By Hannah Walhout
July 08, 2020
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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.

The cities of Europe have — for a multitude of reasons and in a multitude of ways — long been favorites of U.S. travelers. No matter how often they visit, Travel + Leisure readers can’t seem to get enough of the historical significance, modern culture, and urban innovation of iconic destinations like Barcelona, London, Paris, or Rome. They’ve also begun to embrace less-visited and smaller cities that might not have the star power of those biggies — but nevertheless offer outstanding experiences for travelers.

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.

Southern Europe, always a favorite, dominates this year’s list, with 11 of the top 15 cities spread across just three of the continent’s southernmost countries. One of these is Spain, which has four cities represented, including historic citadels like the Moorish city of Granada, at No. 11, and the buzzing capital, Madrid, ranked No. 10. Barcelona, which remains incredibly popular with visitors from around the world, came in at No. 8 among T+L readers.

Meanwhile you’ll find five of this year’s top 15 cities in Italy, one of the world’s most visited countries. The peninsula is home to some of the most influential cities in European history, including smaller outposts like No. 9 Siena, a medieval hill town in Tuscany, and No. 15 Ravenna, close to the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna. Venice, the splendid, sinking jewel, comes in at No. 14.

It’s not all about the Mediterranean, though. A few cities from the former Eastern Bloc appear on this year’s list: No. 13 Prague was a favorite for its well-preserved historic sites and thriving creative spirit, readers said. Elsewhere, and perhaps surprisingly, Kraków ranked No. 7. “I didn’t know what to expect for my visit there,” said one reader of Poland’s second-largest city. “But I found it completely delightful.”

As for the No. 1 city in Europe this year, it’s also an Italian one, beloved for its food, shopping, and art. “You might think the sights are postcard cliches,” said one reader of this favorite destination, “but they’re fascinating, awe-inspiring, and beautiful to see.”

Read on for the full list of the top cities in Europe.

1. Florence

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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 89.21

The secrets of Tuscany’s most populous city are nearly impossible to unravel in just one trip. Some of its charms are easy to see just walking around: The UNESCO World Heritage designated historic center, with Medici palaces, Renaissance churches, and bridges arching over the Arno. The legacies of Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante. Pieces of art that are, simply, some of the most famous in the world: Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Primavera, and Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes. But aside from the obvious attractions, there are so many little details that make this city a T+L reader favorite. Respondents praised its romantic atmosphere, walkable streets, excellent public transportation, hidden gardens, lamp-lit piazzas, people watching, shopping, gelato, bistecca alla Fiorentina, and multitude of day-trip options in the surrounding countryside. “Florence’s enchantment is endless,” said one reader, “even down to the doorknobs.”

2. Istanbul

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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.14

Turkey’s most populous city offers a literal bridge between the regions we call Europe and Asia, and, as one reader said, “it offers the best elements of both.” Beyond the kebabs, raki, Byzantine churches, and Ottoman mosques, there are also exciting modern developments that will add to the draw for travelers. Among them is the new Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, a 45-room “urban resort” inside the manor of a 19th-century Ottoman vizier. Another is the mile-long Galataport, a redesigned waterfront space that will include a park, mixed-use buildings, and a new cruise port, scheduled to open this year.

3. Rome

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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.90

It’s called the Eternal City for a reason: Italy’s capital has been attracting pilgrims, foreign dignitaries, and leisure tourists since, well, forever. And while most of the main attractions are centuries old, this is a living, breathing city with plenty of appeal for those seeking a more modern form of fun. Hip neighborhoods like Pigneto and Garbatella are worth a visit, as are the city’s many galleries, wine bars, boutiques, and stellar restaurants. As one reader put it: “The meals here are some of the best in the world — and a bottle of wine with lunch isn’t frowned upon!”

4. Lisbon

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Score: 87.34

“Lisbon definitely has a ‘San Francisco of Europe’ vibe,” wrote one reader of the Portuguese capital. Readers loved this city of half a million residents for any type of trip, whether a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo journey. Another respondent said: “It’s a large enough city for a diversity of things to see and do, but still small enough to be easy to get around and have tons of quaintness and charm.”

5. Porto, Portugal

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Score: 87.15

Portugal’s second city is hot on Lisbon’s heels. “It’s slower than the capital,” wrote one reader, “but just as much fun.” Another reader noted that it’s “just the right size — and very walkable.” Porto’s many charms, including live fado music, port tasting rooms, and Art Deco architecture, make it an excellent destination for a weekend trip or as a gateway for a longer exploration of the Douro Valley wine region. (Porto is also an excellent stopover before or after a river cruise.)

