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The World’s 50 Most Beautiful Cities, Ranked by Travel Experts

Beauty may very well be in the eye of the beholder, but more than 1,000 travel bloggers, writers, and agents can't be wrong about these magnificent destinations.

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The ultimate travel list

What do travel bloggers, travel writers, and travel agents have in common? It’s their job to see and experience as many sights on this planet as possible. Canada’s largest travel agency, Flight Network, asked more than 1,000 of these experts to nominate cities with populations over 1 million that have really caught their eye—based on natural and man-made beauty, nature, architecture, city culture, and local weather—and they produced this comprehensive list of the World’s 50 Most Beautiful Cities. Get ready for a whirlwind ride around the world, as we explore the beauty found in each corner of the globe. And when you’re planning a trip to one of these amazing destinations (or anywhere else), make sure you know the right way to travel, according to environmental experts.

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Paris, France

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The very thought of Paris conjures up thoughts of romantic picnics in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, afternoons gazing at the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art in the Louvre, and nibbling croissants while strolling past the iconic Arc de Triomphe. It’s all pretty heavenly. Another reason Paris qualifies as beautiful? It’s known as an international fashion capital, and Parisians take great pride in their chic appearance. “It’s Paris! Enough said,” sums up Dennis Lennox, travel columnist for The Christian Post. In case you’re looking around at intersections during your visit and feeling a bit perplexed, here’s the surprising reason there isn’t a single stop sign in Paris.

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New York City

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Yes, it may be referred to as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. In fact, to many, the skyscrapers, neon billboards, and constant stream of people and cabs are quite beautiful. “You could visit hundreds of times and still discover new things on every trip,” says David Jagger of The Telegraph & Argus. “It has it all.” Of course, that also includes one of the most recognizable statues in the world (The Statue of Liberty), the towering Empire State Building, and the lush, green Central Park smack dab in the middle of the Big Apple. On your visit, don’t miss these 15 NYC hidden gems most New Yorkers don’t even know about.

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London, England

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Don’t let the often cool, damp, and gray conditions fool you. The capital of the United Kingdom is as beautiful as it is rich in history. Let’s start with the world-famous Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster, which is beautiful enough to have served as the official London residence of the United Kingdom’s monarchs since 1837. Big Ben (the correct term for this tower is actually Elizabeth Tower), which recently turned 160 years old, is currently covered in scaffolding while it undergoes restoration on the tower, clock, and bell inside, and it’s sure to be even more beautiful when complete. Hyde Park, located in central London, boasts a beautiful rose garden, many species of birds, and the Serpentine River. No wonder it ranks number two on this list of the 15 most visited cities in the world.

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Venice, Italy

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While one could argue that nearly everything in Italy is beautiful, Venice’s particular charm comes from being built across 100-plus smaller islands connected by canals and bridges. Beauty lies in the ornate bridges—including the Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal with its stone arch—and in the voices of the gondoliers, who sing as they show off their beloved city to tourists. “I sailed into the Venetian lagoon sipping white wine and thought my heart would burst from the beauty that surrounded me,” says Neala McCarten of Offbeat Travel. Due to rising sea levels, Venice is actually sinking—placing it high on the list of 15 breathtaking places to visit before they disappear.

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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Although Vancouver’s beauty is apparent from the harbor and beaches to the bustling metropolitan areas, the best vantage points are from way up high. Start with the Capilano Suspension Bridge, set in a 27-acre park—the views while walking across this 450-foot suspension bridge can’t be beat. For more awe-inspiring views, just outside of Vancouver is the Sea to Sky Gondola. Journey to the top, where you can see Howe Sound, the Tantalus Mountain range, Co-Pilot and Sky Pilot mountain peaks, Mount Atwell, and the Mamquam Valley. For a final bout of beauty, rent bicycles and explore the 405-hectare Stanley Park and its views of English Bay, which is set in a natural West Coast rainforest. Here are more of the most popular travel destinations in Canada.

