Everyone has their own specific idea of which countries are beautiful and what makes a place one of the best countries to visit. For some, beauty is the Aurora Borealis in Iceland or the ruins of Macchu Pichu in Peru. For others, it's wildlife visiting a watering hole in South Africa, the ocean waves viewed from a beach in Tahiti, a simple cup of coffee at a Paris cafe, or something else entirely. Fortunately, Earth is an incredibly diverse planet, full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous places of every kind, from breathtaking natural wonders to inspiring man-made attractions. With one hundred ninety-three countries in the United Nations and many additional territories ranging all across the globe, Earth has something for anyone and everyone.
What are the most beautiful countries in the world?
Given this virtually infinite range of possibilities and the equally wide range of human tastes, no single list of the world's most beautiful countries will fit everyone on Earth. However, it's also true that some countries have a well-deserved reputation for beauty. Travel websites and magazines constantly poll their readers, their writers, and other travel industry experts to create their own rankings of the world's most beautiful countries. While no two lists are the same—another testament to the sheer variety of experiences Earth offers—certain countries do tend to appear frequently. The table at the end of this text includes detailed results for seven such rankings, in which the following countries garnered the most mentions:
The 14 Most Beautiful Countries in the World (all sources merged, no particular order):
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United States
What makes a country beautiful?
To a large extent, the beauty of a country is in the eye of the beholder. Some people love snow-capped mountains, others prefer a palm-tree-lined beach, and still others are drawn to some other attraction—possibly even the glowing skyline of a city at night. Time of year matters, too. The best countries to visit in August may not be the same as the best countries to visit in December—especially if one's idea of beauty includes something seasonal, such as brightly colored fall foliage in the Northwest United States or the cherry blossom season in Japan. The profiles below will highlight some of the main points of attraction for a few of the most beautiful countries in the world.
A closer look at the most beautiful countries in the world
Canada is located on the continent of North America. Positioned just above the United States of America, Canada is one of the world's largest countries and is known for its notoriously friendly people and ruggedly beautiful wilderness. Especially for visitors who don't mind a bit of snow during the winter months, Canada's mix of soaring mountains, serene lakes, and deep forests can be nothing short of awe-inspiring. As a bonus, Canada is the sixth-safest country globally, home to some of the most notoriously friendly people.
This country on the Mediterranean Sea gained global fame when Dubrovnik, a coastal city encircled by a stone wall hundreds of years old, played the role of King's Landing in the TV series Game of Thrones. Croatia's additional sights include Rovinj, a picturesque coastal town surrounded by verdant green forests; the beautifully colored Plitvice Lakes; and Pula Arena, a 2000-year-old Roman coliseum that could seat 26,000 in its heyday and is still in use today.
One of the largest countries in Europe, France is known for both manmade and natural beauty. Paris offers urban beauty in the fields of architecture (Eiffel Tower), art (the Louvre), food, and fashion. But move out of the city and France offers a plethora of beautiful sights from snow-capped mountains to rolling fields of vineyards and lavender to sunny beaches.
Greece could probably make this list based upon the island of Santorini alone, whose iconic white buildings with bright blue domes are virtually guaranteed to appear on any photographic essay of places with beautiful scenery. Mainland Greece, of course, is home to architectural sites including the Parthenon, the scenic ruins of Delphi (and their dramatic mountainside views), and the monasteries at Metéora. Beaches are abundant in Greece, and feature sand in a wide range of colors: white, black, pink, or red, all surrounded by jewel blue Mediterranean waters and (more often than not), interesting mountains and rock formations.
Few countries can offer as much raw natural beauty as this tiny island country, which is sometimes known as the Island of Fire and Ice due to its collection of active volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, ice fields, geysers, lava tunnels, and other geological wonders. Located in the North Atlantic, Iceland joins Canada as one of the best places on Earth to view the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Sights such as the Skaftafell Ice Cave, the Dettifoss Waterfall, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach are among the most unique and beautiful anywhere on the planet.
