Seven of the world's best cities we love the most

Love at first sight is real. And enduring. Just ask Lord Byron. Yes, the Romantic poet fell head over heels for many a winsome lass (and lad). But his permanent, heart-on-his-sleeve, all out, dazzling love was for a place that knocked his socks off the first time he laid eyes on it.

"Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!" he wrote of the Italian capital in his travel memoir in verse.

He was, of course, not alone. As many works of art have been dedicated to human lovers, myriad writers, film makers, painters and others prone to professing love in artistic form have been inspired by their adoration of a particular city, from leaving their heart in San Francisco, to being that Gentleman in Paris.

That's because finding the metropolis that melts your heart is just like finding a human to love, only cities make better lovers. They don't cheat, have mid-life crises or criticise you for putting on weight. They just inspire you to smiles and sighs. They welcome you. And they make you a better version of yourself.

Like any great love, city love is, of course imperfect. It challenges you – with weather, crime, wonky public transport. It might occasionally disappoint you – with a bad meal, a closed museum, a wallet stolen, a favourite building torn down.

But it's also a love – that if real and true – deepens each time you see your one true city. It strengthens as you understand more about it. (And it strengthens you, as you, in turn understand more about yourself.) And it eternally bonds you, as you come to realise this place is your heart's home.

They say that there is someone for everyone out there. Same goes for cities. Keep exploring until you find yours, just as these regular Traveller contributors have found theirs.

BUENOS AIRES

Kerry van der Jagt

I fell for Buenos Aires, one steak at a time. From tender eye-fillet to barbecued sirloin, it was lust at first bite. For three nights I wandered the streets in a food coma, lurching from one parrilla to the next, searching for my next midnight feast.

It took a second trip for the initial, steak-fuelled attraction to morph into true love. A love for the European-style boulevards, the century-old cafes, the passion of the people and the heat of the tango, but also an acceptance of the city's chaotic nature, brought on by years of political and economic turmoil.

Return visits brought a deeper intimacy – discovering the bookshop El Ateneo housed in a 1920s theatre, strolling the backstreets with a dulce de leche ice cream in hand, taking a street art tour and attempting the tango in a local milonga. San Telmo thrilled with its narrow, cobbled streets and Sunday antiques market, while Recoleta was all about Cementerio de la Recoleta, the city of the dead, and final resting place of Eva Peron.

I also fell for the shopping, not sterile department stores, but flea and craft markets, open-air artisan stalls, hand stitched riding boots in the softest leather (try Rossi and Caruso) and clothes by emerging designers in the Palermo Soho neighbourhood.

Tempering all this is a sense of melancholy, a sad remnant from the Dirty War (1976-83) where an estimated 30,000 people "disappeared" at the hands of the military junta.

Perhaps it is this fragile, yet feisty, heart I love and keep returning for.

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: iStock

BEST-KEPT SECRET La Manzana de las Luces

Hidden beneath the Manzana de las Luces (Square of Enlightenment) is a cobweb of tunnels from the time of the 17th-century Jesuits. manzanadelasluces.gov.ar argentina.travel/en

BEST FOOD AND DRINK Closed-door restaurants

Puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, offer communal dining in chef's own homes. Private dining clubs and secret pop-up restaurants are also popular. Try Fuudis for food-hopping tours. fuudis.com

BEST EXPERIENCE Attend a futbol game

In Argentina football is life. Tour companies such as Tangol arrange tickets to all major local games, tangol.com or contact individual teams such as Boca Juniors, bocajuniors.com.ar.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur

This 350-hectare reserve on the edge of the city with lagoons, marshlands and forest is the perfect spot for picnicking, bike riding and bird-watching. reservacostanera.com.ar

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Teatro Colón

The seven-story Opera House is one of the world's best, hosting opera, ballet and classical music. teatrocolon.org.ar/en

See also: Why bad boy cities are more seductive

Buenos Aires' La Boca District.

