Measuring the greatness of a vacation destination is a tough task. Some people prefer lakes over oceans. Some would rather camp in the great outdoors, while others would prefer a night in a luxe hotel. Other variables, of course, include everything from sunsets to dessert options to how many museums there are per square mile.
So when it comes to destination rankings, there’s the practical—like the 12 Best Countries to Visit in 2017 based on quantitative measurements such as safety, cost and cleanliness.
Then, there are rankings that incorporate a little more heart and soul, like Travel & Leisure’s list of the best cities in the world, based on a reader survey. Readers were asked to weigh in on their travel experiences around the world, lending their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines and more. Scientific? Nope. Genuine? Absolutely.
For these rankings, Travel & Leisure says it asked its readers to rate cities based upon sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping and overall value.
Here are the top 15 urban cities in the world, according to the readers.
15. Barcelona, Spain
We’ll raise a glass of sangria and say cheers to this Spanish city, who made the list likely thanks to its eye-popping architectural gems and La Barceloneta, which offers an old harbor on one side and sandy beaches on the other.
14. Udaipur, India
Nicknamed the “Venice of the East,” this city is flush with picturesque lakes that have palaces on their banks. You can fill your itinerary with visits to museums and palaces. Worthy of a special stop is the Udaipur Solar Observatory, which was built on an island in the Fateh Sagar Lake and is modeled after the Solar Observatory at Big Bear Lake in Southern California.
13. Siem Reap, Cambodia
This northwestern Cambodian city is a relative newcomer in terms of tourism, with luxury hotels and budget properties only popping up in the past 15 years. Among the most popular tourist destinations are the temples, specifically Angkor Wat, which is one of the largest temples in the world and believed to have been built as a temple and mausoleum for King Suryavarman II at the peak of the Khmer empire in the 12th century.
12. Rome, Italy
Visitors have so many epic sites to see in Italy’s capital city: the Colosseum that once staged gladiator combats, the architectural gem that is the Pantheon. And you’ll need at least a full day to explore the Vatican and its surrounding museums.
11. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Even if you’ve already been to Santa Fe, it’s worth making another trip to check out what’s new. Worthwhile stops include Meow Wolf, a museum that expertly blends art and science fiction; the renaissance that’s happening at the Railyard Arts District, which reinvigorated a warehouse precinct with big, modern galleries; and Santa Fe’s margarita trail, with bartenders who go so far as to infuse tequila with green chilies for the perfect kick.
10. Luang Prabang, Laos
You’ll want at least a week in this bucket list-worthy destination, which is filled with remarkable temples. You can also swim in waterfalls (Kuang Si Falls is especially great) and be surrounded by butterflies at the Kuang Si Falls Butterfly Park. A hike up Mount Phousi will reward you with awe-inspiring views of this World Heritage City.
9. Ubud, Indonesia
You just might be shopping among art collectors in this culturally rich city, with its treasure trove of artisan markets. Near Bali, this cultural epicenter is also made up of ancient temples and royal palaces. Also popular with tourists is the Ubud Monkey Forest, which is inhabited by long-tailed macaques.
8. Cape Town, South Africa
This South African port city has a landscape for everybody: mountains, beaches and beautiful harbors. But what puts this city over the top are the cable cars that show off its stunning scenery, the penguins you see waddling about at Boulders Beach and a vibrant night life.
7. Hoi An, Vietnam
Beach lovers, mark Hoi An on your map. You get a big bang for your buck at this city’s affordable beaches. You can stay at posh beachfront hotels for under $50 a night. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a cultural melting pot, with a mix of architecture influenced by the Japanese, French, Vietnamese and Chinese. Foodies also flock to this ancient coastal town for fresh seafood.
6. Oaxaca, Mexico
If you’ve already been to Mexico’s famous beaches in touristy cities like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, turn your attention to Oaxaca, next. It’s a culinary hot spot, and its festivals, like Día del los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, are unparalleled.
5. Florence, Italy
Italy snagged two spots on this year’s Travel & Leisure best city list. This small Italian city is an epicenter for Renaissance art and architecture. The stunning sunsets and the city’s romance add to its charm.
4. Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and the seat of the Emperor. Tourists can travel back in time in this city that boasts more than 1,000 Buddhist temples. Visitors can find the most authentic foods at the Nishiki Market, which is known as the “pantry” of Kyoto.
3. Chiang Mai, Thailand
With sprawling mountains and a relaxed vibe, this Thailand city offers a slower-paced alternative to the hustle and bustle that’s characteristic of Bangkok. Here, you can camp under the stars in one of the city’s national parks or plan your travel around an epic festival, like the Thai New Year, which changes dates but occurs each April.
2. Charleston, South Carolina
Really, when you’re in this top-tier food city, you’ll want to plan your day around your reservations—whether that’s nabbing one at Husk, which celebrates Southern cuisine and changes out its menu each night, or at FIG, which stands for Food is Good, and has a menu centered on seasonal ingredients. When here, visit one of Travel & Leisure’s favorite hotels: The Spectator. The design details throughout this 41-room hotel draws from the 1920s (a peacock decal in the bar is named Daisy Buchanan), but also has modern pops of glam like chandeliers and velvet headboards. Bonus: You’ll have your own personal butler at this hotel.
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
This destination is a favorite of Top Chef star Padma Lakshmi, who helped Travel & Leisure announce it’s No. 1 spot, as decided by readers. “This win is so well deserved,” she says in a video announcing the winner. “It’s a wonderful place. The shops and galleries are amazing and the food is delicious.” She praised its food scene, which spans fine dining in the town square to small taco stands.