For the second year in a row, we asked you to share your favorite places in the world. Without further ado, here are the big winners.
Best American City
Winner: New York City
Finalists: Chicago, Los Angeles
The largest metropolis in the U.S. once again claims this prize, and why not? There’s literally something for everyone here, from world-renowned landmarks and a diverse cultural scene to mind-blowing cuisine and trend-setting nightlife. Fall is arguably the best time to visit, and that’s especially true this year, as this month sees the returns of the New York Film Festival, the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet, The Armory Show, and best of all, Broadway. It’s a helluva town, indeed.
Best Honeymoon Destination
U.S. Winner: Hawaii / International Winner: Italy
U.S. Finalists: Chicago; Key West, Florida
International Finalists: France; Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
It seems our romantic readers are dreaming of nuptial celebrations across the ocean. Those who don’t want to pack their passports voted for Hawaii, and no wonder. No matter which island you choose, it’s an idyllic paradise, combining lush landscapes with luxe hotels and scores of activities for newlyweds. An Old World version of a nature-kissed honeymoon, meanwhile, can be enjoyed across the Atlantic, in Italy. From the banks of a crystalline northern lake such as Como or Garda or from a sun-dappled terrace on the Amalfi Coast, the whole country is a scenic marvel. Add in the history and the food and the wine, and couples will find themselves in a state of constant bliss.
Best International City
Finalists: London, Rome
As Audrey Hepburn said in Sabrina, “Paris is always a good idea,” and for the second straight year, our readers agreed. No other city so consistently lives up to its self-created myth, be it through coffee-addled intellectuals arguing existential points or fashionistas swooning before iconic ateliers. Add in the expansive gardens, the palatial monuments, and all the Monets, and you’ve got a pretty heady atmosphere—one that’s continually propelling itself forward, pushing the boundaries of food, design, and thought to unite the old and new.
Best City for Families
U.S. Winner: Orlando / International Winner: London
U.S. Finalists: Chicago; Washington, D.C.
International Finalists: Cape Town, Paris
As the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is a sure bet for family vacations. There’s Walt Disney World, which has been augmented in recent years by features such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge; Universal Orlando, where visitors flock to adventures based on Harry Potter, Transformers, and Jurassic Park; and less renowned options, such as Icon Park, with its 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel. Speaking of big wheels, the views from the 443-foot-tall London Eye are just one reason the British capital is ideal for an overseas family jaunt. Cruise past Big Ben on the Thames, go on a shopping spree at Hamleys, see the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, and be sure not to miss the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–inspired afternoon tea at the One Aldwych hotel.
Best Up-and-Coming City
Winner: Austin, Texas
Finalists: Indianapolis, Indiana; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A booming tech sector, a rich cultural scene, and a quirky vibe have combined to fuel Austin’s rise. Nicknamed Silicon Hills, the Texas capital is home to more than 6,500 tech companies, including a 133-acre Apple campus that’s under construction. The twin culinary pillars of Tex-Mex and barbecue (line up early for the brisket at Franklin) draw foodies from across the country, while Austin City Limits only scratches the surface of a musical bonanza that covers everything from East Fifth Street institution Antone’s to South by Southwest. Austin is thriving, but don’t worry—it’s still weird.
Best Beach Destination
U.S. Winner: Waikiki Beach, Hawaii / International Winner: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
U.S. Finalists: Malibu, California; Miami Beach, Florida
International Finalists: Bondi Beach, Australia; Playa Escondida, Mexico
Both of our winning beach destinations lie within the Polynesian Triangle. Domestically, we have Honolulu’s world-famous Waikiki, one of Hawaii’s most historic, cosmopolitan districts. In the 19th century, the two-mile stretch of sand served as a retreat for Hawaiian royals; today, it’s home to The Royal Hawaiian hotel (the 1927 “Pink Palace” frequented by celebrities and moguls) as well as numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions such as Kapi‘olani Park, the ravishing Queen Kapi‘olani Garden, and a statue honoring legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku. For a more secluded experience, fly a little farther, to French Polynesia’s Bora Bora. With its lavish overwater bungalows, this has long been a favorite for those seeking a quietly plush (and paparazzi-free) holiday. The lagoon is a prime spot for diving, and the famously gorgeous main island and its surrounding motus offer countless white-sand beaches.
