World's Most Romantic Cities
Why go: Wooden Zen temples, lush gardens, tea houses and ancient palaces make Kyoto one of Japan's most lovely and tranquil destinations. Thanks to its abundance of cherry trees, the former Imperial city is particularly beautiful in the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Where to stay: A ryokan, or traditional inn, Hoshinoya Kyoto has 25 softly lit rooms with yellow cedar bathtubs and rice paper screens. A traditional Japanese breakfast is delivered to your door daily. Rooms from around $590; hoshinoyakyoto.jp.
Where to eat: One of Kyoto's famed kaiseki restaurants, Yoshihiru Murata's Michelin-starred Kikunoi serves multicourse seasonal menus that feature delicacies like cedar-smoked barracuda fillets and sashimi served on chrysanthemum petals.
San Sebastian, Spain
Why go: A seaside paradise, the Basque town of San Sebastian is renowned for its pioneering, Michelin-starred restaurants and beautiful beach on the Bahia de la Concha. Art Nouveau buildings and wide streets provide an idyllic setting for famed restaurants like Arzak and Mugaritz.
Where to stay: Works by local artists decorate the tranquil rooms of the Villa Soro, located on a tree-lined avenue alongside other stately 19th-century homes. Rooms from around $170; villasoro.es
Where to eat: Juan Mari Arzak helped found the new Basque cuisine at his eponymous restaurant, which, with its three Michelin stars, is considered one of the best places to eat in Spain—and the world.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Why go: Buenos Aires combines Old World grandeur and tango performances with fabulous nightlife and cutting-edge restaurants.
Where to stay: Originally built as a 19th-century convent, 1555 Malabia House in Palermo Soho is today known as Argentina's first designer B&B. Rooms from $140; malabiahouse.com.ar.
Where to eat: The unmarked entrance to Tegui is hidden by graffiti, but once inside, you'll find ambitious, locally sourced cuisine from hotshot chef German Martitegui.
Why go: With its cobbled streets, moody old buildings and dramatic scenery, Edinburgh has both history and charm to spare. But it’s very much a modern city, with great nightlife, excellent restaurants and year-round cultural festivals.
Where to stay: A designer B&B in a beautifully restored Victorian house, 94DR offers six rooms with modern interiors, a walled garden and a fantastic glass-enclosed breakfast room with meals prepared by the owners, one of whom is a trained chef. Rooms from around $100; 94dr.com.
Where to eat: Located in a Georgian townhouse, Paul Kitching's 21212 serves a five-course menu featuring playful takes on Scottish classics like fish-and-chips, or corned beef reimagined as a fillet with fried onions, celeriac and macadamia nuts. Every numeral in the restaurant's name refers to the number of choices diners get for each course.
Why go: While landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries gardens are universally romantic, much of the city’s appeal lies in quotidian attractions, from patisseries and chocolate shops to the Art Nouveau metro entrances.
Where to stay: Each of the 26 rooms at Le Pavillon des Lettres is dedicated to a different writer—quotations from legends like Hans Christian Andersen and Emile Zola are stenciled onto the walls of the elegant former townhouse. Rooms from around $370; pavillondeslettres.com.
Where to eat: At Pierre Jancou’s Vivant, you’ll find natural wines and rustic, impeccably sourced dishes like fat Challans duck leg served with crunchy polenta. Some of Paris's best brioche can be had at Philippe Conticini's futuristic La Pâtisserie des Rêves. La Chocolaterie de Jacques Genin is also renowned for its caramels, which come in flavors from cinnamon to passion fruit.
San Francisco, CA, USA
Why go: Gorgeous vistas, dizzying hills and pretty row houses make San Francisco one of the most romantic cities in the United States. There’s artisanal food everywhere, from fair-trade coffee shops to the incomparable Ferry Building farmers’ market.
Where to stay: Located in a landmark building where part of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo was shot, Hotel Vertigo draws film buffs. Design buffs love the bold orange-and-white color scheme. Rooms from $99; hotelvertigosf.com.
Where to eat: At Cotogna, Michael Tusk updates rustic Italian cuisine with dishes like roast lamb with sunchokes and bagna cauda, and house-made tortelloni with rutabaga and pine nuts.
Why go: An ancient fortress city, Fez seduces travelers with its maze-like alleyways lined with windowless shops, tiled mosques, tea gardens and souks overflowing with fruits, spices and nuts.
Where to stay: Once the summer palace of a Moroccan pasha, the carefully restored Le Jardin des Biehn has a hammam, gallery space and large Andalusian-style garden. Rooms from around $170; jardindesbiehn.com.
Where to eat: Housed in an old French colonial building with a high-walled garden, Cecile Houizot-Nanot's Fes et Gestes is known for its traditional Moroccan tea service and tagines.
Prague, Czech Republic
Why go: Prague offers a tableau of red-tiled roofs, fairytale castles and architectural styles that encompass everything from Renaissance to Cubist. And thanks to an increasingly modern sensibility, the Czech capital also has innovative restaurants, hotels and shops.
