It’s perplexing how some people still stress on vacation. They spend all year commuting to difficult jobs, standing on weekend lines at Costco, and fighting for parking just about everywhere. Only to venture to a new city and do the same time-crunched crowd management they do at home. The key to a good vacation is finding a way to relax, and though a Caribbean beach is always a great place to do it, some people want the energy and culture of a city too.
To help you find that ideal mix of urban excitement and vacation chill, Asian fashion blog YesStyle looked at stuff like weather, hiking trails, number of spas, air quality, and annual hours worked to find the best cities in the world for relaxation. And while some might surprise you, none should stress you out.
1. Vienna, Austria
As long as you’re not stressing about money, the Austrian capital can be the most relaxing city in the world — so much so that Billy Joel wrote a whole song about it. Though only about half of its days are sunny, that makes the air exceptionally clean so you can enjoy a beer at Badeschiff Wien, a floating bar on the Danube. You can also breathe in the greenery at Steinhofgründe or any of the city’s other acclaimed parks. Or simply unplug and immerse yourself in one of Europe’s capitals of great architecture.
2. Portland, Oregon
It’s hard to get stressed in a city known for vegan food, book shops, and proximity to the Columbia River Gorge. Portland ranked second-highest in air quality among US cities surveyed, and boasts 351 hiking trails across only 145 square miles. The Rose City is also full of cool breweries to relax with a cold one, most famously Deschutes and 10 Barrel. But for non-alcoholic fun, you can also wander through Forest Park or hit the Portland Japanese and Lan Su Chinese Gardens.
3. Munich, Germany
Avoid this city during the hectic weeks of Oktoberfest, and you’ll find a quaint German metropolis with over 350 hiking trails and some of the best air quality in Europe. Enjoy some of Bavaria’s famous beer while floating down the Isar River in a giant raft, a perfect way to relax and appreciate the thick forests without leaving the city. If you’d rather stay stationary while drinking, you can also soak up some suds at one of the city’s many beer gardens, including Waldwirtschaft and Augustiner Bräustuben. Drive half an hour out of Munich and you’ll find Lake Starnberg, a calm freshwater lake with stunning mountain views. Or hang out in one of the city’s designated urban naked zones, if being naked doesn’t stress you out.
4. Seattle, Washington
Despite ever-growing traffic and a famously dreary climate, Seattle is still a masterful combination of urban amenities and natural relaxation. With the highest air quality of any American city in the study, it makes for the perfect environment to enjoy any of the city’s 495 hiking trails. Seattle also offers plenty of opportunities to get close to the water, whether that’s visiting the famous Sound Garden at Magnuson Park, jogging a couple of laps around Greenlake, or kayaking out on Lake Washington.
5. Denver, Colorado
Interesting that three most-relaxing cities in America also have recreational marijuana. Not that we’re insisting you relax at one of the Mile High City’s nearly 400 dispensaries (that’s more than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined), or venture into its burgeoning CBD scene. You can, but plenty of clear-headed relaxation abounds in a city with 600 hiking trails and less than 90 days of rain. There’s the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, where you can wade among tall grass and commune with mule deer, pelicans, and bald eagles. Or listen to live music at the Denver Botanic Gardens, which offers a top-tier summer concert series.
6. Berlin, Germany
A city best known for its all-night parties, intense history, and underground sex clubs might not immediately strike one as “relaxing.” But since Berliners don’t work too hard — only 1,356 hours a year on average — the city is also full of diversions perfect for a clear-minded visitor. There are only 25 hiking trails, but a whopping 488 spas, so a massage should definitely be in order. Afterward, you can calm down while amping up at YogaCafé in Prenzlauer Berg, which serves up coffee with a side of Warrior One. If you’re in town on a hot day, take a dip in Badeschiff, a public swimming pool that juts out into the Spree. In the winter it’s covered with domes so the pool party doesn’t have to stop.
7. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Frigid winter aside, Minneapolis can be one of the best cities in the county for outdoor recreation if you know where to look. The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes has several lakes within its biggest city, including the popular Chain of Lakes with 15 miles of paved pathways along its shores. Minneapolis is also home to 197 parks, meaning — as the city famously claims — you’ll never walk six blocks without finding one. You’ll also find urban waterfalls along the Mississippi River when you head into Minnehaha Regional Park, the perfect place to let the crashing water remove you from the stress of life at home.
