Tight streets, a famous university and glimpses of parks, commons and courtyards dominate . North of London, the city is accentuated by the River Cam and buildings both new and old, such as historic King's College Chapel and Cambridge University's modern Centre for Mathematical Sciences.
Larger cities are often just as beautiful. , home to 50-story high-rises and traditional villas, is a favorite of Amanda Reynolds, member of the U.K.'s Urban Design Group, a collaborative body of architects, landscape architects and urban planners. But it's not just Tokyo's architecture that typifies its beauty. The city has a sense of structure and order as people smile and bow to each other, yet it explodes with energy as the narrow streets come to life with neon lighting after dark, she says.
Both are included in our list of the world's most beautiful cities, Also cited: , , , and .
Since beauty is subjective, we surveyed city specialists from a range of fields, including urban planning, architecture and sustainable development. Respondents include Reynolds and Michael Kaufman, an architect at Chicago-based architectural firm Goettsch Partners, as well as Raymond Levitt, director of the construction program in civil and environmental engineering at , Tony McGuirk, an urban designer, architect and chairman of BDP in London, J. Hugh O'Donnell of urban engineering firm MMM International, and Ken Drucker, New York design director of architectural firm HOK.
Cities of light
Paris earned repeated nods for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, its street life and its iconic structures such as the Grand Palais, as well as its contrast to English architecture, which promotes individuality and eccentricity. (Paris' aesthetic qualities were largely influenced by the 19th century Haussmann plan that stylized building facades.)
"The strength of Paris' 'sameness' enables this beautiful city to absorb such fantastic one-off pieces as the highly controversial (at the time) Eiffel Tower, the outrageously modern Centre Pompidou (by English and Italian architects) and the highly original and innovative Institute du Monde Arab," says Reynolds. Moreover, the city's historical height restrictions limited the development of towering buildings. "You don't feel like you're walking in shadows through most of the city," says Kaufman.
But while Paris is hailed for its man-made design and structures, Vancouver is noted for its natural beauty. In this coastal city open air is abundant — from the green west-end campus of the University of to the enormous Stanley Park just outside downtown. In addition, both the snowcapped Coast Mountains and the provide a beautiful backdrop, and the city's diverse cultures and foods offer a resounding finishing touch.
Open space also makes special, says Levitt. Renowned English sea navigator Sir Francis Drake once referred to Cape Town as the fairest cape in the world. The city houses the Kirstenbosch botanical garden, and the top of Table Mountain offers a breathtaking view of the city from roughly 3,500 feet above sea level. Levitt, an environmental engineer, praises the city's minimal ecological footprint, a result of its "manageable size."
is also praised for its natural beauty — chiefly its deep-water harbor that is visible from much of the hilly inner city. And while Sydney rarely gets cold and dreary, its beauty truly pops when its flowers bloom.
"Sydney is at its most beautiful in October/November when the millions of Jacaranda trees now lining huge numbers of the city streets … burst into purple flower and transform even the most banal of outer suburban distributor roads," says Reynolds.
Italian cities and also make the list. Florence offers a sense of architectural history with its gothic style Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Uffizi Gallery, and the city is easy to walk, which allows tourists to take in the beauty by foot. Florence is also the home of spacious piazzas that are filled with cafés and are surrounded by beautiful buildings, such as Palazzo Vecchio that borders Piazza della Signoria. "You couldn't go anywhere else in the world and find a place with such brilliant piazzas," McGuirk says.
Venice, a city on water, is rich with history (it was once a republic) and is often referred to as the adult Disneyland. Venice's "ancient and elaborate buildings seem comfortable in their varying degrees of decay — fading colors and complex stonework around doors and windows opening off the canals and medieval footpaths just add to the mystery of a seductive place," says Reynolds.
A slew of American cities also earned recognition. was praised for its bridges, hills, cable cars and the natural beauty created by its surrounding water, while earned points for its recent greening of public space, such as the development of Millennium Park and the planting of myriad flowers.
architectural beauty — Manhattan's stunning skyline, historic buildings contrasted by modern structures such as midtown's Tower — also cannot be ignored. Some, such as Levitt, even praised the Big Apple for its atmosphere. While he admits that 20 years ago he would not have listed New York, Levitt says a drop in crime has enabled people to get out and experience the city's wonderful street life.
Finally, could not be passed over. If Paris is structured beauty, London is the exact opposite — a "beautiful patchwork quilt" says McGuirk. Because the city developed over hundreds of years, it has no overall structure and its resulting architectural form is "very jagged and varied," something McGuirk finds very appealing.
Such attributes may set a city apart from others, but during a recession they might not be enough to spark the interest of belt-tightening travelers, especially amid stiff competition for tourism dollars. A survey by global market-research firm Euromonitor, published last summer, forecast that this year overall travel and tourism, in 2008 a $944 billion industry, according to the World Tourism Organization, would grow, but at lower-than-normal levels.