Buenos Aires' La Boca District. Photo: Getty Images

PARIS

Keith Austin

It didn't happen all at once. Paris can be a bit Mr Darcy at first; haughty, aloof, standoffish, a lot of pride, a little prejudice. Of course it didn't help that my first visit ended somewhat ignominiously after an unsuccessful encounter with a dodgy Bombe Alaska on a bateau mouche.

Food poisoning on that scale has, I suspect, not been seen before or since. I blame the Bombe, which had been spectacularly set aflame on the darkened boat along the Seine earlier in the evening, but it could easily have been the coq au vin.

This was the late 1970s and I was about 19, on a first-time romantic weekend to the so-called City of Love. Somewhat impecunious at the time, our tiny atelier room was at the very top of a beautifully steep and winding staircase trimmed by ornate wrought iron railings. I seem to recall it looked out onto some rather lovely air-conditioning ducts. And thanks to the Bombe it resembled not so much a love nest as a cabin on a plague ship.

Still, despite all that, Paris – the grand streets, the higgledy-piggledy alleyways, the offhand but friendly restaurant garcons, the parks, the architecture – got under my skin. Like Mr Darcy.

Oh. My. God. I'm Elizabeth Bennet …

There were a few sporadic encounters over the intervening years but it was a six-month stay in 2009 that sealed the deal.

Living in the Marais, shopping with the locals, trying out my still atrocious French on bemused waiters and wandering the streets with my camera hoping to capture the essence of this most photographed of cities, it felt as if I had, inexplicably, come home.

Why? Overall, it's in the very bones of the place; with its beautiful boulevards and stunning architecture it is one of the most visually stunning places on Earth. But it's also in the people and their joie-de-vivre.

I love sitting in the cafes with my cafe noir, watching the world go by and not worrying that they're going to move me along. I love the daily exercise of la politesse, which ensures that greeting the madame in the boulangerie or the monsieur in the boucherie with a cheery "bonjour" will always elicit a response. I love that the same is true of taking your leave, when a simple "bonne journee" is both expected and appreciated. Manners are important.

I also love that one of the major attractions here are the bouquinistes, the booksellers, who ply their trade along the banks of the Seine. How can you not love a city that places such importance on books?

But what clinched it for me was the man who sold me a rabbit from his stall in the market just behind the Hotel de Ville. After listening to my tortured French he asked me if I wanted the head kept on the unfortunate lapin.

Thinking this was some kind of esoteric French cuisine thing I asked: "Pourquoi?"

At which he wiggled the head back and forth and said: "Parce que c'est drole."

How can you not love that?

The Eiffel Tower is seen illuminated during nightfall, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The Eiffel Tower is seen illuminated during nightfall, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Photo: Thibault Camus

BEST-KEPT SECRET

Paris has a 4.5-kilometre long plant-bedecked promenade – the Coulee Verte Rene-Dumont – on an old railway viaduct that runs through the 12th arrondissement from Place de la Bastille to Bois de Vincennes. It was the only elevated park in the world until New York's High Line opened.

BEST FOOD AND DRINK

Paris is awash with good food and drink, from Michelin-starred restaurants to neighbourhood bistros. My favourite? The small Moncoeur Belleville cafe (moncoeurbelleville.com/en) in the 20th. Good food and possibly the best panoramic view of Paris from its bustling terrace. Please don't tell anyone.

BEST EXPERIENCE

Wandering the Impressionist galleries at the Musee d'Orsay (musee-orsay.fr/en). The Van Goghs are worth the price of admission alone.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION

Paris isn't exactly awash with natural attractions, unless you count the parks, but even these are carefully manicured by man, even the Bois de Boulogne. I'd nominate the Seine itself. Not too big, not too small, it's a great way to see a great city.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION

Oh so much to choose from … the Eiffel tower? Any of the museums? Place des Vosges? No. For sheer eye-popping amazement it has to be the catacombs (catacombes.paris.fr/en). Wander through the carefully sorted and stacked remains of six million people deep underground. Weird, wonderful and seeing those neat walls of skulls never gets old.

See also: 20 reasons to visit the world's no. 1 city

Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France.

Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France. Photo: Getty Images

WINNIPEG

Max Anderson

"You know what there is to do in Winnipeg?" asks Bob, a miner from Canada's frozen north. He held up his thumb and forefinger in a circle. "This much."

Nothing quite melts my heart like an underdog and Winnipeg is a central-plains Jane that is constantly cat-called by the dress circle cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Before heading up to the sub-Arctic, I have 48 hours in The Peg and it is soon apparent that here is a city on that epic urban cycle: monumental boom, spectacular crash and valiant fight-back.

On a walking tour I discover streets of insanely grand architecture that had been bankrolled by finance, fur and wheat. It is rich with stories and heroes, too: Charlie Chaplin got his break here, Christopher Robin's favourite bear originated here (hence "Winnie" the Pooh), and even James Bond was inspired by a Pegger, spymaster Sir William Stephenson.

It has its natural beauty, too. Two rivers intersect at the arty Forks district, where I try chokecherries and saskatoons. Out of town I do a "safari" among buffalo at Fort Whyte Alive, and at Oak Hammock marsh I watch thousands of canada geese flying out of a ruby dusk to roost in wetlands.

But the city was also renewing with a $2billion investment. A Guggenheim-like Museum of Human Rights was yet to open, but even unfinished the project appeared brave and audacious. The zoo was getting a massive Arctic wildlife exhibit, complete with polar bear rescue program, taking in cubs orphaned by climate change. The Exchange warehouse district – used by Hollywood as a double for 1920s Chicago – was in the full flush of getting loved up by hipsters, baristas and dwellers of the small bar scene.

And sure, the Peggers wooed me with some spirited drinking, but they had me at "So – why are you here?!"

It's not often you get your love requited by a city, but when I wrote a piece for Traveller in 2014, the article was shared over 8000 times, with one blogger running "Australian loves Winnipeg!" It was like they'd been sitting for hours and no one had ever asked them to dance.

I can't wait for our second date.

BEST-KEPT SECRET Winnipeg

Be surprised. tourismwinnipeg.com

BEST FOOD AND DRINK Blind Tiger

Everybody's loving the new coffee shop with its speakeasy alter ego serving French classics at night. blindtigerwinnipeg.ca

BEST EXPERIENCE Frank Albo's Hermetic Code Tour of the Legislative Building

Still the most original cultural tour I've done anywhere in the world. frankalbo.com/the_hermetic_code/tour/

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Oak Hammock Marsh

The three-week geese migration (October) is a natural wonder.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Canadian Museum of Human Rights

Unmissable in both senses… humanrights.ca/

See also: The surest location in the world to see polar bears

Canadian Museum For Human Rights, Winnipeg, Canada.

Canadian Museum For Human Rights, Winnipeg, Canada. Photo: Getty Images

ROME

Ute Junker

You would have to call it an open relationship, I guess. How could it be otherwise? Rome has had millions of lovers over the year, and I have dallied with more than a few cities in my time. But I keep coming back to this magical city, and every time I do, it embraces me with open arms.

The first time I went to Rome I was still young enough to get ripped off by the cab driver who took me to my hotel. Despite that unpleasantness, it took no more than a few minutes for me to fall in love with this city. Arriving after dinner on a warm summer night, eager to explore, I headed out for a stroll. I turned the corner, and found myself face to face with one of Rome's most magnificent buildings, the Pantheon.

That encounter with the unexpected, the profligate way beauty and history have been strewn across every pocket of town, is what made me fall in love with Rome and what keeps me besotted. On that first trip, I kept making discoveries that brought a stupidly happy smile to my face. Over here, the Forum, where Julius Caesar once walked. Over there, a church built into ancient Roman baths. Around that corner, a ridiculously pretty piazza sheltered by an ivy-covered wall. I gorged myself on the city's many marvels, just as I gorged myself on its delicious gelato.