8. Sydney, Australia
For the largest city on an entire continent, Sydney is remarkably calming. With an average temperature in the mid-60s and over 250 sunny days a year, it’s hard to feel down any time you visit. It can be an exceptionally perfect escape in January, when the annual Sydney Festival takes over the city and brings live theatre, music, and art to dozens of venues. The rest of the year, you can unwind on the sands of Bondi Beach or inhale the local flora at the Royal Botanic Garden. You can also take some time out at Observatory Hill Park, which might offer the best view of the city that’s not at the top of a tourist attraction.
9. Glasgow, Scotland
Don’t go to Scotland’s largest city expecting a fun-in-the-sun escapade. But for arts, culture, and immersion into Scottish culture, no place is better. Okay, so Glasgow has over 1,100 inches of annual rain, but with an average temperature of 48 degrees, it’s never too cold to enjoy one of the city’s 279 hiking trails. If you’d rather not get drizzled on, spend the day in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, or hit the Hunterian if you want to avoid the crowds. The Riverside Museum is a Zaha Hadid-designed look into transportation and how it’s shaped human existence. And the Glasgow Science Center offers the best view of the city from its 417-foot revolving tower.
10. Boston, Massachusetts
Anyone who’s ever driven in Boston might disagree with it being anything close to relaxing, but stay off the roads (or leave the driving to the pros) and you can find a perfectly tranquil vacation. Head to the city anytime but summer, and the Freedom Trail can be a calming way to see the city and learn tremendous amounts of American history at your own pace, without dealing with museum crowds. There’s also the Boston Common, one of the great urban green spaces in the country. Or you can take a Venetian gondola down the Charles River with Gondola di Venezia. Boston also has a surprising 583 hiking trails, so no matter when you visit you’ll find someplace to escape the crazy drivers.
11. Miami, Florida
What’s more relaxing than dipping your toes in the Atlantic Ocean, fruity drink in hand, and posting a picture of a winter weekend in Miami? Maybe a head-clearing drive through the Everglades, paddling a kayak through ancient mangroves at Oleta River State Park, or heading underwater and enjoying complete silence along the closest coral reefs to any American city. A trip to Miami doesn’t have to mean dealing with overcrowded clubs and tourist-trap restaurants. Taking advantage of the water that surrounds the place makes for a far less stressful trip.
12. Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne is often cited as the not-as-crazy, just-as-awesome alternative to massive Sydney. And for good reason. The city has a whopping 111 spas, so you’re never far from a massage. And with nearly 2,400 annual hours of sunshine you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get out on any of its 176 hiking trails. Or hang out under the southern sun at beaches like St. Kilda and Brighton Dog Beach. If you do happen upon some rain, head indoors to the massive reading room at the State Library, or float your worries away in an Epsom salt bath at the Gravity Floatation Centre.
13. San Francisco, California
A city as densely populated as San Francisco might not immediately lend itself to relaxation. But with 490 hiking trails in only 47 square miles, it’s also the most concentrated hiking city in America. Golden Gate Park is your most obvious spot for an urban nature getaway, but if your calves are feeling strong head just over the Golden Gate Bridge and trek up to Battery Spencer Overlook for a calming view of the city. If you have a car — and aren’t stressed out by traffic — you might also consider crossing the Bay Bridge to Oakland and taking a train ride through Tilden Regional Park. Surrounded by eucalyptus and redwood trees, you’ll almost forget you’re less than an hour from one of the busiest cities in the world.
14. Porto, Portugal
The heart of Portuguese wine country seems a pretty logical place to relax, so no huge surprise here. Aside from sipping your troubles away, however, Porto has a ton of destressing activities to offer. The Foz do Douro neighborhood is particularly calming, with five of the city’s best beaches and waterfront parks to enjoy a sunset by the ocean. If aromatherapy is your relaxation method of choice, head out to Cantinho das Aromáticas, a farm that grows botanicals, herbs, and teas. If you’re more the curl-up-with-an-animal-to-unwind type, hit O Porto dos Gatos, the city’s only cat cafe where you can enjoy a book, coffee, and the in-house cat of your choice.
15. Chicago, Illinois
The third-largest city in America somehow squeaked onto this list, thanks mostly to its 321 spas and 218 urban hiking trails. In the summer, finding Windy City relaxation is easy, whether that means soaking in the lake air at one of the city’s beaches, strolling Grant or Millennium parks, or taking in a game at Wrigley Field. But should you catch Chicago on one of its off days, plenty of indoor activities abound, including admiring the stars at Adler Planetarium, visiting the undersea world at the Shedd Aquarium, and exploring natural history at the Field Museum.
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