The Worlds Most Beautiful Cities

Fra_Carnevale_-_The_Ideal_City_-_Walters_37677The Ideal City by Fra Carnevale, c. between 1480-1484.

The Ideal City is a 15th-century painting usually attributed to the architect and artist Fra Carnavale. It was most likely executed for the Ducal Palace of Urbino, commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. The Duke was one of the most successful condottieri of the Italian Renaissance, nicknamed “the Light of Italy” for his contributions to enlightened culture.

The Duchy of Urbino was a sovereign state of northern Italy during the Renaissance and today it is a a World Heritage Site notable for a remarkable historical legacy. The beautiful town is nestled on a high sloping hillside, retaining much of its picturesque medieval aspects, with the Ducal palace as its highlight. I think the best time to visit is September, when the autumn light  is spectacular as it shines on the aging brick tiled buildings.


An ideal city is the concept of a city that has been conceived in accordance with the dictates of some “rational” or “moral” objective. The “ideal” nature of such a city may encompass the moral, spiritual and juridical qualities of citizenship as well as the ways in which these are realised through urban structures including buildings, street layout, etc.

NimesThe ground plans of ideal cities are often based on grids, in imitation of Roman military camp town planning, like Nimes in Provence, depicted on the right, or other regular geometrical patterns such as the square blocks with chamfered corners in the Exiample district in Barcelona.

The ideal city is often an attempt to deploy Utopian ideals at the local level of urban configuration and living space and amenity rather than at the culture- or civilisation-wide level of the classical Utopias such as St Thomas More‘s.

In Place Branding, such qualities and aesthetics impact on a city brand can not be disregarded. Contrary to the popular perception that destination-brand building is solely an exercise in communication, destination branding is, in reality, an exercise of identification, organisation and coordination of all the variables that have an impact on the destination image, not the least its aesthetic appeal.

Some years ago, Forbes surveyed city specialists from a range of fields, including urban planning, architecture and sustainable development to make a top ten list, and not surprisingly, it contains the usual suspects. Most cities are not exactly what would be called beautiful and the term ‘concrete jungle’ doesn’t conjure up visions of paradise. However it is no secret that Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Berlin are amazing cities rich with beautiful architecture, unparalleled history, amazing culture and much more.

However, the world is rich with many other wonderful cities that tend to fly a little under the radar of the average tourist. Traveling to a slightly more obscure city, for example Pula in Istria, can be as great of an experience as hitting the capitals and bustling metropolises.

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Since beauty is subjective, Forbes surveyed city specialists from a range of fields, including urban planning, architecture and sustainable development. Respondents to the survey included 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 Stanford University, 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. Click on the image below to see results of Forbes survey.

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The Rough Guide have made their own list, voted by their web visitors. Click on the banner below to see a stunning show of city pictures.

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Also Urban City Guides have their own ranking, which includes Venice, Paris, Prague, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, Budapest and Bruges, and the Top Universities site have a ranking of the ten most beautiful cities for students, and so on.

BangkokWhat is common among the webs city ranking websites is that they list the usual suspect western top destinations and they seem to be highly subjective. There is no clear ranking model and no survey made among a globally representative population. The web site authors, including Forbes, seems to have limited knowledge of statistics sampling theory and how to avoid selection bias.

The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek and Roman architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. It should be possible to set up a ranking model for an ideal city composite index based on this, and also on factors such as crime rate, health factors and citizen and visitor satisfaction factors.

If there is any ranking of city aesthetics that is unbiased and of scientific value, then please let us know.

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