Even today, when I know the city so well, it continues to offer serendipitous delights. I always find a new pocket to explore, a small side street I've never wandered down before. I love wandering randomly into any of the city's 900 churches that I pass, and usually find something exquisite inside: an architectural detail, a forgotten masterpiece, perhaps even ancient Roman thoroughfares buried in the basement – the latter a surprisingly common occurrence in this city where history literally lies beneath your feet. How could you ever get sick of a city that has more layers than a millefeuille?

They say nothing lasts forever, but after 2000 years, Rome is still going strong. Our love affair will also continue, as long as there are new (old) treasures to discover.

Rome's Piazza Navona.

Rome's Piazza Navona. Photo: AP

BEST-KEPT SECRET The Museo Nazionale Palazzo Massimo alle Terme's collection of frescoes and sculptures is simply stunning.

BEST FOOD AND DRINK An evening spent in a Roman wine bar, grazing on cheese and salume, is hard to beat.

BEST EXPERIENCE Turning a corner to find the unexpected: an ancient monument or a scene of exquisite beauty.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION In a city this old, even nature is a man-made artefact: the Vatican Gardens are more than 800 years old.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION The entire Centro Storico.

See also: 20 reasons to visit Rome

Colosseum, Rome.

Colosseum, Rome. Photo: iStock

ESFAHAN

Ben Groundwater

It began the way so many great romances do: with a blind date I'd set up over the internet. There wasn't a lot of research that went into that trip to Esfahan, just a quick google and a feeling that this was a place I needed to see. The blind date would be an evening spent in Naqsh-e Jahan, the beautiful main square of what would turn out to be a stunningly beautiful city.

Of course, I'm not the first person to fall hard for Esfahan. There's a long line of poets and writers, explorers and adventures who have proclaimed their love for this Persian beauty. In the 16th century one of those admirers described Esfahan as "half the world" – but that's almost doing it a disservice. That first evening in Naqsh-e Jahan, Esfahan didn't seem to me like half the world, it seemed like a world all of its own.

And all I had to do was sit on a park bench in Naqsh-e Jahan and watch as the city, and the world, went by.

I saw merchants hurrying through the arched stone promenades that hug the sides of the square. I saw school kids posing for photos in front of the fountains. I saw mujahideens making their way to the mosques. I saw women huddled on benches chatting in the slowly fading light.

And I met people. So many people. I met a group of girls who offered to take my friend and me on a tour of Masjed-e Imam, the mosque whose blue-tiled dome towers over the square. I met salesmen from the local shops who just walked over to say, "Welcome to Iran". I met kids who wanted us to pose for photos. I met a young tour guide called Hamid who offered to take us to dinner.

And the greatest thing about Esfahan? All of those people were 100 per cent genuine. They really did want to welcome us to their country. They really did want to show off their mosque. They really did want to take us to dinner. No tricks. No scams.

And we did all of those things. We saw the intricate tile work in Masjed-a Imam mosque. We joined Hamid for dinner in the Armenian Quarter, one of the more liberal sections of the city, before sipping tea in the palatial grounds of an old hotel. We finished the evening down by the Pol-e Si-o-Seh, a huge old bridge, staring as its orange-lit arches twinkled far into the distance.

I knew then and there that Esfahan was beautiful, from its palaces and gardens to its mosques and bridges and squares. But as with any blind date, looks weren't everything. It was Esfahan's personality that made me fall in love.

BEST-KEPT SECRET

With an almost total lack of foreign tourists, it often feels like Esfahan is a secret all of its own. tourism.isfahancht.ir

BEST FOOD AND DRINK Abbasi Hotel

Dating to the 1700s, this palace-turned-hotel is the perfect spot to relax with some sweet Persian tea. abbasihotel.ir

BEST EXPERIENCE Naqsh-e Jahan square

Spend the late afternoon sitting in this beautiful square, watching half the world go by.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Soffeh Mountain

The best views of the city can be found at the top of this southern peak. There's even a cable car.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Masjed-e Imam

You could spend hours staring at the richly decorated walls of this beautiful mosque.

See also: Three amazing countries tourists won't go to

A traditional underground restaurant in Esfahan.