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Barcelona, Spain

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Few cities in the world are as easy to identify as Barcelona. The highly celebrated Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi left his mark all over the city, with La Sagrada Familia (an unfinished Roman Catholic basilica and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that combines Gothic and Art Nouveau styles), Casa Batlló (a modernist building with a can’t-miss facade and an even more interesting interior), and Park Güell (considered one of the most impressive public parks in the world). If Gaudi isn’t your thing, there’s no shortage of other museums scattered around the city, including ones featuring Picasso. As Christian Lengua of Publimetro says, there’s “art and architecture in every corner.”

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Cape Town, South Africa

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Mountains? Check. Harbor? Check. Beaches? Check. Cape Town is a nature lover’s dream with miles of coastline, soaring mountains—such as Lion’s Head and Table Mountain—and a Mediterranean-like climate. Take a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain for views you won’t soon forget (it’s one of the 15 natural wonders you’ve never heard of), or visit the Table Mountain National Park for an afternoon with African penguins that are on the verge of extinction. This is also the city to explore underwater beauty by cage-diving with great white sharks. Of course, don’t feel ashamed if all you want to do is lay on the pristine golden beaches and stare at the sparkling ocean or the jaw-dropping sunsets like most of the tourists.

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San Francisco, California

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Is there anything more beautiful than seeing the bright red, Art Deco–style Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day with blue skies? We think not. But that’s not all San Francisco has going for it. “For natural beauty, it’s hard to beat San Francisco, where you can hike above cliffs within city limits and where a short drive takes you to a national monument with old-growth forest,” says the Matador Network’s Noelle Salmi. “Locals appreciate nature, sustainable food, and art.” Stop by the Fisherman’s Wharf for a cruise of the San Francisco Bay, and then treat yourself to the city’s famous clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. If you’re looking for something a little less bustling, try these less crowded alternatives to the most popular tourist attractions.

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Sydney, Australia

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Close your eyes and picture the most famous opera house in the world. Yep, you’re probably picturing the world-famous Sydney Opera House, with its iconic roof structure overlooking Sydney Harbour. After your visit, take a 20-minute car ride to Bondi Beach to relax on the white-sand crescent or surf its offshore waves. The Royal Botanic Gardens provide a green space in the city, where you can join a guided tour to learn about the country’s first botanic garden and hear stories of the Cadigal people (indigenous Australians). “Sydney has it all,” says Terry Terrones of the Colorado Springs Gazette. “A great skyline, a beautiful botanical garden, and some of the most iconic man-made landmarks anywhere in the world.” The one thing Sydney does not have, however, is the title of Australia’s capital city. That honor goes to Canberra, and it’s one of 30 geography facts everyone keeps getting wrong.

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Rome, Italy

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They say all roads lead to Rome, and they should—this beautiful city has ancient roots unlike any other. “It’s been around for almost 3,000 years, so it might be doing something right,” says Gary of Everything Everywhere. Grab a gelato and meander around this walkable city. You can’t help but run right into the Colosseum, where you can marvel at this structure, which has been a symbol of Rome since 80 AD. Stop by the Trevi Fountain to throw a coin in over your shoulder, which ensures you’ll visit again someday. And don’t miss the world’s largest church, St. Peter’s Basilica, as the breathtaking Renaissance-style architecture is known the world over. Everywhere you look, you’re sure to see ornate marble statues and fountains; go ahead and take a sip, as the water is fresh, safe, and free.

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Singapore

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As a country smaller than most major cities around the globe, Singapore could easily be overlooked. Don’t make that mistake. You don’t have to look far to find the beauty of this city-state—just look down. Singapore is known for having some of the cleanest streets in the world, thanks to strict laws on littering, vandalism, spitting, and public urination. Plus, chewing gum is illegal in this country—and no, we’re not kidding. The iconic Merlion statue, which is a half-fish and half-lion creature, resides at the Merlion Park waterfront. Hop on a restored bumboat river cruise to see other famous attractions along the Singapore River, including the Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.

