World’s Most Romantic Cities 2015
In our annual World's Best Awards survey, we ask readers to rank cities based on how romantic they are—and everything from white sand beaches to dramatic architecture helped the top 20 cities make the list.
"This is a city to be savored with that special someone," said one voter about Seville, Spain (No. 16), hailing the Andalusian capital as second only to Paris, which landed the No. 2 spot, in seductive power.
Most of the cities on this list share similar features: sweeping water vistas, building with elaborate (and old) facades, and an endless parade of restaurants and bars.
It may be easy to fall in love when you're enjoying a leisurely dinner cruise on the Seine or sipping a bottle of French wine at an intimate table outside a brasserie. But the most romantic cities, it seems, don't simply bring us closer to our sweethearts; we fall for the destinations themselves—the hidden parks, palm-fringed beaches, intimate cafes—time and time again.
"When I first visited," said one T+L reader about Venice, "I swore I would return one day with my wife. I did, and she loved it as much as I did."
Voter Dick Geiermann agreed, saying, "I always enjoy going back [to Venice,] and each time I fall a little more in love with this city."
The most romantic cities in the world are those that capture our hearts, seducing us, and filling us with an endless desire for more.
According to our readers, these are the cities that will make you fall in love—with your fellow travelers, with the iconic monuments, the local accents—and remind you what it feels like to have your heart flutter at the sight of something (or someone) extraordinary.
No. 20 Lucerne, Switzerland
Despite its reputation for being pricey, travelers adore this Swiss city. Lucerne is intimate yet scenic, perched on the edge of lake and surrounded by mountains. “I took my girlfriend here on our European tour,” remembered one voter in the World’s Best survey. “This place captured my heart.” Take a cable car up Mount Pilatus for spectacular views and the cogwheel railcar back down through the woods. “The real gem,” said the voter, “is the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge—a landmark 1300s covered wood bridge decorated with artwork through the ages.”
No. 19 Aix-en-Provence
Voters dubbed Aix-en-Provence “a beautiful and romantic city,” with some of the most charming details in the entirety of France. Think quiet, cobbled streets shaded by rows of plane trees, and the fragrance of surrounding lavender fields perfuming the air. T+L reader Mike Walker said, “It looks like it was created by an artist.” Voters recommend strolling the town, and stopping by outdoor markets for fresh olive oil and wine.
No. 18 Salzburg, Austria
“It’s a city that sparkles,” said one WBA voter. And there’s no better time to see Salzburg shine than when it’s blanked in snow. Visit the Christkindel Market during the holiday season, and keep warm with a cup of glüwein (traditional mulled wine) while a church choir sings in the background. “The castle illuminated above,” said T+L reader Sarah Ondrus, “makes for the ultimate Christmas experience [and] romantic date with that special someone!”
No. 17 Savannah, Georgia
Boughs draped in Spanish moss canopy Savannah’s cobblestone streets, which are lined with 18th- and 19th-century homes. “Since the first time I visited Savannah, it has stolen my heart,” admitted one survey-taker. “I always find ways to spend more time there, even if it's just a few extra hours.” There are plenty of classic inns to cozy up in. Or, explore the historic downtown neighborhood, taking in the antebellum architecture on a carriage or trolley ride—or simply mingle with famously friendly locals.
No. 16 Seville, Spain
“It’s the most romantic city outside of Paris!” claimed one voter. “Grab your husband or wife, partner or lover, and go here.” Travelers may take part in an impromptu flamenco at any number of bars and clubs in the Triana neighborhood, or enjoy drinks at a café along the canal. Admiring the architecture of this medieval city could keep you occupied for days: the Moorish-style Alcázar castle, and the Giralda belltower can’t be missed.
No. 15 Monte Carlo, Monaco
Millionaires abound in this tiny city-state on the Mediterranean—as does old-world glamour—and their yachts are just as plentiful, speckling the mountain-and-Baroque mansion-lined harbor. For an over-the-top, impossibly romantic trip, rent the elegant, 6-room Villa La Vigie (boasting a billiards room, private park, and a rooftop Jacuzzi with possibly the best views over Roquebrune Cap Martin Bay) stroll along Larvotto Beach, and admire the 100-plus antique cars and 15th-century frescoes at the Prince’s Palace: once home to movie star, and princess, Grace Kelly.
