While lush island escapes and charming village getaways offer leisurely, off-the-beaten-path enjoyment, urban adventures are perfect for travelers who prefer to vacation at a faster pace while setting out to discover the art, architecture, history, cuisine, and boundless energy of the cities they visit.
To help you plan your next trip, we've rounded up 20 of the most beautiful cities in the world (in no particular order), along with notable historical landmarks, must-see destinations, and delectable culinary attractions. So whether you want to visit a lush, calm city with plenty of history, a beach lover's paradise, or a world-renowned shopping mecca, pack your bags, city slicker, and get on your way.
The Allure: This surfer's paradise also happens to be a design and style hub.
City Highlights: Check out the Bondi Icebergs Club, on the southern end of Bondi Beach, which features a pair of tidal saltwater pools filled by the ocean's waves. Stay at the Old Clare Hotel, QT Bondi, or Spicers Potts Point. Eat and drink at Room 10, Mecca Coffee, Shenkin, The Apollo, and Ciccia Bella. Then go shopping in the hip neighborhoods of Darlinghurst, Newtown, and Cremorne.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Wellington, New Zealand; Los Angeles
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 one ask for?
City Highlights: Paris is a literature lover's paradise in that it has been the second home of such brilliant American novelists as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin (among many others). Art buffs, too, descend upon the city to appreciate its world-renowned museums and galleries. Stay at Le Roch Hôtel & Spa (by the Louvre) or Hôtel Particulier Montmartre. Aside from checking off the usual tourist destinations, float above the City of Lights in Le Ballon de Paris, visit the Palais de Tokyo, and spend an afternoon hunting for treasures at the flea market in Saint-Ouen. For intimate drinks and fun nightlife, head to Candelaria or Andy Wahloo.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Rome, Italy; Chicago
The Allure: The streets are lined with stunning architecture and colorful classic cars from the 1950s. In Havana, history is at your fingertips.
City Highlights: According to travel expert Matthew Karsten, even though the Trump administration has once again restricted access to Cuba, Americans can still visit by first registering for a special license if you're traveling there for family visits, professional reasons, journalism, religious or cultural programs, and humanitarian projects. It's also possible to get there via gateway cities in Canada or Mexico, for example. Stay at the Saratoga Hotel or La Reserva Vedado, stroll through the colorful plazas, visit Revolution Square and the Art Deco-era Bacardi Building, and view community-driven contemporary artworks at Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Allure: This island city-state is a modern mecca that is, at once, futuristic, efficient, sleek (consider the Helix Bridge or Marina Bay Sands, for example), and incredibly lush with copious amounts of colonial-British and Japanese influence.
City Highlights: Stay at the Capella, Villa Samadhi, The Vagabond Club, or The Warehouse Hotel. Don't miss the inimitable views of the bustling city from the observation deck of Marina Bay's Sands Sky Park. Down below, stroll the waterfront via the whimsical Gardens by the Bay park, where you'll feel a bit like you're walking through a Dr. Suess illustration. Eat at Morsels and Burnt Ends, then grab drinks at the swanky subterranean spot, Operation Dagger.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Honolulu; Hong Kong
5. Saint Petersburg
The Allure: Opulence rules in St. Petersburg, where the 18th-century architecture is rich with color and intricate detail. Given the gorgeous skyline, you'd never guess this city was built on a swamp.
City Highlights: From the bright-coral Chesme Church and the sky-blue-and-gold rococo-style Catherine Palace to the mint-green Winter Palace, this imperial city is an architecture enthusiast's paradise. Stay at the Grand Hotel Europe, and pay homage to poet-playwright Alexander Pushkin by catching an operatic adaptation of his works—or a ballet performance—at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Takamatsu, Japan; Jaipur, India
6. San Francisco
The Allure: For those who wish to remain stateside, consider San Francisco—with all its European charm, delicious food, and scenic overlooks—for your next destination.
