According to the latest census figures, more than 4 in 5 Americans live in an urban area. That means plenty of enthusiasm for city living nationwide, and plenty of competition among residents eager to suggest their own metropolis is best. Nowhere is hometown pride more apparent than on Instagram, where users showcase their city’s best features – with and without the aid of filters. From scenic skylines to close-ups of local cuisine, we’re not shy about taking to Insta to brag a bit about where we live.
In this project, we determined which cities were the most celebrated on Instagram, both overall and for specific virtues. Studying thousands of city shout-out posts (with hashtags such as #citylove, #lovemycity, #repmycity and #homeiswheretheheartis), we found Instagram’s most beloved cities and tracked trends in local loyalty. Read on to see where your city ranks when it comes Instagram appreciation.
According to Instagram activity, San Francisco is our nation’s most beloved city, with 674 posts per 100,000 residents celebrating the city. Seattle, Hollywood, Miami and New Orleans rounded out the top five, with 593.5, 588.2, 507.5, and 445.5, respectively.
While our top three cities may be near the West Coast, the East shows its cities the most love overall, with 89.8 posts per 100k residents. The region had over three times more posts celebrating cities per capita than any other part of the country.
The reasons certain cities endear themselves to their residents may surprise you. Cambridge, Massachusetts, took the top spot for #food tagged with city love posts (17.8 posts per 100k residents), while Buffalo, New York, took top honors in #art, #architecture and #beautiful posts (40.1, 51.0, and 42.4 per 100k residents).
Although New York City was conspicuously absent from other top rankings, the “city that never sleeps” took third place in #nightlife posts per capita, with 130.8 #citynights posts per 100k residents.
New York City also took the top spot for total posts worldwide, with more than 8.5 million city-loving posts, followed by its trans-Atlantic cousin, London.
AMERICA’S MOST LOVED CITIES
Though many of America’s cities merited much love on Instagram, San Francisco, California, boasted the most posts per capita by far. Despite its sky-high property prices, the City by the Bay has seen its population steadily increase in recent decades, as cultural and professional opportunities abound in the aura of Silicon Valley. Seattle, our second ranked city, has seen an even more pronounced population growth in recent years, attracting residents through its own tech industry and Pacific Northwest vibes.
Other top cities were beloved by residents and tourists alike, apparently: While Hollywood, Miami and New Orleans may seem like desirable vacation destinations, their Instagram activity suggests proud hometown crowds as well. Hollywood, a part of Los Angeles County, is considered its own municipality, though its numbers may be boosted by Angelinos from other parts of L.A. posting from Hollywood.
Other top locales were more surprising for their modest reputations, however: Who knew Wilmington, North Carolina, or Buffalo, New York, would be so beloved by residents that they’d rank within our top 15? Perhaps dwellers of these cities felt particularly eager to celebrate their local cultures on social media for this reason – they feel their hometowns are undeservedly overlooked.
The Regions that Love their Cities Most
While West Coast towns took the top three spots in city love posts per capita, the East was the region most likely to celebrate its urban areas. In fact, with 89.8 posts per 100,000 residents, the East more than tripled the rate of any other region. Certainly, these numbers reflect the high urban concentration along the Northeastern Seaboard, including large cities like New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. But the most celebrated metropolis in this region was Pittsburgh, which may see its fans increase in the years to come. Recent research has identified the Steel City as an ideal millennial destination, due to its mix of affordable housing and promising employment prospects.
While the Midwest was the least likely region to celebrate its cities, Chicago and Minneapolis each boated respectable per-capita numbers. The Windy City offers a particularly interesting case study in gentrification: Though well-educated millennials continue to flock to the city in droves, the city has lost a part of its population in recent years as long-time residents leave the more violent areas. In fact, the declining populations of many Midwestern cities may resonate with the region’s lack of urban enthusiasm overall.
What Residents Love about Each City
Some cities are defined by one feature of their culture: There’s no place better than Las Vegas for gambling, while all envy the New Orleans music scene. When we studied which hashtags residents were using to celebrate their own cities, some surprising findings emerged. For foodies, a trip to Massachusetts may be in order: Cambridge, Massachusetts, far surpassed any other city for the use of the #food hashtag in its posts. Underdog Pittsburgh enjoyed a triumph in the #adventure category, while Seattle beat out other West Coast locales for #sunset posts. Though we might have expected a California city to take home the sunset crown, views from the Space Needle are tough to beat.
The most unexpectedly dominant city, however, was Buffalo, New York. While the city’s architecture is noteworthy, it blew tough competitors like San Francisco and Chicago out of the water in this category. Buffalo pride did not end there, however, as the city also had the most posts using the #art and #beautiful hashtags as well. Perhaps this social media enthusiasm reflects an increased millennial interest in the city. In recent years, the town’s millennial population has surged significantly.
America’s Top Nightlife Cities
Nightlife is one of urban living’s prime attractions, so we also examined the use of hashtags related to entertainment after dark. Once again, San Francisco earned the top billing, perhaps because the city is home to so many celebrated bars and boasts a proud legacy of LGBTQ-centric establishments. The glitz of Hollywood took second place, with plenty of locations for aspiring celebrities to rub elbows with those who have already arrived.
Not far behind La La Land, the Big Apple finally made a top-five appearance as our third spot. Known for its nonstop activity, NYC rightfully produces plenty of nightlife posts – though its prices might keep some residents at home. The city ranked fourth in a recent list of the world’s most expensive places to grab a beer. Boston, right behind NYC in nightlife posts, also numbered among the world’s most costly brew locations: A pint will cost you $7.20 on average.
Most Liked Hashtags in America’s Best Loved Cities
A deeper dive into the hashtags used by each city’s residents reveals a bit of local flavor. In Seattle, the Seahawks were showered by likes from the city’s loyal fans, while New Orleans’ French roots were evident in its own most liked hashtags. Hollywood, the source of many of the world’s most romantic films, appropriately liked #love a lot.
Other city-specific traditions were harder for visitors to discern. San Francisco, for instance, has taken to naming its persistent fog, explaining residents’ love of #karlthefog. Miami, meanwhile, celebrated a specific neighborhood, the glittering business-residential blend of Brickell. Some hashtags, however, were much liked in multiple cities. #Instagood, for example, denotes pictures of particular quality wherever they’re taken.
The Most Loved Cities Across the Globe
When we broadened our view beyond the U.S. and considered total posts in each city, we saw populations played a far larger role in our rankings. New York City emerged as Instagram’s most loved city concerning total posts, followed by London. German cities Aldstadt and Munich occupied the third and fifth spots, respectively. Except for Singapore, the rest of the top 10 was taken by American cities.
Perhaps these rankings reflect the number of Instagram users in a given country or the likelihood that nations that speak other languages would employ English hashtags celebrating their hometowns. Despite these differences, the international community of Instagram is abundantly apparent in these figures. From San Diego to Dubai, people are celebrating their cities on social media for the wider world to see.
The City You Love Most
Whether you’re already enamored with your city or are looking to move elsewhere, Instagram offers unparalleled views of what residents appreciate most about the place they call home. From sunrise pictures to nightclub posts, social media offers a broad range of clues about what the people of each city are up to on a daily basis. We hope this project brings some of that local flair to light, for visitors and residents alike.
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We scraped Instagram for all geo-tagged posts tagged with hashtags: #citylove, #lovemycity, #repmycity, #homeiswheretheheartis and #citynights. We then indexed the cumulative post totals against the Census Bureau’s 2016 Population Estimates to determine per-capita post metrics.
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