The 30 Best Second Cities in the World

Visiting Thessaloniki, Greece about a week ago gave me an idea for a new 30 best list called the 30 best second cities in the world. Everybody knows the biggest cities in most countries but not everyone knows the second cities. If you recall I did a 30 best cities in the world post that was very well received. So I thought the 30 best second cities in the world would be a fun idea.

White Tower, Thessaloniki, Greece

The White Tower in Thessaloniki, Greece

Fun it was and it literally killed about 3 hours thinking of and changing the order of my list on the plane from Turkey to Morocco. There were a lot of questions in my own mind as to what qualifies as the first city in a country let alone the second city. So I had to come up with some sort of criteria and stick with it.
Panoramic view of the coastline of Izmir, Turkey, Izmir

Panoramic view of the coastline of Izmir, Turkey

My very loose definition of a second city is the second most well known or most important city. This is of course up for debate but it can be because of population, popularity, industry but mainly just what you think of first when you think of the country. Of course this definition doesn’t fit everywhere and you will see some variation and I am sure disagree with me.
Roger Federer, Aussie Open, Melbourne

Roger Federer serving in the 2014 Australian Open semifinals vs Rafael Nadal in Melbourne

Here are my criteria and also some of my thought process.
Cape Town, Table Mountain, South Africa

Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

– I have to have been to the first and second city.
– Picking a second city means the first city also has to be picked. This wasn’t always easy. For example, countries like China, India and Brazil all have multiple very well known cities. In these instances I chose what I felt like was the first city in these countries.
– In the case of Brazil, I chose Sao Paolo first because it is such a large, populous city that is such an important financial hub for Brazil and Latin America. Therefore, Rio was an easy second city choice.
– In the United States, Canada and Mexico I feel that multiple cities could’ve qualified as second cities and I chose the ones that I think best exemplify a second city like population and popularity.
– In the case of Chicago, I went with Chicago over Los Angeles, Washington or San Francisco because one of Chicago’s nicknames is the Second City-and I love Chicago.
– Italy is an example of Rome being the clear first city and Milan being the clear second city. However, I don’t care for Milan so I did not choose it. Yes I know Florence, Venice and a hundred other cities are wonderful but they wouldn’t qualify as the second city.
– In the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I feel Abu Dhabi is the clear first city as it’s the capital and controls like 50% of the worlds oil and has more money than anyone else. While Dubai may be more known for flash, Abu Dhabi is the first city of the UAE.
– I haven’t been to all second cities that might potentially qualify for a list like this. For instance, Osaka, Porto, Gothenburg, Busan.
– Some second cities I don’t feel are big enough to qualify so I’ve omitted touristy cities like Split or Dubrovnik plus Cusco and a few others.
Rio de Janeiro

Christ the Redeemer with the Maracana in background in Rio de Janeiro

So here are my 30 best second cities in the world!
Dubai skyline

The world’s tallest building-the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE

30. Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo – Brazzaville
29. Mombasa, Kenya – Nairobi
28. Guayaquil, Ecuador – Quito
27. Jerusalem, Israel – Tel Aviv
26. Monterrey, Mexico – Mexico City
25. Mumbai, India – New Delhi
24. Manchester, England – London
23. Geneva, Switzerland – Zurich
22. Thessaloniki, Greece – Athens
21. Wellington, New Zealand – Auckland
20. Saigon, Vietnam – Hanoi
19. Marrakech, Morocco – Casablanca
18. Izmir, Turkey – Istanbul
17. Lyon, France – Paris
16. Mendoza, Argentina – Buenos Aires
15. Salzburg, Austria – Vienna
14. Bergen, Norway – Oslo
13. Luxor, Egypt – Cairo
12. Krakow, Poland – Warsaw
11. Cartagena, Colombia – Bogota
10. Chicago, United States – New York
9. Munich, Germany – Berlin
8. Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi
7. St. Petersburg, Russia – Moscow
6. Montreal, Canada – Toronto
5. Shanghai, China – Beijing
4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Sao Paolo
3. Cape Town, South Africa – Johannesburg
2. Barcelona, Spain – Madrid
1. Melbourne, Australia – Sydney

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  1. Siem Reap is my favorite…if that counts.

    • Of course it counts…I thought about adding it but for the same reasons I said I couldn’t include Dubrovnik, Split etc I left it off…plus I haven’t been since 2004 although I hope to go back in February

  2. I’ve never heard of Pointe Noire and surprised it made the list over Glasgow!

  3. Cool list as always…I’d probably add Antwerp or Eindhoven but I haven’t been to many to say that authoritatively! Good read and thanks Lee.

  4. Hello Lee, WOW! You have some life going for you. Doug mentions your website often. I remember playing baseball with your dad. He was such a good athlete! And so were you. Stay well. Keep traveling. I will keep you in my prayers. Mr. Rowe BTW T.R. was re-elected to Judge of Probate yesterday in Trumbull!

  5. Do you really have Jerusalem behind Manchester? I don’t think there has ever been a crusade or fight to over Manchester…..

    Is Bali/Depensar a second city?

  6. I like it Lee – – really would move Montreal a little higher up. Cheers.

  7. You have Barcelona on your 30 best cities list also and have 6 cities from USA.
    It is a bit confusing to have Barcelona on both and surprising not to see any of those USA cities.

  8. Hey Lee,
    Cool list. Just one think, Monterrey is not the second biggest city in México. The second city is Guadalajara.

  9. I probably would have picked Vancouver over Montreal, but of the other places you’ve mentioned that I’ve been to, I agree. I had a great time in Izmir! Lovely city and people.

    • I actually prefer Vancouver over Montreal as well but I think Montreal has to be considered the second city of Canada…that was why I went with it…although I do love Montreal too!

  10. Jonatas from Boston says


    I would switch Jerusalem as the first city being the capital, most populous, and overall clout! Tel-aviv as the great financial second city.

  11. Forgive me if someone else mentioned these already:

    Chiang Mai, Osaka, Pokhara

    Also Mostar, if we’re not taking “second city” literally in terms of population. Mostar’s probably the second most well-known city in Bosnia, and it’s super cool. Same holds true for Livingstone, Grenada, JInja, and Cuzco.

  12. I think a strong case could be made for the addition of my long-time. but sadly former, hometown of Boston! The history, educational institutions, medical advancements, sports teams, walkability, almost continuous renaissance and sheer beauty of it.

  13. I really like this list. I think Austria’s second best is Graz. I think it’s definitely underrated.

  14. excuse me sir what about bujumbura

  15. Rodger L. helms says

    U need to come party w/ us in Nashville , Tn . buddy . ????

  16. Raimon Duran says

    So, my hometown (and where I live) is the 2nd best 2nd city of the World … quite agree but competition from other great 2nd cities is strong …

  17. Good for for thought. I visited Paris, then Marseilles and Nice, and despite claims, neither seemed to have similar energy. I didn\’t have time for Lyon, but it\’s on my bucketlist. Never been to Chicago, but being from New York, Los Angeles was a major disappointment, Boston is nice but very small, and I tried Philly a couple of times, but don\’t love it. I guess Guayaquil is the only next logical city in terms of size after Quito, but I didn\’t feel like there was much to see and some of my friends commented that they thought it was kind of rundown.

    Having lived in Bogotá (I loved it), I understand the chachet that Cartagena has and it is very photo ready, but it also seems somewhat artificial because of the inflated prices, English/French/Italian language menus and primarily non-Colombian food. I\’ll have to go with Medellín on the, especially since the villages on the outskirts and a few hours from it are breathtakingly gorgeous.

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