Many Americans have stayed close-to-home these past few years, taking advantage of the incredible urban experiences within a few hours’ drive. Travelers seemed to prefer the warmer climates of the Southern and Western states for these domestic trips – only three cities on the list are in the Northeast or the Midwest. But wherever Travel + Leisure readers went, they sought out cities with a fun-loving spirit, delicious regional cuisine, and historic sites.
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.
After a few years of seeking space away from others, many travelers found the rush of larger cities appealing. “It was nice to be back in a big city after the pandemic, and I was glad to see people in the streets,” one reader said of New York City (No. 6). Others were looking for somewhere to go out and join the crowds at concerts. “Nashville has such a fun, creative energy,” said another voter of Music City (No. 15). “It’s all about music, and music brings us all together.”
Still, readers also appreciated destinations – like Honolulu (No. 5) or perennial favorite Asheville, North Carolina (No. 13) – with easy access to some of America’s spectacular outdoor offerings.
Topping our list yet again is Charleston, South Carolina, which has been voted the best American city for 10 years straight, making it a World’s Best Awards Hall of Fame honoree. Read on to find out why, and for the full list of the top US cities.
1. Charleston, South Carolina
There’s a reason people keep going back to Charleston: the city expresses the perfect balance of Southern charm, knockout food and drinks, and walkability. Many readers also found the city’s history to be a draw. Others appreciated the simple pleasures of strolling the side streets of downtown.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.70
2. New Orleans
While many readers raved about NOLA’s dynamic food scene and quirky tours (especially those in swamps and cemeteries), others homed in on its singular atmosphere. “You feel the overpowering spiritual energy of the past and the deeply complicated history of the city,” explained one voter.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.21
3. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Robust restaurant and art scenes are key reasons visitors of all ages return to this Southwestern city. One reader who raved about the variety of attractions, including the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and Loretto Chapel, also encouraged other travelers to venture just outside of town to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, calling it “a great place to view the sunset.”
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.15
4. Savannah, Georgia
A laid-back atmosphere and accessibility were among the top reasons voters praised this charming coastal city. “The locals are extremely friendly,” wrote one reader, who added that Savannah has something for everybody to enjoy, whether they’re interested in nightlife, dining, or shopping.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.84
“So much to do and never enough time,” one reader said about this city on Oahu’s southern shore. Another reader specifically called out the “amazing local restaurants” and “lots of hiking and walking areas to explore.”
6. New York City
Everything in Manhattan is world-class, from the Broadway shows and historic landmarks to the art museums and retail stores, according to T + L readers. But perhaps no aspect of the city inspired more enthusiasm than the food. “If you cannot find a great meal in New York, you cannot find one anywhere,” wrote one voter.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 84.16
“Chicago offers everything good about any large US city along with Midwestern charm and friendliness and excellent prices,” summarized one reader. Several people remarked on the Windy City’s superb restaurants and ease of navigation, thanks to a robust public transportation network.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 83.15
8. Alexandria, Virginia
Though many people know it as a suburb of Washington, DC, this capital-adjacent enclave has plenty of its own merits, including “good food and interesting shopping,” according to one voter. Another encouraged fellow travelers to visit the city’s walking trails along the Potomac.
9. San Antonio, Texas
Sites like the Alamo and the River Walk get much of the attention, but as T + L readers attested, there’s much more behind the city’s wide appeal. “The food, especially at the mom-and-pop restaurants, is amazing and very diverse,” shared one fan, while another person touted the city’s very literal welcoming committee. “They have ‘Ambassadors’ walking along the streets who are put there to greet people, answer questions, and help any way they can,” the voter explained.
History earned this New England hub many accolades from T + L readers, as did the cultural and sports institutions, with one voter calling Fenway “one of the most beautiful ballparks.” Even lifelong visitors were impressed. “I grew up visiting family in Boston,” shared one reader. “After 40 years, the city has finally evolved into a much more cosmopolitan place. The restaurants are better than ever, the city is much more diverse, and the new Seaport area is fantastic.”
11. Austin, Texas
Music, food, and nightlife continue to attract travelers to the Lone Star State’s capital, but WBA voters also cited nature as a draw. That might mean visiting Barton Springs Pool and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – and the Hill Country is an easy drive away.
12. Williamsburg, Virginia
History buffs see tremendous value in visiting this Southern destination. “Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful attraction,” wrote one voter. “Also very close to Jamestown Settlement and several sites from the Civil War. You can spend a lot of time in this area.”
13. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville’s relaxed vibe and gorgeous scenery earned raves from several T + L readers. “I loved the country atmosphere, shopping, and the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, especially in fall,” shared one voter. “The Biltmore Estate and the gardens always are a treat, and the restaurants were great as well.”
14. San Diego
Year-round sunshine and a plethora of activities – from boogie boarding at the beach to racing around Legoland – make this Southern California city especially attractive to families. But there’s plenty to appeal to travelers of all types. “The dining is sensational, sightseeing abounds, and its manageable small-town feel is such a welcome relief in Southern California,” wrote a voter.
The vibrancy of Music City may be deeply rooted in country music – it’s home to the Grand Ole Opry and countless bars along Broadway, after all – but as T + L readers will attest, the energy has spread much farther, especially in recent years. The city’s restaurants have never been better or more eclectic, ranging from casual Tex-Mex to vegan-friendly Middle Eastern. “Jewel of the South,” one reader summarized.