Best Canadian Hotel
Winners: Cabot Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Fairmont Banff Springs, Alberta
Finalist: Rosewood Hotel Georgia, British Columbia
For the first time, we have a tie in the voting. Both of your favorite Canadian hotels take advantage of the country’s natural beauty, albeit in very different settings. Nova Scotia’s Cabot Cape Breton hugs the Atlantic coastline, which it utilizes in the design of its two top-ranked golf courses. Far to the west, in Alberta’s Banff National Park, the Fairmont Banff Springs, a Scottish baronial structure that dates from the late 19th century, is surrounded by the towering Canadian Rockies.
Best Mexican or Caribbean Hotel
Winner: Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancún, Mexico
Finalists: GoldenEye, Jamaica; Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort, San José del Cabo, Mexico
Overlooking the glittering Caribbean, this gleaming modernist property immerses guests in a lazy haze of sun, sea, and sky. From the lily pad–bedecked pond at the entrance to the crisp cabana beds draped in linen, every detail is optimized to appeal to the sybaritic. (The resort being adults-only makes it even easier to indulge.) Topping things off, the resort is smack in the middle of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, meaning it’s surrounded by shopping and entertainment.
Best South American Hotel
Winner: Copacabana Palace, A Belmond Hotel, Rio de Janeiro
Finalists: The Click Clack Hotel, Bogotá, Colombia; Fasano São Paulo, Brazil
Immortalized in the first Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers film, 1933’s Flying Down to Rio, this opulent Art Deco masterpiece has since welcomed everyone from Walt Disney and Marlene Dietrich to Mick Jagger and Princess Diana. The property offers a variety of luxe rooms and suites, as well as the Pan-Asian Mee and Northern Italian Cipriani restaurants and the celebrated Copacabana piano bar. And, of course, one of the most famous beaches in the world is right across the street.
Best American Hotel
Winner: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii
Finalists: Bode Nashville; The Langham, Chicago
Lined with white-sand beaches, this splendid resort on the island of Hawaii’s leeward Kona Coast occupies the site of an ancient fishing village. In addition to the expected diversions (such as an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course), the property offers a variety of activities inspired by its location, such as harvesting salt using traditional Hawaiian methods, working with a marine naturalist to catalog sea life, and going for a dip in a 1.8-million-gallon lava-rock aquarium that’s stocked with more than 1,000 tropical fish.
Best African Hotel
Winner: The St. Regis Cairo
Finalists: Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, South Africa; One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, Rwanda
Proving Agatha Christie doesn’t own luxury travel on the Nile, the new St. Regis Cairo brings the brand’s renowned opulence to the Egyptian capital. Michael Graves Architecture & Design sprinkled eye-catching details throughout the 36-story structure, from the gold mosaic tiles adorning the porte cochere to the papyrus wall coverings in the supremely lavish guest rooms. In the swank bar, artist Ayman El Semary’s Pink Sun mural depicts ancient life on the Nile—the famed river that flows just outside the property’s walls.
Best Oceanian Hotel
Winner: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Finalists: The Oyster Inn, Waiheke Island, New Zealand; Park Hyatt Sydney, Australia
Hovering just above the luminous Bora Bora lagoon, the overwater bungalows at this resort provide everything a latter-day Swiss Family Robinson could desire. Hire a chef to prepare Polynesian delights in your outdoor kitchen, or book an outrigger canoe trip to a white-sand islet, where a Champagne-enhanced supper awaits at a waterside table. The Te Mahana spa’s treatments incorporate indigenous ingredients such as detoxifying algae and Tahitian black pearl powder.
