While lush island escapes and charming village getaways offer a slower pace, urban adventures are ideal for travelers who appreciate art, architecture, history, dining, and, most importantly, being surrounded by boundless energy. To help urbanites plan their next trip (or simply take a desk-side vacation during today's afternoon break), we rounded up the most beautiful cities in the world with corresponding travel tips. Whether you want to visit a lush, calm city with plenty of history, a surfer's paradise, a world-renowned shopping mecca, a foodie destination, or anything in between, you'll be ready to pack your bags once you see the profiles of the world's 20 most beautiful cities.
The Destination: Sydney
The Allure: This surfer's paradise also happens to be a design and style hub.
City Highlights: Check out the Bondi Icebergs, a set of historical infinity pools overlooking (and sometimes spilling into) the ocean. Stay at the Old Clare, QT Bondi, or Spicers Potts Point. Eat at Room 10, Mecca Coffee, Café Shenkin, The Apollo, and Acme. Then go shopping in the neighborhoods of Bondi and Cremorne.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Wellington, New Zealand; Los Angeles
The Destination: Paris
The Allure: It's home to world-renowned couture shopping; there's a place to indulge in a baguette, cheese, and wine around every corner; and the cultural delights are endless. What more could we ask for?
City Highlights: Having attracted so many writers (including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin), Paris is a literature lover's paradise. For art buffs, we recommend staying at Le Roch Hotel by the Louvre or L'Hôtel Particulier Montmartre. Aside from the usual tourist destinations, take advantage of the gallery scene and the charming cafés and bistros the city offers. For intimate drink spot and fun nightlife options, head to Candelaria or Andy Wahloo.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Rome, Chicago
The Destination City: Havana
The Allure: The streets are lined with stunning architecture and whimsically colorful retro cars. In Havana, history is at your fingertips.
City Highlights: According to travel expert Matthew Karsten, Americans can still visit Cuba. "You can no longer travel under the 'people to people' category as an individual, and you can't spend money at military-owned businesses. Traveling independently under 'support for the Cuban people' is still allowed," he says. If you go, stay at the Saratoga or La Reserva, stroll through the plazas, check out the Bacardi Building and Revolution Square, and see the art at Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Destination: Singapore
The Allure: This island city-state is at modern mecca that feels futuristic, efficient, and sleek (just look at the Helix Bridge or Marina Bay Sands) while also being an incredibly lush island with colonial influences.
City Highlights: Stay at the Capella, Villa Samadhi, the Vagabond Club, or the Warehouse Hotel. And you can't miss the sprawling botanical gardens of Sand Sky Park, where you'll feel like you're walking through a Dr. Suess book and conservation dream. Eat at Morsels and Burnt Ends, then grab drinks at the swanky subterranean spot Operation Dagger.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Honolulu and Hong Kong
The Destination: St. Petersburg
The Allure: Opulence rules in St. Petersburg, where the 18th-century architecture is rich in color and intricate details. Given the gorgeous skyline, you'd never guess this city was built on a swamp.
City Highlights: From the coral-and-white striped Chesme Church to the sky blue–and-gold Catherine Palace, yellow Palace Square, and mint-green Winter Palace, it's a neoclassical and Rococo enthusiast's pastel paradise. Make sure to tour them all! Pay tribute to Pushkin and catch an opera or ballet performance at the Mariinsky Theater and stay at the Grand Hotel Europe.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Takamatsu, Japan; Jaipur, India
The Destination: San Francisco
The Allure: San Francisco has European charm, delicious culinary spots around every corner, and sweeping views. So if you want to stay stateside and aesthetics are key, this should be your next destination.
City Highlights: Take a city hike simply by strolling through some of the city's prettiest neighborhoods. Design aficionados, you have to see the Future Perfect, a beautifully curated furniture shop. Though it's a cliché tourist spot, you can't miss the romantic views from Coit Tower. City Lights bookstore is also a must-see for any bookworm, history buff, or die-hard San Franciscan. When you're ready to eat, take your pick of Flour + Water, Burma Love, Nopa, Liholiho, and Leo's Oyster Bar. Then rest your head at the Kelly Wearstler–designed hotel, Proper Hotel.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Osaka, Japan; Melbourne
The Destination: Salzburg, Austria
The Allure: You'll want to yodel-ay-ee-hoo through the charming streets of this mountainside Austrian city.
City Highlights: A bit more manageable in size than Vienna yet just as rich in culture and beauty, Salzburg is a serious winner. Check out the Hohensalzburg Fortress, walk along the Salzach River, and listen to some Mozart (this is where he's from). Stay right outside the city in Schloss Fuschl, a castle overlooking the lake, or opt for a more central location at Hotel Sacher.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Lyon, France; Verona, Italy
The Destination: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The Allure: Aside from being full of delicious foodie spots, colorful and quick Vespa scooters, and with the beautiful Saigon River snaking through the city, Ho Chi Minh City is a travel destination for history buffs.
