What makes a city beautiful? A high-flying skyline, ample parkland, a decided-upon devotion to a single hue? Is it a place where you can spend days exploring ancient wonders, world-class museums, or surrounding mountains? Or simply somewhere with an indescribable spark — somewhere with heaps of bright juicy oranges at the street market, live music playing in the square, and young lovers lost in their own private world. Surely, the answer is different for everyone. With that said, here is our by-no-means exhaustive list of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Covered food markets, snug tapas bars, iconic Modernist architecture and golden-sand Mediterranean beaches are big appeal factors for Catalonia’s colorful capital. But the culture of afternoon siestas, 9 p.m. dinners (if you’re an early bird), and leisurely strolling or people-watching on busy plazas (stop by Andreu Xarcuteria near Santa Caterina Market beforehand and grab a jamon serrano bocadillo for the bench) capture the beautifully relaxed Spanish way of life.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Known as the “adventure capital of the world,” Queenstown is the ultimate playground for all things outdoors. Whatever your speed, this city has it: hiking (heli-hiking for the deeply venturesome), skiing, skydiving, rafting, winery-hopping, and cruising the Milford Sound are just a few examples of activities on offer. Queenstown is built around a finger of Lake Wakatipu, a glacial lake whose reflection of the surrounding mountain range — fittingly named the Remarkables — makes the scene all the more stunning.
If you’ve already been to Rome, Paris, and Barcelona (perhaps multiple times), consider flying eastward to Istanbul. The city is an intoxicating jumble of domed and intricately mosaicked mosques, Ottoman-era palaces, maze-like markets, and hilly cobblestoned streets where you might run into a bar party spilling out the door and down the block. The food scene stretches way beyond the ubiquitous kebab; the mezze and grilled seafood are out of this world, and the city’s coffeehouse culture goes into the wee hours of the morning.
We can’t talk about the world’s most beautiful cities without mentioning Paris. In the City of Light, there’s something to make the heart go aflutter around every corner, be it an iconic monument, a cozy sidewalk cafe tightly packed with chic Parisians, or a proud boulevard lined with creamy stone Haussmann-era mansions. And the window display of a patisserie or boulangerie (baguettes do have UNESCO status now, after all) may be just as delightful to behold as the city’s splendid art and architecture. (Museé d’Orsay combines the latter two things, presenting 19th-century paintings and sculpture in a glorious Beaux-Arts train station on the Seine.)
San Francisco, California
San Francisco’s geography alone secures its spot on this list. Set on a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the steep city offers beautiful hilltop views of skyscrapers, bridges, mountains, and surrounding water. The Golden Gate Bridge, Painted Ladies, and cable cars (first used by locals to get around town in the 1870s) are instantly recognizable emblems of the city, but the less-obvious magic is everywhere: in the old-school Italian delis of North Beach, the dim sum parlors of Chinatown, and newly revitalized green spaces across the city (see: Presidio Tunnel Tops, a 14-acre park above highway tunnels, opened in 2022).
Sicily’s dynamic, decadent, sun-soaked capital is a dream for architecture buffs, foodies, and all lovers of life. You might think Italy’s biggest opera house would be in Rome or Milan, but it’s here. Teatro Massimo’s copper dome hulks some 250 feet above the historic piazza it stands on (The White Lotus fans will recognize the theater from season 2). Palermo’s striking gold-stone cathedral is one of the city’s many Arab-Norman structures that date to sometime around the turn of the last millennia. Head to its rooftop to see the ancient city’s terra-cotta skyline tumbling down toward the Tyrrhenian Sea.
But it’s the pulse of life that truly makes the city a beautiful place: whirring mopeds, swaying palms, Italian twosomes strolling arm in arm down centuries-old streets. Don’t miss the souk-like maze of the Ballarò street market, where Palermitani buy almonds, olives, spices, and tomatoes the color of rubies by the bagful. As afternoon turns to early evening, settle in for an Aperol spritz or earthy nero d’Avola on the bohemian Piazza Caracciolo and watch the night unfold.
Cape Town, South Africa
Perched between iconic flat-topped Table Mountain and the Atlantic, Cape Town could get by on just its looks alone. But its heavy helping of natural beauty makes it a hot spot for activities, from adrenaline-fueled (diving with sharks, hiking Table Mountain, or taking a rotating cable car to its peak) to leisurely (swimming and sipping cocktails on celeb-loved Camps Bay Beach, biking along Sea Point Promenade) to cultural (museums, wine farms, cellar tours, music festivals, and dynamic dining, from waterfront South African grills to hidden-gem dim sum bars).
Seoul, South Korea
A vibrant food and nightlife scene, urban green spaces, and cutting-edge everything has thrown Seoul into the upper ranks of best Asian cities. The past and present live side by side, with electrifying party districts, ancient palaces, ultra-modern subways, Buddhist temples, skyscrapers, and street markets all sharing the urban footprint. Nature is never hard to find in this fast-paced neon metropolis: beautifully landscaped parks along the Cheonggyecheon Stream and Han River, mountain hiking trails, and free outdoor gyms offer a peaceful respite for locals always on the move.