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Lisbon, Portugal

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Portugal’s capital city has often been called one of the 15 best places to retire around the world due to its low crime rates and high quality of life. Its Mediterranean climate is beautiful year-round, and the seafood is second to none. Don’t miss the São Jorge Castle, located at the top of a hill in the city center, for one of the most picturesque views Lisbon has to offer. Lisbon’s Pink Street (formerly its red-light district, which completed a makeover in 2013) is where the crowds gravitate in the evenings for bar-hopping and clubbing. Just follow the pink-painted pavement located in the neighborhood Cais do Sodré.

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Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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Similar to Venice, Amsterdam is made up of about 90 islands connected by 1,500 bridges. In fact, it’s the “most watery city in the world.” As such, one of the best ways to explore this capital city is via a hop-on, hop-off canal cruise. Purchase a 24- or 48-hour ticket, which stops at such main points of interest as the Ann Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the A’DAM lookout. A visit to the city isn’t complete without a stop at Vondelpark, the city’s largest public park. Here, you’ll find about 30 species of birds, 12 fish species, and more than 4,700 trees. Whether or not you have a regular travel partner, it’s still a great idea to travel by yourself, too. Here’s why one woman takes a solo vacation every year.

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Prague, Czech Republic

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Known as the “city of 100 spires,” Prague’s architecture is a beautiful sight to see. Begin your sightseeing adventure at the Prague Castle, which dates back to the 9th century and is the largest ancient castle in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and then explore the St. Vitus Cathedral right next door. Another beautiful sight to behold is the Prague Astronomical Clock, a medieval tower clock. If you time your visit just right, you’ll be treated to the hourly display of the Twelve Apostles moving through the windows, but be quick because it only lasts for 27 seconds!

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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The 98-foot-tall Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer at the summit of Mount Corcovado is arguably Rio de Janeiro’s most recognizable landmark. No wonder it’s one of 13 tourist traps around the world that are actually worth visiting. As for the rest of the city? “Who can compete with pristine beaches in the middle of a large city, people playing beach-volley or dancing samba, with lush green mountains in the background?” asks Tina Krongarrd of Politiken. For those unafraid of heights, take a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for 360-degree views of downtown Rio, the famous Ipanema beach, and the Rio-Niterói Bridge crossing Guanabara Bay.

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Budapest, Hungary

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Beauty is on display everywhere you look in Budapest, starting with the Neo-Gothic architecture of the sprawling Hungarian Parliament Building, which you can see from almost anywhere in the city. Budapest is split in half by the Danube River (on one side is Buda, which is more residential, and the other side is Pest, where you’ll find more nightlife), and you’ll actually get the best photographs from across the water at the Fisherman’s Bastion, located inside the Buda Castle. No matter which side of the river you’re on, the panoramic waterside views are hard to beat.

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Istanbul, Turkey

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There’s only one city in the world that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia), and it’s Istanbul. Here, you’ll find a city of Muslims, Christians, and Jews all living together—and the music, food, and other rich expressions of these cultures melding together. A trip to the Grand Bazaar will allow you to browse the city’s most beautiful offerings, from Turkish crafts and silk clothing to jewelry and traditional copperware. Just how grand is this bazaar, exactly? There are more than 4,000 shops on 61 covered streets, and they attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It’s a feast for all of your senses.

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Tokyo, Japan

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Love seeing historical and ultramodern architecture paired together? “With a seamless melding of old and new and picturesque pockets of nature interspersed throughout, Tokyo is a paradoxical wonder that never ceases to reward the urban explorer,” says Marc Matsumoto of No Recipes. Tokyo isn’t just one of the 20 largest cities in the world—it’s the largest. Visit the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, Sensō-ji, for a taste of Japanese Buddhist architecture, and then Ueno Park and Zoo, Tokyo’s largest green space, which is absolute paradise in the heart of a bustling city.

