Best in Travel 2013 - Top 10 Cities

1. San Francisco
Darling of America's west coast
Best for: Culture, events, food
Quirky shop front decoration, Haight Street, The Haight.
Quirky shop front decoration, Haight Street, The Haight.
© Copyright Lonely Planet Images
Famous for hills, earthquakes and a penchant for liberal politics, San Francisco continues to attract kindred spirits, eagerly embracing all newcomers to the bosom of its cultural mélange. If you need an extra incentive to get yourself to San Francisco, the city has an ace up its sleeve – the 34th America’s Cup is coming to fog city in 2013, and big changes and upgrades are afoot all along San Francisco’s heaving waterfront.

2. Amsterdam
Golden Age charmer prepares to party
Best for: Culture, events, food
Lights along canal bridges along Herengracht near the famous 'Golden Bend'.
Amsterdam always cast a spell on travellers, but the party ramps up big-time in 2013, when more anniversaries than you can shake a herring at coincide. The famed canal ring turns 400 years old. It’s Vincent van Gogh’s 160th birthday and the 40th for his colour-swirled museum. The Rijksmuseum re-opens after a 10-year renovation. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – often considered the world’s best – blows out 125 candles. Plus the Artis Royal Zoo and Felix Meritis cultural centre mark 175 years and 225 years, respectively. It all adds up to a slew of celebratory concerts, exhibits and street fests grooving throughout 2013.

3. Hyderabad
Old City recapturing past glories
Best for: Culture, food, value for money
Vendor at street stall at foot of the Charminar.
Hyderabad was once the capital of a filthy-rich princely state. After India’s independence, the palaces and pleasure gardens were sold off, built over and looted, and you had to be really sharp to see the city’s beauty. But several palaces in Hyderabad’s Old City have recently been refurbished, including Falaknuma Palace, a seven-star hotel that was skilfully restored by the Taj Group and is now an exceedingly plush time capsule. Other monuments and buildings are being fixed up, but the city, and many of its architectural gems, are still off the radar – which keeps the masses at bay. Elegant and blossoming, but also weathered and undiscovered, Hyderabad’s Old City is ripe for exploration.

4. Londonderry/Derry
Packed calendar for UK City of Culture
Best for: Culture, events, family
You Are Now Entering Free Derry You Are Now Entering Free Derry by mkairishstudies. Creative Commons Attribution Licence
Londonderry/Derry is the UK City of Culture 2013, which means this vibrant, historic walled city is undergoing a renaissance. The year will see a wealth of cultural events, including the 10-day All Ireland Fleadh, the world’s biggest Irish festival and it also plays host to the always-controversial Turner Prize. The city will buzz throughout the year with hundreds of other events, from pageants to music to contemporary dance. Derry also hosts lots of regular festivals, such as the Jazz Festival and Earhart Festival (in 2013 celebrating 80 years since American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart landed here), celebrations for which will all be cranked up a notch.

5. Běijīng
Capital on cusp of greatness
Best for: Culture, value for money, food
Artist painting in the Forbidden City.
Běijīng remains as the cultural and artistic centre of China. While the 2008 Olympics may now seem like a distant memory, their effect is enduring – there are English street signs and a multitude of architectural gems such as the Bird’s Nest studded across the sprawling city. More recently, the Běijīng–Shanghai high-speed rail now connects the two cities in under five hours. Today, Běijīng tentatively balances a multitude of (growing) populations and subcultures. There’s a palpable sense of change in the air, though no-one quite knows what to expect. China is on the cusp of true greatness and one day, people will look back and say it all started here.

6. Christchurch
Rising from the rubble with flair
Best for: Culture, events, family
Tramway on Worcester Street.
New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ is rising from the rubble created by devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 with a breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair. With a unique opportunity to rethink urban form, Christchurch is bouncing back with a new energy and inventiveness. Foodies will be surprised by the variety of what is on offer, from Burmese to Turkish to local specialities, live-music venues have popped up all over the place, and innovative artworks fill empty demolition sites. 2013 will be an intriguing year to join the rebirth.

7. Hobart
Harbour town becomes hip
Best for: Events, culture, food
Fishing fleet and their lobster pots moored in Victoria Docks, Hobart.
The sleepy harbour town reputation attracts a solid ‘outdoorsy’ set, but the recent arrival of the world-class MONA museum has the waters rippling, hip tourists flocking and Hobart rousing from its slumber. 2013 will see the new kid on the block team up with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) for the Theatre of the World exhibition curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, former director of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. This year will also prove exciting for Hobart’s already burgeoning gastronomic scene as the city’s culinary credentials continue to rise.

8. Montréal
Mélange of cultures marries brains and beauty
Best for: Culture, events, value for money
Le Vieux-Montréal by abdallahh. Creative Commons Attribution Licence
Having recently gained a high rank on city lists including the world’s happiest (Lonely Planet, 2010) and hippest (New York Times, 2011), this year Montréal’s angling for a top spot, showing off in Stephen Spielberg’s summer release Robopocalypse, and inviting everyone for drinks at the new urban beach. But Montréal’s got brains as well as beauty. Spring 2013 marks the launch of the new Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, rounding out the ambitious ‘Space for Life’ project. And Montréal’s social calendar is also bubbling over with the unveiling of the Grévin wax museum at the Eaton Centre, the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Place des Arts, and the new Point Zero hotel, owned by the eponymous fashion label.

9. Addis Ababa
Ethiopian metropolis evolving at pace
Best for: Culture, food, value for money
Portrait of jousting competitor at festival of Timkat, dressed in style of traditional Abyssinian warrior, with Gelada monkey headdress and embroidered cloak.
Like the Ethiopian marathon runners, Addis Ababa (often shortened to plain ‘Addis’) is evolving at a fast pace. The fact that the country’s economic growth should reach almost 5% in 2013 helps create a feeling of confidence and stamina. Founded little more than a century ago, Addis Ababa, which in Amharic means ‘New Flower’, is not only the diplomatic capital of Africa and a thriving metropolis, but also a groovy city that takes pride in its multifaceted assets.

10. Puerto Iguazú
Much more than just a waterfall
Best for: Family, activities, adventure
Iguazú Falls Iguazú Falls by Phillie Casablanca. Creative Commons Attribution Licence
It’s official: votes are in, and the Foz de Iguazú has won its place among the prestigious new seven wonders of nature, following a worldwide 2011 poll. That this phenomenal waterfall, spread-eagled along the Argentine–Brazil border, should make the final reckoning is no great shock. So tourism to these falls is set to morph: good news for Puerto Iguazú, the main tourist base hereabouts. ‘Iguazú’ – as locals call it – doesn’t just want to be the fall guy, though. After all, it offers some of the best hostels, top-end hotels and spas in the country, not to mention some stunning side trips.