The World's Most Romantic Cities 2016
When we asked Travel + Leisure readers to rank their favorite cities in the world for romance in our 2016 World's Best Awards survey, the 20 results covered more than 7,840 miles, ranging from the palm-fringed beaches of Hawaii to the luxury hideouts of Monte Carlo.
Italy, unsurprisingly, holds fast to four spots on this year's list: one even claims the No. 1 title. Paris is a close second, and almost a requisite for any couple traveling in the name of love.
Beyond the beautiful but somewhat obvious picks, there are exciting new spots that ascended onto the list. The lavender fields of Aix-en-Provence, for example, and musical hills in Austria's Salzburg. Cliffside Carmel-by-the-Sea took bronze this year, beating other romantic Californian destinations like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.
A popular Hawaiian honeymoon spot climbed the ranks, propelled by a winning combination of flourishing city culture and eternal island beauty. And this year's No. 1 city in the world, Charleston, didn't disappoint travelers seeking an easy, romantic weekend getaway.
Couples seeking cityscapes and wild nightlife, or those yearning for rugged coasts and uninterrupted countryside, can easily find a destination on this list that satisfies their unique passions.
Turn your one-on-one time into an adventure of a lifetime with these most romantic cities in the world.
No. 20 Lucerne, Switzerland
Nestled between the snowcapped Alps and Lake Lucerne, the city of Lucerne is a charming Swiss hideaway with medieval flourishes. Like Chapel Bridge, for example, which was built in 1333 and is often decorated with flowers. Visit charming old city squares and the Jesuit Church (the first Baroque church in Switzerland). For the most romantic place to bed down, Villa Honegg is just outside of the city center. This 1905 mansion-turned-hotel sports an outdoor heated pool with a full view of the mountains and lake below.
No. 19 Aix-en-Provence, France
As the birthplace of Cezanne, it's easy to visit the places that brought the master's paintings to life. Relax at cafes and local haunts like the Morning Market, though the best croissants can be found at Farinoman Fou. Check out the Aix vineyards, fragrant lavender fields, or head to the hot springs-fed baths first tapped by the Romans thousands of years ago. Southern France is like a pleasure garden, with pretty, moss-covered fountains spouting around every corner. Snack on calissons for a treat (candied fruit and almonds topped with a layer of icing). Because all romantic outings require a little something sweet.
No. 18 Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is as storied as it is picturesque. With thousands of years of musical history (think: Julie Andrews and Mozart), the operas, musicals, and concerts held in the city will make your heart flutter. Tour Schloss Mirabell—a 17th-century palace with the famous Marble Hall—and the Baroque-style Mirabell Gardens, which feature the Pegasus Fountain, and Rose and Dwarf Gardens. The Renaissance-style Schloss Hellbrunn, on the other hand, houses the gazebo that wooed many a lover in the Sound of Music. Climb to the cliff-top fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg, to see the glimmering city lights below (it's also one of the most stunning medieval castles in Europe). Looking to take your love even higher? Grab a cable car up on the Untersberg for an unparalleled view of Salzburg and the Salzach River.
No. 17 Savannah, Georgia
There is magic in the coastal city of Savannah, Georgia. The storied antebellum buildings and ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss make it at once both quaint and bewitching (there are of course the ghost stories). City squares are peppered with azaleas, statues, and benches: including the one where Forrest Gump explained life’s beautiful unpredictability. Pirates once used Savannah as a smuggling post, but today the cobbled River Street is ripe with cute candy stores brimming with homemade saltwater taffy and pralines, as well as bustling bars and restaurants serving the best regional fare (think: buttery biscuits, fresh-caught shrimp, and sweet tea). Handcrafted leather shops, charming apothecaries, and even a honey store, it's easy to see how the “hostess city of the south” lives up to its sweet reputation.
No. 16 Seville, Spain
Seville is the star of Andalucía, with its purple jacaranda and perfuming orange trees lining the cobblestone streets. Wander in and out of the famous ceramic shops in Triana, and ascend La Giralda tower at the Cathedral of St. Mary (the second largest in the world, after the Vatican) for photo-worthy panoramas. The gelaterias here are legendary, so grab a scoop and stroll the Plaza de España, or nap at the Parque María Luisa during siesta time. Spend an afternoon together at El Alcazar palace, with its Moorish architecture and gorgeous gardens (the filming spot for Dorne on Game of Thrones, no less). Grab handfuls of Marcona almonds and fresh fruit from the market to enjoy as you wind through labyrinthine side streets to find a traditional flamenco performance. When night falls, the city seems to glow warm gold, with buildings like the Torre Del Oro seemingly lit from within. Dine al fresco with locals at one of countless open-air restaurants. Try the Jamon Iberico with a pitcher of sangria, and dip warm churros into melted chocolate. It's a decadent way to conclude a trip to Seville with your significant other.