A traditional underground restaurant in Esfahan. Photo: iStock

LOS ANGELES

Julietta Jameson

There is a special place in any traveller's heart for their first foreign city. Mine was Los Angeles. From the early Hollywood movies I loved, to TV shows I watched, the music I listened to and books I read, it had loomed large in my cultural development and finally, in the late '80s, I was flying in. With that vast, grey, shimmering streetscape, it looked as if I was landing on Mars.

I may as well have been. From the airport, I went straight to Disneyland.

Well, for someone whose early childhood Sunday nights were spent mesmerised by The Wonderful World of Disney, it was a pilgrimage. And it delivered the magic it had always promised.

Thusly dazzled, I went directly to the Mondrian on Sunset to stay with a friend in the music business. I lay by the pool listening to my Discman bought on Hollywood Boulevard and the CDs I bought at Tower Records and after, I went shopping on Melrose.

My friend and I drove in a convertible down to Santa Monica for dinner at a glamorous restaurant. We went to illegal nightclubs on dark downtown streets with sneakers hanging sinisterly from power lines.

And I went to the Rocky and Bullwinkle store and stood in awe.

It was all the extremes, and I had every single feeling of love possible for this hugely diverse city.

A decade later, my job took me to live there and I grew to love LA on a deeper level, as a place of villages and people. That's the LA many don't see but it's the one they should, especially those who say Los Angeles is hard to love.

Like me that first time, they tick off Disneyland, the shopping and Hollywood but miss the soul.

That you find hiking in the canyons; sipping lattes in bohemian Silver Lake; drinking cocktails on the rooftops of amazing hotels in the majestically revitalised downtown district; exploring its many cultures. LA is a city that's so diverse and so lively, every moment can be an adventure.

Now, when I return, obviously on much less time, I still find new adventures. Last time, it was a thriving winemaking scene in Malibu and a golf driving range on top of a car park in Koreatown.

But a city is always really about the people for me. Get past the stereotypes and the wannabes, and there's a creative, collaborative population in LA, ready to give anyone and anything a chance. It's the Los Angelenos that make LA my City of Angels.

Getty Center, Los Angeles.

Getty Center, Los Angeles. Photo: iStock

BEST KEPT SECRET Downtown arts district

A vast downtown warren of old warehouses and depots is thriving as a walkable, bohemian village filled with artists, creatives and some fabulous food, drink and shopping. Don't miss Eighty Two, a huge bar filled with vintage pinball machines and other arcade games, or for something more health-conscious, The Springs, where yoga, juices and spa treatments have taken over a stationery supply warehouse. See discoverlosangeles.com.

BEST FOOD AND DRINK West Hollywood

Head to the area variously known as part of West Hollywood or Beverly Grove for a high concentration of great eating. Restaurants of all kinds abound along this section of Melrose Avenue, Beverly and Santa Monica Boulevards and West Third Street. The latter is where A.O.C. serves the perfect Mod Californian cuisine to taste LA on an alfresco plate. See aocwinebar.com.

BEST EXPERIENCE

You're in the entertainment capital of the world – get along to see a taping of one of your favourite shows. Mostly, they're free. From chat shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live! to sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory, you can be there when the magic happens. Book well in advance. If you can't catch one, keep an eye on Hollywood Boulevard; with up to 30 stars added every year, there's a good chance you might get to see the ceremony. See tvtickets.com (among others); walkoffame.com.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION Hollywood Hills

The Hollywood Hills are not just a ritzy address. They afford some terrific hiking with amazing views. A thrilling (and challenging) walk is the one up to the Hollywood sign. Just do it early in the day, before the Californian sun heats up, or at sunset, to see LA's lights sparkle. And keep to the trails – there be coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions in them there hills. Join a hiking tour for safety in numbers or you can do the journey on horseback. See sunsetranchhollywood.com.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION Getty Centre

Sure, the theme parks are the best of LA's entertainment side but the Getty Centre represents a higher culture. The billion-dollar Richard Meier-designed gallery houses a dazzling and wide-ranging art collection while the surrounding gardens afford wonderful views. It also hosts an excellent program of concerts and cultural events. See getty.edu.