6. Seville, Spain

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Score: 87.00

“This city has everything,” wrote one reader, “though it often feels more like a town, because of the relaxed nature of the people.” Seville, the capital and largest city of Andalusia, has all you’d want to find in southern Spain: Mudéjar arts and architecture, typified by the Alcázar palace; fabulous public spaces like the Plaza de España; and orange trees and tapas bars as far as the eye can see. For one voter, “Seville’s beauty is unparalleled.”

7. Kraków, Poland

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Score: 86.80

Kraków, like much of Poland, suffered greatly in World War II: Nazis occupied the city and killed tens of thousands. But there were few aerial bombings of Kraków, so much of its historic architecture was spared. In 1978, the old town became one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites. Now the birthplace of Pope John Paul II is again a thriving city, known in the country as a hub for tech and start-ups — and it’s a must-visit on any Poland itinerary.

8. Barcelona

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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.25

“Everyone must go to Barcelona once in their lifetime,” wrote one respondent. “Enough said.”  Many readers noted the issue of overtourism in the city, which has seen international arrivals rise to more than 7 million in 2019, up 12 percent from just two years prior, according to Euromonitor International. Recent discussions about limiting the number of travelers allowed in the city have yet to produce a hard cap on arrivals, and Barcelona remains a must-see destination for travelers around the world, who go for exciting Catalan food and the alluring Gaudí architecture.

9. Siena, Italy

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Score: 86.21

T+L readers love this hill town as a day trip from Florence or a longer stop on a Tuscan itinerary. Its historic center, protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a favorite for its soaring Duomo, broad squares, Medici Fortress, and medieval neighborhoods. Visit at the right time and you’ll catch the Palio, a horse race with medieval origins that still takes place in the Piazza del Campo twice each summer. “This Tuscan village exudes charm,” wrote one reader, adding that it represents “the best value in Italy.”

10. Madrid

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Score: 86.02

“This is my favorite city in Europe,” said one reader. “It has a great mix of sights and culture, without being too touristy. And the food is amazing.” While some travelers have tended to skip the Spanish capital in favor of Barcelona or Basque country, voters said there’s no excuse for missing Madrid. This is one of Europe’s best destinations for museums — including the Prado and the Reina Sofía — and it’s home to world-class shopping, dining, nightlife, flamenco, and, of course, churros.

11. Granada, Spain

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Score: 85.31

The main attraction for many travelers is the Alhambra, a 13th-century Moorish palace. The stunning citadel is worthy of every bit of praise, but readers said wandering the city’s neighborhoods, like the Moorish Albaicín district, and stopping at bars and tapas spots are also must-dos. “Granada is a must-see,” said one respondent. “It’s so charming that it sometimes doesn't seem real.”

12. Paris

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Score: 85.23

“It's hard not to love Paris,” said one reader, summing up the general tenor of this year’s comments. “Paris has always had my heart,” said another. And for good reason: there’s so much to see, starting with iconic sites like the Louvre and the Père Lachaise Cemetery. (After a devastating fire in 2019, Notre Dame has partially reopened.) And within Paris’s Baroque buildings and Hausmannian blocks, a thriving, multicultural creative scene is lifting up cutting-edge design and international cuisine from North Africa and beyond. The enduring countercultural spirit remains. “It’s changing, but still so good,” said one reader. “Paris is Paris.”

13. Prague

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Score: 85.05

The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague has been a cultural and intellectual hub in Central Europe for centuries. These days, travelers are attracted to its appealing mix of traditional and modern. Want a fascinating tour of a medieval fortress followed by a cutting-edge tasting menu? The city offers both. Many readers praised Prague’s food and nightlife — and they also mentioned the incredible value the city offers. “Prague was under the radar for far too long,” wrote one respondent. “Now people have realized how amazing it really is.”

14. Venice

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Score: 85.02

Readers used all the words you’d expect when expressing their love for the Italian city, calling it “magical,” “enchanting,” and “beautiful.” Many also voiced concerns about how climate change and overtourism are negatively impacting this small, one-of-a-kind destination of islands and canals. Though the future of Venice is uncertain, the Pearl of the Adriatic remains one of the most spellbinding and iconic destinations in Europe.

15. Ravenna, Italy

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Score: 84.75

This city has been occupied by many peoples over its millennia of existence: Etruscans, Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards. The resulting diversity of architecture and urban design makes it a favorite for visitors to northern Italy. Ravenna’s early Christian monuments and Byzantine-influenced mosaics were standouts for T+L readers. “We loved them,” said one respondent. “We only spent one day in Ravenna, but even then it was quite memorable.”

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