City Highlights: Take a self-guided tour of the city's prettiest neighborhoods, like Haight-Ashbury and Nob Hill—and though it may be a cliché tourist destination, the romantic views from Coit Tower can't be beaten. Design aficionados should visit The Future Perfect, a beautifully curated contemporary furniture gallery, and bookworms and history buffs alike will appreciate the Beatnik-era City Lights independent bookstore and vantage point from the top of the famously crooked Lombard Street. When you're ready to eat, think Flour + Water, Burma Love, Nopa, Liholiho Yacht Club, and Leo's Oyster Bar. Rest your head (and those tired feet) at the Kelly Wearstler-designed Proper Hotel.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Osaka, Japan; Melbourne, Australia
7. Salzburg, Austria
The Allure: You'll want to yodel-ay-he-hoo through the Baroque architecture and charming streets of this Eastern Alps-side 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 fully-preserved, medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, and walk along the Salzach River while listening to some Mozart (Salzburg is his birthplace, after all). Stay right outside the city in Hotel Schloss Fuschl, a legendary chateau overlooking Lake Fuschl, or opt to stay within a more central location at Hotel Sacher.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Lyon, France; Verona, Italy
8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The Allure: With the gorgeous Saigon River snaking through it, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City isn't solely a top travel destination for military history buffs. The city is also chockablock with delicious, French-inspired cuisine, colorful Vespa scooters, and breathtaking vistas to boot.
City Highlights: Must-sees include the French-colonial-era Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, the European-looking Municipal Theatre (aka Saigon Opera House), and the Củ Chi tunnels, a huge network of (formerly secret) underground pathways used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is also full of exciting restaurants and unique dining experiences. Book a stay aboard the Aqua Mekong, a fine riverboat cruise ship that arranges offshore excursions to beaches, ancient temples, and ruins as you drift along the Mekong River. Those who prefer sightseeing from dry land should book a riverfront room at the gorgeous An Lâm Retreat, on the shore of the Saigon River.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Hanoi, Vietnam; Manila, Philippines
9. Lisbon, Portugal
The Allure: Welcome to Lisbon, where centuries clash (in a good way) and innovation and creativity meet tradition and age-old design—and it's all set against the backdrop of steep hills and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Destination Highlights: Portugal's capital city boasts pastel-colored buildings and decorative ceramic tiles everywhere you look—and exploring its stunning neighborhoods is really as easy as taking a walk or riding along in a streetcar. When it comes to fashion, cop Portuguese brands at A Vida Portuguesa and vintage outfits at El Dorado. Eat at Mercado da Ribeira, which houses the Time Out Market Lisboa, a food court with 50 amazing stalls, and Petiscaria Ideal for life-changing tapas-style plates. Stay at Santiago de Alfama or Palácio Belmonte (built in 1449) to bask in the beauty of Alfama, Lisbon's oldest historic district. The livelier, more centralized (and commercial) downtown neighborhood of Baixa features chic, apartment-style accommodations, such as Baixa House and The Lisboans.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Porto, Portugal; Pemba, Mozambique
10. Bangkok, Thailand
The Allure: Thailand's capital is a feast for the senses that's ripe for exploration—just ask the hordes of backpackers who descend upon the city every year. If the hundreds of breathtaking Buddhist temples (aka "wats"), Khaosan Road, and floating markets don't keep you busy, the city's wide array of culinary options and hard-partying nightlife scene will.
City Highlights: If it's a luxury stay you're after, book a room at the Siam Hotel, Como Metropolitan, Volve Hotel, or the Cabochon Hotel. Visit temple complex of the Grand Palace, which also houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), get a boat pass to traverse the Chao Phraya River, hop inside a tuk-tuk (aka open-air taxi), and get a traditional Thai massage when you're done. Plus, Bangkok's street food and its bustling Chatuchak Weekend Market are not to be missed.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Shanghai, China
The Allure: Who needs a surplus of sunshine when you can experience incredibly efficient public transportation, gobs of high street style, and enough design inspiration to choke a horse? Even when it's raining, there's nothing not to love about London and its web of amazing neighborhoods.
