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Happiest City Index - Best places to travel to this year
10 min read
Updated on May 14, 2024

Travel, holidays and happiness. They go hand in hand, right? But what if you could tailor your trip to ensure you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been on your jollies?

Thanks to the Happiest City Index, which ranks 40 cities, it is possible to establish the happiest place on earth for travelers to visit.

happiest cities around world

Helping you to decide where to visit based on five happiness factors: the cost of living, sunshine, green spaces, friendly locals, and life expectancy, you can be sure that each destination on the list meets these (naturally non-negotiable for a trip) requirements.

The top 10 happiest destinations in the world

While the Happiest City Index comprises the top 40 destinations in the world, if we provided you with a description of each, by the time you’re done reading, you could already be in one of the cities.

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So, let’s stick with the top 10 so you can find out what their score for each happiness factor, and why they rank so high:

1. Lisbon, Portugal

There’s a reason Lisbon tops the happiness chart. Famed for its warm, sunny climate, colourful, quaint buildings, great nightlife, Fado music and friendly locals, Portugal’s capital is one of the world’s most scenic cities.

In fact, as well as being crowned first in the happiness department, it also took fourth place for the most beautiful city in the world by U City Guide, a website dedicated to urban destinations.

Lisbon’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 16th
  • Sunshine: 6th
  • Working Hours: 21st
  • Friendly locals: 2nd
  • Cost of Living: 6th

UK or European citizens do not require a visa to enter Portugal, and US citizens can enter the country for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa.

Many non-EU citizens (not including Americans) are required to get a Schengen visa if they plan on staying over 90 days. Should you want to stay for longer (this applies to everyone) you need to apply for a residence permit.*

2. Barcelona, Spain

Not only is Barcelona home to one of the world’s best football teams, but it’s also famous for its myriad of juxtaposing architecture. The Gothic, Romanesque and modernist buildings co-existing side by side is what makes the city so vibrant and lively. Plus, there are idyllic sandy beaches, a busy nightlife, outstanding cuisine, colourful cultural heritage and an array of neighbourhood festivals that attract tourists from all over the world.

For music lovers, there’s Primavera Sound, Sónar Barcelona and Barcelona Beach Festival. But there are also more traditional, historic events like the Barcelona La Mercè, too. Lasting for around five days, the festival is held in honour of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, Mare de Deu de la Mercè.

Barcelona’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 5th
  • Sunshine: 13th
  • Working Hours: 19th
  • Friendly locals: 9th
  • Cost of Living: 11th

As a UK, European, and US citizens, you can visit Barcelona for up to three months without a visa for tourism and business purposes.

Many non-EU citizens are required to get a Schengen visa if they plan on staying over 90 days.

3. Athens, Greece

Athens is Europe’s oldest capital, and it’s named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare.

Sprawling with incredible food and drinks, beaches, and jaw-dropping architecture, Athens is a melting pot of ancient and modern delights. You can even explore the city by booking a segway tour. Be right back, just dusting off our helmets and knee pads.

Athen’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 14th
  • Sunshine: 7th
  • Working Hours: 25th
  • Friendly locals: 3rd
  • Cost of Living: 10th

Athens is in the Schengen area, so many people can travel for up to 90 days in 180 days without a visa. Otherwise, apply for a Schengen Visa.

4. Rome, Italy

When you think of Rome, you think of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and a metropolis of Classical architecture.

If you want to picture the city in a romantic and movie-like setting, just watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in A Roman Holiday. You’ll be ordering neckerchiefs and hiring a Vespa in no time.

Rome’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 4th
  • Sunshine: 14th
  • Working Hours: 17th
  • Friendly locals: 26th
  • Cost of Living: 14th

UK citizens who hold either a full UK passport or a BOC, BOTC, BPP or BS passport can travel visa-free to Italy. Europeans do not need a visa to enter the country.

US citizens can enter Italy for up to 90 days without a visa for tourist and business purposes. Most others need a Schengen Visa to visit Italy.

5. Sydney, Australia

Sydney is renowned for its quality of life - it’s no surprise that as of 2021, over 100,000 Brits live in the Australian city. Considered one of the safest, most liveable, and beautiful cities in the world, Sydney’s low crime rate is one of the significant reasons go there.

As well as the stunning coast, Sydney is also super close to some magnificent countryside - the best of both worlds if you like surfing, swimming and taking inland hikes. It’s also not too far from the Great Barrier Reef either, another natural wonder that millions of people flock to see each year.

Sydney’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 7th
  • Sunshine: 10th
  • Working Hours: 24th
  • Friendly locals: 11th
  • Cost of Living: 29th

You must apply for an Australia visa online before departure.

6. Madrid, Spain

Like historical buildings, food markets, and Royals? Madrid is calling your name. Alongside this, the Spanish capital is famed for its mixture of contemporary and renaissance art museums, bustling nightlife, modern metropolitan vibe, and of course, that sought-after Mediterranean climate.

Madrid’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 5th
  • Sunshine: 8th
  • Working Hours: 18th
  • Friendly locals: 8th
  • Cost of Living: 12th

7. Toronto, Canada

When you think of Toronto, you’ve probably heard it being called one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and there’s a reason for that. According to official data, over half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of the city and Canada, making it a multicultural hub.

And due to this variety, you’ll be engulfed by an incredible food and drink scene - so much so, that you’ll probably need to spend a decent amount of time here.

Toronto’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 15th
  • Sunshine: 21st
  • Working Hours: 22nd
  • Friendly locals: 7th
  • Cost of Living: 27th

Brits and EU citizens usually don't need a visa to visit Canada if they only go for a short period.

8. San José, Costa Rica

San José is considered a mix of a traditional Central American city and an urban, cosmopolitan hub that provides an incredible array of attractions and activities.

There’re parks, museums, historic buildings, theatres, and the most incredible beaches, wildlife, and nature. Guarded by green rolling hills and impressive volcanoes, San José is an idyllic part of the world.

San José’s rank for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 28th
  • Sunshine: 15th
  • Working Hours: 34th
  • Friendly locals: 1st
  • Cost of Living: 7th

From the UK, you can stay for up to 90 days as a visitor under a tourist visa waiver. EU and US citizens do not require a visa application to enter San José.

9. Istanbul, Turkey

Googling Istanbul and looking at the images alone makes you want to visit the Turkish capital. Are we right?

Famed for its timeless charm, rich history, and immense architecture (its domed buildings are a sight to behold), there’s no doubt you won't fall in love with the old-world vibe of the city. You’ll also fall in love with the locals, who are incredibly friendly and love to help.

  • Life Expectancy: 30th
  • Sunshine: 16th
  • Working Hours: 26th
  • Friendly locals: 12th
  • Cost of Living: 2nd

If you’re a British citizen, you can travel without a visa for visits of up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Other nationalities may need a Turkish Electronic Visa (or e-Visa).

10. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, and there’s a reason it’s on this list. Aside from the warm climate, white sandy beaches, and crystal clear waters, there’s also great food, a buzzing street life and incredible cultural landmarks.

We’re talking about Buddhist temples like Wat Pho and Wat Arun, and the Grand Palace contrasting with the vibrant nightlife of Patpong and Khaosan Road. There’s also delicious food and drink, and if you love seafood, you need to try the Tom yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup).

Bangkok’s score for each happiness factor:

  • Life Expectancy: 31st
  • Sunshine: 9th
  • Working Hours: 36th
  • Friendly locals: 5th
  • Cost of Living: 8th

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The happiness factors

Now here’s a little bit about each happiness factor, including which city scored the highest for each one:

Cost of living

It’s no secret that holidays can be expensive, which is why money is often a major make or break when booking a trip. This is why the cost of living was chosen as a happiness factor - the cheaper the location, the fewer money worries you’ll have whilst you’re there.

Out of the 40 cities selected for the index, it turned out that Kanpur in India was voted the cheapest place to go. We got this data from Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index 2023 when we researched which city has the lowest cost of living.

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We all know a nice amount of vitamin D does us good. It’s scientifically proven to increase the release of serotonin - the ‘mood-boosting’ hormone. So, if sunshine makes your brain happy, there are no arguments that it has to be a happiness factor.

We used data from World Weather and Climate Information to find out which cities from the index receive the most sun on average annually.

Las Vegas, Nevada, claimed the top spot, boasting 3,830 hours of sun each year. Right, that’s it. When’s the next flight to Sin City?

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Working hours

It is always a good sign when the locals have a good work-life balance. They too, need to make time to take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy all the city has to offer.

Data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) was used to decipher which city worked the least hours every week.

Frankfurt, Germany, takes the lead for the least hours with Copenhagen, Denmark giving them close competition.

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Friendly locals

What’s a trip without asking a local for directions or chatting with them in bars and restaurants? When you travel, you want to immerse yourself in different cultures, and meeting new people is one of the most authentic ways. So it’s only natural the friendliness of locals had to make an appearance as a happiness factor.

We took data from Inter Nation’s Expat Insider 2021 Report to find out which city had the friendliest people. From the info, we could then rank the (statistically) friendliest city in the world.

San José literally came out beaming with this one, closely followed by Lisbon.

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Life expectancy

A long life is a healthy one, and a healthy life is a happy one and all that, right?

Going by this logic, we took data from Worldometer to find out where you should move to if you want to live for a very long time. While you may be thinking about the laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle where nonna's seem to live forever, Hong Kong took the top spot. They have an average life expectancy of 82.29 years(!).

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How did we find this info?

Data for each happiness factor was sourced from the following:

Once al the relevant data was gathered for each of our happiness factors, a list of the top 40 cities that appeared the most frequently was then compiled.

Each city was then scored from 1 to 40 based on how it ranked for that specific factor. For example, 40 points in the city with the highest sunshine hours, and so on. This was repeated for each of the five factors.

The overall happiness score was calculated as an average, adding each of the five happiness factor scores per city and dividing it by 5.

To Lisbon then?

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