Where to stay: A restored Art Deco building in the city's center, Hotel Imperial has marble bathrooms and custom-designed wooden furniture. Rooms from around $140; hotel-imperial.cz.
Where to eat: Occupying the top two floors of Frank Gehry's Dancing House, Celeste serves a seafood-heavy menu cooked by an Alain Ducasse alum.
Why go: Although Lisbon embraces the past, its glorious old buildings house new restaurants, clothing boutiques and museums that have made the city one of Europe's hippest—and most affordable—cultural destinations.
Where to stay: Bairro Alto is considered Lisbon's first contemporary boutique hotel. Its 55 rooms blend traditional Portuguese design with luxe touches like flat-screen TVs and plush bed linens. Rooms from around $240; bairroaltohotel.com.
Where to eat: Restaurante 560 pays homage to simple Portuguese staples like octopus and farinheira (black pork sausage) by reinterpreting them in inspired ways: Octopus is deep-fried and served with rice and sautéed sprouts, while farinheira comes wrapped in phyllo pastry.
New York City, NY, USA
Why go: New York is deserving of all of the hyperbolic adjectives that come its way. Exciting, confounding and demanding of attention, it's arguably America's capital of food, fashion, culture and romance.
Where to stay: At the Greenwich Hotel, guests can stay in high-ceilinged rooms decorated individually with furnishings from Tibet, Sweden and just about everywhere in between. Rooms from $495; thegreenwichhotel.com.
Where to eat: The owner of downtown's Il Buco recently opened an equally rustic all-day Italian spot around the corner. At Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, couples sip morning cappuccinos or share entrees at night in the Vineria, like whole branzino baked in Sicilian sea salt.
Why go: Known as the Pink City thanks to its many rose-hued buildings, Jaipur is home to sprawling palaces and stunning hilltop forts. Like most Indian cities, it's also crowded and chaotic, but the bustle just enhances its sensory appeal.
Where to stay: A former fort, the Oberoi Rajvilas sits on 32 landscaped acres and has rooms, villas and well-appointed tents. Rooms from around $580; oberoihotels.com.
Where to eat: Located inside the Oberoi Rajvilas, Surya Mahal serves both Indian and Continental menus.
Why go: Marked by a grid of wide, leafy boulevards, an exuberant restaurant scene and pedestrian lanes lined with small shops and cafes, Melbourne is one of Australia’s most attractive cities, and also one of its most cosmopolitan.
Where to stay: Billed as Melbourne's most decadent B&B, Villa Donati sports an Italianate facade and four rooms with fireplaces and flat-screen TVs. Rooms from around $200; villadonati.com.
Where to eat: Adam D'Sylva's refined French-accented Asian menu, with dishes like Hervey Bay scallop with pearl tapioca and salmon caviar, has made Coda Bar & Restaurant one of the city's hottest restaurants.
Why go: In Istanbul, new art galleries, boutiques and nightclubs pop up next to gorgeous Ottoman mosques and tea gardens. It’s an intoxicating mix that makes the legendary Turkish destination deserving of its nickname, the City of the World's Desire.
Where to stay: A four-story mansion built in the 1890s, the House Hotel Galatasaray has elegant rooms and a top-floor breakfast lounge where eggs are cooked to order. Rooms from about $135; thehousehotel.com.
Where to eat: Tucked into a 1920s house, Balikçi Sabahattin has impeccably fresh meze and seafood; nearby, tiny Rumeli is a must for baklava.
Why go: In addition to the cobbled streets and old bistros, this Francophone city fosters some of North America’s most talented chefs, innovative musicians and a vibrant arts scene.
Where to stay: Big windows in Hôtel Gault's rooms overlook Old Montreal. The interior is modern with Italian furniture (Bertoia Bird chairs, Tolomeo lamps), neutral tones and heated bathroom floors, punctuated by cast-iron columns dating to the building's textile-factory days. Rooms from around $209; hotelgault.com.
Where to eat: Like its sister restaurant Joe Beef, David McMillan and Frédéric Morin's Liverpool House has a boisterous vibe and a menu of French- and Italian-style dishes such as mushroom-Gruyère tarts and osso bucco with ricotta gnocchi.
Why go: Dynamic, fast-paced and exhilarating, Shanghai is a city very much focused on the future. In fascinating contrast to its skyscrapers and designer bars, the city's rich past lives on in Buddhist monasteries, old lane houses and crowded noodle bars.
Where to stay: China’s first carbon-neutral hotel, URBN Shanghai, pairs sustainability with a sleek, minimalist aesthetic that references traditional Asian design. Rooms from about $236; urbnhotels.com.
Where to eat: At chef Tony Lu's lovely, low-key FU 1088, you'll find some of the best Shanghainese fine dining in town.
Why go: Beyond big-ticket attractions like the Spanish Steps and the Coliseum, much of Rome's allure comes from trattorias with excellent pastas.
