voted the best airport in the world: Changi. Ferrying 62.2 million travelers per year through its vast, airy terminals, Changi is practically a destination in and of itself, with attractions like the Jewel gardens and waterfalls (Terminal 1), movie theaters (Terminals 2 and 3), the Butterfly Garden (Terminal 3), wellness centers, art installations, a rooftop swimming pool (Terminal 1), shopping, dining, and plenty of spaces to sit, work, or recharge (all with WiFi). It’s the one airport you’d be happy to be stuck in on layover or delay.
A global magnet for art, culture, fine dining, shopping, and history, Paris has long been almost exclusively thought of as a destination for leisure. But business travelers do indeed come here in the fields of banking, insurance, finance, luxury goods, and media, among others, and find much in the way of fun. The main business district, La Defense, is Europe’s biggest purpose-built business park, with a smart and efficient layout complemented by contemporary art and architecture like the Grande Arche de la Defense.
Just down the street from La Defense is the grand Champs Elysees, one of the great shopping streets of the world, as well as the Arc de Triomphe. Paris’s excellent subway system makes it easy to get around to major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre. Some of the best museums in the world call Paris home, like the Louvre, D’Orsay, Pompidou Center, and many more, all full of splendid art and historical artifacts. And, of course, there’s fine dining as only the French can do, with excellent restaurants and bars around every corner. While the French philosophy toward life is easy-going and prioritizes a work-life balance, there are still cultural customs surrounding business here, like punctuality. But once your work is done, embrace that famous je ne sais quoi and fall in love with the City of Lights.
7. Tel Aviv
With a rapidly growing tech, IT, and start-up sector, as well as robust manufacturing and diamond industries, business travel to Tel Aviv is definitely on the up, as evidenced by the recent opening of chic new boutique hotels close to the startup district on Rothschild Boulevard. As a compact city, Tel Aviv’s easy to explore on foot and is also extremely safe, but taxis are also plentiful. After taking meetings during the heat of the day, things start to wind down with happy hour drinks, which are a huge part of the culture. Rooftop patios with city views are the best place to grab refreshing drinks with colleagues, followed by partying into the wee hours of the morning thanks to a thriving nightlife scene.
On off days, decamping to the warm, sandy beaches of the nearby Meditteranean for sun and swimming is a classic way to destress, but being in the Middle East, it would be remiss not to dive into the region’s rich trove of art, culture, and history, so make time to visit museums and historical sites. Exploring the city’s largest market, Carmel, is also a must, as well as partaking of the multicultural food scene. Thanks to Israel’s small size, it’s easy to give a day or two to exploring further afield, like the historic port of Jaffa, the Dead Sea, or the holy city of Jerusalem. If you’re truly ambitious, you can even hop over into Jordan to visit the lost city of Petra for a day or two.
As China’s largest city and one of the great financial centers of the world, Shanghai’s outsized reputation precedes it, drawing business travelers from all over the world and China to its bustling exchange halls and offices. Most of the business infrastructure can be found in the contemporary Pudong district along the Huangpu River, with the Pudong International Airport located right on the edge of the district for fast and easy access. Taxis and a comprehensive public transportation system make it easy to get around Pudong or venture further out into the city for bleisure activities, like exploring the labyrinthine streets of the Old City, marveling at the Yu Gardens, and visiting historic temples.
One Shanghai must, though, is the Bund: a scenic waterfront promenade of beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings, as well as top-notch hotels, restaurants, and shopping. And squeezed between the glossy skyscrapers and modern architectural marvels (like the Oriental Pearl Tower) that dominate the city are other pockets of historic buildings and houses that show the city’s multicultural past (and present, as Shanghai is arguably China’s most international city in terms of expats living and working there). And, naturally, there’s tons of good eating to be had, from dumplings to noodles to steamed buns.