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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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