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Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder and all, but when it comes to cities, pretty much everyone can agree that dazzling skylines, lush gardens, tree-lined boulevards, and any kind of water view are key factors in deeming a city one of the most beautiful in the world.
Read on to see which cities topped our list, then do a quick place search on Instagram to see what we're talking about.
Buenos Aires — Argentina
One of the most photographed spots in the Argentinian capital is Plaza de Mayo, a gorgeous public square, lined with historic buildings, including the presidential palace. The city is also known for its wide tree-lined avenues, street art, tango shows in the La Boca neighborhood, and Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita is buried.
Dubrovnik — Croatia
This stunningly beautiful walled city on the Adriatic Sea has medieval roots, so it's no surprise that it doubled as King's Landing in Game of Thrones. Wander its cobbled streets, explore historic monasteries and Renaissance churches, dine in outdoor cafes, and kick back on beaches like Banje, just outside the town walls.
Vancouver — Canada
Vancouver is a gorgeous coastal city surrounded by water and mountains. Down by the harbor, you'll marvel at the array of sailboats, ferries, cruise ships — even seaplanes — vying for space on the water. There's also Stanley Park, trendy Gastown, shop-lined Robson Street, and some of the best sushi this side of Tokyo.
Santa Fe — New Mexico
Santa Fe is famous for its adobe architecture, art galleries, and museums (the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is a must), not to mention its delicious Southwestern cuisine. The city also has a growing farm-to-table scene and countless spots for margaritas. Plus, its high desert landscape, especially scenic at sunset, is perfect for hiking.
Hong Kong — China
There are few skylines in the world that can compete with Hong Kong's. The city's soaring skyscrapers — dazzlingly lit up at night — are framed by Victoria Harbour, which is teeming with Star Line ferries and traditional junk boats. For a bird's-eye view of this unforgettable scene, head to one of the city's many rooftop bars.
Rio de Janeiro — Brazil
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro showed the world its singular beauty. Insta-worthy attractions include the Christ the Redeemer statue, perched high on a hilltop, and bullet-shaped Sugarloaf Mountain on Guanabara Bay. And, of course, you can't talk about Rio without mentioning iconic Copacabana Beach.
Copenhagen — Denmark
It's easy to fall in love with Copenhagen, one of the world's most postcard-perfect cities. Its prettiest street is Nyhavn, lined with brightly colored historic buildings on one side and a canal on the other, and Amalienborg Palace, the royal family's residence, is nearby. The best way to get around is by bicycle, just like the locals.
New York — New York
The Big Apple is famous for its skyline, with iconic buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler, but many may not know that NYC has lesser-known sights that are just as beautiful, including the waterfront promenade in Brooklyn Heights and the 19th-century brownstones in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Plus, it has some of the best restaurants on the planet.
Istanbul — Turkey
Istanbul is one of the world’s most intoxicating cities. It sits on two continents, Europe and Asia, and it was also the former capital of three great empires: Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman. It's a mix of east and west, old and new, and it's where you'll find ancient mosques and bazaars alongside trendy hotels and cocktail bars on the Bosphorus.
San Miguel de Allende — Mexico
The beauty of San Miguel de Allende, a Spanish colonial city in Mexico's hilly interior, has long attracted American and Canadian expats. They, like all visitors, fall for its cobbled streets, tree-lined El Jardin square, craft markets, and architecturally-rich buildings like the Parroquia, the massive 17th-century cathedral.
San Francisco — California
As one of the prettiest cities on the planet, you're never far from jaw-dropping views while in San Francisco. Whether it's the Golden Gate Bridge shimmering in the bay, a cable car descending a steep hill, or seaside tableaus along its piers, plan on taking a lot of photos! Plus, it's the gateway to the wineries of Napa Valley.
Bangkok — Thailand
You'll never tire of gazing at the exquisite Buddhist temples (wats) in Bangkok. One of the Thai capital's most famous ones is Wat Pho, featuring the gilded Reclining Buddha. Other must-sees while in this exotic city include the Grand Palace and the fragrant flower market. Plus, after exploring, a Thai massage awaits.
Bath — England
While London could certainly make any list of the world's most beautiful cities, don't overlook Bath in southwest England. Jane Austen lived and wrote here, no doubt inspired by the grand Georgian architecture, the old Roman baths, and the proximity to rolling hills.
Zurich — Switzerland
Zurich is a top finance center, but don't be fooled into thinking this Swiss city is just sleek buildings and buttoned-up bankers. Zurich's Old Town is filled with beautiful Baroque buildings, charming bridges spanning the Limmat River, and buzzy outdoor cafes. You can also shop along the elegant Bahnhofstrasse and take a scenic boat cruise around Lake Zurich.
