In Africa and the Middle East, the cities are as rich and diverse as the continents on which they are situated. And for the traveler willing to spend the time, these cultural hubs reveal themselves as layered, complex gems that take a lifetime to get to know.
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.
The North African country of Morocco pulled in our fourth- and fifth-place urban rankings with Fez and Marrakesh, two cities that have captured the American imagination. Centuries of history — the oldest existing and continually operating university in the world is located there — draw visitors to Fez, while its walkable medieval medina makes getting around a pleasure. In Marrakesh, visitors can’t get enough of the bustling souks, which explode with color and contagious energy as the Koutoubia Mosque’s distinctive minaret stands watch on the horizon.
For the second year in a row, Beirut ranked among the top five. Though Lebanon’s capital has been linked to political and social upheaval, that hasn’t deterred our readers from visiting; many cited the incredible food and nightlife. “People bend over backwards to make sure your visit is spectacular,” wrote in one fan. “People I met would insist on driving me places.” And in the city of Jerusalem, sacred to three major religions, several millennia of history are at visitors’ fingertips, just waiting to be discovered. “The energy of this city is very powerful,” said a reader.
But Cape Town, for the 16th time in World’s Best history, captured the first-place spot. Most cited the rich and varied offerings as the reason for their high score, and it’s true that there’s likely no other city on earth where you can go from hiking a mountain to spotting giraffes to eating at a world-class restaurant, all in the span of a single day. Factor in Cape Town’s affordability thanks to the current exchange rate, and it’s no wonder the destination soared to the top.
With outdoorsy pursuits and splendid natural beauty, easy access to both relaxation (wine-tasting Pinotage, anyone?) and adventure (how about cage diving with great white sharks?), Cape Town is a city that’s worth a whole week’s vacation. And given the current exchange rate, it’s still far more affordable than most similarly cosmopolitan cities. The food scene has picked up even more steam in the past year (don’t miss the Shortmarket Club, a venture from pioneering chef Luke Dale-Roberts that opened last summer). And when the new Zeitz MOCAA opens on the waterfront this September, the city will cement its place as a global cultural hub. “I’d go back in a heartbeat,” one reader wrote.