I’m not a classicly trained chef or a top-notch sommelier, but I have developed a palate for delicious food. Food and travel are deliciously intertwined! To me, the flavors of a dish can speak to more than just my tastebuds. When I take that first bite or drink that first sip, I’m taking in the history and the culture of the new city or country I’m visiting. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking more about where am I going to eat in this new place I’m exploring rather than what am I going to see. I’m sure you’ve noticed this in my Sedona Foodie’s Guide and the best places for beer or brunch in Amsterdam. My increased focus on food when I travel got me thinking, what are the best cities in the world for a culinary vacation? Where haven’t I visited that I want to just because the food is supposed to be amazing?
The 20 Best Cities for Culinary Vacations Around the World
View Culinary Vacation Destinations in a full screen map
Under the Radar Culinary Vacation Destinations
Let’s start with some gastronomic tourism destinations that I think will surprise some people that they’ve made the list. These cities are known for doing at least one kind of food really well. I’m talking go out of your way to take a culinary vacation to!
Austin, Texas- Barbeque USA
Austin, Texas is a foodie travel destination that should be on all barbeque lover’s bucket lists. And the mother of all barbeque joint’s is Franklin Barbeque. Franklin Barbeque is famous for having lines hours long, but the barbeque is worth the wait. This award-winning barbeque is so good that the pitmaster, Aaron Franklin has won a James Beard award for best chef in the Southwest, and that is a huge deal. Thank you to Yulia for the photo of Franklin’s BBQ, you should check out her post about Franklin’s BBQ and her blog The Foodie Miles for food and travel inspiration!
San Diego, California – Elevated Tacos and Much, Much more.
I had the chance to visit San Diego last May, and while we were there for my mom’s medical procedure, we took advantage of being in such a fantastic food city and made it a mini culinary vacation. The chefs in San Diego are embracing the California lifestyle and daring to be different. Juniper & Ivy was probably our favorite restaurant we visited while in San Diego. Juniper & Ivy specializes in tapas style dining where the table shares a number of small plates, and lucky for its diners, the menu changes daily meaning you are getting the freshest ingredients possible. San Diego is also known for its killer craft beer scene, so if you love craft beer and good food then San Diego is a Foodie destination for you!
Chengdu, China is the home of that spicy, delicious Szechuan style cuisine. China may be the largest country in the world by population, but this is the only mainland China city that made my list of top food cities in the world. I’m sure Shanghai and Beijing have tremendous food scenes, but I feel like, for the most part, it’s your run of the mill “fine dining, ” and I think that my perception of fine dining may be changing.
This walled labyrinth city is full of the character that someone who wants to combine food and tourism needs. If you subscribe to my newsletter or follow my page on Facebook, then you know that Morocco is high on my destination bucket list. When you see pictures of the streets of Morocco, once you get past the beautiful photos of Chefchaouen, you often see the streets lined with huge piles of colorful spices. This, combined with the knowledge that there has been a mix of many cultures creates a unique style and flavor that any traveling foodie wants. Fez also has culinary tours and cooking classes where you can learn how to make the traditional Moroccan staples, and of course, you get to taste them!
Chargrilled meats prepared in an extra spicy curry sauce. Jaipur is the home of Rajasthani cooking which is famous for hearty game meats and a variety of chutneys. Not only is the food delicious in Jaipur, but the architecture is amazingly intricate and beautiful. If you have the opportunity, you should visit the city not just for the culinary adventure, but to take in the amazing beauty the city offers.
The next set of the foodie travel destinations on my list could be considered by many as culinary capitals. These cities are frequented by those on culinary vacation and culinary professionals alike.
The United States’ gateway to Latin America, Miami. Nowhere else will you find the unique blend of Latin cuisine all in one place. The most authentic Cuban food you can get, outside of Cuba that is. Peruvian Ceviche prepared just as it would be in Lima. Miami makes the list as a delicious melting pot of Latin cultures.
New Orleans, Louisiana – The home of Cajun Cookin
Shrimp Po-Boy, Jambalaya, Beignets, the list of foods created in New Orleans goes on and on. The mixture of Cajun and Creole cultures stemming from both French and African roots lead to the development of many of the delicious dishes New Orleans is known for today! When you take your culinary vacation to New Orleans you will leave with a full belly and a catchy jazz tune in your head.
The Chinese island of Hong Kong is part of the small southeastern region of China that speaks Cantonese. One of the best known Cantonese traditions is Dim Sum, which translates to “drink tea” and is usually an assortment of afternoon snacks accompanied by endless tea. It’s no secret that I love Hong Kong, having visited there twice in the past 18 months. Hong Kong offers culinary experiences of all kinds from the 3 Michelin Starred L’atelier De Joël Robuchon to picking up some squid from one of the best street food vendor’s we have ever tried.