Cartagena — Colombia
Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is very much an up-and-coming city. Visitors are attracted to the beauty of its walled Old City, filled with Spanish colonial architecture, cobbled streets, cevicherias, and salsa clubs, which stay open till the wee hours. Feeling a bit groggy? It's nothing a cup of strong Colombian coffee can't cure.
Not only is Singapore one of the cleanest and most orderly cities in the world, but its skyline (including the massive Marina Bay Sands complex), bay views, and lush gardens make it one of the most beautiful as well. Plus, thanks to its Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian influences, it's also one of Asia's leading foodie centers.
Edinburgh — Scotland
Edinburgh Castle, the 900-year-old hilltop fortress that dominates this Scottish city, is worth the trip alone. Another top attraction is the Royal Mile, which is lined with kilt-making shops and historic pubs, where a stop for a wee dram of single-malt whisky is a must.
Essaouria — Morocco
While many travelers know Marrakech, Essaouira is a beautiful, laid-back city on Morocco's eastern coast. The medina, enclosed by 18th-century ramparts, is a network of whitewashed houses with aqua shutters, arched doorways, and tiny alleys. Unwind on the town beach and dine in no-frills seafood stands on the harbor.
St. Petersburg — Russia
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg has a grandeur that few cities in Europe can match. Expect Baroque palaces, gold-domed churches, and top-tier museums like the Hermitage, where you can ogle the Imperial jewels and other treasures. In the restaurants along Nevsky Prospekt, try the local caviar and vodka.
Sedona — Arizona
One glimpse of the otherworldly landscape in Sedona, and you'll know why it's consistently ranked as one of the world's most beautiful places. Spend your days hiking, biking, or taking a Pink Jeep adventure amid the spectacular Red Rock formations — then you've earned that margarita on a patio during sunset.
Budapest — Hungary
Architecture buffs know that the Hungarian capital, bisected by the Danube River, has some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, including the baroque-style castle and the gothic-style Parliament. The city is also famous for it thermal baths, such as the elegant Gellért Baths, with both indoor and outdoor pools.
Cusco — Peru
Cusco is a launching off point for trips to Machu Picchu, but stick around a few extra days to discover the myriad of charms of this ancient city, once the capital of the Incan empire. Highlights include its Spanish colonial buildings, bustling Plaza de Armas square, and colorful Andean craft markets and foods stalls.
Kyoto — Japan
Long considered Japan's most beautiful city, Kyoto is known for its Buddhist temples, including Kinkaku-ju, built in the 14th century and covered in gold leaf, which shimmers during sunset. It also boasts Shinto shrines, Zen gardens, and traditional ryokan inns. You can also discover the fascinating world of geishas in the Gion district.
Cape Town — South Africa
Cape Town, with its glorious sea vistas and flat-topped Table Mountain, has long been known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and now, with the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, you can get your culture fix, too. This contemporary art museum, housed in a former grain silo, is devoted exclusively to African art and artists.
Bordeaux — France
Bordeaux is not only France's wine capital with hundreds of scenic vineyards offering world-class sipping, but the city itself is also a destination in its own right. Sitting on the banks of the Garonne River, you'll find medieval architecture, museums, galleries, and plenty of cozy wine bars and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Charleston — South Carolina
One of the first things people want to do after a visit to Charleston is to plan a return trip. They're seduced by its cobbled alleys and antebellum mansions in the historic district, but this Southern belle isn't stuck in the past, as it's one of the country's top foodie destinations, offering low-country cuisine with a modern twist.
Venice — Italy
It seems like a cliché, but how can you have a story on the world's most beautiful cities and not include Venice? From its gondola-filled canals and iconic stone bridges to its frescoed churches and hand-blown glass shops (not to mention trattorias and gelaterias!), there's no denying the global appeal of the City on the Canals.
Sydney — Australia
Has there ever been a more beautiful harbor? We don't think so. Stunningly framed by the white "sails" of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, the panorama never gets old. The city also has plenty of hip neighborhoods to explore like Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, plus world-famous beaches like Bondi to kick back on.
Chicago — Illinois
Other U.S. cities may get more attention, but Chicago is second to none when it comes to architecture — the skyscraper was born here, after all. Plus, it has killer Lake Michigan views, parks galore (Millennium, Lincoln, and more), the Art Institute of Chicago, home of masterpieces like American Gothic and Nighthawks, and last but not least, deep-dish pizza.
Quebec City — Quebec
Quebec City, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain on the St. Lawrence River, is like a little slice of France north-of-the-border. The city's most beautiful section is the walled Old City (Vieux Quebec), known for its 19th-century buildings and cobbled lanes lined with bistros, boulangeries, and boutiques.
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