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Vienna, Austria

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Another city situated on the Danube River, Vienna is a “hip, vibrant city with a rich history,” explains Janna Graber of Go World Travel Magazine. Classical-music lovers will enjoy seeing the famous Mozart monument in the Burggarten Park and his grave in St. Marx cemetery. There’s another famous composer who made his name in Vienna, as well: Beethoven. Check out the Beethoven Museum, where he wrote his third symphony and his grave in the Zentralfriedhof cemetery. And if touring palaces pleases you, you’ll have many to choose from, including the Schönbrunn, Hofburg, and Belvedere palaces—each one as beautiful as the next.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

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When it comes to the most popular travel destinations in South America, Buenos Aires is high on the list. And one of its most beautiful sights is the Jardín Japonés, or Japanese Garden—one of the largest in the world outside of Japan. Each season here is special, so there’s no bad time to visit. You’ll see cherry flowers in winter, violet water lilies in the summer, yellow ginkgo biloba leaves in the fall, and azaleas in the spring. If you find beauty in the macabre, the Recoleta Cemetery is one of the most unusual cemeteries in the world. It contains some notable graves, including Eva Perón’s, and monuments in every architectural style from Greek temples to Baroque cathedrals.

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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As the most populated city in Canada, Toronto is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Bring your appetite to ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India, Greektown, and Little Jamaica, which are sure to please any palate. Make time to visit the CN Tower in downtown Toronto, where you’ll take a 58-second high-speed, glass-fronted elevator ride 1,136 feet up to see breathtaking views through floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows. Finally, check out the Royal Ontario Museum, which offers diverse galleries and featured exhibitions. It’s easy to see why Toronto is one of the 10 best solo vacations everyone should take by themselves.

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San Diego, California

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Thomas Melville of the San Diego Community Newspaper Group may be a bit biased when he says that San Diego is “the best city in America to experience sun, sand, and sunsets—while enjoying fresh fish tacos,” but we don’t blame him one bit. San Diego has some of the best year-round weather in the United States and no shortage of ways to keep busy while enjoying it. Start with a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, which houses more than 3,500 animals of more than 650 species. Then chill out at Mission Beach and Pacific Beach (or the more pristine Coronado Beach, which is one of 20 amazing family beaches you need to visit this summer) while watching surfers and skaters. Since San Diego is a big military town, history buffs will appreciate a tour of the USS Midway Museum. After dinner, make your way to the Gaslamp Quarter, 16 blocks of Victorian-style buildings that house shops, trendy restaurants, and nightlife.

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Quebec City, Canada

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Whoever says you can’t get a taste of Europe in North America has never been to one of our continent’s oldest cities, Quebec City. The narrow cobblestone streets will transport you to a village in France, while Old Quebec’s walled fortifications have a medieval European feel. To get a lay of the land, begin your tour at the Observatoire de la Capitale for a 360-degree view. And even if you can’t afford a room, stop by the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a historic hotel from the late 1800s that was visited by Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s. For more spectacular views, hop on the Quebec-Levis ferry across the St. Lawrence River.

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Hong Kong

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As an autonomous territory that was once a British colony, Hong Kong (officially Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) may surprise visitors. English is widely spoken and used in signage, it often only takes about a 20-minute drive to get away from the world’s largest collection of skyscrapers and onto beautiful beaches and mountainous hiking trails, and there are literally hundreds of islands to explore. The free Victoria Harbour light show happens every night at 8 p.m., and it is best viewed from the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront outside the Hong Kong Cultural Centre or from any of the sightseeing ferries in the Victoria Harbour.

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Chicago, Illinois

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Let’s talk deep-dish pizza, Italian beef, and hot dogs with all the fixings. Where else could you get these delicious dishes except Chi-Town? Anyone with taste buds and an appreciation for Midwest manners will understand why Chicago has been named the best city in America. In the summer, the city really comes alive with boat tours focused on architecture, rides on the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel overlooking Chicago and Lake Michigan, a visit to the top of Willis Tower (the tallest building in the Western hemisphere), and a walk on its Skydeck if you’re brave enough to get into a glass box that extends 4.3 feet out on the 103rd floor. There’s also the Instagram-worthy Cloud Gate sculpture, otherwise known as “The Bean,” at Millennium Park, and a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. (Make sure you sit in the bleachers for a truly authentic experience.)