Where to stay: A five-room guesthouse overlooking the Porta del Popolo, Casa Montani offers its guests silk bedspreads, soundproofed windows and complimentary breakfast in bed. Rooms from around $210; casamontani.com.
Where to eat: The menu at Settembrini emphasizes simple, expertly cooked pastas and fish, while the wine list is courtesy of star sommelier Luca Boccoli.
Why go: With its medieval lanes, cathedrals and seaside perch, it's easy to see why Lord Byron called Dubrovnik "the pearl of the Adriatic." Get lost on the smooth cobbled streets of the Old Town, or sip espresso at one of the cafés on the Placa, the city's pedestrian thoroughfare.
Where to stay: Housed in a handsome 17th-century Baroque building, the Pucic Palace is right in the middle of the Old Town. Rooms from around $490; thepucicpalace.com.
Where to eat: The family-run Ekvinocijo Konoba serves Croatian specialties like locally made sausages and seafood right off the boat.
Charleston, SC, USA
Why go: Steeped in Civil War history, Charleston is synonymous with Southern charm. But thanks to superb restaurants, well-curated boutiques and terrific bars, antebellum architecture is only part of the city’s considerable appeal.
Where to stay: High ceilings and four-poster beds characterize the rooms at Planters Inn, a 19th century Georgian building. Rooms from $214; plantersinn.com.
Where to eat: At Husk, chef Sean Brock has revolutionized Southern cooking with his focus on obsessively local, heirloom ingredients.
Why go: Although Vienna is synonymous with stately palaces, lovely public squares and dignified 17th- and 18th-century architecture, the history serves as a backdrop for contemporary art museums, hip furniture shops and innovative restaurants.
Where to stay: Some of the 42 unique rooms at Hotel Altstadt Vienna feature sexy black-and-red furnishings by Italian designer and architect Matteo Thun. All of the rooms have high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Rooms from around $186; hotel-altstadt-vienna.com.
Where to eat: With a menu featuring Viennese, French, and Mediterranean cuisine and a ceiling embellished with the bold work of artist Otto Zitko, Skopik & Lohn is a magnet for the city's creative community. skopikundlohn.at
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Why go: Colorful and chaotic, Rio de Janeiro is exhilarating. And between its white-sand beaches, mountainous vistas and beautiful residents, it's also one of the world's most scenic destinations.
Where to stay: A rambling, meticulously appointed guesthouse run by French expats, La Maison has gorgeous views and a swimming pool fringed with exotic plants. Rooms start around $330; lamaisonario.com.
Where to eat: Located in the Philippe Starck-designed Hotel Fasano, Fasano al Mare specializes in Mediterranean seafood dishes and sits right on Ipanema beach.
Why go: Copenhagen is clean, safe and burgeoning with restaurants, bars and the beautiful people who frequent them. Canals and cobblestone streets add to the Danish capital's already plentiful charms.
Where to stay: Persian carpets and Balinese furnishings decorate the sleek but cozy rooms of Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden; a complimentary Scandinavian breakfast sweetens the deal. Rooms from around $170; hotelguldsmeden.com.
Where to eat: At Herman, chef Thomas Herman reinvents traditional Danish dishes: Here, liver pâté becomes seared foie gras with cherries, endive and nougatine.
Why go: Bruges is one of Europe's loveliest and most-visited medieval cities, with tree-lined canals and Gothic churches. It's particularly serene in the winter, when you can ice skate on the frozen canals and warm up in local pubs.
Where to stay: Located in the former home of a 19th-century baron, Hotel Oud Huis de Peellaert underwent a complete renovation in 2010. Rooms from around $170; depeellaert.com.
Where to eat: Daily-caught fish is the specialty at Restaurant De Stove, a 20-seat spot known for its fireplaces, changing menu and emphasis on house-made ingredients.
Wellington, New Zealand
Why go: Hilly and full of wooden Victorian houses, Wellington is a bit like the South Pacific's version of San Francisco. Overlooking a stunning harbor, New Zealand's capital also offers plenty of culture—theaters, music clubs and galleries—and natural attractions like the extensive Botanic Gardens.
Where to stay: Each of the 10 rooms at Ohtel has a two-person bathtub and sleek, midcentury modern furnishings. Rooms from around $205; ohtel.com.
Where to eat: At the Larder, chef Jacob Brown emphasizes local ingredients in dishes like lambs kidneys with roast shallots, pancetta and Dijon mustard.
Why go: Technically two cities bisected by the Danube, Buda and Pest add up to one of Europe's most vibrant and scenic capitals. Awakened from its dour Communist past, Budapest offers eclectic architecture, thermal baths, nightlife, and Old World cuisine.
Where to stay: Located in Pest, the Hotel Palazzo Zichy is housed in a meticulously restored neo-Baroque mansion that was originally built for a 19th century nobleman. Rooms from around $80; hotel-palazzo-zichy.hu.
Where to eat: Though a list of about 200 domestic wines dominates the menu at Borkonyha ("wine kitchen"), the bistro also does justice to local ingredients like Mangalitsa hog, braised and served with roasted carrots.