World's Best Cities for Romance
“Everything seems sexier in Paris—the grand buildings, the beautiful Parisians, the language, the food,” muses Alison Drew, a New York-based lawyer who lived in the City of Light and recently returned with her husband for an unforgettable romantic escape. “Just walking around makes you want to be in love.”
Paris has proved itself irresistible to T+L readers as well, who again rated it No. 1 for romance in the latest World’s Best Awards survey. For some cities, setting the stage for love seems second nature. (We challenge anyone to dispute Venice's swoony siren call.)
Related: 50 Best Romantic Getaways 2010
Cities less synonymous with romance also ranked high in the 18th-annual awards. Take fairy-tale Prague (No. 16), which basks in picture-perfect Old Europe charm right down to its hilltop castle. Farther south on Croatia’s rocky coast, historic Dubrovnik (No. 20) features a captivating old town and sublime views of the Adriatic.
But with Valentine’s Day just around the bend, you don’t have to travel beyond North America to find that perfect romantic getaway. California’s quaint seaside village of Carmel (No. 3) might be your ideal setting, with storybook cottages, sheep meadows, and rugged coastal views. Or if you prefer cozying up by the fire at a sumptuous B&B, look no further than Quebec City, Canada (No. 6), or Savannah, GA (No. 12), two cities where historic ambience makes for memorable sense of place.
Be it a gorgeous cityscape, an overflow of culture, or pastries that make your heart sing, the world’s most romantic cities offer plenty to love, whether you’ve found a match or are merely looking to let some sparks fly.
No. 1 Paris
For both arts lovers and lover lovers, ranking the City of Light as the best in the world in both categories may sound cliché, but the heart wants what the heart wants (and is always right). Walks along the Seine, tree-lined boulevards and cobbled lanes, a swoony stop at the Musée Rodin, or a simple glass of red in a cozy bistro all add to l'amour Parisienne.
Don’t Miss: The picnic-perfect Place des Vosges, one of Paris’s oldest and most beautiful squares, surrounded by elegant 17th-century mansions in the Marais quarter.
No. 2 Venice
Although Venice ranked No. 25 overall this year, the City of Water rises toward the top of the World’s Best Cities when it comes to love—and it’s easy to see why. Its hidden bridges, cobblestoned alleyways, and iconic canals are perfect for getting lost in with a partner. Stroll the palaces and piazzas, explore the ancient architecture, and while away the day in chic boutiques, art galleries, and canal-side cafés.
Don’t Miss: The legendary grandeur of Hotel Cipriani (Europe’s No. 5 small city hotel) on serene Giudecca Island, offering balcony views of St. Mark's Square and a private wooden boat for traversing the lagoon.
No. 3 Carmel, CA
Storybook cottages, quaint shops, art galleries, and inviting eateries in this quaint seaside village abut one of northern California’s most spectacular swaths of sand. Amble along the cypress-fringed path overlooking the rugged coast or cuddle on a bench and gaze out on the Pacific. Wine-tasting in nearby Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach’s scenic 17-mile drive, and the redwood-laden road to Big Sur only heighten the romance factor.
Don’t Miss: A glass of wine on the patio of Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch, with rolling sheep meadows and sparkling sea vistas, before dinner at L’Auberge Carmel’s cozy Aubergine restaurant, helmed by one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2013, Justin Cogley.
No. 4 Florence
With its red-roofed buildings along the Arno backdropped by rolling hills, it’s no wonder this Renaissance city leaves visitors love-struck. Art lovers fall for Florence’s classic architecture and masterful Michelangelos, while foodies adore the authentic Tuscan cuisine and stone’s-throw jaunts to the Chianti countryside.
Don’t Miss: Jaw-dropping skyline vistas from the Giardini Bardini, or essential souvenir shopping in the charming Oltrarno quarter, with its artisan workshops and small boutiques.
No. 5 Honolulu
This tropical paradise wins over T+L readers with a perfect cosmopolitan coast: miles of sandy stretches, dramatic cliffs, balmy weather, and a buzzing dining and nightlife scene. Couples can snorkel the calm shores of Hanauma Bay Beach; hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater for stellar sea and Waikiki views; then hit the town for a date night of Pacific Rim cuisine.