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Bruges, Belgium

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There are few cities that feel like a fairy tale come to life, and Bruges may well top that shortlist. (It’s also one of the 13 most underrated European cities you should visit in your lifetime.) Known as the “Venice of the North,” due to its extensive canal system, Bruges’ entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a walk along the canals, or hop on a tour boat for a ride through the waterways, where you can peer at the Baroque-style and Gothic architecture while gliding under bridges. Climb 366 steps to the top of the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower in the city center, for spectacular views, and then reward your efforts with Belgian chocolate and waffles at one of the many shops. “Come early before the crowds, when swans in the canals are bathed in pink light, or late afternoon when the setting sun turns the Gothic town hall’s windows into diamonds,” suggests Lea Lane of Forbes.

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Madrid, Spain

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As the capital and the most populated city in Spain, Madrid may at first seem overwhelming, but it’s actually quite walkable and friendly. Stop by Plaza Mayor in the heart of the city and feast your eyes on the Statue of Philip III in the middle and Casa de la Panadería on the north side. For an unexpected sight in Spain, visit the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that dates back to the 2nd century BC; it was dismantled in Egypt and rebuilt in Madrid in the early 1970s as a sign of gratitude for the help Spain provided Egypt. Of course, there’s also the quintessential Spanish experience no tourist should miss: seeing a flamenco show. Beauty lies not only in the way these dancers move, but also in the stamping, clapping, and singing that accompanies it.

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Havana, Cuba

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For another step back in time, but not quite as far back as ancient Egypt or the medieval period, travel to Cuba. “Havana is stuck in a 1950s time warp with its American-made cars and Spanish colonial architecture,” says Jack Sheldon of Jack’s Flight Club. “It does not disappoint!” With gorgeous beaches and spectacular snorkeling, it would be easy to spend all your time on the coastline. But don’t miss out on the vibrant city life with cobblestone streets, yummy cafés, street vendors and artists, and convertible classic cars in bright colors. Be sure to spend one evening at the Tropicana Club, a cabaret show highlighting Cuban culture. For a glimpse inside Cuba, check out these never-seen-before photos from beyond Havana.

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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You probably already know that Dubai is known for its “bigger is better” mentality when it comes to luxury and architectural feats: the world’s largest shopping mall; the seventh-tallest hotel in the world, the Burj Al Arab skyscraper; and the world’s highest swimming pool, observation deck, and mosque, inside the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. When you’re done visiting the sky bars of these awesome engineering feats, head down to Kite Beach and join in on the water sports this strip of sand is famous for. It’s also one of the 15 beaches with the best seashells in the world.

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Jerusalem, Israel

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“If you want to steep yourself in old-world history, historical and religious icons, tales that can rarely be found anywhere else on the planet, and culture mixed with the convenience of modern hotels, restaurants, and more, Jerusalem is for you,” says travel writer Michelle Sutter. “To this day, it has been my favorite place in the world to visit. I was immersed in stunning and iconic historical landmarks combined with colorful and intriguing outdoor markets and some of the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten. It’s one of the cities I never knew I would love so much until I went there.” If you still need a little convincing to visit this ancient city steeped in religion, there’s always the Wailing Wall in the Jewish Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, and the Dome of the Rock in the Muslim Quarter.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

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It may be the capital of Scotland, but Edinburgh also happens to be the City of Literature. Novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott was born here, J.K. Rowling used the city to inspire her Harry Potter series, and the author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, also hails from Edinburgh. Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop Castle Rock, dominates the city’s skyline and houses the Crown Jewels (the oldest in Britain) and the Stone of Destiny (used for centuries in the inauguration of kings). Next, walk along Royal Mile, from the Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. And, of course, be sure to stop by the Scotch Whisky Experience for a wee taste of the good stuff. Want more proof of Scotland’s beauty? Check out these 12 jaw-dropping photos of arguably the most beautiful country in the world.

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Quito, Ecuador

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If you enjoy spending time at high elevation, the capital city of Ecuador is calling your name. It sits more than 9,000 feet high and is the second-highest capital city in the world (first place goes to La Paz, Bolivia). Start by exploring Quito Old Town, the city’s historic district, and then make your way to the Church of the Society of Jesus (known as the Church of la Compañía de Jesus). Prepare to be absolutely wowed by this 16th-century marvel, as it’s completely covered in gold—yes, we’re talking beauty in the form of gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings, and golden domes. For a little fun with geography, stop by La Mitad del Mundo and stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other foot in the southern hemisphere.