City Highlights: Must-sees include the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, the Saigon Opera House, and the Củ Chi tunnels, an underground system of secret pathways used during the Vietnam War. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is full of exciting culinary opportunities. Instead of just taking a quick boat tour of the Mekong River, why not sleep on it? Book a stay aboard the Aqua Mekong, an indulgent cruise where you'll get to tour the city while also exploring ancient temples and ruins, relaxing on picturesque beaches throughout Vietnam.
If you'd rather stay put on land, book a room at the An Lam.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Hanoi, Vietnam; Manila, Philippines
The Beautiful City: Lisbon, Portugal
The Allure: Welcome to the clash of centuries (in a good way), where innovation and creativity meet tradition and age-old design, all set against the backdrop of hills and ocean views.
Destination Highlights: Pastels and tiles are everywhere you look, so get to know the neighborhoods by taking a walk and riding a street car. When it comes to shopping, discover Portuguese brands at A Vida Portuguesa. And you should eat at Mercado da Ribeira, a large warehouse turned food market full of restaurant stalls, and Petiscaria Ideal for life-changing tapas. Stay at Santiago de Alfama or Palácio Belmonte (which was built in 1449) to bask in the beauty of the oldest district in Lisbon. Or, for more privacy in the quiet but central area of Baixa, check out the chic and apartment-style spots Baixa House and The Lisboans.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Porto, Portugal; Pemba, Mozambique
The Destination: Bangkok
The Allure: With 400 incredible temples, colorful "floating farmer's markets" in the river, and more, this city is bursting with beautiful and fascinating sights.
City Highlights: Stay at the Siam Hotel, Como Metropolitan, Volve Hotel, or the Cabochon Hotel. Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew Temple to see the Emerald Buddha, take a boat ride on the river, hop on a tuk-tuk bike, and stroll around the canals weaving throughout old Bangkok. You should also check out the bustling markets for local artisan creations and delicious eats.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Shanghai
The Destination: London
The Allure: Who needs a surplus of sunshine when you can have incredibly efficient public transportation, street style on tap, and design inspiration abound? There's nothing not to love about London.
City Highlights: Go Granger & Co. for lunch, Sketch for afternoon tea, Gordon's Wine Bar for happy hour after strolling by the River Thames (this cellar dates all the way back to 1890, making it London's oldest wine bar), Andina for or Dishoom for dinner. If you feel like shopping (even just of the window variety), go to Dover Street Market for cutting-edge clothing and a gallery-like layout. See London Bridge and make a pit stop at Borough Market, wander around Brick Lane, see the art at Pace Gallery and Tate Modern, and book a visit to Denis Severs' House (it's an immersive hybrid between a history museum and theater performance of life in 18th-century London).
Stay at The Beaumont, Chiltern Firehouse, The Orange, or Nobu Hotel.
Similar Beautiful Cities: New York City and Edinburgh
The Destination: Rio de Janeiro
The Allure: Rio de Janeiro has it all: a beautiful beach for lounging and soaking up the sun, endless cultural activities, a lush landscape, and mountaintop views.
City Highlights: Walk around the historic city center for cutting-edge art galleries, bohemian cafes, antique stores, and more. Or enjoy the sunshine and pristine pink and white sands down by the ocean. While you're there, take a samba lesson. Book a room at Hotel Santa Teresa MGallery, Fasano Hotel, or La Suite by Dussol.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Miami and Cape Town, South Africa
The Destination: Charleston, South Carolina
The Allure: Surrounded by Spanish moss–cloaked islands, fixed between two rivers on the Atlantic coastline, and lined with a symphony of pastel-painted buildings of various architectural traditions, Charleston is one of the most idyllic cities in the U.S.
City Highlights: The city dates back to the Colonial era (hence the fusion of Southern American, British, French, and Afro-Caribbean cultural influences), so there's plenty to do and see. Start at the Gibbes Museum of Art and then walk around the Battery, a Civil War landmark. Or if you don't feel like walking, look into booking a horse-drawn carriage ride with a tour guide. Dine at Goat Sheep Cow, The Darling Oyster Bar, Husk, and Chez Nous. When it comes to hotels, stay at 86 Cannon, The Restoration, The Dewberry, or Zero George.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Savannah, Georgia, and Québec
The Destination: Venice, Italy
The Allure: With singing gondoliers in striped outfits and straw hats, a surplus of gelato, water lapping against your 10th-century building to lull you to sleep, and world-renowned art museums, this sinking Italian city is easily one of the most romantic places on earth (singles, included).
