OPINION: Queenstown’s a stunner but if you’re looking for an urban centre that’s truly world-class in the beauty stakes you can’t go past Paris, New York and London – in that order.
At least that seems to be the consensus of the more than 1000 travel writers, bloggers and agencies around the globe who helped compile travel site Flight Network’s World’s 50 Most Beautiful Cities list.
Queenstown’s town status didn’t prevent it from being the only New Zealand destination to feature at number 38, with the tourism hot spot scoring points for its “insane scenery” but losing out to cities in Europe, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East and Australia.
Paris was named the world’s most beautiful city, with Dennis Lennox, a travel columnist with The Christian Post, reasoning “It’s Paris!!! Enough said.”
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“From the sparking Eiffel Tower to incredibly famous works of art in the Le Louvre museum such as the Mona Lisa, this city has plenty to offer any visitor,” the site said.
The huge crowds at such attractions – and growing signs that Paris is struggling to cope with visitor numbers (the Sud Culture Solidaires union claimed in May that the Louvre was “suffocating” under the weight of tourists and Christian Mantel, head of tourism agency Atout France, said last year that tourist hot spots along the Seine are “close to saturation” – didn’t seem to detract from the city’s beauty, in judges’ eyes. Neither did the rat problem (the city has installed anti-rat bins to help curb the problem, according to Reuters).
The City of Light’s well-dressed population, who “take great pride in a graceful and dignified appearance” and the shops along the Champs-Elysees – “some of the finest shops in the world!” – were also highlighted by the site. As were the Arc de Triomphe, “stunning Palace of Versailles” and the “world-class” cuisine. I’m not entirely sure how tasty food contributes to a city’s visual appeal, but there you go.
New York came in second place, partly, it seems, because it’s so famous.
“Made up of five distinct boroughs with their own micro-cultures, New York City is one of the most recognised cities in the world,” the blurb on the Big Apple begins.
It went on to describe some of NYC’s most recognisable landmarks and recommended trying a hot dog at Coney Island – “a great place to visit any time of the year…” Don’t get my wrong, I love a good hot dog struggle to see how those on offer in the Brooklyn neighbourhood help make New York the second most beautiful city in the world.
London, with its “rich history” and “gorgeous sites that are a must-visit”, came in at number three, followed by Venice and Vancouver.
Barcelona, Cape Town, San Francisco, Sydney and Rome rounded out the top 10. Sydney, at number nine, was the only Australian city to feature.
Queenstown was commended for having “endless activities that make adventure junkies swoon, including the Nevis Swing – “the most famous swing in the world!”.
“If swinging from terrifying heights isn’t your scene, no worries! You can take a pleasant stroll through Queenstown Gardens, and then make your way over to Marine Parade since it’s close by to enjoy the Queenstown Beach.”
The site also recommended doing a wine tour, saying “With the insane scenery, you’re surrounded by, it’s pretty idyllic.”
Queenstown’s “incredibly adventurous” residents also seem to have contributed to its attractiveness, with the site saying it’s “pretty easy to strike up a conversation with a local” on the hiking trails.
“Given that most of the population is Maori-born or foreign, you can find almost any type of food here and there are tons of festivals celebrating culture and sports.”
Residents’ often casual attire, which perhaps does not lend them the “graceful and dignified appearance” Parisians were commended for, might help explain its lower ranking – would-be visitors are advised to “pack a fleece in the winter and shorts in summer”.
Clothing slights aside, Queenstown residents mightn’t actually appreciate the accolade. With overseas visitor numbers continuing to “snowball”, as Statistics New Zealand put it in a recent release, the people of Queenstown and Wanaka recently voted in favour of a visitor levy.
The “bustling port city” of Sydney, meanwhile, was complimented for its “really familiar landmarks and spots that keep visitors coming year after year” such as – you guessed it – the Opera House, Botanic Gardens and Bondi Beach.
Sydney’s diverse population and non-extreme weather were also highlighted.
“In the winter (June, July, August) it’s cool and mild and the summer (December, January, February, March) is hot.”
I could say the same about New Zealand cities but, again, there you go…
Being big and brash with busy (often overrun) attractions seems to have been key to featuring highly in the list so perhaps it’s a blessing that more New Zealand destinations didn’t make the cut. I’m already bracing myself for the hordes set to descend on our best known beauty spots over summer. If you know of any hidden gems where lovers of peace, quite and natural beauty can go to escape them, please let me know.
The world’s most beautiful cities according to Flight Network
2. New York
7. Cape Town
8. San Francisco
15. Rio de Janeiro
20. Buenos Aires
Also: 38. Queenstown