Some cities around the world stand out as truly extraordinary places blending awe-inspiring natural scenery and human-made wonders into enchanting urban landscapes. From lush parks and forests, to picturesque waterways, impressive monuments, and magnificent architecture, these cities offer an abundance of visual splendor. Their special combinations of ecological richness and structural elegance make them exceptionally alluring global destinations.
While lists of lovely cities are highly subjective, the following 20 locations selected represent a diverse collection of urban areas renowned for their beauty. Some choices like Paris may be expected, while others like Cartagena, Colombia seem more unusual. But every city highlighted packs numerous stunning sights into a compact area, making them enticing places to explore.
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Hills and Harbor Offer Striking Miradouros
Built upon seven hills alongside the Tagus River as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal’s capital Lisbon delights visitors with panoramic viewpoints called miradouros showcasing the city’s colorful neighborhoods, arching suspension bridges, and shimmering tidal estuary. The miradouros provide scenes including Lisbon’s iconic Belem Tower, Ancient Castle of São Jorge, and quaint Alfama district. Wandering the steep, winding streets reveals one postcard-worthy vista after another.
A sunny climate bathes Lisbon’s pastel buildings in golden light across some 300 days a year. Several city parks and gardens like the Botanical Garden of Lisbon and Eduardo VII Park burst with flowers and palms. And just outside Lisbon lies idyllic stretches of coastline like Cascais Beach offering refreshing ocean breezes. With so much natural brilliance and beauty surrounding the Portuguese capital, it’s easy to understand why Lisbon leaves visitors enchanted.
2. Ålesund, Norway
Art Nouveau Jewel Surrounded by Fjords and Peaks In 1904, much of the Norwegian port town Ålesund burned to the ground. The rebuilding that followed resulted in hundreds of elegant Art Nouveau buildings painted in hues of buttercream, custard, and eggshell now comprising one of Europe’s largest concentrations of this visually striking architectural style. Set on a peninsula extending into the Norwegian Sea and surrounded by aquamarine waters, verdant islands, and snow-capped peaks, Ålesund’s vibrant buildings contrast exquisitely with its untamed natural environment. Visitors adore exploring Ålesund’s charming streets by foot or its wild fjords and towering Mount Aksla by boat or kayak.
3. Sydney, Australia
Coastal Metropolis Brimming with Beaches and Parks Sprawling around one of the world’s largest natural harbors, the Australian coastal city Sydney blends natural and urban elements into quintessential Antipodean beauty. Azure waves roll onto Bondi Beach’s golden sands. Lush rainforests like Royal National Park fringe the metropolitan area. The iconic Sydney Opera House’s soaringwhite sails resemble ocean waves beside the glittering Sydney Harbour sea inlet.
Much of the city’s splendor stems from abundant green spaces like the Royal Botanic Garden and the Domain linking its neighborhoods. Walking routes like the Cremorne Point circuit meander past scenic bays and inlets. For panoramic views of the cityscape’s mixture of greenery, density, and aquatic environs, the popular BridgeClimb takes adventurous visitors to the apex of Sydney’s epic Harbor Bridge. Whether admiring its beaches or botanic bounty, Sydney always wows.
4. Québec City, Canada
Walled Old Town Echoes with French Colonial History The capital of Canada’s Québec province exudes romantic European charm in North America. Situated above the St.Lawrence River, Québec City still bears the star-shaped citadel walls of its 17th century French colonial fortification protecting its historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Québec’s narrow cobblestone streets filled with restaurants, galleries, and cafés resemble a slice of Paris transported across the Atlantic.
Looming cliffs visible from sites like the Dufferin Terrace viewpoint underscore Québec City’s riverside grandeur. Visitors adore strolling the Terrasse Dufferin promenade lined with château-esque facades or meandering the mazelike Petit Champlain quarter’s quaint shops. Quaint horse-drawn carriages only augment the time-warp ambience. Beyond its historic core, Québec City also impresses visitors with Montmorency Falls’ thundering waters and snowcapped vistas from Wendake reserve’s Huron-Wendat Museum.
5. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Elegant Canal Ring and Spectacular Tulip Fields Built around a series of concentric canal rings, the 400-year old Dutch capital Amsterdam delights visitors with rows of gabled buildings reflected in quiet waterways spanned by decorative bridges. Lined with trees and classic Seven Provinces houses, the iconic innermost canal belt encircling Amsterdam’s central Old Town and Jordaan district earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its idyllic urban aquascape.
Away from Amsterdam’s postcard-perfect canals, captivating sights like the 75-acre Vondelpark filled with ponds, gardens, and 19th century homes offer grassy repose. By bicycle or boat, exploring Amsterdam’s scenic neighborhoods dotted with eclectic architecture, cozy cafés, and colorful houseboats proves irresistible. Venturing outside the city, visitors swoon over boundless tulip fields in full bloom come spring. Through innovative land reclamation, the Dutch have molded both aquatic and pastoral landscapes into an urban ensemble establishing Amsterdam as one of Europe’s most picturesque capitals.
6. Cape Town, South Africa
Breathtaking Natural Grandeur Below Table Mountain Slicing dramatically from South Africa’s western coastline, the soaring sandstone Table Mountain plateau looms over the metropolis of Cape Town, defining the city’s geography and identity. Flanked by Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head Peak, and the churning Atlantic, this flattopped landmark provides a scenic backdrop for Cape Town’s amalgamation of Dutch, British, and Cape Malay influences reflected in attractions like the candy-colored Bo-Kaap homes.
Table Mountain National Park offers panoramic viewing platforms like Platteklip Gorge for surveying the rugged peninsula landscape’s ravines cloaked in silver trees and rich fynbos wildflowers. The Cape of Good Hope southeast of Cape Town similarly charms visitors with sheer cliffs and secluded coves dotting the rugged Cape Peninsula coastline. Whether gazing down from atop Table Mountain or out at the rocky shoreline, Cape Town’s settings blend breathtaking wilderness and civilization.
7. Kyoto, Japan
Temples, Shrines, and Bamboo Forests Surrounded by Mountains Forming the historic heart of Japan for over 1,000 years, Kyoto dazzles visitors with an estimated 2,000 temples and shrines spread across the former imperial capital’s districts tucked between rolling mountains. Many date back centuries, like the iconic golden Kinkakuji pavilion shining above a tranquil pond. Others like Fushimi Inari Shrine delight tourists with long arcades of vermilion torii gates winding through hillside forests.
In northern Kyoto, the ethereal Arashiyama Bamboo Grove transports visitors strolling its mossy path into an atmosphere of quiet mysticism. Contrasting with ages-old religious sites, neighborhoods like Gion offer modern allure with sakura tree-lined canals, geisha culture, and chic eateries occupying preserved machiya townhouses. Across Kyoto’s unique cityscape, sacred and contemporary beauty intermix gorgeously from season to season.
8. Prague, Czech Republic
Architectural Jewel Box Laced with Gothic Spires Nicknamed “The City of 100 Spires,” the Czech capital Prague owes much of its fairytale cityscape to its Gothic architecture dating to the 14th century reign of Charles IV and the Holy Roman Empire. Grandcathedrals, stone bridges traversing the Vltava River, and narrow lanes give inner Prague an Old World time capsule ambience. The stone Charles Bridge stretching between Prague Castle and Old Town Square offers vistas of majestic spires pierced by pastel Baroque domes and saintly statues peering down from parapets.
Glimpsing the lively, pedestrian-only Old Town Square unexpectedly after turning shadowy medieval corners never fails to enchant visitors. By day, the Astronomical Clock on Prague’s stately Old City Hall entrances crowds gathered hourly when its procession of apostle figures passes by. Come evening, golden light bathes timeworn Gothic façades in magical aura. Exploring Prague’s compact historic blocks ultimately leaves visitors spellbound.
