Urban legends: which city is really the world's best?

Paris, New York, Sydney, London, Melbourne - which is the best? Here, five writers tell us about their kind of town.


Alecia Simmonds

Sydney, dearest, we had a torrid affair! You with your crystalline beaches, your nights of riotous excess and your devilishly delicious cuisine. I thought we would last forever. But a chill distance seemed to grow between us. I grew weary of your chatter about real estate, pay rises and private schools. Your bewilderment when I chose academia over law. We made no sense to each other. And, to be honest, there was someone else on the side. I left you, Sydney, for Paris.

The first time I met Paris was as a churlish teenager murmuring insults at my parents inside the Louvre. How could they have torn me so cruelly from my friends? Paris, as my diary testified, had nothing on the marvels of Tamworth.

But when I met Paris again as an adult, we fell in love without speaking a word. This was partly because my high-school French turned out not to be French, but an ability to ask where the pool is. It was also because the sensuality of Paris requires no words. I spent my days meandering through serpentine boulevards and pencil-thin streets following their twists and turns like a desultory thought.

I peered past heavy renaissance doorways into secret cobble-stoned courtyards and I breathed in the buttery scents of the streets.

But our relationship went beyond hedonism. I loved that streets were named after thinkers, that philosophy made headlines and that activism was a part of everyday life. I loved how markets replaced shopping centres and bikes replaced cars. And, okay, I also fell in love with a guy.

I admit my first months here saw me tirelessly re-enacting scenes from Amélie: it was all romance and crème brûlée. But Paris is more interesting than white people riding scooters around Montmartre. Now, it's the cosmopolitan character of the city that I love: the vibrant mix of Africans, Asians and Europeans. I also love Parisian socialism: health care, museums and sports centres are free for artists and the unemployed. Everyone retires at 62, takes one month holiday a year and works 35-hour weeks. And conversation is liberated through the taboo placed on money: friends meet to discuss outsider art, Indian poetry, African revolutions or food. Mentioning a mortgage means social death.

So, Sydney, it was neither your fault nor mine. It's just hard to compete with the City of Light - and you might do better to learn some of her charms.

New York

Georgia Clark

In the two years I've lived in New York City, I've never been to Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building or Carnegie Hall. I've never seen A-listers

in SoHo or stumbled onto episodes of Gossip Girl being filmed on the Upper East Side. I haven't given my regards to Broadway.

I have lived with unexpected nudists and drug-dealing neighbours evading the Office of Children and Family Services. I've contracted a virus from the subway that required an extremely painful emergency-room visit and - worst of all - sat through some truly terrible off-Broadway plays.

From bouts of bedbugs to being so broke I've had to pay for pizza with pennies, New York kicks my arse again and again and again. It's a city that defies all logic: no one really knows how we all live here, accepting sacrifices the rest of the world would

see as insane. But I still think it's the best city in the world. Why? Like an overbearing guidance counsellor, New York forces to you work out who

you are and what you want. You don't have a choice. Here, everyone is chasing a dream, and fast. You keep up or get left behind.

But if you do choose to throw your hat in the ring and meet the challenge of the city head on, things start happening. Amazing things.

Here, I signed up for a few improv acting classes and somehow ended up on an award-winning improv team. I met a commissioning editor for HarperCollins in my backyard, with whom I am now developing a young-adult book series. I've sledded in Central Park, embraced then kicked a serious bagel habit, started a book club, dated a cellist, was accepted on a month-long writer's residency at fancy Martha's Vineyard, got a grant and spent it all on dresses. My roommate was in a cinema class with James Franco. Baz Luhrmann came to a barbecue at my place.

When these good moments come, they're more than just exciting. They're rewards. Yes, a midnight cocktail with views of the twinkling Chrysler Building is magical. But what's most magical is you really know you've earned it.

And that's why, when being whizzed home over the Williamsburg Bridge at 3am, another madcap NY night still dancing around my head, I'll look back to the famous skyline and sigh like a love-struck teenager.

New York, New York. It really is a helluva town.


Dominic Knight

I've travelled widely enough to know that Sydney is not the best city in the world for everything. Lovers of traffic jams and crippling humidity will prefer Bangkok, and those who prefer their beer lukewarm and get unfeasibly excited about seeing Prince Charles will always choose London. Fans of drizzle and poncing about in trilbies will be more at home in Melbourne.

But Sydney beats the rest of the world in the three categories that are clearly the most important, and that means we win the overall title - end of story, QED, thanks for playing.

Let's start with natural beauty. There's a reason why Sydney's fireworks are the highlight of New Year's Eve news packages the world over - even Hong Kong's famous harbour can't compare with ours, and the water view from a mere ferry ride in Sydney can lift the soul of the weariest cynic, at least until they get to Manly and witness a glassing.

Sydney's beaches are resplendent when not full of pasty English backpackers, and its bushland is spectacular on those occasions when it's not on fire. And despite decades of dubious construction by greedy developers, the city's beauty has remained intact. If the Cahill Expressway can't spoil Sydney, nothing can.

Then there's the climate. Summer is almost always pleasant rather than oppressive, thanks partly to the sea breezes and southerly changes, while winter is chilly enough to provide a contrast but never so cold that you need gloves or thermal underwear. Like the baby bear's porridge, we're neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. And unlike the baby bear's porridge, Sydney's weather hasn't been guzzled by some selfish blonde.

