By Sara Clemence
July 08, 2020
Advertisement

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.

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

Credit: 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

Credit: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Score: 92.01

3. Hoi An, Vietnam

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 90.52

4. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 89.62

5. Florence

Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 89.21

6. Kyoto, Japan

Credit: Jui-Chi Chan/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 88.77

7. Udaipur, India

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 88.49

8. Luang Prabang, Laos

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 88.17

9. Ubud, Indonesia

Credit: Nicholas McComber/Getty Images

Score: 88.16

1o. Istanbul

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 88.14

11. Mexico City

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 87.95

12. Bangkok

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 87.91

13. Rome

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.90

14. Jaipur, India

Credit: Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Score: 87.87

15. Tokyo

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.67

16. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.38

17. Lisbon

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.34

18. Charleston, South Carolina

Credit: John M. Chase/Getty Images

Score: 87.29

19. Cuzco, Peru

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.24

20. Porto, Portugal

Credit: Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Getty Images

Score: 87.15

21. Singapore

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 87.05

22. New Orleans

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 87.03

23. Seville, Spain

Credit: Getty Images

Score: 87.00

24. Mérida, Mexico

Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 86.84

25. Kraków, Poland

Credit: 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.