9. Paris, France
Timeless Iconic Architecture Along the Seine As one of Europe’s most romanticized cities, Paris scarcely needs justification for inclusion among the world’s most beautiful places. The very name instantly conjures images of graceful 19th century boulevards, genteel cafés, and the Eiffel Tower’s intricate iron latticework rising along the Seine River. Baron Haussmann’surban planning initiatives transformed Paris into the City of Light still celebrated today with lavish Belle Époque hotels, opera houses, and grand residential buildings that became architectural prototypes.
Curving along the Right Bank, Parisians saunter along the tree-lined Champs-Elysées linking verdant parks Tuileries Garden and Jardin des Champs-Élysées. Left Bank neighborhoods like Le Marais entice with chic shops and restaurants occupying elegant private mansions. And no twilight Seine River cruise past Notre Dame Cathedral or hilltop Sacré-Cœur Basilica fails to stir wonder in even the most jaded traveler’s soul. For sheer classical beauty, the French capital remains incomparable.
10. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Sweeping Bay Backed by Verdant Sierra Madre Mountains Fronting Mexico’s largest bay on the Pacific Coast, the planned resort community of Puerto Vallarta seduces visitors with its amalgam of sparkling beaches, lush jungles, and vibrant cultural scene framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains. By day, travelers adore lounging on Los Muertos Pier Beach absorbing Banderas Bay’s panoramic views of rocky headlands stretching south. An evening stroll atop the Isla Cuale River island introduces downtown Puerto Vallarta’s appealing art galleries, restaurants, and cathedral architecture illuminated under the stars.
Just beyond the city, adventurous tours to Marietas Islands offer glimpses of its stunning secret beach hidden inside a partially collapsed volcanic crater. Puerto Vallarta’s landscapes themselves captivate the eye from golden sunrise over the palms to pink dusk reflected across Banderas Bay’s smooth surface. Whether gazing at street performers along seaside Malecon Boardwalk or spying humpback whales breaching offshore, Puerto Vallarta always dazzles.
11. Lucerne, Switzerland
Majestic Mount Pilatus Mirroring Lake Lucerne Azure Waters
Nestled around sapphire Lake Lucerne against the Swiss Alps, central Switzerland’s Lucerne woos visitors with its pristine mountain-and-lake panoramas spanning from Mount Pilatus’ summit to riverfront Chapel Bridge. Lucerne’s magical sunsets over Lake Lucerne’s vibrant cerulean waters bathe the city’s preserved medieval Old Town in a radiant glow. Visitors adore drifting on Lake Lucerne cruise boats revealing stunning deciduous-forested slopes and sublime vistas of the snowcapped Encierro massif ringing town.
Back in Lucerne proper, main sights like the atmospheric covered Chapel Bridge and octagonal Water Tower astonish sightseers with intricate 17th century woodwork. Equally impressive is downtown Lucerne’s intact Altstadt district, where wandering beneath the orderly, gabled houses unexpectedly reveals tranquil interior courtyards and Belle Époque architecture beside the Reuss River. For unspoiled Alpine beauty alongside exquisite urban refinement, lovely Lucerne offers one of Switzerland’s most winning combinations.
12. Budapest, Hungary
Grand Danube River Palaces and Thermal Baths Set dramatically astride the mighty Danube River separating hilly Buda from flatter Pest, the Hungarian capital Budapest delights visitors with scenic waterfront promenades like Váci Street to observe 19th century landmarks gazing across the water at each other. In Pest, the eye-popping Gothic Revival Hungarian Parliament Building’s spired neogothic façade makes an indelible impression when illuminated at night. Across the famous Chain Bridge spanning east and west, Buda Castle atop Castle Hill punctuates the skyline with green copper domes and triangular gables evocative of Vienna.