Finally, let's talk about food. If you are what you eat, Sydney is nothing short of scrumptious. While the likes of New York can match our wonderful diversity (and before you get uppity, Melbourne, let's talk when you can do yum cha), nowhere matches the consistent quality and value of Sydney. Our breakfasts and Asian-fusion food are particularly excellent, but it's genuinely difficult to find substandard food, even in a pub, especially now that one popular watering hole no longer serves its gelato topped with sewage.

But there's also a certain X-factor with Sydney, a vibrant spirit that sees huge numbers of us pour onto the city's streets for events like the Sydney Festival, Tropfest and Mardi Gras and made our Olympics so successful. The sheer extent of Sydney's love of an outdoor carnival was driven home to me last year during the World Cup, when thousands of us crowded around a giant floating screen in Darling Harbour to watch the final, even though it was 4am, the middle of winter, and Australia wasn't involved. And what's more, we had an absolutely brilliant time with the Dutch and Spanish fans, without the slightest hint of Euro hooliganism.

Sure, Sydney has its faults. Our liquor laws were archaic until recently, and our public transport is disastrous - in fact, everything to do with our state government is. But on a beautiful day down by the harbour, as we feast on fresh seafood, we Sydneysiders find it impossible to care.


Rachel Hills

Moving to London; it's the great Australian cliché. Hordes of restless 20-somethings and ambitious 30-somethings set off each year to seek their fortune, see some culture and get drunk with other Australians. Upon returning, they bemoan how little there is to do back home.

But maybe there's something to the clichés. Samuel Johnson once said that when you tire of London, you tire of life. London may have lost some of its cool factor in recent years in favour of edgier alternatives such as Berlin and Beijing, but there is still a veritable cornucopia of mainstream and alternative culture to enjoy. I've always been a staunch defender of the interestingness of Sydney and Melbourne, but there's no denying that London is a paradise for the young, curious and young at heart.

London - like Sydney and Melbourne - is not an overly friendly city. It's not New York, where people you've just met will invite you out to dinner to meet their friends, or to move into their apartments. This is not to say Londoners are standoffish; just that, like us, they have firmly established lives of their own, and if you want to slip into them, you have to prove yourself first. Which might be why Australians usually end up hanging out together.

But within days of arriving, London felt like home.

I quickly grew to love riding the bus home from work over Waterloo Bridge, looking out at St Paul's Cathedral on my left and Westminster on my right.

I love walking along the Thames at night. I love that there seems to be an entire genre of theatre devoted to exploring the issue of climate change - and that most of it is as entertaining as it is educational. I love that people here believe that climate change is real.

One lesson I learnt quickly was that if you want to go out in London, it's best to do it either very early, or very late. Don't be fooled by the mile-long list of activities in Time Out London seemingly custom-designed to your personal interests. In London, there are a thousand other people just like you, which can mean long queues and over-full bars. It also means the city can feel like a playground for adults, full of immersive art exhibitions and ingeniously executed parties. And let's not forget the giant playground next door that is continental Europe.

As for the weather? It's not that bad. Seriously.

I'd take London's mildly chilly winters over Australia's scorching summers any day. For now at least, there is nowhere in the world I'd rather live.


Ben Pobjie

In my 11 years as a Melburnian, I have always thought the city's greatest attraction is how utterly uncool it is. For a lad whose life has been spent in the suburbs, and who still emits a little "ooh" of awe when entering Chadstone Shopping Centre, a lack of coolness is vital in any city hoping to make me feel at home.

It's so cool how uncool Melbourne is. For a start, it's a city obsessed to the point of bug-eyed lunacy with Australian Rules football, which is one of the most uncool sports in the world, where the players wear short shorts and the spectators wear duffle coats and the scoring system uses rhyming slang like "sausage roll" and gives you a point for missing so nobody feels too left out. If Aussie Rules were a character on Neighbours, it'd be the one all the other characters call a dag. And it'd only ever be on Neighbours, not Home and Away.

Some people see Melbourne as a slick, arty, skinny-jeans kind of town, full of hipsters drinking complicated coffee and talking about bands nobody's ever heard of. But at heart, this city is a daggy, dorky, duffel-coaty sort of town, and completely adorable for it.

The coolest places in Melbourne are the uncool ones. Like Scienceworks, where you can learn about gravity and throw a baseball at a net in picturesque industrial surroundings. Or Werribee Open Range Zoo, where meerkats watch you eat chicken nuggets. Say what you like about the beauty of Sydney Harbour, but you can't have lunch with meerkats there.

Maybe it's just because I live in Cranbourne, a suburb so uncool its only major attraction is a set of dangling replica meteorites, but I find the real beauty of Melbourne is to be found in its unhip corners, its retro enclaves, and its cosily wintry atmosphere of rickety trams and beer-garden chicken parmas.

Even Melbourne's artery, the Yarra, embodies the city's uncool charm, a lazy brown dog of a river that eschews the sparkling waters and thundering currents of other waterways to slouch its way sleepily through the city, practically yawning as it meanders past the casino, keeping the beat for a city that's at its best in comfy pants.

It's fitting that in a city which gloriously showcases the uncool, the most exciting event of the year is the Melbourne International Comedy Festival; that time of year when geeks, weirdos and misfits walk tall as kings and queens of the world, and the ability to produce a chuckle is more highly prized than fashion or fireworks.

And it's there you have the heart and soul of the place. With no need of natural wonders or spectacular monuments, it folds all comers in its cheerful, daggy embrace and stands proud on the world stage as the city that's confident enough to be uncool. Melbourne is a trackie-daks kind of town: other cities might look flashier, but none will feel more comfortable once you're in them.

Courtesy of Sunday Life.