Don’t Miss: A stay at the posh Halekulani, a five-acre resort with tropical grounds fronting Waikiki Beach, or Sunday brunch at its open-air Orchids restaurant, where Hawaiian specialties come with views of Diamond Head.
No. 6 Quebec City, Canada
Set on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec may be one of the oldest cities in North America but the appeal of this French capital—which jumped up this year from No. 11—never gets old. Stroll the historic quarter’s narrow cobbled lanes, where centuries-old stone buildings house antique shops, museums, and sidewalk cafés in an almost fairy-tale European-like setting.
Don’t Miss: Parc Linéaire, a weave of walking trails along the St. Charles River that lead to lush gardens, canyons, and waterfalls.
No. 7 San Francisco
While San Francisco scored high marks for food (No. 2 in the world), trendsetting eateries are only one ingredient in the City by the Bay’s allure—as are Napa-Sonoma’s wine country an hour north. Couples with a penchant for kissable selfies have a multitude of worthy backdrops, from colorful Victorian row houses to Art Deco mansions, hilly bohemian-chic neighborhoods, and rugged natural vistas out over the (often fog-shrouded) bay.
Don’t Miss: The storybook town of Tiburon, where twosomes can picnic on the sprawling grassy waterfront, hike to 360-degree panoramas of the San Francisco skyline, or bike along the banks of the shimmering bay.
No. 8 Rome
Romance is undeniably a part of Rome’s heritage—it’s not nicknamed the Eternal City for nothing— with its epic monuments, baroque churches, and medieval ruins vying with charming trattorias for your attention. Few pleasures come close to grabbing a table for two by a millennia-old fountain, sipping a cappuccino, and soaking it all in.
Don’t Miss: A romantic walk over cobblestones on the 2,300-year-old Appian Way, past Roman countryside, ancient statues, and imperial palaces.
No. 9 Cape Town
Framed by the dramatic Table Mountain ridge and breathtaking seascapes, Cape Town is arguably South Africa’s most beautiful city, where markets and colonial-era cottages meet the modern metropolis. You can wander the local art galleries or take a short drive through the rolling-hilled Winelands and get a flavor for the region’s burgeoning farm-to-table fare. Sun-seekers can also find a secluded spot on Camps Bay’s white-sand beaches.
Don’t Miss: A sumptuous room with service to match at Cape Grace, a luxurious hideaway set on its own private quay on the V&A Waterfront.
No. 10 Charleston, SC
Whether it's the charming folks (ranked No. 9 for world’s friendliest people), blossoming arts scene, raved-about Lowcountry cuisine, or historic neighborhoods, Charleston satisfies every southern fantasy. In fact, every corner seems to stage a proposal-worthy scene, from the Battery with its moss-draped oaks and antebellum mansions to Waterfront Park’s picturesque Cooper River views.
Don’t Miss: Unrivaled harbor and skyline panoramas over sunset cocktails at the Market Pavilion Hotel (ranked No. 1 small city hotel in the U.S. and Canada).
No. 11 Bruges, Belgium
It may drizzle year-round in this 13th-century village, but that only adds to its insane adorableness. Take a misty stroll around the brick streets brimming with cute boutiques and chocolate shops packaged in authentic gingerbread-style houses. Or share an umbrella down the Venice-like canals with arched footbridges leading to old windmills and Gothic churches.
Don’t Miss: Sorbetiere De Medici’s fresh-baked Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce from a cozy, second-floor window table.
No. 12 Savannah, GA
Flowering squares, inviting B&Bs in quaint Victorians, tree-canopied streets—there are a lot of classic romantic tropes in leisurely Savannah. And with all its supposed ghostly haunts, it’s the perfect place to cling tight to that special someone. Wander arm-in-arm through the historic districts, stopping to see local artisans weave palm fronds into roses. Or simply enjoy quiet time together watching the boats slowly float down the river.
Don’t Miss: Cozying up to the fireplace or in a four-poster canopy bed at the elegant 19th-century Hamilton Turner Inn, offering park views and afternoon wine in the parlor.
No. 13 Santa Barbara, CA
Thanks to its near-perfect climate (hovering around 70 degrees) and idyllic landscape (tucked between the palm-fringed sands of the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains) this SoCal paradise beckons couples all year round. While away the days lingering at the beach, kayaking alongside sea lions, or hiking Los Padres National Forest. Wine lovers can’t miss Santa Ynez Valley’s world-renowned vineyards.
