The ultimate virtual travel list
Travel agency Flight Network asked more than 1,000 travel bloggers, travel writers and travel agents to nominate cities with populations over 1 million that have really caught their eye – based on natural and man-made beauty, nature, architecture, city culture and local weather – and they produced this comprehensive list of the World’s 15 Most Beautiful Cities. Get ready for a whirlwind ride around the world, as we explore the beauty found in each corner of the globe, from the safety of our homes. So many of these cities are doing it really tough right now, so let’s celebrate everything they have to offer and that we might hopefully be able to enjoy in the future.
The very thought of Paris conjures up thoughts of romantic picnics in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, afternoons gazing at the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art in the Louvre, and nibbling croissants while strolling past the iconic Arc de Triomphe. It’s all pretty heavenly. Another reason Paris qualifies as beautiful? It’s known as an international fashion capital, and Parisians take great pride in their chic appearance. “It’s Paris! Enough said,” sums up Dennis Lennox, travel columnist for The Christian Post.
New York City, USA
Yes, it may be referred to as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. In fact, to many, the skyscrapers, neon billboards and constant stream of people and cabs are quite beautiful. “You could visit hundreds of times and still discover new things on every trip,” says David Jagger of The Telegraph & Argus. “It has it all.” Of course, that also includes one of the most recognisable statues in the world (The Statue of Liberty), the towering Empire State Building, and the lush, green Central Park smack dab in the middle of the Big Apple.
Don’t let the often cool, damp and grey conditions fool you. The capital of the United Kingdom is as beautiful as it is rich in history. Let’s start with the world-famous Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster, which is beautiful enough to have served as the official London residence of the United Kingdom’s monarchs since 1837. Big Ben (the correct term for this tower is actually Elizabeth Tower), which recently turned 160 years old, is currently covered in scaffolding while it undergoes restoration on the tower, clock, and bell inside and it’s sure to be even more beautiful when complete. Hyde Park, located in central London, boasts a beautiful rose garden, many species of birds and the Serpentine River.
While one could argue that nearly everything in Italy is beautiful, Venice’s particular charm comes from being built across 100-plus smaller islands connected by canals and bridges. Beauty lies in the ornate bridges – including the Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal with its stone arch – and in the voices of the gondoliers, who sing as they show off their beloved city to tourists. “I sailed into the Venetian lagoon sipping white wine and thought my heart would burst from the beauty that surrounded me,” says Neala McCarten of Offbeat Travel.
Although Vancouver’s beauty is apparent from the harbour and beaches to the bustling metropolitan areas, the best vantage points are from way up high. Start with the Capilano Suspension Bridge, set in an 11-hectare park – the views while walking across this 137-metre suspension bridge can’t be beat. For more awe-inspiring views, just outside of Vancouver is the Sea to Sky Gondola, where from the top, you can see Howe Sound, the Tantalus Mountain range, Co-Pilot and Sky Pilot mountain peaks, Mount Atwell, and the Mamquam Valley. For a final bout of beauty, rent bicycles and explore the 405-hectare Stanley Park and its views of English Bay, which is set in a natural West Coast rainforest.
Few cities in the world are as easy to identify as Barcelona. The highly celebrated Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi left his mark all over the city, with La Sagrada Familia (an unfinished Roman Catholic basilica and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that combines Gothic and Art Nouveau styles), Casa Batlló (a modernist building with a can’t-miss facade and an even more interesting interior), and Park Güell (considered one of the most impressive public parks in the world). If Gaudi isn’t your thing, there’s no shortage of other museums scattered around the city, including ones featuring Picasso. As Christian Lengua of Publimetro says, there’s “art and architecture in every corner.”
Cape Town, South Africa
Mountains? Check. Harbour? Check. Beaches? Check. Cape Town is a nature lover’s dream with miles of coastline, soaring mountains – such as Lion’s Head and Table Mountain – and a Mediterranean-like climate. Take a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain for views you won’t soon forget, or visit the Table Mountain National Park for an afternoon with African penguins that are on the verge of extinction. This is also the city to explore underwater beauty by cage-diving with great white sharks. Of course, don’t feel ashamed if all you want to do is lay on the pristine golden beaches and stare at the sparkling ocean or the jaw-dropping sunsets like most of the tourists.
San Francisco, USA
Is there anything more beautiful than seeing the bright red, Art Deco–style Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day with blue skies? We think not. But that’s not all San Francisco has going for it. “For natural beauty, it’s hard to beat San Francisco, where you can hike above cliffs within city limits and where a short drive takes you to a national monument with old-growth forest,” says the Matador Network’s Noelle Salmi. “Locals appreciate nature, sustainable food and art.” Stop by the Fisherman’s Wharf for a cruise of the San Francisco Bay, and then treat yourself to the city’s famous clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls.
Close your eyes and picture the most famous opera house in the world. Yep, you’re probably picturing the world-famous Sydney Opera House, with its iconic roof structure overlooking Sydney Harbour. After your visit, take a 20-minute car ride to Bondi Beach to relax on the white-sand crescent or surf its offshore waves. The Royal Botanic Gardens provide a green space in the city, where you can join a guided tour to learn about the country’s first botanic garden and hear stories of the Cadigal people (indigenous Australians). “Sydney has it all,” says travel writer Terry Terrones. “A great skyline, a beautiful botanical garden, and some of the most iconic man-made landmarks anywhere in the world.”
They say all roads lead to Rome, and they should – this beautiful city has ancient roots unlike any other. “It’s been around for almost 3,000 years, so it might be doing something right,” says Gary of Everything Everywhere. Grab a gelato and meander around this walkable city. You can’t help but run right into the Colosseum, where you can marvel at this structure, which has been a symbol of Rome since 80 AD. Stop by the Trevi Fountain to throw a coin in over your shoulder, which ensures you’ll visit again someday. And don’t miss the world’s largest church, St. Peter’s Basilica, as the breathtaking Renaissance-style architecture is known the world over. Everywhere you look, you’re sure to see ornate marble statues and fountains; go ahead and take a sip, as the water is fresh, safe and free.
As a country smaller than most major cities around the globe, Singapore could easily be overlooked. Don’t make that mistake. You don’t have to look far to find the beauty of this city-state – just look down. Singapore is known for having some of the cleanest streets in the world, thanks to strict laws on littering, vandalism, spitting and public urination. Plus, chewing gum is illegal in this country – and no, we’re not kidding. The iconic Merlion statue, which is a half-fish and half-lion creature, resides at the Merlion Park waterfront. Hop on a restored bumboat river cruise to see other famous attractions along the Singapore River, including the Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
Portugal’s capital city has often been called one of the 15 best places to retire around the world due to its low crime rates and high quality of life. Its Mediterranean climate is beautiful year-round, and the seafood is second to none. Don’t miss the São Jorge Castle, located at the top of a hill in the city centre, for one of the most picturesque views Lisbon has to offer. Lisbon’s Pink Street (formerly its red-light district, which completed a makeover in 2013) is where the crowds gravitate in the evenings for bar-hopping and clubbing. Just follow the pink-painted pavement located in the neighbourhood Cais do Sodré.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Similar to Venice, Amsterdam is made up of about 90 islands connected by 1,500 bridges. In fact, it’s the “most watery city in the world.” On a hop-on, hop-off canal cruise, you’ll stop at such main points of interest as the Ann Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the A’DAM lookout. A visit to the city isn’t complete without a stop at Vondelpark, the city’s largest public park. Here, you’ll find about 30 species of birds, 12 fish species and more than 4,700 trees.