See also: The secret to having a good time in LA

The Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.

The Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. Photo: Alamy

CAPE TOWN

Alison Stewart

Cape Town is my abiding love, lost but never forgotten. For me, it's more than just a storied place rich with physical beauty and complex culture. It's the keeper of memories, my spiritual home.

No longer a world pariah and still not perfect, it is now possible to openly, adore South Africa, and specifically cosmopolitan Cape Town, for its unparalleled cornucopia, despite benefiting during the terrible lean years.

Newly arrived in Australia, I had to map a new place, superimposing it over the beloved geography of my childhood. But the place where you first belonged is deep-rooted.

I grew up with the mountain literally in my back garden for this is one of the few world-class cities with a national park – heritage-listed Table Mountain National Park – contained entirely within a metropolis. It's also evolved into a sophisticated city whose complex Afro-European-Asian cultures have contributed to world-class food, wine, art, theatre, design, architecture and literature.

These days, Sir Francis Drake's Fairest Cape consistently ranks in the world's top ten cities to visit – everyone's smitten.

While the politics down the years have been cruel and quixotic, they were encased within the unchangeable wonder of the Cape's loveliness. Flawed people were transitory; splendour remained.

What I loved back then is what I love today. The mountain of course, which Nelson Mandela, incarcerated on Robben Island with point-blank views, called "a sacred and precious place, a gift to the Earth"; his observation made more poignant as it symbolised all he had lost.

For a (privileged) child, the geological, botanical and climatic intricacies of the 75-kilometre-long peninsula that divides the cold Atlantic from the warmer False Bay offered and still offers a magic kingdom: Mediterranean climate, exquisite beaches, scenic vistas, rich-terroir winelands, world-rated restaurants, hip bars, savvy designers, cool urban neighbourhoods, magnificent hospitality, plus the Cape Floral Kingdom – smallest yet richest in the world.

Sydney is now my home, my Africanness almost drained away, but I will always be quietly (and in this case, not so quietly) passionate about my first love, Cape Town. As Mr Schwarzenegger says, I'll be back.

The view from Tabletop Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

The view from Tabletop Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: iStock

BEST-KEPT SECRET

The Saturday Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock's Old Biscuit Mill has 100-plus stalls with seasonal produce from local farmers, organic merchants, fine-food purveyors, celebrated chefs and micro enterprises. Love the breakfast "bacon buttie" on sourdough with rocket and balsamic onions. See neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za.

BEST FOOD AND DRINK

So much dining excellence, but it has to be Luke Dale-Roberts' The Test Kitchen – No. 28 on the World's 50 Best restaurants. See thetestkitchen.co.za. Next door is his outstanding Pot Luck Club, whose share-plate menus divide by flavour – sour, bitter, salty, sweet and umami. Book early. thepotluckclub.co.za.

BEST EXPERIENCE

Some may say Robben Island, the Boulders Beach African penguin colony, shark diving or the city's wine trail. I say Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts. Picnic on the lawns gazing at the magnificent botanical gardens and mountain. All music genres and talent levels perform. Go early and stroll the gardens and treetop canopy walkway. Picnics available. See sanbi.org.

BEST NATURAL ATTRACTION

Table Mountain. Ride the cable car to the summit or hike the 1000 metres up Skeleton Gorge from Kirstenbosch, descending via the cable car for an eagle-eye view of the peninsula. See tablemountain.net and guidedbymike.co.za for an excellent guide.

BEST MAN-MADE ATTRACTION

The nine-kilometre winding Chapman's Peak Drive. This engineering marvel negotiates steep cliffs and ravines. Afterwards, stop at Cape Point, then Kalk Bay for Olympia Cafe and Deli coffee and cake, or Kalkies fish and chips or fresh-caught fish at the elegant Harbour House. See chapmanspeakdrive.co.za.

See also: 20 good reasons to visit Cape Town

Kalk Bay beach huts, Cape Town.

Kalk Bay beach huts, Cape Town. Photo: Getty Images

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