No. 14 Siena, Italy
With its marble-and-gold Romanesque cathedral, towering belfry, and bustling Piazza del Camp, visiting this quaint city feels like traveling back to the Italian Renaissance. Plan to get lost among the winding streets, sampling traditional Tuscan fare and admiring the medieval architecture. Lucky visitors will find themselves in Siena during one of the ancient Palios, or horse races. Festivals, ceremonies, and communal meals are a highlight of the annual event.
No. 13 Barcelona, Spain
It’s hard not to feel the love in “a city where summer never ends, and people are always somehow happy,” according to one WBA voter. Gothic buildings stand beside modern art (you can’t miss Gaudí’s incredible mosaics decorating the city) and there are miles of pristine coastline. Traveling solo? You’re guaranteed to meet beautiful, personable locals at a neighborhood tapas bar—if you offer to share your paella.
No. 12 Victoria, British Colombia
To understand how Victoria made it to the top of the list, look no farther than its nickname. The City of Gardens has an abundance of green space and enchanting Victorian architecture. For a romantic weekend away, book a room at the Wickaninnish Inn; all of them boast fireplaces and heated bathroom floors. When the sun rises on Sunday, head down to The Pointe Restaurant, which offers both 240-degree views of the Pacific as well as a champagne brunch menu including local smoked salmon and crispy duck.
No. 11 Santa Barbara, California
The best of SoCal can be found in Santa Barbara, a charming and easy-to-reach paradise where you (and your significant other) can easily watch fog roll over the scrub-covered foothills and dolphins leap through the Pacific waves in the same day. Escape to the Santa Ynez mountains for region’s most famous wineries, or spend a day lounging on the Pacific Coast. Adventurous couples will enjoy kayaking (expect a visit from local sea lions) or hiking in the Los Padres National Forest. Honeymoon like JFK at San Ysidro Ranch, whose private cottages and suites sit on 500-acres of olive trees, lavender, and citrus groves.
No. 10 San Francisco, California
“San Francisco remains one of the most beautiful cities in the United States,” claimed one T+L voter. Snap an iconic couple’s photo in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, or a more unconventional shot of the bay from the top of the 210-foot high Coit Tower. San Francisco’s prettiest features aren’t just the colorful painted ladies—think heirloom carrots and baked goods piled high at the farmer’s market outside the Ferry Building, paddleboats floating across Stow Lake, and the Victorian-era wood-and-glass Conservatory of Flowers. Special occasions should include watching the now-permanent light sculpture installation, Bay Lights show, at Cupid’s Span and sipping cocktails at the sky-high Top of the Mark bar.
No. 9 Quebec City, Canada
For some readers, the memories made while on vacation helped propel cities to the top of the most romantic list. “My girlfriend and I went to Old Quebec in winter for a romantic getaway,” said one voter. The snow-covered city was unforgettable, and Le-Saint-Amour’s signature French, eight-course meal was part of the allure. “The atmosphere was what made the experience truly romantic.” That’s not to say there isn’t something inherently fairy-tale like about this simultaneously French and Canadian city. Perhaps it’s the 18th-century stone fortification surrounding the city that keeps it intimate, or the architecture—all stone, gables, and turrets. Streets curve and incline, and lead to rows of antique shops and fromageries. During winter, couples should ice skate at Patinoire de la Place d’Youville and later, attend a sultry cabaret show.
No. 8 Bruges, Belgium
“Bruges was an unanticipated paradise,” reported a voter on the WBA survey. For a tranquil canal city, this Flemish metropolis is highly underrated. Check out the tree-lined waters of Groene Rei, or the Dijver, which passes by the Church of Our Lady. At every turn of every brick-and-stone street, you’ll encounter immaculately preserved Medieval architecture and museums filled with centuries of Belgian art; meanwhile, windmills twirl on the edge of town. And don’t underestimate the seductive power of freshly-made waffles blanketed in powdered sugar.