Cartagena rakes in visitors with its winning mix of Caribbean beaches and islands, five centuries of history, and walkable (and extremely photographable) old town. The UNESCO-listed walled old city is one of the most splendidly preserved (and again, extremely photogenic) in South America. Bougainvilleas burst from the balconies of buildings painted coral, cobalt, fuchsia, and bright marigold.
A day well spent is simply people-watching in the squares and sampling grilled arepas, coconut cookies, fresh fruits, and other Colombian delights from street vendors. At night, let the sounds of live salsa music lead you to a festive watering hole and its house band.
Lovely, low-rise Kyoto is the antidote to sprawling, daunting Tokyo. The city packs a big punch on the UNESCO World Heritage front — it has 17 sites, including temples, shrines, and the famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). Cherry, plum, and willow trees spill toward Kyoto’s riverbanks and lanterns illuminate tiny beguiling alleys lined with wooden teahouses. The Gion district in the evening is extra magical.
Visit the tranquil Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji) and its superb gardens early in the morning and continue a short way up the mountain for a beautiful view of the city. For more serenity, sip matcha at the House of Poet-Hermits (Shisen-dō) or step into a Studio Ghibli scene come to life at Moss Temple (Kokedera or Saihō-ji), which requires advance reservations.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Gorgeous, dramatic, and always abuzz, Rio de Janeiro seduces with its stunning mountains, legendary beaches, samba street parties, and beautiful people. Brazil’s second largest city is home to celebrated Ipanema and Copacabana beaches and the largest Art Deco statue in the world — the 700-ton Christ the Redeemer standing atop Corcovado mountain — accessed by a steep railway ride.
Beyond world-famous beaches and jungle-covered peaks, Rio’s beauty is on full display in parks and gardens (the protected rain forest in Parque Nacional da Tijuca contains waterfalls, caves, and knockout vistas, while the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro is a tropical oasis bursting with sun-loving flora and fauna, including 134 soaring Imperial palms). Head to charming, artsy Santa Teresa for cafe life and boutique shopping and Gamboa and Saúde for street art and samba beats.
Though it’s somewhat unknown and under-appreciated, Georgia’s capital is nothing short of fairy-tale material. The city’s Old Town is a joy to explore, with carved wooden balconies overlooking sleepy courtyards and cobbled streets lined with wine bars and traditional Georgian cafes. (Stop in one for meat dumplings, khachapuri — Georgia’s famous “cheese boat” — and homemade wine.) Hike or brave the funicular up to Narikala Fortress, originally built in the fourth century, and relish the views of Tbilisi and the encircling Caucasus Mountains.
Think of Rome as an open-air museum showcasing nearly three millennia of sumptuous art and architecture. Get lost in the city’s tangle of meandering alleys, hidden piazzas, and imperial streets and come up with your own golden ratio: Say, for every impossible-to-fathom world wonder — be it the all-mighty Roman Forum or St. Peter’s Basilica — stop for a creamy gelato, a life-giving bowl of carbonara, or an Aperol spritz and potato chip combo. When the heat finally breaks, find the perfect perch to watch la passeggiata, the parade of dapper Romans out and about on their evening stroll.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hội An is a little jewel of a riverside city, and one of Vietnam’s most beautiful places to visit. Its amazingly preserved old town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) feels practically untouched by the modern age. Luckily, the city was spared the ruin of the Vietnam War, so Hội An harbors hundreds of historic timber-frame houses, as well as sacred temples, pagodas, and a Japanese bridge from the 1700s. One of the first things you’ll notice is that the place is steeped in a rich yellow hue. Streets strung with lanterns and heavily traversed by cyclists are other hallmarks of the scene. Join the locals and go on a bike ride, or opt for a cooking class, a riverboat ride, tea time at a local cafe, a beach day, or a trip to the tailors for expert bespoke clothing.
London is a rich, decadent layer cake of history. The Middle Ages, the Victorian era, and the modern world coexist in England’s capital: medieval landmarks such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London rub shoulders with Trafalgar Square and other icons of the Victorian age, with big, busy, 21st-century London bustling all around. Aesthetes delight in the Gothic, Baroque, and Elizabethan buildings; the rich collection of museums and art galleries (many free); colorful street markets; and sumptuous gardens and green spaces like Hyde, St. James’s, and Regent’s parks.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cosmopolitan, captivating Buenos Aires is a marriage of European flair and Latin flavor. Smell the roses and look for green and yellow parrots at Bosques de Palermo, see the balcony from which Eva Perón addressed her fans at the distinctively rosy-hued Casa Rosada, and refuel with a cortado and cake in a bar notable (a historic cafe, the kind of which 1850s Café Tortoni is the poster child). The Argentinian capital is a city of proud Paris-worthy mansions, foodie hangouts, and fun-to-peruse street markets and shopping arcades. Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, and it’s unthinkable to visit without catching a seductive show performed to a live band.
