November 28, 2023
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More than 10,000 cities make up this colorful world, with each bringing its distinct character and charm. Some are centuries old and boast exquisite craftsmanship of ancient artisans—they’re still thriving today, thanks to the dedication of contemporary residents seeking to preserve their hometown history by maintaining landmarks, beautiful museums and historic hotels. Others are more youthful in spirit, with communities bringing new ways of living—from how we design to how we dine to the technologies we use—to the forefront. And then there are the countless cities featuring some of the most beautiful gardens in the world.

Narrowing down a list of the world’s most beautiful cities feels nearly impossible, as each one brings something unique to the table. For our guide we’ve selected culture centers that celebrate the past through the preservation of art and architecture while inviting younger creatives and thinkers to experiment and redefine urban identity. From an ancient Greek city steeped in culture and history to a hip burgeoning arts city hidden in the mountains of Thailand, here is our guide to the 10 most beautiful cities around the world to visit.

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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Dripping in Old World charm, San Miguel de Allende serves as an artistic hub for local craftspeople, designers, and admirers from far and wide. The intricate Spanish Baroque architecture and cobblestone streets play host to countless celebrated shops, darling boutique hotels, and acclaimed restaurants. At the center of the nearly 500-year-old city sits La Parroquía, a striking Neo-Gothic church made of pink stone showcasing the work of indigenous stonemason Zeferino Gutiérrez.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand boasts some of the world’s most vibrant cities and picturesque landscapes. The northern city of Chiang Mai gives adventurers a taste of both, as the former trading outpost is surrounded by vast mountain ranges. Take a day hike through the forest to the sacred Wat Palad temple complex and venture down the mount to enjoy the food and beverage scene right in the heart of the city. The Rose of the North also has a rising art scene with modern art galleries, such as the Gongdee Gallery, popping up throughout the city.

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Paris, France

Just at a mere mention of Paris, scenes of style mavens fluttering through historic cobblestone streets past the Seine and pristine gardens come to mind. History can be seen on every corner with the city preserving its astonishing buildings and landmarks, which provide lessons on architectural styles of the past. Meanwhile chic boutique hotels, contemporary art and design shops, and award-winning restaurants continue popping up, cementing Paris’s role as a decorative and style leader.

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Cape Town, South Africa

Shadowed by the magnificent Table Mountain and sculpted by the Atlantic and Indian oceans, Cape Town has all the bustle of a thriving city and stunning lures of nature. Spend the early hours learning about the region’s native flora at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden before seeing the colorful side of the city in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. At night, enjoy cuisines from across the continent at the Neighbourgoods Market before retiring for the day at one of Cape Town’s world-class wellness retreats. A trip to Cape Town would not be complete without a stop at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa to discover the latest and greatest African artists.

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Cartagena, Colombia

A joyous spirit erupts from every colorful Colonial-style home and lively street corner in Cartagena. The historic center of this Caribbean coastal city is surrounded by old city walls built by the Spanish between the 16th and 18th centuries. Within those limits sit several jaw-dropping attractions such as the Clock Tower and Santuario San Pedro Claver and delectable places to eat—like Portal de los Dulces, an entire street filled with sweet treats. Just south of the walled city, the Getsemaní neighborhood offers a more intimate experience with quaint cafés decorated in youthful murals by local artists.

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Florence, Italy

The birthplace of the Renaissance boasts world-class galleries, striking examples of architecture, and some of the world’s most prized shops. However, the real charm of Florence is its ability to honor the past while welcoming new ways of living. After spending hours looking through the Opera del Duomo Museum and Uffizi Gallery, head down to Locale Firenze, where bartenders trained in molecular mixology serve eccentric cocktails in handblown glasses and mini greenhouses. And it’s a magical scene strolling past the enchanting piazzas and cathedrals glowing under the moonlight.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Opulence and ancient beauty meet in the gardens and ornate buildings of Istanbul. Connecting the East to the West, the Turkish city was captured by many armies, but it wasn’t until the Byzantine Empire that a distinct style was born. Lavish mosaics and frescoes covered churches and palaces—many of which have been preserved, like the Hagia Sophia. Once the Ottomans came into power, they launched a program to build imperial mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, and extravagant galleries. Many of these significant monuments remain in the city, giving visitors a glimpse into the world’s past.

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Kyoto, Japan

A sense of history can be felt from the moment one enters the old capital of Japan. Bountiful branches of fragrant cherry blossoms serve as the backdrop for craft shops and bustling food markets. Kyoto’s food scene rivals that of any large bustling city in the world, with brilliant chefs putting modern spins on classic Japanese dishes and practices.

Kyoto is also home to more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and more than 400 Shinto shrines with the most famous being Kinkaku-ji and Fushimi Inari Taisha, respectively. For a quiet break from the city, take an afternoon to unwind among the towering stalks of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before paying respects at one of the golden temples.

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Athens, Greece

Many of the dreamy villages of Greece have seen a recent rise in popularity, yet Athens remains the country’s crown jewel. The famous ruins of the Acropolis stand as visual lessons in not only architecture and art, but also culture. That said, the capital isn’t at all stuck in the past as burgeoning artists, designers, and thinkers continue to make the ancient city a playground for new ideas. A designer’s dream hotel, AthensWas pays homage to midcentury modernism with furnishings from the likes of Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier all while being in the heart of the old town. A trip to Athens isn’t complete without an afternoon spent in one of the colorful cafés or artist-run galleries in the youthful Pangrati neighborhood.

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Chefchaouen, Morocco

Nestled in the quiet Rif Mountains of Morocco sits a centuries-old city painting the landscape exhilarating shades of blue. The origins of Chefchaouen’s watery tones are a bit of a mystery. Some say it was Jewish communities settling into the medina during the 1930s who painted the buildings, but many locals claim the blue shades have decorated the town since its founding in the 15th century. Regardless of the reason, the soothing city offers a much more relaxed look at the history and lifestyle of Morocco.

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