No. 7 Charleston, South Carolina
It’s easy to understand what consistently attracts travelers to the South Carolinian harbor city: brightly painted houses, streets lined with gnarled oak and jasmine trees, countless art galleries, and award-winning restaurants serving lowcountry cuisine. On warm, humid summer evenings, walk barefoot along the waterfront of Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach, just south of downtown, all covered in grass and soft sand dunes. Bed down at the cozy French Quarter Inn (you’ll get a glass of champagne to begin the romantic celebration at check-in) or Zero George Street for its mahogany beds made with Kravet linens.
No. 6 Honolulu, Hawaii
A sliver of paradise that offers everything from metropolitan nightlife to tranquil, palm-shaded beaches, Honolulu is perfect for couples seeking a tropical escape. Get an early start by hiking up Diamond Head Crater—you’ll be rewarded by one of the best sunrises on the island—and spend an afternoon admiring all three acres of the colorful Kawamoto Orchids nursery. Watch the sun set at Halekulani’s House Without a Key, a popular Waikiki watering hole, while sipping signature mai tais, and listening to traditional Hawaiian music while dancers perform classic dances. Aloha.
No. 5 Rome, Italy
Said to have been founded 2,700 years ago, the Eternal City continues to woo people from around the world. One T+L reader recalled their experience in Rome: “The evenings were for walking together hand in hand and the nights were for remembering why we fell in love with each other some 50 years ago. Rome will be with us forever.” Make a wish for everlasting love beside any of Rome’s more than 2,000 exquisite fountains.
No. 4 Florence, Italy
Lovers of art, in particular, find this Italian city to be the most striking city in the world. You can’t miss the impressive collection of Michelangelos and Botticellis, nor the red-rooftops reflected in the Arno. What’s more? Florence gave us Dante’s heartfelt poetry. Recite a stanza or two over a plate of authentic Tuscan cuisine and your dinner date may as well have been struck by Cupid himself.
No. 3 Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
“Heaven,” decreed one WBA voter. “It’s one of the most, if not the most romantic place in the United States.” Its picturesque cottages, quaint shops and art galleries, and pristine beaches undoubtedly helped propel Carmel to the top of the list. Perhaps the best part about visiting, however, is getting here: you can drive through the redwoods and craggy cliffs of Big Sur, or amble through vineyards in the nearby valley.
No. 2 Paris, France
We know that it’s a cliché to say The City of Light is one of the most romantic places on earth. But the trope couldn’t be more true. With its iconic monuments (Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe), Hausmann-style architecture, wrought-iron balconies looking down over so much of the city, Paris was practically built for lovers. Whether it’s your first visit or your umpteenth, you’re certain find yourself wandering down an unfamiliar, yet reliably chic boulevard. Any bistro for a romantic dinner will do, but don’t discount the allure of putting together a picnic for the bank of the Seine or the Place des Vosges square. All you need is a bottle of wine, a fresh-baked baguette from a neighborhood boulangerie, and a wheel of brie or camembert.
No. 1 Venice, Italy
Readers who claimed Venice is “the most romantic city,” were hardly alone in their impressions. Casanova himself hailed from this city of serene canals and narrow, cobblestone streets: both perfect for exploring with your amore. “From the train station to the gondola, Venice captures romance. The islands surrounding the city make for beautiful adventures and memories,” said another T+L reader. Giudecca, in partical, offers unmatched views of the lagoon, Pizza San Marco, and Doge’s Palace. Voter Joseph Didio claimed Venice is the “most romantic destination on earth,” best experienced on a gondola ride, or while sitting in St. Marks Square as “small orchestras play an evening waltz.” There’s no shortage of places to stay while making your own memorable experiences here. Try Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel: one of the top 50 hotels in the world and recently renovated. Expect silk wall coverings, antique light fixtures, and breakfast served on the terrace floating over Canal Grande.