This year’s World’s Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.
This year’s list of the best cities in Africa and the Middle East shows an incredible diversity of urban life. Each honoree demonstrates a different definition of what a city can be: gleaming economic centers, religious pilgrimage sites, modern cultural capitals, even living museums.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.
Many of the destinations on this list can be found along the ocean, offering not just shopping, dining, and nightlife but also spectacular waterfront views and the cosmopolitan culture found in port cities. Muscat, the historic Arabian Peninsula capital on the Gulf of Oman, comes in at No. 9. Readers praised its “hospitality” and “friendly vibes” — an openness to visitors potentially rooted in its centuries of welcoming traders from Persia, South Asia, East Africa, and beyond. Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, comes in at No. 10. Readers enthused that it’s “a wonderful, old-world walled city” with “friendly locals, street vendors, and fishmongers,” plus a patchwork of internationally influenced architecture unlike anywhere else in the country.
One honoree on the list is known more for its past than for its present: Petra, Jordan, the ancient city that comes in at No. 8. The surrounding area, with small towns built up on the slopes of nearby wadis, is still home to several thousand people. But the cityscapes that draw up to a million visitors each year are no longer inhabited: ornate facades carved into sandstone cliff faces by the Nabateans in the third century B.C. “If you have the chance to visit Petra in your life — go,” wrote one reader. “It’s truly one of the wonders of the world, a chance to step back in time.”
This year’s No. 1 is a decidedly more modern place — with world-class hotels and shopping, stunning beaches and hiking, and some of the best food and wine in South Africa. Read on to learn more about the best cities in Africa and the Middle East, as voted by T+L readers.
1. Cape Town
This coastal city has a tendency to make even the most wanderlust-fueled traveler consider settling down. Survey responses provide more than enough evidence for this. “One of the most beautiful places on earth,” wrote one reader, with another saying “I’d definitely retire here!” A third potential expat had a similar reaction: “When my husband and I arrived, we both immediately thought…should we move?” Known for its temperate climate and prime position between mountains and sea, this city is a draw for travelers seeking a mix of urban exploration and nature experiences — with outdoorsy excursions like a hike up Table Mountain or a tasting tour of the winelands within easy reach before dinner and drinks on the waterfront. There’s more than enough in the Western Cape to fill a whole vacation, but T+L readers also agreed it’s worth adding on a few days after any Southern African safari to do a bit of exploring in this city.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.55
2. Marrakesh, Morocco
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.01
4. Fez, Morocco
6. Tel Aviv
7. Abu Dhabi
8. Petra, Jordan
9. Muscat, Oman
10. Essaouira, Morocco
See all of our readers’ favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World’s Best Awards for 2021.