The Top 25 Cities in the World in 2020

This year's World's Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers' experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year's honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

For many travelers, one of the great joys of visiting urban environments is simply watching the action unfold around them. It's certainly a consideration for T+L readers when considering which metropoles rank among the best cities in the world. Take No. 2 San Miguel de Allende. You can grab a bench in El Jardín — the square at the heart of this central Mexican city — and take in roving mariachi bands, religious ceremonies, fruit vendors, gossiping abuelas, and kids begging their parents to buy them balloons. Beyond the bustling streets, our readers also loved San Miguel's rooftop restaurants, colorful colonial architecture, design-forward hotels, and artisanal wares. As one noted, it's "an artist/designer's little gem of a city."

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure 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.

Related: The World's Best Awards 2020

On the surface, the world's top 25 cities don't seem to have much in common. They are spread across much of the globe: Rome appears at No. 13, Bangkok is next up at No. 12; Udaipur is No. 7—"one of the most beautiful places in India, a land with many beautiful places," enthused one reader; and Kraków made the roster at No. 25. Some of the cities are known for ancient ruins (No. 16 Siem Reap), others for gleaming skyscrapers (No. 15 Tokyo). They are as sprawling as Istanbul (No. 10) and as compact as Charleston, South Carolina (No. 18).

But all of these municipalities have rich and fascinating histories, whether they go back thousands of years or just a few hundred. For instance, the first shot of the Civil War was fired in Charleston in 1861, and Istanbul — settled as Byzantium in the seventh century BCE — is home to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest and biggest covered markets.

Six countries — the U.S., Thailand, Italy, Japan, India and Portugal — each had two cities on the list. Only one surpassed them: Mexico, which had four cities placing in the top 25. T+L readers praised centers such as Mexico City for their color, energy, authenticity, and creativity. "It's different at every turn," said one reader of the capital, who noted that the "small markets are vintage gold." The varied cuisine and dynamic art scenes found around the country also drew raves from several travelers.

But of all the vibrant urban centers in our southern neighbor Oaxaca came out in the lead. Read on to find out why — and which other spots joined it on this year's list of the best cities in the world.

1. Oaxaca, Mexico

A Spanish Colonial church in Oaxaca, Mexico
Getty Images

Score: 93.54

Whether you're into art, architecture, food, history, spirits of the drinking kind, or handicrafts, Oaxaca has it in spades. "One of the most delightful cities I've ever visited," wrote one World's Best voter. A center for mole and mezcal making, Oaxaca is filled with fantastic markets, including Mercado Benito Juárez, where visitors can find local staples like grasshopper tacos. The city also boasts both a modern art museum in a 17th-century mansion and, 20 minutes away, an impressive pre-Colombian archaeological site. Artisanal culture is not just alive in this southern Mexican city but thriving. "We visited a basket maker, a lady making red pottery, rug weavers who dye their own yarn, and an amazing group of woodcarvers that paint/decorate the carving," reported one T+L reader, who presumably went home with an extra suitcase.

2. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Traditional wooden doorway set in a yellow wall in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Score: 92.01

3. Hoi An, Vietnam

Phuc Kien Assembly Hall in Hoi An, Vietnam
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 90.52

4. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tuk Tuk on the street in Chiang May, Thailand
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Score: 89.62

5. Florence

The Fountain of Neptune in Florence, Italy
Westend61/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 89.21

6. Kyoto, Japan

View of Kyoto, Japan at night, featuring the Kyoto Tower
Jui-Chi Chan/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 88.77

7. Udaipur, India

A woman in an orange sari walks past a mural in Udaipur, India
Getty Images

Score: 88.49

8. Luang Prabang, Laos

Drone view of Luang Prabang, Laos
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 88.17

9. Ubud, Indonesia

Men riding motorbikes through Ubud, Indonesia
Nicholas McComber/Getty Images

Score: 88.16

1o. Istanbul

Street cafes in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey
Getty Images

Score: 88.14

11. Mexico City

Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, Mexico
Getty Images

Score: 87.95

12. Bangkok

Cityscape of Bangkok, Thailand, including the Grand Palace
Getty Images

Score: 87.91

13. Rome

View of Rome, Italy, from Castel Sant'Angelo
iStockphoto/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.90

14. Jaipur, India

Children play cricket in the backdrop of the Ajmeri Gate, in Jaipur, India
Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Score: 87.87

15. Tokyo

View of the Tokyo skyline at sunset, featuring the Tokyo Skytree
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.67

16. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Aerial view of Siem Reap, Cambodia
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.38

17. Lisbon

Aerial view of Augusta Street, near Commerce Square, in Lisbon, Portugal
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.34

18. Charleston, South Carolina

A student on the campus of the College of CHarleston, SC
John M. Chase/Getty Images

Score: 87.29

19. Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco, Peru, with the Andes mountains in the background
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.24

20. Porto, Portugal

Woman walking in front of the Carmo church in Porto, Portugal
Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Getty Images

Score: 87.15

21. Singapore

Modern and traditional architecture in Singapore
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.05

22. New Orleans

French Quarter bars and restaurants on Bourbon Street in New Orleans Louisiana
Getty Images

Score: 87.03

23. Seville, Spain

THe Metropol Parasol in Seville, Spain
Getty Images

Score: 87.00

24. Mérida, Mexico

Cityscape in Merida, Mexico
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 86.84

25. Kraków, Poland

Aerial view of the market square in Krakow, Poland
iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 86.80

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.

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