Best European Hotel
Winner: Hotel Poseidon, Positano, Italy
Finalists: Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel, Paris, France; One&Only Portonovi, Herceg Novi, Montenegro
The Greek god of the sea would certainly feel at home here. Built in the 1950s as a private villa, this family-run cliffside property has been in high demand ever since. Its scale is intimate (52 chic rooms spread over four stories), its views are dramatic (the Mediterranean and colorful Positano), and its beach lies 300 steps (!) below. After the climb back up, guests will surely be happy to take the hotel’s vintage wooden elevator to their rooms.
Best Asian Hotel
Winner: Park Hyatt Tokyo
Finalists: One&Only Desaru Coast, Malaysia; Rosewood Hong Kong, China
As anyone who’s seen Lost in Translation can tell you, some of the best views of Tokyo (especially at night) can be enjoyed from the windows of this hotel, which occupies the top 14 floors of the 52-story Shinjuku Park Tower. Make like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson and take in that scenery from the iconic New York Bar while sipping a Suntory whiskey and listening to a live jazz band.
Best International Museum
Winner: The Louvre, Paris
Finalists: The British Museum, London; Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Sure, you can wait an hour to get a quick glimpse of the Mona Lisa, but there are so many other reasons to visit the world’s most famous museum. Room after room of this former palace contains exquisite pieces, some dating back to the Neolithic period, but be sure to take stock of the architectural details all around you, which often outshine the objects on display. Take a tour, then stop by Le Café Marly to enjoy a croque monsieur or salade Niçoise with a view of I.M. Pei’s Pyramid.
Best American Museum
Winner: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Finalists: The Art Institute of Chicago; The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Having celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, the largest art museum in America is moving forward with an eye toward our evolving times. The Met’s 17 curatorial departments span everything from ancient Egypt to The Costume Institute, and last year the museum appointed its first curator of Native American art, Patricia Marroquin Norby. The current exhibitions emphasize the variety on hand: Visitors can see pieces by Medici portraitists, 20th-century female photographers, and New York City public schoolchildren, among others.
Best Country for Adventure
Winner: New Zealand
Finalists: Chile, Costa Rica
Whether it’s way aboveground (on the 141-foot-high Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, where commercial bungy jumping was born) or far below it (in the North Island’s Waitomo Caves, which are famous for their glowworms), New Zealand is a land where canyoning, heliskiing, and caving are as common as golf and tennis are elsewhere.
Best State for Adventure
Finalists: California, Utah
Thanks to its magnificent landscape—defined, of course, by the Rocky Mountains—the Centennial State offers an abundance of outdoor activities: skiing, backpacking, rafting, rock climbing, fly-fishing… We could go on and on, but instead we’ll just suggest you read our tips on how to spend Three Perfect Days in the Colorado Rockies.
U.S. Winner: Golden Door, San Marcos, California /
International Winner: Gem Spa, Cancún, Mexico
U.S. Finalists: Chuan Spa at The Langham, Chicago; Shou Sugi Ban House, Water Mill, New York
International Finalists: The Spa at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, San José del Cabo, Mexico; Sense, A Rosewood Spa, Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, France
At the literally named Golden Door, visitors pass through a luminous portal to enter a weeklong immersive wellness experience. Set amid Zen gardens and bamboo groves, the spa guides guests through rejuvenating treatments, hikes, tai chi, haiku writing, and nutrition-focused classes, leaving them freshly equipped to reenter the world. In Cancún, meanwhile, the 40,000-square-foot Gem Spa (at the Grand Fiesta Americana resort) utilizes chakra-balancing quartz stones in its Seventh Wonder massage, in addition to a 10-step hydrotherapy ritual that incorporates multiple steam rooms, showers, and saunas.
Best Ski Destination
U.S. Winner: Vail, Colorado / International Winner: Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
U.S. Finalists: Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
International Finalists: Courchevel, France; Zermatt, Switzerland
Vail’s combination of backcountry terrain and alpine luxury make it America’s most popular ski resort. For an international destination, readers favored British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America. Skiers here move between two mountains (and 200 marked runs across 8,171 skiable acres) on the signature Peak 2 Peak gondola, the world’s highest cable car system. Nice views, eh?
