There’s a striking amount of diversity among the global superpower cities, which are filled with everything from centuries-old palaces to neon-lit skylines to staggering skyscrapers.
For our 33rd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey—yes, readers have been voting for more than three decades—the impressive number of 2020 results were especially exciting for us: We’re ever curious about where in the world you go, what you loved, and who you went with. As you continue to travel, we continue to listen: Here are the international cities you loved the most this year.
Best small cities
From historical sites to local art, signature dishes to sun-washed beaches, there’s something for everyone among these small international cities.
The first stop on most trips to Scotland, Edinburgh rewards visitors with its beautiful Gothic buildings, cobblestone Royal mile, and hilltop 12th-century castle. Edinburgh is famous for its arts and performance festival that takes place each August, but don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Scottish capital for a romantic winter break. Pass a rainy day in one of the city’s storied pubs, shop for cashmere on the Royal Mile, enjoy the diverse culinary scene, and spend the night in a historic castle—or just visit for the day.
Though Rome is Italy’s much beloved capital and Milan has serious cosmopolitan clout, Florence remains unrivaled in history, art, and architecture (the food doesn't hurt, either). In addition to being the birthplace of the Renaissance, the Firenze of recent years has had a modern makeover: Study Tuscan classics with celebrity chef Arturo Dori at Desinare, one of the city’s hottest cooking school/design store hybrids, or take in modern art at La Strozzina, Florence’s center for contemporary culture. Wherever the day takes you, save room for a panino al lampredotto—this stewed tripe sandwich is a Florence must.
8. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
A popular day trip from Vancouver, British Columbia’s capital city deserves a visit of its own. Arrive via one of the world’s most scenic ferry rides across Swartz Bay and check in to the bucket list-worthy Fairmont Empress, where the Fairmont Gold rooms include access to a private waterfront lounge. With a reputation as the most British town in Canada, most restaurants and hotels offer a proper high tea. Check out the Venus Sophia, which offers baked goods. If you’re seeking a more rural escape, disconnect in the ancient forests with a road trip on Vancouver Island.
7. Siena, Italy
Traveler readers know better than to overlook the Tuscan city of Siena. All roads lead, quite literally, to the Piazza del Campo, built at the intersection of three main roads, which has served as the city’s social center for centuries. Just up the hill, admire the intricate marble mosaic floor of Il Duomo—one of the most ornate in Europe. Siena is known for its Gothic architecture, vibrant streets, and some of the best wines in Italy. Order a bottle of local wine with a plate of pici cacio e pepe at Antica Trattoria Papei, and don’t leave town without sampling ricciarelli, an almond cookie originating in Siena.
6. Salzburg, Austria
Classic Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, sits divided by the Salzach River: Its pedestrian Old City lines the left bank, and the (slightly) newer side is on the right. To drink like a local, head to Bräustübl zu Mülln, Austria’s largest beer hall, where beer is drawn directly from wooden barrels and can be enjoyed alongside traditional and regional specialties from the Schmankerlgang, an Old World food court of sorts. For a hotel stay involving gingerbread cookies, falling snow, and the fluffiest bed, look no further than Hotel Goldener Hirsch.
5. Valletta, Malta
Designated a “Capital of Culture,” Valletta has a lot to offer—particularly its Baroque architecture and fresh seafood. Try the pasta rizzi (sea urchin) at local favorite Da Pippo’s. The Phoenicia Hotel in front of Valletta’s City Gate offers stunning views of the city and harbors, along with one of the best hotel breakfasts around. Take a guided tour through the private rooms of Casa Rocca Piccola, a 400-year-old Baroque palace, for a glimpse into how Valletta’s noble families once lived. On Friday nights, join the locals at Bridge Bar for live jazz on the steps of the ancient bastions.
4. Monte Carlo, Monaco
Surrounded by the Maritime Alps on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, glamorous Monte Carlo has been made famous through pop culture for its depiction in an array of films, from To Catch a Thief to GoldenEye. It would be criminal to visit without stopping in to the Casino de Monte-Carlo (play a game of baccarat to do your best James Bond impression). Go just outside the city limits to the Jardin Exotique for stellar views and the world’s largest collection of succulents and cacti, or to Le Rocher, a cliffside old town with winding, narrow alleyways dating back to the Middle Ages.
3. Mérida, Mexico
The streets of Mérida are bursting with the colorful facades of Spanish colonial architecture, but the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state is also steeped in Mayan history. Centrally located on the Yucatan Peninsula, UNESCO World Heritage sites like the ancient cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza are an easy day trip, or head 40 minutes north to the beaches on the Gulf shore in Progreso. Locals recommend visiting Fundación de Artistas, a nonprofit featuring art exhibits in a 19th-century home; Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, a modern cultural museum; and the traditional Yucatecan food at the super casual Manjar Blanco.
2. Chiang Mai, Thailand
The laid-back city of Chiang Mai is the ideal place to unwind at the end of a longer trip around southeast Asia. Check in to the sleek Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, where rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river and outdoor daybeds to relax after a day spent browsing Warorot Market or temple hopping. On the outskirts of the city, visit the spa at The Dhara Dhevi for a Lanna massage or reflexology treatment in a private villa. You can’t leave Chiang Mai without trying a bowl of khao soy, a traditional Thai dish of braised chicken and fried noodles in a coconut curry soup.
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Four hours northwest of Mexico City is the jewel of San Miguel de Allende. A hub for expat artists, this highland city is known for its Spanish Colonial architecture and colorful facades. You could spend hours browsing the galleries and pop-up shops at Fabrica La Aurora, a former textile factory that is now home to local artisans. The Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is a hidden oasis in the heart of the city, with grand rooms featuring hand-carved furnishings and 360-degree views of the skyline from the rooftop tapas bar. For dinner, book the chef’s table at Aperi for one of the best dining experiences in the city, full of fresh flavors from the region.