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For many it conjures up little more than beer and Lego, but Copenhagen has been crowned the best city in the world in a survey of global urban treasures.

The Danish capital scooped the top spot for its quality of life and status as a cutting-edge design centre, said the authors of the report, which looked at factors from the ease of buying a good glass of wine at 1am to the quality of architecture and the number of cinema screens.

Researchers at London-based lifestyle magazine Monocle praised the city's compact planning, its "frictionless" transport system and infrastructure, as well as its contemporary buildings, top-notch restaurants and renewed focus on environmental issues.

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The last characteristic was crucial in Copenhagen's promotion from second place in last year's standings to first place in 2008, they said.

"As the planet becomes an increasingly urban place, delivering these life-improving essentials to cities big and small is proving more than a challenge. Radical environmental initiatives that pull cars off streets can do wonders, but can also kill off passing trade," said Tyler Brule, Monocle's editor-in-chief.

"New developments, designed to attract investment, can not only boost local fortunes but also drive out all those people that made the city interesting in the first place."

In a further accolade, Copenhagen was proclaimed the design capital of the world, with researchers hailing the return of a buzzing scene which had not seen such creativity since its hey day in the 1950s and 60s.

But cities usually considered big-hitters were notable in their absence.

Neither New York nor London - which was lambasted by philosopher and writer Alain de Botton for its "bland" developments - made it into the 20 featured locations.

To be thus neglected by Monocle magazine, which since it was set up 18 months ago by Wallpaper founder Mr Brule has established itself as the observer of things cool and contemporary, will come as a shock to both cities.

Other locations that fared better in the survey included Munich and Tokyo, which came in at second and third place respectively.

Paris won the award for Best Global City, crediting its maverick mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, with having ushered in a new era of free-thinking in the form of innovative initiatives such as the bike-sharing Velib scheme.

President Nicolas Sarkozy was also praised for having revived the city's reputation as an international political centre.

For fledgling entrepreneurs, Madrid was named Best Business City after shaking off its reputation for bureaucracy.

The survey said it is now free from the red tape which once plagued it, and its relaxed working hours make it a fun place to work.

Researchers advised the more artistic traveller, meanwhile, to head to Berlin, which they labelled the world's best for culture.

The German capital's art galleries have made it an "unparalleled" cultural hub, the magazine said, adding that cheap studio space and a 24-hour scene were attracting artists and designers from around the globe.

The top 20 cities, as rated by Monocle magazine

1. Copenhagen, Denmark
2. Munich, Germany
3. Tokyo, Japan
4. Zurich, Switzerland
5. Helsinki, Finland
6. Vienna, Austria
7. Stockholm, Sweden
8. Vancouver, Canada
9. Melbourne, Australia
10. Paris, France
11. Sydney, Australia
12. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
13. Madrid, Spain
14. Berlin, Germany
15. Barcelona, Spain
16. Montreal, Canada
17. Fukuoka, Japan
18. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
19. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
20. Kyoto, Japan

Best global city: Paris, France
Best business city: Madrid, Spain
Best cultural city: Berlin, Germany
Best design city: Copenhagen, Denmark
Best retail city: Fukuoka, Japan

- INDEPENDENT