Best International Food City
Finalists: Lima, Hong Kong
People may say they’re visiting Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower or browse at Balmain—but they’re really here for the croissants (and the cassoulet, and the wine, and the fromage…). And one needn’t splurge on dinner at Arpège or Le Cinq to taste the glories of the French capital. Simply savor the escargots at Robert et Louise in the Marais or the chocolate and pistachio “escargot” pastry at Du Pain et des Idées in Canal Saint-Martin, and you’ll be eating like a true Parisian.
Best American Restaurant
Winner: Travelle at the Langham, Chicago
Finalists: Le Cavalier at the Green Room, Wilmington, Delaware; Scarpetta Beach, Montauk, New York
Chef Qi Ai sources meat and produce from top farms, ranches, and orchards
to produce a menu of contemporary seasonal American cuisine. (Don’t miss the filet mignon with truffle espuma and shishito peppers—truly a modern Big Shoulders meal.) The location, overlooking the Chicago River on the second floor of The Langham hotel, in Mies van der Rohe’s iconic IBM Building, feels quintessentially American as well.
Best American Food City
Winner: New York City
Finalists: Chicago, Los Angeles
There are a million ways to take a bite out of the Big Apple. From the everyday to the rarefied, Afghani to Yemeni, bagels to baklava to baba ghanoush, you can find an excellent version of it here. Partisans fight over which pizza is the best (a slice at Joe’s? A pie at Lucali?), gourmands trade breathless memories of exquisite dishes at Michelin-kissed Le Bernardin and Per Se, and insiders impress friends with their latest find in Bushwick. Purists even squabble over which corner has the best hot-dog stand.
Best International Restaurant
Winner: Il Tridente, Positano, Italy
Finalists: Arbol at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, San José del Cabo, Mexico; L’Ecrin, Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, France
With its sweeping views of the Amalfi Coast, the Hotel Poseidon’s restaurant offers one of the most scenic tables in Europe. The cuisine is classic Neapolitan: Enjoy a beef fillet garnished with anchovy sauce and black truffle, not to mention broccoli gnocchi with smoked red prawns. A digestif accompanied by live music on the cocktail terrace is an ideal way to stick a trident in the evening.
Best American Bar
Winner: King Cole Bar, New York City
Finalists: Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Maine; Spruzzo, West Palm Beach, Florida
The Gilded Age lives on at The St. Regis New York’s sumptuous lounge. The bar is best known as the birthplace of the Red Snapper, whose signature snap of vodka, tomato juice, salt, cayenne pepper, lemon, and Worcestershire became known throughout the world as the Bloody Mary. Equally worthy of renown is the mural of Old King Cole and his courtiers, painted in 1906 by Maxfield Parrish.
Best International Bar
Winner: La Botica Speakeasy Piano Bar, San José del Cabo, Mexico
Finalists: Bar Les Ambassadeurs, Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, France; New York Grill, Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan
Inspired by a vintage apothecary, this “speakeasy” at Rosewood’s Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort—entered via a discreet door adjoining the spa—features Prohibition-style cocktails. Sip an Asere (Pitu cachaça, Giffard rhubarb liqueur, yellow Chartreuse) or a Baradero (Plantation 3 Stars rum, sake, pineapple) while listening to the artist in residence, Cuban singer Rosalía de Cuba.
Best Cruise Line
Winner: Royal Caribbean International
Finalists: Disney Cruise Line, Ponant Cruises
Operating 24 ships, including the four largest in the world, Royal Caribbean is once again sailing from Seattle; Miami; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Galveston, Texas, to destinations in the Caribbean and Alaska. The company is renowned for the quality of its offerings and service. Basketball courts, rock-climbing walls, and even ice-skating rinks are among the amenities available to shipgoers, while the restaurants feature fare by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver. Royal Caribbean is also the only line to present Broadway shows, including Cats, Grease, and Hairspray. Sounds like an ovation of the seas.