The home of balsamic vinegar and the 2016 “Best Restaurant in the World,” Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. Osteria Francescana has been in the top three on the list of world’s best restaurants continuously since 2013! Modena is known for the balsamic vinegar; it is where Parmigiano-Reggiano originated, and also the home of tortellino, which was concocted after a naughty innkeeper caught a glimpse of the goddess Venus’ bellybutton when he was peeping through a keyhole. Pasta, cheese, and one of the best restaurants in the world – Modena is an easy pick for a perfect destination for a culinary vacation.
Tokyo has long been near the top of my destination bucket list, and as I become more obsessed with food it isn’t losing any ground! Many things in the Japanese culture come off as different to westerners, but this excites me. I would love to eat and drink while giant robots sing and dance in front of me or visit a restaurant where you literally catch your own fish off a boat in the center of the restaurant (now that’s fresh). Both these things and many other unique dining experiences are available in Tokyo. All unconventional dining options aside, I would also love to try fugu and sushi from where it was invented. I have a feeling I will be taking a culinary adventure to Tokyo in the not so distant future, and you bet you will get to experience it with me!
Heading back across the Pacific Ocean to Bangkok the starting point for many embarking on long-term travel across southeast Asia. Bangkok is widely known for having the best street food in the world, but the Thai government has ordered all street vendors to be shut down by the end of 2017 to promote cleanliness and order. Hopefully for us culinary travelers they don’t completely do away with the thriving and historic street food scene, at least until I can manage to make it over there!
The point where Europe meets, Asia – Istanbul. Many of the top foodie destinations on this list are where many cultural groups meet and mesh together, and Istanbul is no different. With Balkan, Caucasian and Middle Eastern influences, the cuisine in Turkey will make your mouth water.
The Catalonian capital of Barcelona has a vibrant food scene. When visiting Barcelona no trip is complete without tapas and paella. Take a stroll down La Rambla and let your nose guide you!
Before we cross the Atlantic again, there is another European city I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, Naples. I may be slightly biased since my absolute favorite food ever is pizza, and Naples is the home of pizza, but c’mon who doesn’t love pizza. Naples isn’t just known for their pizza; you can also find delicious pasta, arancini, and lovely desserts.
This culinary destination is for my carnivores and red wine lovers out there. Mendoza is the home of the Malbec the beautiful easy to drink red wine. The other thing Mendoza and Argentinian gastronomy is known for is beef. So when you visit Mendoza be sure you’re ready to eat a lot of beef and drink a lot of wine!
The Culinary Juggernauts
There are only four cities that manage to get three restaurants on San Pelligrino’s annual Top 50 Restaurants list, and Lima is one of them. The cultural diversity and culinary creativity have developed a foodie scene that rivals the world’s best. The dish that started the food revolution in Peru is Ceviche, so no matter what, when you are visiting Lima on your culinary vacation try the Ceviche! Gastronomic tourism may now draw more visitors to Peru than Machu Picchu generating more than $7.5 Billion in 2016.
My love affair with the city of London is well documented. At this point, I think it may be the city outside the United States that I have spent the most time in. I love it because it is so accessible from the United States and with discount airlines like WOWair and Norwegian Air, getting to London won’t break the bank. London, like New York, is a melting pot of many different cultures making it a top-notch destination for those who love to indulge in gourmet globetrotting. Be sure to try the fish & chips, but then seek out something different. Head over to the Borough Market – mentioned in my sightseeing pub crawl post and try some of the best street food in London, or if you can score a reservation at Gordon Ramsay’s namesake restaurant in Chelsea. One thing is for certain London is a destination worth taking a culinary vacation to.
I wrote about my experience with Singapore’s food scene after my visit last September. I was very impressed with how accessible tremendous tasting and even Michelin Starred food is in Singapore. Singapore is home to the world’s least expensive Michelin Starred meal coming in at less than $10. My favorite dining experience was at Chef Justin Quek’s Sky on 57, which closed this past June and will be replaced by Italian Restaurant and Nightclub Lavo’s first Asian location.
America’s original melting pot. The gateway to the “new world” made New York the food city that it is today. With the neighborhoods of almost any ethnic or cultural group you can think of, if you can’t find a type of food in New York, it hasn’t been created yet. New York was home to 2017’s Best Restaurant in the World, the recently closed Eleven Madison Park, but there are so many options for great fine dining in New York you could eat out every day of the year and not even scratch the surface.
The home of haute cuisine. The first place that comes to mind when thinking about food and travel is Paris. There is something about the French style of cooking that makes me drool. The richness of flavors, the beauty of presentation, and that je ne sais quoi. Paris is a culinary vacation destination that any serious foodie must have on their bucket list.
Booking your Culinary Vacation
Living in the digital age booking your culinary vacation has become as easy as pressing a button. With apps like TripAdvisor and OpenTable, you can make reservations for culinary experiences in almost any city around the world from your cell phone. If you enjoy food and travel then these cities need to be on your bucket list!
Did I leave your favorite city for culinary adventures off my list? Let me know what city and your favorite food experience in the comments below!