Don’t Miss: Brunch at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, where the fittingly named Bella Vista restaurant offers a lavish buffet in a romantic garden with sea views.
No. 14 Monte Carlo
This European hideaway knows how to make the luxe-lover’s heart race, from its glamorous casinos and see-and-be-seen French Riviera vibe to the pulse-pounding action of the Monaco Grand Prix. Perched cliff-side where the Alps meet the Mediterranean Sea, Monte Carlo’s yacht-filled harbor tantalizes with well-dressed couples idling by. Bask on Larvotto’s sunny beaches, drive along the Côte d'Azur, or sit at a waterfront café, spooning each other gelato and dreaming of sailing away.
Don’t Miss: Waking up in a decadent sea-facing balcony suite at Hotel Hermitage, followed by a dip in its Thermes Marins spa pool overlooking the Mediterranean.
No. 15 Barcelona
Ah, beloved Barça. This palm tree–laden Mediterranean port brims with Gothic buildings, avant-garde art and architecture, and cutting-edge Catalan cuisine. Wander the courtyards and historic backstreets of the Gothic Quarter and meander through the Gaudí-designed Parc Güell before hitting the miles of gorgeous coastline. Or travel the tapas bars, sipping sangria, before sampling Spain’s world-renowned nightlife.
Don’t Miss: One of the most beautiful views of Barcelona, from Parc de Montjuïc.
No. 16 Prague
Hilltop castles, 14th-century stone bridges, and ancient cathedrals with spires to the sky—few cities in Europe capture the imagination with such delirious eye candy as Prague. Enjoy this fairy-tale land from the famed Charles Bridge (which couples can have practically to themselves in winter), a boat down the lazy Vltava River, or while plying the medieval cobbled lanes in search of Art Nouveau cafés. Wind down with a candlelit Czech dinner and Budvar beer.
Don’t Miss: The intimate ambience and opulent baroque décor of the Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa, a 16th-century palace–turned–hotel in a quiet neighborhood below Prague Castle.
No. 17 Santa Fe, NM
With a laid-back vibe that lends itself to relaxed together time, outdoors lovers, spiritual seekers, and artsy twosomes, be they gay or straight, all flock to this high-desert hideaway. Couples can wander the historic adobe neighborhoods or explore the quaint Native American art galleries on Canyon Road. The high road to Taos, past emerald forests, rolling farmlands, and the Rio Grande‚ is one of America’s most scenic drives. In the evening, spice it up with live music and fajitas in the town square.
Don’t Miss: The swanky Southwest-designed Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, with in-room kiva fireplaces for snuggling up on cool desert nights.
No. 18 Aspen, CO
From its snowcapped peaks to its Victorian-era main street, this Old West mountain town lures outdoors lovers with classic Rocky Mountain ambience all year round. Lovebirds can schuss down Buttermilk Mountain in winter, hike wildflower fields in spring, or take in a bevy of festivals from music to world politics all summer long. Its rightly famous social scene? That’s available anytime of year.
No. 19 Victoria, Canada
Nicknamed the City of Gardens, Victoria’s immaculate parklands and picture-perfect mountain and ocean vistas may be a ferry (or 25-minute seaplane flight) from Vancouver, but they feel a world away, down to the historic 19th-century ambience. Fueled by a buzzing farm-to-table food scene, lovers will want to visit the Beacon Hill Park rose gardens and the waterfront path along picturesque Dallas Road, just two of the key spots in Canada’s most walkable city.
Don’t Miss: High tea at the grand Fairmont Empress, a 1908 British-inspired landmark with an unrivaled location on the banks of the Inner Harbor.
No. 20 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Debuting in this year’s top 20, Dubrovnik is riding Croatia’s resurgence thanks to its one-of-a-kind beauty. On the Adriatic’s sapphire waters, ancient fortress walls enclose the pristinely restored white-stone buildings and marbled streets. Get lost in Old Town’s hidden lanes replete with medieval churches, secret piazzas, and hole-in-the-wall cafés. It may get overwhelmingly touristy in high season, but that’s nothing a view of the rocky Dalmatian Coast from a cliff-side bar or a walk atop the centuries-old walls can’t cure.
Don’t Miss: A dip in the translucent waters of Sveti Jakov Beach, a secluded pebble-beach cove providing a welcome respite from crowds.