City Highlights: For lunch, hit Granger & Co., visit The Gallery at Sketch for afternoon tea, stop in at Gordon's Wine Bar (London's oldest) for happy hour, and make "ressies" at Andina or Dishoom for Peruvian or Indian fare, respectively. And if you feel like shopping (even if it's just the window variety), stroll the impressive Dover Street Market galleria for cutting-edge clothing by British and international labels. See London Bridge and grab a bite at Borough Market, wander the East End's Brick Lane, get inspired at Pace Gallery and the Tate Modern, and tour the theatrical, 18th-century-era Denis Severs House. Feeling flush? Stay at a posh hotel like The Beaumont, Chiltern Firehouse, The Orange Public House & Hotel, or the über-stylish Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch.
Similar Beautiful Cities: New York City; Edinburgh, Scotland
12. Rio de Janeiro
The Allure: Rio has it all: Beautiful white-sand Atlantic beaches for Cariocas (Rio natives) and sun-worshippers alike (Ipanema, Copacabana), seemingly boundless cultural and historical attractions, architectural feats, lush jungles, and sprawling vistas seen from Mount Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain.
City Highlights: Its downtown city center houses cutting-edge art galleries, bohemian cafés, antique shops, and live music venues (samba, anyone?) and no trip is complete without a visit to the Art Deco Christ the Redeemer statue for jawdropping views of the city below. Stay at Santa Teresa Hotel, Fasano, or La Suite by Dussol, and try the legendary Brazilian barbecue at Churrascaria Palace and the delectable desserts from Confeitaria Columbo, Rio's landmark coffeehouse.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Miami; Cape Town, South Africa
13. Charleston, South Carolina
The Allure: Surrounded by Spanish moss-clad islands and lined with a symphony of pastel-painted buildings of various architectural traditions, Charleston happens to be one of the most idyllic coastal cities in the United States.
City Highlights: The city dates back to America's Colonial era (hence the fusion of Southern American, British, French, and Afro-Caribbean cultural influences), and there's plenty to do and see. Start at the Gibbes Museum of Art and then, walk around the Battery, a landmarked Civil War-era promenade. If you don't feel like walking, take a guided tour of the city via horse-drawn carriage. Dine at goat. sheep. cow., The Darling Oyster Bar, Husk, and Chez Nous and stay at 86 Cannon, The Restoration, The Dewberry, or Zero George.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Savannah, Georgia; Québec, Canada
14. Venice, Italy
The Allure: With singing gondoliers in striped outfits and straw hats, the Adriatic sea gently lapping against 10th-century buildings, and restaurants and cultural attractions to die for, the (sadly sinking) Northern Italian city of Venice is, arguably, the most romantic place on earth (for singles, too).
City Highlights: Although one could easily spend an entire visit exploring the city's canals by gondola (it has no roads), its land-based attractions, too, are equally worth checking out. Visit bustling St. Mark's Square (aka Piazza San Marco) where le persone like to see and be seen, view the impressive Peggy Guggenheim Collection (which resides in the prolific art collector's former home) and the paintings and sculptures within Gallerie Dell’Accademia, on the south bank of the Grand Canal, and then cross the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge for a bird's eye view of Venice's most important waterway. Stay at the Aman, Ca Maria Adele, Venissa, Belmond Hotel Cipriani, or book an Airbnb for a more intimate, local experience.
Similar Beautiful Cities: New Orleans; Istanbul, Turkey
15. Kyoto, Japan
The Allure: Do you love calm cities? And what about cascading waterfalls, musical forests of bamboo, quiet mountain hikes, and blooming cherry-blossom trees? If so, then steel yourself for a long-haul flight to the picturesque Japanese city of Kyoto. (Trust us, it's well worth the 13-plus hours.)