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Zurich, Switzerland

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“A lakeside Swiss city recognized as providing a high quality of life for its residents, Zurich offers easy access to the nearby Alps, abundant culture, and world-class shopping along the exclusive Bahnhofstrasse,” says Nancy Besharah of Luxe Travel Family. You heard right—the Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues in the world, so this is the place to window-shop to your heart’s content. Once you’ve run out of money, get yourself to the top of the Uetliberg mountain, where you’ll enjoy incredible views of the city, the lake, and the Alps from the lookout tower. By the way, there’s one stunning town in the Swiss Alps that will pay you $25,000 to move there. (Yes, you read that right!)

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Cusco, Peru

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Another city with incredibly high elevation (11,200 feet) is Cusco, so you may experience a little altitude sickness visiting this beautiful Peruvian town. Thankfully, nearly every hotel offers travelers coca tea, which can help diminish symptoms and allow you to explore Cusco’s incredible sights. The first is Qorikancha, the most important temple in the Inca Empire and an impressive example of Incan and Hispanic cultures melding together. San Blas is another must-see, a trendy neighborhood of narrow streets lined with authentic boutiques. Here, you’ll find Peruvians making and selling their alpaca sweaters and hats, plus some great markets and coffee shops. And if you’re itching to climb Machu Picchu, one of 17 summer vacations everyone should take before they’re 50, then Cusco is the place to fly into.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

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You don’t have to go to Moscow to get a taste of Russia. Instead, start with the country’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg. The most picturesque church in the city is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which features mainly Baroque and Neoclassical architecture styles and more than 7,500 square meters of colorful mosaics covering the facade and interior. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the fourth-largest domed cathedral on the planet, is a large Russian Orthodox museum that only holds services on significant holidays. Climb the 300 steps to the observation walkway to enjoy beautiful city views. And if museums are your thing, check out the State Heritage Museum, the second-largest art museum in the world, where it would literally take days to see everything!

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Berlin, Germany

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A lot has changed in Berlin over the last 30 years since the wall came down, so it’s important to spend time exploring some of the cultural sights. The Holocaust Memorial is a moving experience, the East Side Gallery is an open-air section of the Berlin Wall in which murals are painted, and the Brandenburg Gate is a grand classical archway that served as the city divide bu today is a symbol of the country’s reunification. Situated just north of the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag Building, which houses the German Parliament. Step inside the glass dome at the very top, as it has a 360-degree view of the Berlin cityscape.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

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“With its many charming lakes peopled with locals doing Tai Chi and just enjoying the surroundings, a delightful blend of French and Vietnamese architecture, delicious restaurants, and an intriguing old quarter, Hanoi, although changing fast, is one of the few really beautiful Southeast Asian cities,” states Toni Neubauer of Myths and Mountains. You’ll have no shortage of Buddhist temples to visit, including the Perfume Pagoda, which was built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains. For a truly authentic experience, enjoy traditional water puppetry at the world-famous Thang Long Puppet theater, accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra. Vietnam is also home to Da Nang, one of the travel hot spots you haven’t heard of…yet.

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Queenstown, New Zealand

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Do you crave adventure? Do you love feeling the rush of adrenaline? Then pack your bags and head straight for Queenstown, the Adventure Capital of the World. From white-water rafting adventures and jet boating to bungee jumping and paragliding, Queenstown has it all—and often with beautiful backdrops of mountain ranges and lakes. For a calmer experience, take the Skyline Gondola high above the city for unparalleled views, or spend a day at Queenstown Beach and Queenstown Gardens. Winery tours are another wonderful way to pass the time. And don’t forget to look around when landing at Queenstown Airport, one of the most beautiful airport landings in the world, where you can see the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu.