No. 15 Monte Carlo, Monaco
For a dose of romantic Hollywood glamor on the French Riviera, look no farther than Monte Carlo. Its extravagant hotels, stunning coastal views, and some of the best restaurants and spas in the Mediterranean make Monaco a staple on our list for romantic destinations every year. Fly in via helicopter (just a seven-minute ride from the airport) for the most memorable views, and stay at the lavish Hotel Hermitage (its glass cupola was designed by the Gustave Eiffel). Get your heart racing at the racetrack, or take a chance on a good hand at the famous Casino de Monte Carlo. And if you rent a classic car to drive along the Grand Corniche, we promise you'll feel like a famous couple plucked from the silver screen.
No. 14: Siena, Italy
Offering visitors the beauty of Tuscany without the massive throngs of tourists, Siena is a delightful destination for lovebirds. An archetypal medieval city, forged before the lavish Renaissance, makes the green, red, and white-marble Duomo somehow more striking. It houses masterpieces by 40 Italian artists, including Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini. The whole city is built around the Piazza del Campo, a UNESCO heritage site where you can people watch while sipping Campari. Drive out to the wineries just outside the city limits to taste the best of the Sangiovese grapes and share a perfect Tuscan sunset.
No. 13 Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan couple's dream. Fuel up on tapas in La Barceloneta’s seaside cafes before walking through the winding Barri Gòtic and climbing Gaudi’s surreal Sagrada Familia or the vibrant Parc Guell (both offer great city views). Stop by one of the city’s famous markets, La Boqueria or Santa Caterina, for fresh foods and great coffee. Reserve a room at Hotel Neri (an 18th-century palace where breakfast is served on the rooftop) or the luxurious all-suite El Palauet. You'll fall in love with this city—and each other—every time.
No. 12 Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria is a Canadian stunner in beautiful British Columbia. Located on the inner tip of Vancouver Island, the city’s Neo-Baroque architecture is decidedly British. Admire the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress hotel (peek inside to see the Edwardian interiors), and the famous Butchart Gardens. And just 30 miles north is the Cowichan Valley, which boasts vineyards, art galleries, and hiking trails—perfect for lighting sparks.
No. 11 Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara—fondly referred to as America’s Riviera—is a great escape for those looking to stoke the flames. The weather here is consistently perfect, so it’s easy to visit any time of year (even gray, dreary February). It’s 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific, and famous for its Spanish architecture. Hop on the open-air trolley down State Street to discover new restaurants and galleries. The 200-year old Santa Barbara Mission and its rose garden are worth a tour, as well. And Shoreline Park's bluff-top views and Butterfly Beach are perfect for sunbathing with your partner. Just keep an eye out, because there are often dolphins and whales that come to play in the surf.
No. 10 San Francisco, California
On a romantic getaway to San Francisco, head to the Pacific Heights neighborhood to see those iconic Victorian homes, or take a bike ride through Golden Gate Park for the best views of the bridge. Couples should consider taking a day trip to nearby Napa or Sonoma to enjoy some of the best wineries, not just in the country, but on Earth. Doc Rickett's is a local favorite for underground comedy and music acts, and for museums, the de Young’s American art collection is a must-see. Park yourself at Cupid’s Span on the Embarcadero to watch the sunset and check out the Bay Lights show before dining in the trendy Mission District.
No. 9 Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
The landmark Fairmont Le Château Frontenac looks like a fortress guarding Quebec City, a spot that fiercely puts the “French” in French-Canadian. Considered the oldest European settlement on the continent, Quebec overlooks the beautiful St. Lawrence River and is packed with boutique and luxury hotels. Meander in and out of trendy shops and jazz bars, or go ice skating at the outdoor rink at Palais Montcalm. Afterwards, warm up with hearty Québécois cuisine or the province's famous greasy spoon-style poutine.