Destination Highlights: This place is so full of magic that it's difficult to pack everything into one itinerary. And if you're generally turned off by the hustle and bustle of city life, not to worry: Kyoto is actually a very manageable and easy-to-navigate locale. Must-see attractions include Nishiki Market, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the 1300-year-old Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, and Gion, Kyoto's geisha district. (The gyoza at Chao Cho Sanjo Kiyamachi are nothing to sniff at, either.) So scarf down a Kyoto breakfast, enjoy some kaiseki, grab a bowl of ramen (or several), and experience a tea ceremony. Stay in any one of Kyoto's stellar hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Hoshinoya, Hiiragiya, Aman Keyoto, or the Suiran Hotel.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Kiev, Ukraine; Florence, Italy
The Allure: Architecture fanatics, night owls, and beach bums flock to the Catalonian city of Barcelona for its medieval quarters, modernist Gaudí landmarks, lively club scene, and enviable Mediterranean coastline.
City Highlights: Aside from its rich cultural heritage and fun, friendly atmosphere, it's also an incredibly liveable city, with diverse neighborhoods, cute boutiques, and delicious foods. Wherever you stay you really can't go wrong—but the coolest places are Destination BCN, the Mercer Barcelona, and El Palauet. For the best tapas you'll ever try, it's Bar Cañete, and for high-end shopping, hit the conceptual Santa Eulalia department store located on the city's main shopping drag, Passeig de Gràcia. For incredible vintage shops, Barcelona's Gothic Quarter is where it's at.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Seville, Spain; Dublin, Ireland
17. Chefchaouen, Morocco
The Allure: Nearly every building's exterior within this mountainside city is awash in chalk-based blue paint, which is thought to symbolize the sky above (and ostensibly, heaven), which serves as a powerful reminder for its North African residents to lead spiritual lives.
City Highlights: Located in northwest Morocco (just two hours inland from Tangier) and nicknamed "Blue Pearl," Chefchaouen (or Chaouen for short) is said to be the most beautiful city in Morocco, and is one of those places you can wander for hours, getting lost in your admiration for all its gorgeous scenery. Chaouen is also known for its top-notch leather goods and handwoven textiles; simply walking its medieval cobblestone streets will bring you face-to-face with plenty of local artisans. Catch the sunset at El Jaleo and try the steamed lamb or any of its delectable vegan dishes. Lovely places to stay include Dar Gabriel and Riad Assilah Chaouen.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santorini, Greece; Fez, Morocco
18. Buenos Aires
The Allure: As the birthplace of the tango, perhaps 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, South American gem has everything you could ever want. Stay at Legado Mítico, a boutique hotel that's a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city—or admire the minimalist guest rooms of Hotel Pulitzer and The Clubhouse, a cute social club in the city's ultra-hip Palermo Soho neighborhood. Marked by its opulent Art Deco style, the lavish Faena Hotel, too, will impress—and make you feel as if you've stepped inside the pages of The Great Gatsby.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Santiago, Chile; Tel Aviv
19. Budapest, Hungary
The Allure: This Eastern-European metropolis exudes romance thanks to its scenic views, gorgeous neo-Gothic architecture, and rich cultural heritage.
City Highlights: In Budapest, prepare to be dazzled everywhere you look. Start by exploring major attractions such as St. Stephen's Basilica, the Dohány Street Synagogue, and Buda Castle, for example. Then, take a boat tour along the Danube River to see the whimsical, kelly-green Liberty Bridge. Head to Fisherman's Bastion to see the city from greater heights, hike Gellért Hill (or take a swim at Gellért Baths), and enjoy the healing properties of the hot spring at Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Stay at the Corinthia Budapest or Brody House and eat at the Great Market Hall, New York Café, Baraka, and Gettó Gulyás.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Dubrovnik, Croatia; Prague
The Allure: This charming culture-rich destination feels like a cross between a small town and a buzzing cosmopolitan hub.
City Highlights: If you want to vacation right beside the picturesque Keizersgracht canal, stay at The Dylan—it's the perfect place to unwind after a day of museum tours. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without visiting the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. Get a taste of life like a local: Cruise the Amstel River, rent a bike, or simply stroll alongside Amsterdam's famous canals. Eat at De Kas, an upscale greenhouse where all vegetables are grown in the restaurant's on-site garden.
Similar Beautiful Cities: Bruges, Belgium; Stockholm