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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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One of the most beautiful things about San Miguel de Allende, located about 175 miles northwest of Mexico City, is its foodie culture. You can literally eat your way through the city, dining on cochinita pibil (a slow-roasted Mexican pork dish that marinates meat in citrus juice), pozole (a stew made from hominy and pork), gorditas (a pastry made with corn and stuffed with cheese, meat, and other fillings), and, of course, tapas. If you aren’t a foodie, and even if you are, make time to stop by the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, a neo-Gothic Catholic church with a turreted pink facade.

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Seoul, South Korea

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Speaking of delicious dishes, Seoul is known for its street food. “I dare anyone to have a bad meal in this town,” challenges Fathom’s Pavia Rosati. “Seoul fascinates in ways that continue to change, excite, and delight.” Picture modern neon lights juxtaposed against a backdrop of thousands of years of tradition—talk about sensory overload! A visit to the Namdaemun Market, the oldest and largest in Korea, offers more than 10,000 stores that are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, try the oxtail soup, vegetable-filled griddle cakes, and North Korean–style cold buckwheat noodles. And if you think a trip to Asia is out of your budget, check out the most affordable times to visit 12 expensive destinations, including Seoul.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Are you a fan of Game of Thrones? Who isn’t? Well, Dubrovnik might look a bit familiar to you, as it was the main location for filming the scenes of King’s Landing. While you won’t run into any Lannisters while visiting (which is probably a good thing—remember Cersei’s Walk of Shame through these streets?), you can still pretend you’re an extra in the cast by walking along the city’s ancient walls. Climb up the stone walls and walk the circumference of Dubrovnik, while overlooking the Adriatic Sea and the city’s terra-cotta rooftops. These stone walls were built in the 13th century to protect the city from foreign attacks and are protected by strong forts, two round towers, five bastions, and two corner towers. The limestone walls against the blue sea make for a beautiful photo. As long as you’re on a GoT kick, add these 13 amazing castles from Game of Thrones you can visit in real life to your bucket list.

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San Sebastian, Spain

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Let’s get back to our foodie tour of the world with a stop in San Sebastian. Why this coastal city in northern Spain? “[It’s] the culinary capital of the world!” says Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc. “The juxtaposition between high-end Michelin-star restaurants and cheap tapas bars makes this coastal city a must-visit.” The traditional northern Spain version of tapas is called pintxos, so be on the lookout for bars and cafés specializing in those as you walk through the Old Town area, or Parte Vieja. After your belly is full, head to the popular crescent-shaped La Concha Beach and watch the sun set over the water.

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Bangkok, Thailand

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As the 1980s song from the musical Chess goes, “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster.” There’s so much to see and do in Thailand’s capital city, starting with the floating markets—a system of canals that’s been transformed into a giant marketplace, where you pay a tour boat to paddle you around so you can buy sweets, noodle dishes, and souvenirs from vendors who are floating by on their own boats. When you’re back ashore, check out the Grand Palace, a complex of several buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. If you’re into the club scene, Bangkok’s nightlife offers a little something for everyone, from ladyboy shows and go-go bars to nightclubs blasting EDM and more tame rooftop bars. If you’re making plans for the holidays, Bangkok is one of the perfect warm-weather destinations for a sunny Christmas.

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Cartagena, Colombia

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Despite what you’ve seen in movies or what you read in the paper back in the 1980s, Colombia is one of 13 “dangerous” countries that are safer than you think. Cartagena is located off the coast of the Caribbean, so a day trip to Playa Blanca will give you the powder-white sand and turquoise waters you’ve been yearning for. The most famous landmark in the city, San Felipe Castle, was built by the Spanish during the colonial era. This fortress sits on the Hill of San Lazaro, and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Surrounded by an 11-kilometer wall, Cartagena faces the sea and provides tourists and residents with a place to stroll,” says Max Hartshorne of GoNOMAD Travel. “The city is full of life and color, the vendors wear bright-colored clothing, and the horse carriages take tourists around the city. It’s all beautiful.”

