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What attracts travellers to certain cities around the world? Is it new Michelin-starred restaurants? Generations-old cultural heritage? Proximity to geographic wonders of the world? Unsurprisingly, when it comes to determining the best cities in the world, it’s all of the above for our discerning Travel + Leisure readers. 

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.

South Asia and Mexico had an impressive showing this year, with readers’ top 10 including three Mexican cities (including the No. 1 spot!) and four South Asian cities (across Laos, India, Indonesia, and Thailand). Udaipur, on India’s picturesque Lake Pichola, nabbed second place, up from last year, when it ranked No. 7. One reader described it as “enchanting,” while another raved that it’s “by far the most beautiful city in India.” The other Indian city to make the list was Jaipur (No. 17), often referred to as the Pink City because of the remarkable pink buildings that line its streets. 

Also in South Asia, Chiang Mai (No. 9) beat out Bangkok (No. 10) by just a hair, with readers specifically describing Chiang Mai as “more laid-back” and “less crowded” than Bangkok. Many of our readers were lured to Chiang Mai by the elephant sanctuary, but stayed for the “amazing people with a deep love for their way of life and cultures,” as one respondent put it.

 
 

In Europe, we have nine World’s Best Award–winning cities this year, from two Turkey hot spots — Istanbul (No. 3) and Bodrum (No. 16) — to the culinary capital of Spain, San Sebastián (No. 15), to Kraków, Poland, at No. 12.

And coming in ahead of cities like Cape Town (No. 20) and Antigua Guatemala (No. 24) is the lone American city on our list this year: Charleston, South Carolina. Love for the charming Lowcountry destination runs deep with our T+L readers. It’s a nine-time winner for the best cities in the United States, and we had an unprecedented number of reader comments about this waterfront city known for its pastel façades and burgeoning arts scene. One reader says, “The charm of the city is its architecture,” while another praises the “bevy of interesting and delicious restaurants that can satisfy all tastes.” 

Finally, we turn back to Mexico, which saw Mexico City and Oaxaca come in at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. But it was San Miguel de Allende that once again took the No. 1 spot. Below, the reasons T+L readers voted for it, plus the full list of the best cities in the world for 2021.

1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 
 

A marriage of neo-Gothic and Spanish-colonial architecture, the city — located 170 miles northwest of Mexico City — is a design lover’s dream. “The mystery of what the houses look like behind the doors is intriguing,” said one reader. Described as simply “magical” by more than one respondent, San Miguel de Allende also captivated readers with its history and growing culinary clout. Our respondents also gushed over the plentiful sights — “everywhere you look there are amazing sights and beauty and history” — and remarked on how walkable and easy-to-navigate the city is. From the rooftop restaurants to the central El Jardín and the Museo Histórico, San Miguel de Allende has mesmerized our readers, one of whom summarized: “San Miguel is an incredible city, very beautiful, historic, with friendly people, fantastic food and restaurants.

Score: 93.54

2. ​​Udaipur, India

Score: 91.63

3. Istanbul

 

Score: 91.32

4. Ubud, Indonesia

 

Score: 91.25

5. Kyoto, Japan

 

Score: 90.94

6. Florence

 

Score: 90.48

7. Mexico City

 
 

Score: 90.23

8. Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Score: 90.22

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Score: 90.06

10. Bangkok

 

Score: 89.81

11. Taipei

 

Score: 89.62

12. Kraków, Poland

 

Score: 89.39

13. Luang Prabang, Laos

 

Score: 89.29

14. Rome

 

Score: 88.88

15. San Sebastián, Spain

 

Score: 88.87

16. Bodrum, Turkey

 

Score: 88.82

17. Jaipur, India

 

Score: 88.68

18. Charleston, South Carolina

 

Score: 88.61

19. Tokyo

 

Score: 88.59

20. Cape Town

 

Score: 88.55

21. Trieste, Italy

 

Score: 88.54

22. Ljubljana, Slovenia

 

Score: 88.47

23. Seoul

 

Score: 88.00

24. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

 

Score: 87.97

25. Porto, Portugal

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