A tropical island country south of the Philippines and north of Australia, Indonesia offers some of the most gorgeous beaches on the planet (Bali), 8th-century Buddhist temples (Borobudur), and volcanoes including Mount Krakatau and the breathtaking Mount Bromo. Indonesia is also a destination for wildlife tourism, with ample reef diving opportunities and wildlife parks where visitors can see orangutans, sea turtles, and the massive Komodo dragon—the world's largest monitor lizard—in their natural habitat.
With more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, this European country is packed with beautiful places. Every city seems to have something unique and beautiful: the Coliseum and other archeological sites in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the cathedrals in cities such as Florence, the gondola-strewn canals of Venice ... not to mention the ancient architecture that can make even simple buildings look like a work of art. Italy also boasts an overabundance of lovely landscapes, from the oceanside cliffs of the Amalfi coast to rolling green hills and snowy mountain peaks.
Japan is another country that is well prepared to satisfy most any person's definition of beauty. Inspiring scenery is everywhere, from a grove of blooming cherry trees with Mount Fuji rising in the background to a tranquil shot of Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, surrounded by a calm lake and a flourishing forest. Lush gardens and exotic temples (such as the Fushimi Inari shrine) are in fact arguably commonplace in Japan. Japan also has much to offer those who prefer a more urban type of beauty, such as the neon-drenched Dotonburi district in Osaka or the equally vibrant pop culture overload of Tokyo's Harajuku district. And for the fans of off-kilter beauty, Japan has the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where snow monkeys venture down from the snowy mountains to soak in steaming hot springs.
This island country includes so many dramatic landscapes and breathtaking environments that it has become a favorite choice for filmmakers creating fantasy films (such as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy). Nature-loving beauty seekers can visit attractions including picturesque mountains, lush green rainforests, stunning beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and world-class stargazing. One can even see the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) or take a "blackwater rafting" trip that floats through caves lit by bioluminescent glowworms.
With monasteries, gardens, castles, and other examples of classical architecture at every turn, Portugal offers much for those who find beauty in history. Lovers of natural beauty are often drawn here as well, thanks to attractions such as the rolling horse pastures of the Alentejo region, the scenic Gerês mountain range, and the Oceanário de Lisboa oceanarium in Lisbon. Portugal is also known for its many lovely beaches.
While many countries on this list will be well known to readers in the Western Hemisphere, Slovenia may be a fairly new name to many. Formerly part of Yugoslavia (until that nation's dissolution in the late 1980/early 1990s), this Eastern European country shares borders with Italy and Croatia, two other countries known for their beauty, and offers its own fair share of memorable scenery. Slovenia is often described as feeling like a fairy tale country, thanks to its dense forests and timeless architecture (much of which appears in the form of castles). Like several other European countries (Switzerland), Slovenia includes a portion of the Alps and has a growing reputation as an excellent skiing and hiking destination.
Beautiful wildlife preserves are a major attraction in this African country, where visitors can see lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, cape buffalo, rhinos, and many other animals (the country boasts nearly 300 species of mammal alone) in their natural habitats. Off the coast, one can watch for whales and dolphins, or even cage dive with great white sharks—which many people do indeed consider beautiful. South Africa's other attractions include the sandy beaches of Durban, the jagged Drakensberg ("Dragon mountains") range, and the Blyde River Canyon.
This mountainous European country is perhaps best known for the quaint, almost storybook-like villages that nestle amid its towering mountains. Switzerland is home to attractions including the famous Matterhorn mountain, Lauterbrunnen Valley (home to 72 waterfalls), and St. Moritz, a postcard-worthy winter resort town famous for its ski courses and its invigorating mineral springs.
The United States is both very large and very diverse, which enables it to offer something for nearly any definition of beauty. For those who love natural wonders, the U.S. offers the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls (shared with Canada), Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, Yosemite's redwood forests, Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, and countless mountain vistas and scenic beaches. Man-made wonders include the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and several sites in Washington D.C. For those whose idea of beauty is more metropolitan, the U.S. presents New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, and many other cities with vibrant cultures and unique personalities all their own.