No. 8 Bruges, Belgium
Old World European charm is the defining feel in Bruges, just an hour by train outside of Brussels. The 13th-century village has cobblestone streets extending over misty canals, and endless examples of Gothic architecture. Quaint houses, windmills, and medieval streets set a fairy tale scene. Share a traditional Belgian waffle with powdered sugar or sip Lambics at one of the village pubs. Bruges is also known for its vast collections of Flemish artworks, though it's hard to pull away from the 50 different chocolate shops (one per square mile) sprinkled throughout the city.
No. 7 Charleston, South Carolina
Friendly locals and quintessential Southern charm recently gave Charleston the No. 1 spot on our list of the best cities in the world. And it didn't under perform for romance-seekers, either. Antebellum architecture and art galleries are framed by wisteria, sabal palmettos, and ancient magnolia trees. Couples who love eating out will adore this city's food culture: reserve a spot at Husk, the most talked-about restaurant in Charleston and the South, share brunch at Kitchen 208, or linger over an intimate meal at Peninsula Grill. Walk King Street for antiques and boutiques of all sorts, stop by Marion Square for the weekend farmer's market, or take an early morning stroll down pastel-colored Rainbow Row.
No. 6 Honolulu, Hawaii
On the island of Oahu, Honolulu has become more than just a tropical tourist destination—it's cosmopolitan and has a stylish vibe all its own. Salty sea breezes, miles of turquoise waters, and an onslaught of new boutiques and restaurants make this a hot honeymoon spot. A trip to Hnolulu is relaxing, but there's plenty to do for the restless. Try surfing at bustling Waikiki Beach, hop on a jet ski together and cruise the waves, or go snorkeling at the many reefs full of Pixar-worthy fish and seascapes. Most importantly, share a sunrise together after a hike up Diamond Head, and a sunset on a veranda sipping Mai Tais.
No. 5 Rome, Italy
There are an infinite number of opportunities to be awed in the Eternal City. Visit the Basilica Santa Maria and the Sistine Chapel, admire the Pantheon and Colosseum, and take in the artworks at the Borghese Gallery. Afterward, head to the Trevi Fountain to wish for a return trip with your partner, and admire thousands of other fountains scattered across the city. Rome’s history seems limitless (a 2,700-year-old city has that effect) and so does its cuisine. Try the pizza at Il Forno Roscioli near the Campo de’ Fiori Market, eat the traditional cacio e pepe at Sora Margherita, or go to Prati on the Tiber to share the best gelato.
No. 4 Florence, Italy
A trip to Florence is a necessity for a pair of fashion or art lovers. Venture together to see masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, or the homes of Gucci and Ferragamo. Almost every hotel here boasts marble fireplaces, classical sculptures, paintings, and frescoes. Visit the new Mercato Centrale for the best souvenirs (cheese, wines, and pasta), and climb the steps to the Duomo’s terrace. Visitors can also ascend Giotto’s Campanile bell tower to share the view of the dreamy terracotta-topped cityscape.
No. 3 Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
About an hour south of San Jose, voters declared this small California town the best city for romance in the country. Drive through redwood forests or winding vineyards to get to Carmel-by-the-Sea’s picturesque cliffs dotted with cottages and isolated beaches. You won't find much in the way of street signs, traffic lights, or billboards here, where quaintness is practically cultivated. Go for a drive along the rugged coast to discover tasty bistros, cool boutiques, and petite wineries. End the day watching the sun set over the Pacific with your special someone.
No. 2 Paris, France
Could there be a list of romantic destinatinos without the City of Light? Paris is ever-changing and yet always true to its lovers. Bike through Le Marais and try as many of the city's legendary patisseries as you can. However touristy, the staples never disappoint. Lovebirds should explore the endless corridors of the Louvre and picnic with fresh crepes on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower (or with a bottle of wine, at night, when it's a twinkling glow). Take the metro up to the cobblestone streets of Montmartre and see the view from Sacre Coeur, spend a day marveling at the Latin Quarter's architecture, or take a stroll through the Tuileries Garden dotted with bronzed sculptures and fountains. Paris is never short on beauty, history, or diversions for even the most discerning couple.
No. 1 Venice, Italy
Winding waterways and pastel piazzas make Venice an obvious choice for the world's most romantic city. Cruise the canals by water taxi or take it slow on a quintessential gondola past the Bridge of Sighs. Sip one of the oldest hot chocolate recipes at Cafe Florian, and enjoy the unusual silence permitted by the absence of cars. First-time visitors should hop over to Murano to learn the history of the city's stunning glassworks. Return travelers, however, should try to get lost off the beaten track. Find your own favorite charming spot to share a pizza and watch the watercolor sunset reflecting over the canals.