The 25 Best Cities in the World
This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.
What attracts travelers to certain cities around the world? Is it new Michelin-starred restaurants? Generations-old cultural heritage? Proximity to geographic wonders of the world? Unsurprisingly, when it comes to determining the best cities in the world, it's all of the above for our discerning Travel + Leisure readers.
Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.
South Asia and Mexico had an impressive showing this year, with readers' top 10 including three Mexican cities (including the No. 1 spot!) and four South Asian cities (across Laos, India, Indonesia, and Thailand). Udaipur, on India's picturesque Lake Pichola, nabbed second place, up from last year, when it ranked No. 7. One reader described it as "enchanting," while another raved that it's "by far the most beautiful city in India." The other Indian city to make the list was Jaipur (No. 17), often referred to as the Pink City because of the remarkable pink buildings that line its streets.
Also in South Asia, Chiang Mai (No. 9) beat out Bangkok (No. 10) by just a hair, with readers specifically describing Chiang Mai as "more laid-back" and "less crowded" than Bangkok. Many of our readers were lured to Chiang Mai by the elephant sanctuary, but stayed for the "amazing people with a deep love for their way of life and cultures," as one respondent put it.
In Europe, we have nine World's Best Award–winning cities this year, from two Turkey hot spots — Istanbul (No. 3) and Bodrum (No. 16) — to the culinary capital of Spain, San Sebastián (No. 15), to Kraków, Poland, at No. 12.
And coming in ahead of cities like Cape Town (No. 20) and Antigua Guatemala (No. 24) is the lone American city on our list this year: Charleston, South Carolina. Love for the charming Lowcountry destination runs deep with our T+L readers. It's a nine-time winner for the best cities in the United States, and we had an unprecedented number of reader comments about this waterfront city known for its pastel façades and burgeoning arts scene. One reader says, "The charm of the city is its architecture," while another praises the "bevy of interesting and delicious restaurants that can satisfy all tastes."
Finally, we turn back to Mexico, which saw Mexico City and Oaxaca come in at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. But it was San Miguel de Allende that once again took the No. 1 spot. Below, the reasons T+L readers voted for it, plus the full list of the best cities in the world for 2021.
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
A marriage of neo-Gothic and Spanish-colonial architecture, the city — located 170 miles northwest of Mexico City — is a design lover's dream. "The mystery of what the houses look like behind the doors is intriguing," said one reader. Described as simply "magical" by more than one respondent, San Miguel de Allende also captivated readers with its history and growing culinary clout. Our respondents also gushed over the plentiful sights — "everywhere you look there are amazing sights and beauty and history" — and remarked on how walkable and easy-to-navigate the city is. From the rooftop restaurants to the central El Jardín and the Museo Histórico, San Miguel de Allende has mesmerized our readers, one of whom summarized: "San Miguel is an incredible city, very beautiful, historic, with friendly people, fantastic food and restaurants.
2. Udaipur, India
4. Ubud, Indonesia
5. Kyoto, Japan
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.94
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.48
7. Mexico City
8. Oaxaca, Mexico
9. Chiang Mai, Thailand
12. Kraków, Poland
13. Luang Prabang, Laos
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.88
15. San Sebastián, Spain
16. Bodrum, Turkey
17. Jaipur, India
18. Charleston, South Carolina
20. Cape Town
21. Trieste, Italy
22. Ljubljana, Slovenia
24. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
25. Porto, Portugal
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.