Scattered below Castle Hill, natural hot spring baths like the immense Gellért Spa entice travelers wishing to soak in Budapest’s signature thermal pools surrounded by lavish Art Nouveau interiors under elaborately tiled glass domes. Indeed, few cityscapes appear more cinematic than the adjacent Buda Hills verdant tree-covered inclines forming a green canopy above pastel buildings hugging the Danube’s shores in Pest. For old-world allure alongside cultural rejuvenation in thermal waters, Budapest always enchants.
13. Venice, Italy
Ethereal Canal-Ribboned City Rich with Byzantine Opulence Unlike any other locale globally, the Italian island city of Venice astounds visitors with its liquid urban layout notched with romantic waterways instead of paved roads. Over 150 meandering canals crisscross more than 100 islands collectively forming historic Venetian settlements, requiring a network of 400 footbridges to traverse by foot. The sight of sleek wooden gondolas and vaporetti gliding silently on rippling aquamarine reflected by elegant buildings along the Grand Canal leaves tourists spellbound.
Abundant frescoes and mosaics adorn Venice’s structures like the Byzantine-styled Saint Mark’s Basilica from plainer whitewashed houses characteristic of Burano to the majestic Doge’s Palace incorporating Gothic, Byzantine, and Renaissance elements in its architecture. Getting happily lost wandering Venice’s labyrinth of narrow alleys and hidden passageways often leads to photogenic neighborhoods and shimmering canalways for timeless snapshots. For sheer romance, there’s nowhere more magical than Venice.
14. Charleston, South Carolina
Antebellum Architecture and Palmetto-Lined Battery Famed for its beautifully preserved antebellum architecture from 18th and 19th century shipping fortunes, Charleston’s pastel-hued historic district earned recognition as the first US city center designated a National Historic Landmark. Pristine mansions from rainbow row on East Battery Street to the Nathanial Russell House’s illustrious floating staircase still elicit admiration for their neoclassical symmetries and intricate cast-iron balustrades.
But escaping Charleston’s summer humidity within shady public gardens like Waterfront Park or beneath draping oak branches along the Ashley River reveals the South Carolina city’s luscious camellias and fragrant magnolias contributing year-round beauty. Just beyond Charleston’s city limits, romantic Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation unfold even more flowery finery and peanut fields dotted with blooming cotton bolls when strolling . Charleston remains the prototypical aesthetic of Southern Americana at its most enchanting.
15. Bangkok, Thailand
Glittering Temples and Waterways Animating the Venice of the East Earning its moniker as the Venice of the East from khlong waterways bisecting neighborhoods, Thailand’s Bangkok delights visitors with resplendent displays of architectural opulence led by Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha’s multi-tiered pagoda spires glittering in radiant gold, red, and green. Equally captivating at Wat Pho, colossal Reclining Buddha’s gold leaf-etched porcelain facade stretches nearly 50 yards long inside the temple hall. Riverside at sunset, the sun’s lingering rays illuminate Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River as longtail boats cruise past temples and neon-lit hotels with remarkable photogeneity.
Venturing beyond Bangkok’s dense historic core rewards sightseers with more wonders, like views from the Golden Mount’s stepped path revealing the city’s stark juxtaposition of skyscrapers and monasteries in the congested metropolis below. From bustling capital to tranquil countryside, Bangkok showcases the spectrum of Thai dynamism through a beautiful cultural lens best captured while touring Bangkok’s waterways the local way—via personal longtail boat.
16. Heidelberg, Germany
Romantic Hilltop Castle Ruins Along the Neckar River Nestled in southwestern Germany’s Rhine Valley on the Neckar River, lovely Heidelberg infuses breathtaking nature with history. Heidelberg’s charming university town ambience stems from Germany’s oldest university nurturing 19th century luminaries like Goethe besides modern scientific innovators across centuries while inspiring awe through places like University Library soaring beneath vaulted ceilings covered in priceless antique books. Away from Old Town’s lively streetside cafés and sandstone architecture framed by the lush Odenwald forest hills lies Heidelberg’s crowning glory–the striking ruins of red sandstone Heidelberg Castle and Castle Gardens on Königstuhl hill towering above town.