City Highlights: Though you could easily wander around the canals for your entire stay without wanting to do anything else, there are a few things worth checking out. Go to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), ride a water taxi or bus, visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Galleria Dell’Accademia, and cross the Ponte dell’Accademia. Stay at the Aman, Ca Maria Adele, Venissa, Belmond Hotel Cipriani, or book an Airbnb for a more private, local experience.
Similar Beautiful Cities: New Orleans and Istanbul
In the Spotlight: Kyoto, Japan
The Allure: Do you love pink cherry blossom trees, waterfalls, bamboo forests, mountains, and calm cities? Then pack your bags and head to Kyoto.
Destination Highlights: This place is so full of magic that it's difficult to pack everything into one itinerary. And if you're someone who feels wary and deflated in cities, don't worry—Kyoto feels much more manageable and easy to navigate than other major urban centers. Make sure you check out Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as well as the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Gion. Enjoy a kaiseki dinner, a tea ceremony, a bowl of ramen, and a traditional Japanese breakfast. For hotels, look into booking a room at Hoshinoya, Hiiragiya, Amanemu, or Suiran.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Kiev, Ukraine, and Florence, Italy
The Destination: Barcelona
The Allure: Architecture fanatics, night owls, and beach bums flock to the Catalan city of Barcelona for the lively nightlife scene and scenic views of Gothic structures and Gaudí landmarks all set against the seaside.
City Highlights: It's pretty much an adult version of Disneyland. And aside from being a fun locale with endless activities and shopping destinations, it's also incredibly liveable, with plenty of diverse neighborhoods, schools, and delicious food. You can't go wrong regardless of where you stay, but we think the coolest, more design-savvy spots are Destination BNC, Mercer Hotel, and El Palauet. For the best tapas you'll try in your life, go to Bar Cañete, and for high-end shopping, go to Santa Eulalia, which is Barcelona's conceptual, stylish department store on the main shopping drag, Passeig de Gràcia.
The Gothic Quarter is full of incredible vintage stores, too.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Seville, Spain, and Dublin
The Destination: Chefchaouen, Morocco
The Allure: Practically everything in this mountainside Morrocan city is painted in blue, which inspires peace, but is also being pretty to look at.
City Highlights: Walk around the charming cobblestone medieval streets or watch the weavers work and step inside local leather artisan shops at the bustling souks. Nicknamed the "blue pearl," it's one of those places you can wander around for hours, getting lost admiring all the gorgeous architecture and elaborate details. Go to the main square to see a 15th-century dungeon, which is now a museum. It's located just inland from Tangier (another beautiful Moroccan city worth exploring). Book a stay at Dar Gabriel.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santorini, Greece, and Fez, Morocco
The Destination: Buenos Aires
The Allure: As the birthplace of the tango, it's no surprise that this Argentinan city is bursting with energy, from the nightlife and romantic atmosphere to the stunning architecture and friendly people.
City Highlights: This cosmopolitan gem has everything you could ever want. Stay at Legado Mítico, an exclusive boutique hotel that serves as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. We also love the minimal design of Hotel Pulitzer and The Clubhouse, which is a social club similar to Soho House (it happens to be in the hip neighborhood of Palermo Soho too!), but it has hotel rooms as well. You also can't go wrong with the design-centric and lavish Faena hotel, which recently opened up a second location in Miami.
You'll feel like you've stepped into a dreamy interpretation of '20s opulence and style. Make sure you check out the Casa Rosada for a Wes Anderson–like aesthetic in real life.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santiago, Chile, and Tel Aviv
The Destination: Budapest, Hungary
The Allure: This Eastern European gem exudes romance thanks to the scenic views, beautiful neo-Gothic architecture, and endless cultural opportunities.
City Highlights: Prepare to be dazzled everywhere you look in Budapest. Since it's hard to narrow down, start by exploring the major landmarks. Take a boat tour along the Danube, see the whimsical Kelly green Liberty Bridge, head to Fisherman's Bastion to see the city from greater heights, go hiking at Gellért Hill, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, and reap the benefits of thermal waters at the Széchenyi Baths. Stay at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest or Brody House and eat at the Great Market Hall, New York Café, Baraka, and Gettó Gulyás.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Prague
The Destination: Amsterdam
The Allure: This charming culture-rich destination feels like a cross between a small town and a buzzing cosmopolitan hub.
City Highlights: Book your stay at The Dylan if you want to be right along the picturesque canal. It's the perfect place to unwind and get your décor inspiration fix after a day of museum tours. Speaking of museums, make sure to secure tickets at the major museums (Rijks, Van Gough, and Anne Frank's house), in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly. And if for some reason you can't get in, just ride a bike or stroll along the canals. Eat at De Kas for a meal in an upscale greenhouse where all the veggies are grown onsite.
If you want to get a taste of life as a local, take a short river cruise, rent a bike, or get around by foot.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Bruges, Belgium; Stockholm