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While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, few could argue that these aren’t some of the world’s most beautiful cities. If you’re looking for spectacular scenery and lots of fun things to see and do, these spots truly offer the best of the best.
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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
In this seaport city where the ocean meets soaring mountains, one can enjoy world-class shopping, galleries, restaurants and lively pubs one minute, and be in a remote wilderness area taking part in outdoor adventures the next. Set between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific, Vancouver is often referred to as one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. Its impressive landscape offers a natural playground where visitors can swim in the ocean, bike through scenic parks and ski down the slopes all in one day. Begin your visit at Vancouver Lookout – at over 550 feet above Harbour Centre, it offers a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the city, the glistening harbor waters and Stanley Park. Afterward, visit the picturesque 1,000-acre park to walk, jog or bike the 5.5-mile-long seawall that hugs the waterfront, while taking in amazing views of Lions Gate Bridge, Burrard Inlet, the North Shore Mountains, downtown Vancouver, along with landmarks like the 32-million-year-old Siwash Rock that rises from the water and the “Girl in a Wetsuit,” a modern-day mermaid sculpture.
Thanks to its appearance in numerous films and television shows, including the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” you’ve probably at least gotten a glimpse of this picturesque Croatian city. It’s been a favorite with romance seekers for decades now, including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who once enjoyed getting lost in the maze of narrow, cobbled streets and historic stone buildings. Travelers of all types will appreciate the opportunity to walk Dubrovnik’s medieval walls to enjoy jaw-dropping views over the red rooftops and beyond to the dazzling waters of the Adriatic. By taking the ferry over to Mljet Island, you’ll discover more striking natural beauty, with nearly three-quarters of the green isle covered with forest while the remainder is dotted with small villages and vineyards. Mljet is renowned for its wine, cheese, olives and two salted lakes that are ideal for taking a dip on a warm summer day.
Japan’s exotic imperial capital is filled color and history. One of the most impeccably preserved cities in the nation, visitors can look forward to passing young geishas on the street while viewing 10th-century temples set among beautifully manicured gardens. In fact, Kyoto is home to around 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto Shrines. While it’s a stunning place year round, in the springtime when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, it’s a sight you’ll truly never forget. One of the best ways to experience it is to take a boat ride along the cherry tree-lined Okazaki Canal, though just about every corner you turn you’ll find something incredibly enchanting, like the jade-green bamboo forest in Arashiyama, lantern-lit streets and magnificent architecture.
There are few capital cities like Stockholm. The Swedish capital is spread across 14 islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, offering a unique blend of dramatic beauty and historic sites along with a contemporary buzz. Take a trip aboard a historic white boat, some of which date back more than a century, or kayak the spectacular coastline. Be sure to explore the green spaces and musems of Djurgarden, take a rooftop tour of the postcard-perfect Scandi buildings in Riddarholmen, and marvel at the 17th-century warship Vasa, which was underwater for over 300 years before becoming one the city’s top tourist attractions. Other highlights include the opulent Royal Palace which is open for tours, a host of forts, citadels, and fascinating museums.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is world renowned for its beauty, and its especially adventurous spirit that made the city what it is today. You’ll see that spirit throughout the endless array of fantastic eateries, cafes, shops, galleries and other attractions, from the iconic Golden Gate and the rolling cable cars to infamous Alcatraz. The Golden Gate Bridge, one of the seven wonders of the modern world is best experienced by walking or biking the 1.7-mile-span which stretches from the city to the Marine headlands. Not only will you get an incredible view of San Francisco’s skyline, but of the soaring 746-towers and the glistening expanse of the Pacific. Whether the sun is shining, or the bridge is enshrouded in foggy mist, the bridge is surely one of the most impressive sights on Earth. For more awe-inspiring views, hike Mount Sutro Forest or take a stroll through Golden Gate Park.
Iceland’s colorful capital boasts a dramatic backdrop of both mountains and the sea. While it may not enjoy a tropical climate, as you take in the panoramic view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja Church, you’ll know that this is one reward worth bundling up for. Around nearly every corner, this compact artsy city offers another surprise as a veritable rainbow of art, painted on building walls and even the rooftops. Even the famous church itself is considered a must-visit for photographers, designed to resemble the rock formations that result when lava cools, looking as if it’s a structure that suddenly appeared out of the distant future. Reykjavik is also home to one of the world’s most unique institutions – the Icelandic Phallological Museum, AKA, the “Penis Museum,” which houses the largest display of penises on the planet, with 280 from nearly 100 animals, along with some interesting facts and humorous takes on the male organ.
Considered one of Central Europe’s top beautiful cities, Salzburg was made famous by the Von Trapps and Mozart. It’s divided by the Salzach River, with the pedestrian Old City lining the left bank, and the more modern area on the right. By taking a “Sounds of Music” tour, you’ll get an up close and personal look at where many of the film’s scenes were shot, like the lake outside Schloss Leopoldskron, the Nonnberg Convent and the Do-Re-Mi fountain in the Mirabell Palace Gardens. Simply taking a walk through the Altstadt (Old Town) offers a journey into the past, with the streets lined with well-preserved buildings that date back to the Baroque and medieval periods. Visit in August, and you can enjoy the Salzburg Festival which hosts big-name international orchestras, solo musicians, operas and plays, or come in the winter and hop on the daily snow shuttle to ski or board in the nearby Flauchen ski region.
This enchanting “Floating City” with its magnificent architecture built solely on the water, where cars have been replaced by gondolas and teak boats, is a favorite with couples seeking romance, artists, photographers and more. Its layout forces one to explore it more slowly, by water and on foot, getting lost in the maze and encountering timeless scenes, like the little row boats tied up in front of brightly-hued facades as artists sit and paint in open squares. In fact, there’s a unwritten rule that says if you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right. Lose yourself in Venice’s charms by exploring some of its famous landmarks like Saint Mark’s Basilica and its wealth of museums, palaces, churches as well as checking out the impressive works of art at the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
Nestled high in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, the “Blue City,” as Chefchaouen is so often referred to, is famous for being one of the prettiest towns on Earth. For people who love color, it’s truly a blue dream, with its brilliant cerulean-hued architecture. Row after row of buildings at its center are covered in blue paint in shades ranging from baby blue to aquamarine. The unusual hue was introduced by Jewish refugees who arrived during the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition. These early settlers believed that the more one looks at anything blue, the more they think about heaven, and Chefchaouen still keeps the tradition alive today – each year the houses are washed with new coats of paint. When walking up or down the flights of blue painted steps surrounded by blue ceilings and blue walls, it feels as if you’re swimming. No cars are allowed on the narrow streets, where vendors sell their wares in open, traditional markets. The high walls block out the intense heat of the sun, creating cool, shady areas, and from just about anywhere in the medina, when you gaze up, you’ll see the mountain peaks above.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is not only the adrenaline-junkie capital of the world, it offers some of the most stunning views you’ll find anywhere. Adventure lovers will find practically an endless number of options to fill the need for a thrill, including everything from bungee jumping, sky diving and Zorbing, to horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking, all while taking in those incredibly impressive vistas of soaring mountains, jewel-like waters and more.