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Dublin, Ireland

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Everything seems more beautiful after a pint (or two) of Guinness, not that Ireland needs any help from beer goggles to be beautiful. You can’t walk for more than a minute up and down Dublin’s charming cobblestone streets without finding an inviting pub to pop into—and once you do, it’s hard to leave because everyone from the bartenders and wait staff to other patrons are so darn friendly. Dublin Castle is a great place to tour for a little history lesson, and Trinity College is a gorgeous campus that houses the Book of Kells (which makes Dublin one of the best cities in the world for book lovers). Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse for a quick course on beer-making, and make sure to head to the Gravity Bar on the top floor for 360-degree panoramic views of Dublin and beyond.

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Marrakesh, Morocco

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What do you get when a major economic center mixes with mosques, palaces, and gardens? The fourth-largest city in the Kingdom of Morocco. One of the most beautiful sights in Morocco is the Jardin Majorelle, or the Majorelle Garden. Here, you’ll find two-and-a-half acres of botanical gardens unlike any you’ve seen before. In fact, Yves Saint Laurent once said, “For many years, the Jardin Majorelle has provided me with an endless source of inspiration, and I have often dreamt of its unique colors.” Another hot spot is the Koutoubia Mosque, a 12th-century tower that stands 253 feet high with its spire and orbs.

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Bergen, Norway

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Is there anything more beautiful on this planet than being surrounded by mountains, fjords, and colorful, hygge cottages? If you aren’t familiar, hygge loosely translates to “cozy” and “content,” and it’s one of 11 words that capture feelings you didn’t even know you had. No need to rent a car, as the light rail system is super easy to navigate, with only one track going from the airport to the city center. This town is so adorable that each of the 27 stops plays a different musical interlude to alert you that your stop is coming. When you reach the city center, head straight to the Bergen Fish Market, which has been around since the 1200s. Here, you can point to any seafood you want, caught by local fishermen, and they’ll cook it up into a delicious dish for you on the spot. Grab a picnic table and enjoy!

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Jaipur, India

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Known as the Pink City for its trademark building color made out of sandstone, Jaipur is the capital of India’s Rajasthan state. In the city center, you’ll find the City Palace; the architecture outside is beautiful, but be sure to go inside for truly spectacular and colorful decor. Even more awe-inspiring is the Palace of the Winds, which boasts 953 windows on the facade that resemble latticework. And if you enjoy having wildlife eat out of the palm of your hand, visit Galta-Hanuman, the oldest temple in Jaipur, and bring some snacks for the curious monkeys.

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Beijing, China

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First, let’s start with a little lesson, as Beijing is likely one of the 35 city names around the world you’re mispronouncing: It’s “Beige-ing,” not “Bei-jing.” Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on this city’s claim to fame: one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China. Talk about absolute beauty. That said, the wall was erected to defend the area from enemies long before Christ was born, so they probably never imagined how much tourists would appreciate the views of mountains, the sea, the verdant valley, and the wall itself snaking through the countryside. While there are many gorgeous sections of the wall to explore, the Great Wall of Badaling is a popular choice that’s been restored and is wheelchair friendly.

What else should you do in Beijing? Don’t miss the Pajniayuan Flea Market for local crafts and antiques, Tiananmen Square if you’re a history buff, and the Forbidden City to visit the Palace Museum.

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Athens, Greece

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Last, but certainly not least, is Athens, the capital of Greece and the birthplace of Western civilization. The Acropolis should top your list, as this limestone hill is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world. For an especially beautiful picture, visit at night when lights illuminate the Parthenon (a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena) against the dark sky. Day or night, the Parthenon also happens to be one of the 10 awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites everyone needs to visit. And situated on the south slope of the Acropolis is the Herod Atticus Odeon, an open-air stone Roman amphitheater that’s the perfect spot for a selfie.

Jill Schildhouse
Jill Schildhouse is an award-winning writer based in Phoenix who regularly covers travel, health and wellness, personal finance and e-commerce. Her bylines have appeared in Reader's Digest, The Healthy, Oxygen, AAA, Brides, Vegetarian Times, and Phoenix Home & Garden magazines, among others. She earned a BA in corporate communications from Northern Illinois University. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin