What’s the most beautiful city in the world? You’ll find a lot of lists on the internet and most just dig up the usual suspects. See this post by Rough Guide summing up the most beautiful cities according to their readers.
Another question. How do you judge beauty? There are cities that are geographically beautiful and others that are historically beautiful. So the ‘most beautiful city title’ may depend on what you’re looking for.
This post covers our candidates for the most beautiful city in the world. I cover 14 of them. They’re all cities we’ve visited and loved (with one notable exception). And while many are found on other lists, you’ll see some unique picks as well. At the bottom of this post you’ll find my vote for the most beautiful city in the world.
Have an opinion on the ones we feature? Or have a favorite we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments section.
Geographically Beautiful Cities
I have a weakness for cities with incredible geography. All the cities I list below are attractive cities with oceans or seas, mountains, and amazing views.
In no particular order:
San Francisco, USA
We came here a few years back for one of Lissette’s business conventions. San Francisco is a pretty, hilly city with the iconic symbols that has made it famous (trams, the Golden Gate bridge, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf) but the highlight is the geography. I rented a bike and spent 3 days riding around the city, exploring Golden Gate park, Presidio park, and Land’s End. I lay on Ocean Beach and rode the bike across the Golden Gate to Sausalito. I fell in love with San Francisco.
San Francisco is definitely one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
More: 3 Days in San Francisco
Cape Town, South Africa
A city with incredible geography: Table Mountain, Lion’s head, the 12 Apostles, and a location where two oceans meet. Cape Town is lush and exotic and has incredible hiking and beautiful beaches within minutes of downtown.
We spent 3 months in Cape Town and – being a lover of nature – I fell in love with Cape Town more than any other place I’ve been. It’s definitely on my shortlist as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
More: 15 Things to Do in and around Cape Town
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong smacked me in the face by its impressiveness. It’s a huge city with some of the most amazing geography of any place in the world; a mix of mountains and ocean with incredible viewpoints, beautiful city parks, and the world’s most spellbinding harbour. Tall skyscrapers dominate the skyline but there are also lots of parks including an aviary, botanical gardens and a zoo right in the city center. Above it all, you can hike around Victoria Peak and have stunning views in every direction.
More: Seeing the Best of Hong Kong
I’m from Montreal which is an attractive city. But Vancouver is easily the most beautiful city in Canada and among the most beautiful in the world.
Vancouver has a spectacular natural setting with water on one side and snow-covered mountains on the other. Some say you can ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon in Vancouver. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but it highlights how close to nature the city is. Stanley Park is Canada’s most beautiful urban park where you can hike, bike, or spend the day at the beach.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I didn’t like Rio. Not one bit. I can say that and still say that the city is one of the most geographically beautiful cities in the world. Whether on Sugar Loaf, Corcovado, or hiking in Tijuca National Park, you’ll always have stunning views of hills, beach, ocean and islands.
I’m sure people get sick of me mentioning Split. But we lived there for a year and never failed to be impressed by the natural beauty of Split: the sea, the mountains, Marjan park and its beaches. Add to that an incredible old town.
We think Split deserves to be on this list.
More: Guide to Split
Historically beautiful Cities
This section focuses on cities made beautiful by their historic centers and sights.
An incredibly gorgeous city of squares, churches and towers highlighted by the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (known as the “Duomo”), the Ponte Vecchio and some of the world’s most famous museums (the Uffizi and the Academia).
Florence is a living museum as well as a very attractive city. Make sure to go to the Piazza Michelangelo for great views.
More: 3 Days in Florence
Spain’s most beautiful city, Seville is gorgeous and is everything you imagine when thinking of Spain: tropical gardens, wonderful palaces, a colossal cathedral, and the famous Real Alcazar (the residence of the Caliphs of Andalusia in Moorish times). That’s the tip of the iceberg, there’s lots more to see in Seville.
Budapest has lots of historical sites of interest as well as a majestic location on the Danube river. It has the largest parliament building in the world, a castle district overlooking the city, the famous chain bridge, many huge squares…The city is also famous for its hot thermal baths, many built during the time of the Ottomans. A very impressive and beautiful city.
More: What to See and Do in Budapest (and what to skip)
Rome is not beautiful the way Florence is. Rome’s is a gritty and imposing beauty thrust upon you by highlights so impressive that they’ll take your breath away. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican…An incredible city.
More: Forget everything you’ve read because Rome is Incredible
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is the place we started our full-time travels in 2014. Since then we’ve been back 5 times, spending a total of 7 months in the city.
Prague can be quite touristy. Most people stick to the old town, cross the Charles bridge, and make their way up to the castle. But there is so much more in Prague. It’s a city that always amazes us.
More: 3 Days in Prague.
Cartagena is the most beautiful colonial city I’ve visited anywhere (I’ve been there twice). It’s a colourful, romantic city of fortress walls, churches, plazas, and wonderful courtyards hidden behind old, wooden doors. There is great architecture everywhere. Lots of nice little cafes, shaded parks with fountains to sit in, and great restaurants hidden in impressive colonial buildings.
More: Why Cartagena is Incredible
You can’t do a list like this without including Venice. Tons of alleys, little bridges over canals, squares with churches. The highlights are incredible (St. Marks’ Basilica, Piazza St. Mark, Doge’s Palace, Campanile, Rialto bridge) but you can spend days walking around amazed by the beauty around you. It’s a place lost in time.
More: Highlights of a trip to Venice
I mention “a place lost in time” above when mentioning Venice. Havana is the same, a place lost in the early 1900’s. Streets with broken sidewalks, old cars on cement blocks, washing hanging out of balconies, electric wiring strung out in every direction, and buildings that had once been beautiful which have crumbled and faded with time. Old cars are everywhere. Havana is a crumbling mess but it is a living museum – with its Caribbean setting there is a lot of beauty in its decrepitness.
More: Why you HAVE to Visit Havana
Please note I’ve stuck with medium to large cities above. Otherwise I’d be including some towns and small cities such as Dubrovnik, San Miguel de Allende, Chefchaouen, Olomouc…
So the most beautiful city in the World?
That’s really tough and there are so many variables. But if I had to choose, I say that Cape Town is the most geographically beautiful city in the world while Prague is the most beautiful historic city.
Choosing the winner: comparing Cape Town to Prague is like comparing apples to oranges. I’d never tire of hiking and being amazed by the geography in Cape Town just as we’re always impressed by the incredible architecture and overall beauty of Prague (it’s a city out of a fairy tale). But if I had to choose between the two I’d choose Prague for one reason alone: Cape Town’s beauty is given by nature. The city itself is not extraordinary. Prague’s beauty however is all man made. It’s an incredible testament to centuries of art, architecture, and history. Prague’s beauty has required much more effort. And maybe that’s not a great reason to choose Prague as the most beautiful city in the world. But it’s my tiebreaker.
Need further proof?
Related: 12 Surprising Places to See (that you may never have heard of)
Related: Is Lviv (Ukraine) the most underrated city In Europe? Why we love it
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite place not mentioned?
Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.
If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below
I would agree with the majority of your choices, but San Francisco has become a garbage dump. I loved Prague at Christmas, but Madrid is even better over the holidays. I can’t understand why Tokyo is not on this list though. It’s probably my favorite city in the world, but opinions are like rear ends, everyone has them! Hehe
Hi Mike! I remember you 🙂
Haven’t been to SF for a long time but it was always the natural environment there that drew me. Sad to hear the city has gone to the craps…
Hmmm, I personally don’t love Tokyo. I guess it’s all about personal taste as you say.
Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels
interesting way of judging a city:) I agree with your list for geographically beautiful city and for most entries on your historic list. Prague wouldn’t be my winner even though it’s a wonderful city (Vienna is not on that list?)
We’re actually not fans of Vienna. So what would be your pick for the most beautiful city Tanja?
I completely agree with you splitting cities into geographically beautiful and historically beautiful – and that Cape Town should be at right up there at the top of the ‘geographically beautiful’ category, but I’d have probably gone with Florence or Seville over Prague for historically beautiful. Nice take on an interesting subject though!
Travels and Tipples
“Most beautiful city” is a tough call! I’ve been to 8 of the ones you mentioned and of those, I’d probably pick Florence. But of other cities I’ve visited, I’m thinking Vienna or Amsterdam. In the U.S. I’d have to choose between New York (all 5 boroughs!), Honolulu, San Diego, New Orleans and – probably my favorite – San Antonio.
