The world’s most notable cities often conjure images of gridlocked traffic and skylines dominated by steel and glass skyscrapers. Because sprawling metropolises are perpetually on the move, escaping the stress of urban living can prove to be difficult. But for urban dwellers who appreciate a laid-back attitude, there are a handful of cities around the globe that will lull you to a languid pace of life synonymous to small towns.
Canada’s third largest metropolis of Vancouver is gracefully poised along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, a picturesque city where land meets sea. Its cosmopolitan streets are divided into several distinct neighborhoods, including the hippy-esque Kitsilano where its residents famously live in yoga pants, the gay-friendly West End, and the recently gentrified East Van, where Main Street is studded with hipster cafes and bakeries. The fabric of Vancouver is interwoven with delightful gardens, sparkling lakes and urban green spaces, with the 1000-acre Stanley Park the city’s favorite for leisurely strolls along the glistening harbor. A mountain-ringed destination, the snow-dusted peaks of the North Shore Mountains are interspersed between the glass skyscrapers of Vancouver’s downtown, and miles of rainforest trails radiate from its summits. Embodying that unmistakable laid-back West Coast vibe, Vancouver is a city for those seeking urban exploration with a side of outdoor adventure.
With sophisticated cafes and a burgeoning gastronomic scene, wide tree-lined boulevards, and romantic plazas, Mendoza instantly captivates the hearts of its visitors. The city is synonymous with Malbecs, and though it’s one of Argentina’s largest metropolises, the classic Mendoza experience consists of little urban exploration. Instead, an escape to the surrounding rustic towns and rural regions where its vineyards are nestled is the main attraction. Backed by the stunning Andes, it’s extremely easy to lose track of time while cycling through gently sloped vineyards and indulging in dozens of wine tastings, sipping full-bodied reds until the sun dips into the horizon. An ideal base for wine tourism in Argentina, Mendoza’s sunny climate coupled with abundant opportunities for rafting and skiing at the foothills of the Andes also attracts adventurers seeking outdoor thrills.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand’s largest city in the north and former capital of the mighty Lanna Kingdom is blissfully calm, though its historic center is enveloped by a flourishing metropolis and hectic highways. The core of ancient Chiang Mai remains protected by the remnants of its city walls and a well-maintained moat from its heyday. These features not only preserve its antique wooden homes and elegant temples where monks are likely to approach you to practice their English, but also its deeply traditional roots and sleepy town atmosphere. With the lush countryside radiating in every direction, this city is a hub for hill tribe trekking and venturing into the depths of the rainforests that are sprinkled with gentle waterfalls and rustic villages. Distinctively easy-going compared to the chaos of Bangkok, it’s easy to fill your afternoons with strolls through peaceful gardens and quiet backstreets. Grab a mug of the national Chang brew at riverside bars. Chiang Mai boasts a serene setting for recharging your batteries.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Translating to “peaceful meeting place,” historic Hoi An was once a major trading port, uniting merchant ships in its Thu Bon River from nations near and far. The coastal city’s 16th-century wooden-fronted shops, teahouses and merchant homes display a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and European influences, presenting visitors with a glorious legacy through its architectural styles. Ancient Old Town emanates a dreamlike atmosphere, where motorbikes are prohibited and storefronts are adorned with colorful lanterns that reflect in the serene waters of the Thu Bon river at night. Set amid lush rice fields and encrusted by sun-swept beaches, Hoi An is both enticing for its old world charm and seductively laid-back attitude.
Slovenia’s capital and largest city is also Europe’s green capital for 2016, a title awarded for its outstanding efforts in reducing the city’s carbon footprint. With restless traffic restricted in the heart of Ljubljana, pedestrians and cyclists flow peacefully through, meandering along the sparkling emerald Ljubljanica River that cuts through the capital and lounging on cafe terraces on those warm clear days. Crowned with a pretty hilltop castle and graced with the presence of the Museum of Modern Art and National Gallery, Ljubljana remains deep rooted in its artistic culture and history. Populated by some 50,000 students, the tranquil afternoons spent swaying to rhythmic melodies of violinists and flutists at the urban oasis of Tivoli Park transform into vibrant nights at its lively bars.