Picture your next city break. Are you worried about wandering, lost, around in the streets of a bustling metropolis? Wasting your long weekend stuck in traffic jams on foreign streets, or getting home and hearing your friends talk about that amazing tour that you didn’t go on? Well, those days are gone. City breaks have evolved and now we want information, we want fast problem-solving – and we want the cutting edge technology that will give it to us. We want a break in a smart city.
So what exactly is a smart city? Well, a smart city combats social problems with tech solutions. And that makes any smart city a pretty cool destination to visit. Mapping apps, connected to all the city’s transport systems, help us find our way around unfamiliar turf. Smart grids control energy use in the city, so we can rest assured they’re doing their bit for the environment. Talking lampposts give guided tours and share memories of the city, so that we can get to grips with our new surroundings quickly.
Here’s our guide of what’s going on in the world’s seven smartest cities. Your next holiday destination awaits…
7. Drive futuristic cars in Singapore
If you love motorsports or enjoy getting under the hood of your car, head to Singapore. The country is making waves in motor technology, with students at Singapore's leading university developing a smart car that is not only totally powered by solar energy, but is also 3D-printed. The car can reach speeds of 60kph and is often spotted zooming around campus with as many as four people inside.
Plus, Singapore is keen to have driverless cars on their roads as early as next year. So if you fancy zipping around the city with your feet up, this is the place to go.
6. Witness the city of the future in Hamburg
Hamburg is taking the world of smart architecture by storm and has created Europe's biggest inner-city development project. The HafenCity expands the size of Hamburg by 40% - an impressive 157 hectares of gorgeous land in total. And HafenCity has to be seen to be believed. What started out as a regeneration of run-down docks in 2007 is now a set of pretty interlinking plazas which lead down to a picturesque riverfront. Want to soak up some history whilst you're in town? Over 30 historic ships dock in the Sandtorhafen harbour. And the smart bit? Everything has been built so that it's within walking distance. And, because HafenCity is so close to the river, the 'island effect' keeps it breezy during the sweltering summer. Don’t forget your sun cream whilst you’re soaking up the sights though!
5. See the bright lights of Portland
One of the best reasons to wander the streets of Portland is the city’s spectacular light show. Portland’s streetlights have been replaced with cost-saving LEDs, which make it easier for drivers to see the road and can even allow pedestrians to look up at the stars! However, the potential for these lights goes way beyond stargazing. LEDs can be programmed to sense movement – so they know if they need to be brighter based on how many people are around. Software is also available to adjust the brightness or make the lights change colour according to the weather or traffic conditions.
4. Cycle the streets in Copenhagen
There’s no better way to see the sights than hopping on your bike in Copenhagen. Make like a local – did you know that a massive 41% of the population now cycle to work? – and hire a bike to get around. Smart, because it helps to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by taking cars off the roads and keeping the city pretty for tourists like us. Good for the pennies, because you (yes, you!) can hire a city cycle for a few pounds a day. Plus, Copenhagen’s cycle revolution has spawned other clever bits and pieces too, like an app developed by students that tells cyclists what speed to ride at to hit green lights all the way to their destination. All a part of Copenhagen’s cunning plan to be carbon-neutral by 2025. And to keep us sightseeing the fit and healthy way, of course.
3. See floating villages in Amsterdam
Forget scenery dotted with windmills, Amsterdam now has a floating village! Using the natural landscape to their advantage, the city has built whole houses on its 65 miles of canal. These aren’t canal boats tethered to the shore, these are spectacular houses built straight into the river and connected by suspended walkways. If you thought it couldn’t get any better, the floating villages help deal with Amsterdam’s overcrowding by creating lots more space for housing. The Dutch also argue they’re more sustainable than traditional housing, because they were built with energy-saving in mind – power is generated within the new community, and the houses take water directly from the river and filter it in their own tanks. That makes real estate that’s clever, as well as cool.
2. Travel in style in Santiago
Just missing out on the top spot, Chile’s capital is the one to watch on our smart cities list. If you’re sick of queuing for hours for a clapped-out old train, you need to get to Santiago. Yes, Santiago. Their transport is the best in South America – with the new Metro system as the star of the show. People only pay for what they use and prices vary depending on how busy the service is. Plus, the people are so proud of their Metro that it’s absolutely spotless and everyone rides with a smile. But if you don’t fancy heading underground, you can always jump on a bus or city bike. And to make it all even easier, Santiago has invested in real-time updates direct to metro boards and even your mobile phone, so you can work out the quickest ways to get home. Santiago is ahead of the rest of its continent, making travel there a pleasure.
1. Get on your phone in Boston
And our best smart city is Boston! If you find yourself in the capital of Massachusetts, the first place to head is your phone. This is a city making serious waves in app technology. Want to sightsee whilst solving crimes? Murder mystery app Parkman Murder takes you on a guided tour of the city, unlocking clues as you go. And if you're into your sport, Fan Misery will have you obsessed. Follow your favourite Boston team and get all of their info – from fixtures, to stats, to what the Boston press are saying – all live, in one place and straight to your phone.
And on the more practical side of things, Citizens Connect lets you view traffic and disruptions in real time, as well as warning you of any pesky potholes in your path – because the last thing you want when solving crime or racing to the game is to get stuck in traffic. The app is compiled by city residents in real time, so you know you're getting honest and up-to-date information. PrimoSpot is also pretty useful. The app provides the best access to parking in the city, plus for the forgetful travellers out there, it even remembers where you parked.
With these travel tips in mind, you’re ready to go and get smart on a global scale. Our top seven prove that we’re truly in a new era of what makes a city a city. So the next time you want to get techy, pack your bags and check out how the best of the best are doing it.