I’ve never been to San Antonio Patricia. I’ve also never been to San Diego but Lissette has and agrees with you that it’s one of her favorite US cities.
Is New York beautiful? I don’t know. It depends on how you define beauty.
It’s a very subjective post, but as I said to Patti, it’s about travel inspiration. Lots of beautiful places around the world to visit.
This is a fun post. I haven’t been to some of these cities, but I agree on Budapest, Prague and Seville. Funny about San Francisco, it is beautiful but we lived 30 miles south (San Jose) for 30+ years so we’ve been to SF so many times we forget how pretty it really is.
I would add Porto to the list. I know you haven’t yet been there, but Porto’s waterfront with the Douro River is stunning, the colors and tiles of the city, the hills, parks, churches, ocean beaches, I can’t say enough but you already know how much we love the city.
It’s hard to imagine international travel anymore. Stupid virus, and stupid you know who.
Thanks Patti, that was the goal. This post was about travel inspiration and it makes me sad that so few of us can travel right now. Would love to be visiting any of the above 🙂 Jeez, 6 months ago we were travelling the Balkans and now it’s like it was a lifetime ago.
We’ll get to Porto one day Patti. Maybe, with a bit of planning, we can meet up.
Hi Frank — I think you’ve got most of the “beautiful” cities of the world listed and as you mention it’s a very subjective thing. I think it really comes down to perspective. From certain viewpoints, Cape Town, Vancouver, HK and some others happen to be set in stunning locations for sure. But at street level, they can be pretty crowded, gritty, awful even. Have you been to East Hastings in Vanc? Or checked out the depressing tenements ringing many european cities? Those old towns of cities are often just a tiny fraction or even just a handful of specific sites contained within the entire metropolitain area. Also, i think it comes down to the experiences you had when you were there. Hanoi didn’t make it in your list but I loved the old french quarter of Hanoi because of the sheer humanity buzzing on the streets, the friendly Vietnamese people… and i had a lot of fun there too! The polished up old cities in Prague, Krakow, Budapest, certain others with their crowds and mass commercialism often leave me feeling indifferent, like I’ve stepped into a Disneyland theme park. But Bangkok in 1984, La Habana in early 1990s or even Lviv in 2014 were pure magic for me for a variety of reasons. Right now I’m kind of stuck in Toronto and despite its regular showing on lists of “Best Cities to Live In” …..I just ain’t finding the love here!
Yes, I’ve seen Toronto on those Top 10 lists. Obviously not written by people who’ve ever been there because in no world is it even close to being considered a beautiful city (Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are all more attractive).
I think what you say (about street level) can be true of any city. Every city has some crappy neighborhoods. Lissette had mentioned the same to me when I mentioned doing this post. It just comes down to looking at the glass half full vs the glass half empty.
By the way, I didn’t figure out that Don = GoBruins! until just now. Nice to hear from you. What are you doing in Toronto? Are you still based in Bratislava? Still looking for an expat base?
Oui c’est moi! I’m visiting family here and i was in the process of applying for a Carte de Long Séjour (which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year). I left Bratislava almost two years ago and am now more or less based in a small town near Nîmes. BTW, have you been watching some Canadiens games? It’s weird, just not the same w/o the crowds.
Been watching all the games Don! Love it. And honestly the lack of crowds hasn’t bothered me too much, I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the hockey. Been watching the Leafs as well and couldn’t believe the comeback last game. Amazing. Has been a highlight of coming back, haven’t seen hockey in such a long time.
Yes, I remember now you mentioning applying for the Carte de Long Sejour. Can you apply there considering everything? Or will you come back next year to apply?
Ying & Brad
A great list of cities. We would vote Sydney Australia for its stunning harbour and beaches, large number of parks, a variety of architecture styles and diverse culture. We’ve never been to South America or South Africa, so can’t comment on those cities. We’ll compare notes in a few years time!
Sydney is a city that often gets mention within the Top 10. We haven’t been, but would like to go one day.
interesting call on Prague. Europe has an abundance of beautiful cities, but I’m not sure I’d have Prague right at the top. In fact I think Seville is right up there, loved it and Porto has something about it. I’d put Budapest ahead of Prague too. Geographically I would have to say, sorry, it’s Rio for me. Great post Frank!
Thanks for the feedback Andy!