Originally constructed during the 13th century, then expanded in Renaissance days before partial demolition in later wars, Heidelberg’s hilltop castle complex intrigues tourists roaming along old ramparts and guardhouses rewarding hikers with supreme panoramas of distant Black Forest slopes across the river. Come evening when lanterns illuminate Heidelberg’s medieval Old Bridge Gate and bridges spanning the Neckar River, this German city’s romantic atmosphere truly transfixes lovestruck couples.
17. Cartagena, Colombia
Circular Walled City by the Sea with Colonial Splendor. Once the main Spanish port in South America for ferrying Andean riches back to Europe, Cartagena’s strategic Caribbean harbor location bequeathed Colombia’s premiere resort city a rich architectural legacy melding European grandeur with indigenous sensibilities. Cartagena’s remarkably well-preserved Old Town delights visitors strolling cobbled streets to admire vibrantly-painted houses graced with wrought iron filigree and airy shaded balconies interspersed with gorgeous community plazas for relaxing. Soaking in the scenic cityscape from sailboats offshore reveals an urban ensemble resembling a vibrant pop art painting with the blue sea as its luminous backdrop.
Further adding to Cartagena’s visual indulgence are powdery white sand beaches and coral reefs off the ancient fortress-crowned Bocagrande peninsula delighting snorkelers and sunbathers alike with idyllic tropical landscapes. By late afternoon, golden hour’s magic light transformed this Colombian port’s red-tiled roofs into a timeless daydream for peering at through the arches of Convento La Popa cloister
18. Cork, Ireland
Cork City, the second largest city in Ireland, is highly regarded by locals as “the real capital” and is widely recognized by travelers as one of the most charming cities in the country. Originally a humble abode for Celtic monks, this place has transformed into the prestigious University College Cork. This city, with its rich history as a merchant port, was constructed on a collection of islands and stands as Europe’s final port on the Atlantic’s edge. The River Lee meanders through Cork City, offering a serene and soothing backdrop wherever you go.
Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Neo-Gothic St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, with its magnificent architecture and breathtaking stained-glass windows. On the other side of the river lies Cork City Gaol, a structure that may resemble a small castle at first glance. However, once inside, one quickly realizes that its interior lacks any grandeur. This building once served as a prison for inmates. The city center is situated at the point where the river splits, making it a unique area to discover. Located just outside the city in County Cork, you’ll discover the picturesque coastline that has made the Emerald Isle renowned and serves as the starting point for the captivating Wild Atlantic Way.
19. Madrid, Spain
Make sure to check out the Paseo del Prado and El Retiro Park, which have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Casa de Campo, Madrid Río, and Capricho Park are other spacious destinations known for their beautiful green spaces. However, you can explore almost every neighborhood and discover a park, square, or community garden to enjoy. Take your time exploring Hapsburg Madrid, the oldest section of the city. Don’t miss the chance to visit the historic central square, the Plaza Mayor, with its charming porticos. And make sure to visit the baroque Royal Palace, which happens to be the largest royal palace in Western Europe. Make sure to make a stop at the renowned Cibeles Fountain before continuing along the sophisticated Art Walk.
20. Oia (Santorini), Greece
Oia, a stunning city located on the northwestern tip of Santorini Island, overlooking the mesmerizing Aegean Sea, is truly a sight to behold. The beaches in Santorini are truly unique, with their blue water, sands in shades of white, red, and black, and craggy cliffs overlooking a caldera. All of these natural features are a result of the Santorini Volcano, creating a stunning and beautiful landscape. Experience the beauty of Ammoudi beach on Oia’s harbor. Explore the charming streets, admiring the magnificent homes and iconic windmill. Make your way up to the highest point in Oia and discover the ancient Byzantine ruins of the Castle of St. Nicholas. From here, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the sunset that you won’t soon forget.