What makes a city rise above the rest in the hearts of travelers: the iconic landmarks, the distinctive culture, or just the dizzying array of dinner options?
“The food in Kyoto is truly exceptional,” says Katherine Christenson, a Travel + Leisure reader who voted in the magazine’s World’s Best Awards survey. “A kaiseki meal is one of the highlights of all food experiences.” Even so, her favorite part of the Japanese city is intangible. “The city is the essence of peace,” she says. “Kyoto has it all.”
Plenty of other Travel + Leisure readers felt the same way about Kyoto, scoring it highly among global cities for its landmarks, cuisine (like the multi-course, meticulously presented kaiseki), and even its friendly locals. As part of the magazine’s survey, readers also ranked the most popular cities, just within Asia, for such qualities as their arts scenes, bars, shopping, good value, and romantic potential.
And while Kyoto may have garnered favor for its Zen ambience, other winners among Asia’s top 10 cities charmed readers for being the opposite of peaceful. One winner makes the most of its sometimes-notorious past. Another is a business hub that dazzles readers with its extremes.
And reader Camaran Pipes loves another top 10 winner, Bangkok, for being a little bit of both. “Bangkok is fast and delicious, dirty and hot, relaxing and slow—whatever you want it to be,” she says. “It’s the chameleon of Asia, and it owns my heart.”
10. New Delhi
The Indian capital struck readers with its extremes—the juxtaposition of urban sprawl next to dense green spaces, as well as rich next to poor—and readers agreed that the best way to initiate yourself into it is a raucous rickshaw ride. Delhi is the only Indian city in the Asian survey to make the top 10 for cuisine. Keeping with those extremes, you can enjoy a sumptuous pan-Asian meal surrounded by murals and antiques at the Spice Route in the Hotel Imperial, or the much-beloved thalis at Andhra Bhavan, set in a state house, for roughly $3 a person. The city also made Asia’s top 10 for shopping: to explore some authentic markets, check out the dizzying bridal wear in Shahpur Jat, or take home one of the keep-forever dupatta scarves from the market in Lajpat Nagar.
9. Ho Chi Minh City
Whether they call it Ho Cho Minh City or Saigon (like locals still do), readers were struck by how fun-loving (and Westernized) this Vietnamese city has become. They also declared it the best city for cuisine in Vietnam. For a thorough selection, go to District 1’s Cuc Gach Quan, set in a creatively rehabbed Colonial mansion. For a glimpse of the trend-loving youth culture, order a flat white and people-watch at café and designer-fashion boutique L’Usine. And while Ho Chi Minh City made the top 5 for value, it still knows how to channel extravagance: the Reverie Saigon Hotel, sitting 27 floors high inside the city’s Times Square Building, is awash in marble, gilt, and swirling colors.
The Chinese city ranked at No. 4 for romance, and indeed people tend to romanticize Shanghai’s notorious past from the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps in that spirit, it also ranked at No. 5 in Asia for its sultry bars—like The Roof at Waterhouse Hotel, which offers house-grown-herb-infused cocktails and great views of the Bund. For a glimpse into the city’s future, go see the WET Pop fountain, a Bellagio-esque display (which you can actually splash around in yourself) in Daning Lingshi Park. To take a piece of the past home—the city also ranked at No. 5 for its exquisite shopping—browse the antiques and upcycled pieces from the ’20s and ’30s at boutiques like 1930 or in Jing’An’s Gelin Casa.
The Vietnam capital made the top 10 for its fascinating sights and landmarks—like the Military History Museum, which explores Vietnam’s complicated history, and the refrigerated tomb of Ho Chi Minh. Readers also ranked the city at No. 3 for good value, even for a grande dame hotel like the Sofitel Legend Metropole (which made readers’ top 10 of Asian hotels). And while readers admitted to being a little intimidated by the city’s motorcycle traffic, they still found the locals, when stationary, quite affable. For an authentic place to tuck into the country’s comfort food, try Quan An Ngon in the Hoan Kiem district, staffed by the city’s top street-food chefs.
This posh business hub didn’t charm readers by being a bargain: while it didn’t rank highly for value, it still landed at No. 3 for its shopping, and at No. 2 for romance. You can still find deals, however, if you come during late spring through mid-summer, when the Great Singapore Sale cuts prices and offers rewards at stores all over the city-state, from Orchard Road to Little India. For romance, book a room at the new Sofitel So Singapore, a Parisian-themed hotel where whimsical light boxes hang over each draped bed. Readers also love just coming and going from Singapore: Changi Airport—home to a 24-hour movie theatre, butterfly garden and a four-story-high, indoor slide—ranked as the survey’s No. 1 airport in the world.
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