A good many movies and TV shows have benefitted from Dubrovnik’s cinematic good looks: Game of Thrones famously tops the list, but there are also little productions by the name of Succession and Star Wars. (The city’s beauty has not only caught the eye of Hollywood, but also UNESCO, which named Dubrovnik to a World Heritage Site.) It’s easy to cover ground in the so-called “Pearl of the Adriatic” — in the charming, compact, and traffic-free Old Town, you’ll see practically mint-condition medieval architecture, including the Gothic-Renaissance Rector’s Palace and the town’s thick stone walls — one of the best preserved medieval fortifications in the world.
Sydney practically sparkles with its plied-by-yachts harbor, golden beaches, spectacular headland views, lush parks and gardens, abundance of sunshine, and overall cleanliness. Take a ferry or boat tour to see the unmistakable Sydney Opera House — a symbol of Australia’s oldest and biggest city, and of the continent itself — and Harbour Bridge from the water. Explore the city’s wealth of picturesque coastal walks and truly great beaches; beloved Queenscliff Beach has a wide stretch of clean sand, pro-surfer-approved waves, a rock pool, and a lagoon.
If you’re looking to get your spiritual house in order, Sedona is the place to be. The Arizona desert town is surrounded by a spectacular red-rock landscape — buttes and canyons with a near-magical rosy glow. Go on a guided vortex tour to experience Sedona’s famous healing energy and cruise Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, collecting postcard-perfect views along the way. Then, head back to town to shop for crystals, browse art galleries, get a tarot reading, and unwind during a chakra-balancing, aura-cleansing spa session. Plus, a dark sky policy saves Sedona’s best spectacle for last: epic stargazing.
Morocco’s “Blue Pearl” is a bit of a no-brainer here. Tucked below the soaring Rif Mountains, the city is washed with the most spellbinding shade of blue. The main thing the city commands of you is wandering its cobalt alleyways (bonus points for color coordinating; even the most selfie-averse travelers are going to want to take photos), but you’ll be rewarded for visiting the Spanish Mosque and surrounding nature; Cascades d’Akchour and Talassemtane National Park are also popular sites.
Taiwan is nicknamed “the beautiful island,” so it tracks that its capital is among the world’s most stunning cities. Get a lay of the land from the top of Taipei 101 — one of the tallest skyscrapers on the planet — where an 89th-floor observatory offers gorgeous views of the city and its surrounding lush green mountains. Then, descend to street level to visit tranquil temples, flower markets, kawaii-obsessed shopping streets, and food-stall-lined alleyways and night markets. For a dose of Taiwan’s natural beauty, hike Elephant Mountain (a.k.a. Nangang District Hiking Trail) or admire the green forests, grasslands, hot springs, and downtown Taipei views at Yangmingshan National Park.
An ancient city set on a dramatic landscape of extinct volcanoes and anchored by a grand, Acropolis-like castle? Yes, Edinburgh sure is a stunner. When your quads need a break (Edinburgh’s hills may make you think your veins are pumping battery acid), take a break in one of the many parks and squares or pop into a pub for fortifying steak-and-ale pie and a smooth Scottish stout. Attention summer travelers, the biggest arts festival in the world descends upon the city every August.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
San Miguel de Allende is the uncontested queen of Mexico’s central highlands (though you could call Guanajuato and Aguascalientes her ladies in waiting). This city is a beautiful maze of cobbled alleys, cool courtyards, and buildings built in Spanish colonial, Baroque, neoclassical, and neo-Gothic styles. The latter is best seen in the grand Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the gorgeous pink 17th-century church that’s splashed across countless brochures and travel photos.
Singapore is truly a feast for the senses. Its skyline is defined not just by futuristic high rises, but also by surreal “supertrees,” undulating cloud forest domes, and a 540-foot Ferris wheel. Its enclaves like Chinatown, the Arab Quarter, and Little India and head-spinning street food scene reveal the city-state’s multicultural past. Colorful food streets and hawker centers are packed with stalls slinging everything from roasted pork rice and Malaysian fried noodles to honey lime juice and some sweet icy cendol (rice flour jelly with coconut milk). Go on a digestive stroll along Marina Bay’s illuminated waterfront or in the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay.
New York City, New York
The island of Manhattan supports stratospheric buildings, from the 104-story World Trade Center (tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere) to the mighty Empire State Building, though non-skyline architectural treasures — like Greek Revival mansions in the Bronx and Prospect Park’s darling little boathouse — are found all over the five boroughs. For museums, the choice is yours: mummies and Monets at the Met, Warhol’s soup cans and “The Starry Night” at MoMA, or period rooms and “The Dinner Party” at Brooklyn Museum. New York City takes its green spaces seriously, with would-be precious real estate dedicated to Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Snug Harbor, and more.