Best Theme Park
Winner: Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Finalists: Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Universal Studios Florida, Orlando
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, the Most Magical Place on Earth continues to invent experiences for guests. Among the debuts slated for the next year are a new fireworks show, rides based on Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy, and fresh iterations of the old favorites Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain. Next year, Star Wars fans will even be able to stay in a Galactic Starcruiser for two-nights.
Best City for the Arts
Winner: New York City
Finalists: Chicago, Paris
Perhaps no metropolis in the world is as defined by its arts scene as NYC is. Broadway has made the city the global nexus of theater, but all sorts of performances can be found on stages throughout the five boroughs—from the Public Theater to the Comedy Cellar to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Museums come in packages large (The Met) and small (The Studio Museum in Harlem). And there’s more reason than ever to visit now, as The New York Times recently reported that the city’s cultural scene is essential to its economic comeback.
Best Cultural Festival
Winner: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Finalists: Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotland; Pensacola Foo Foo Festival, Florida
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is the highlight of the spring in the Big Easy. Founded in 1970, this vibrant celebration has featured everyone from Duke Ellington to Katy Perry, with regular appearances from NOLA natives with the last names Marsalis and Neville. Next year’s lineup is sure to be a doozy, but perhaps more important is all the crawfish, yaka mein, andouille gumbo, and oyster po’boys attendees can eat.
Best National Park
Winner: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Idaho/Montana
Finalists: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; Yosemite National Park, California
America’s first national park, Yellowstone is also one of its most majestic, known for its abundant wildlife and spectacular hydrothermal features. Species ranging from bighorn sheep and bison to grizzly bears and wolves roam the park’s 2.2 million acres, a landscape that spreads across parts of three states and that also contains about half of the world’s active geysers. The most famous, of course, is Old Faithful, so named for its regular eruption every hour or so. Plan ahead: Reservations for the park’s campgrounds are essential.
Best Wine Region
U.S. Winner: Napa Valley, California / International Winner: Bordeaux, France
U.S Finalists: Sonoma County, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon
International Finalists: Burgundy and Provence, France
America’s most vaunted wine region, Napa, has been growing grapes since the 19th century, but the quality of its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay achieved global renown only in the 1960s and ’70s, when Robert Mondavi founded his eponymous winery and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena beat their French counterparts at the Judgment of Paris. (Oenophiles can still visit all of these establishments, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants such as The French Laundry and La Toque.) Speaking of the French, more than 7.7 million people visited Bordeaux in 2019, taking in such legendary estates as Château d’Yquem and Château Mouton Rothschild (a joy for architecture buffs as much as wine lovers). Beyond its wine and food, Bordeaux offers a classic taste of French culture, with all manner of centuries-old landmarks.
Winner: Monterey Bay Aquarium, California
Finalists: Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta; Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
The conservation-focused Monterey Bay Aquarium (2020 Hemispheres Readers’ Choice Awards winner for Best Aquarium) is at the forefront of many ecological and political initiatives, including maintaining the Seafood Watch sustainable advisory list, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to visit. The kelp-forest habitat offers guests up-close views of sardines, leopard sharks, and wolf eels through 28-foot-tall windows, while other exhibits focus on sea otters, penguins, and giant Pacific octopi—all in an award-winning structure, adapted from a defunct factory, that helped revitalize Monterey’s bayside Cannery Row.
Winner: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
Finalists: Bronx Zoo, New York City; Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago
Opened in 1916, the most visited zoo in the U.S. was a pioneer in the now standard practice of featuring animals in cageless enclosures that simulate their native habitats. Today, more than 650 species and subspecies reside there, including the rare Amur leopard, which numbers only around 100 in the wild. Guided tours, interactive animal encounters, a 4-D theater, and Albert’s Restaurant (where you can dine by a private waterfall) round out an experience that seamlessly combines the civilized and the wild.
Next Up: The 21 Best New Hotels of 2021