The Best Countries in the World: 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards

November 25, 2021 Condé Nast Traveler NICHOLAS DERENZO Getty Images
November 25, 2021
Condé Nast Traveler
Getty Images

For our 34th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey, registered voters weighed in on the best countries in the world. As the world has begun to reopen and readjust, the results reflect the kinds of places you longed to visit when you couldn’t travel and the ones you returned to first once you could. Perennial favorites like Japan and last year’s winner, Italy, once again made the list alongside relative newcomers like Botswana and the Philippines. And each of these places dealt with the challenges of welcoming visitors back in their own unique ways, from maintaining strict quarantines to throwing open their borders. Here, a look at the 20 countries that made the cut.

At first place, Portugal

1. Portugal

It’s not difficult to see why our readers love Portugal, which has spent the past decade transforming from a budget-minded underdog destination to a major player that can rival the likes of Spain and Italy. From the start, and even as it suffered under a forty-year authoritarian regime and a flailing economy, Portugal was brimming with delights that bordered on sensory overload: the intricate blue-and-white patterns of its traditional azulejo tiles, the intoxicating aroma of oven-fresh pastéis de nata, the mournful chords of live fado music, the bracing chill of a crisp vinho verde or the nectary sweetness of a port. With its jaunty yellow trams and hilltop São Jorge Castle, Lisbon is an easy-to-adore starting point for first-timers, but an increasing number of direct flights to Porto from the United States are inviting travelers to explore the second city’s contemporary cultural scene, including the newly opened World of Wine district. And then? Portugal rewards repeat visitors with a choose-your-own-adventure that might include the terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley, the underrated wineries of the Alentejo region, the surfer havens of the Algarve, and even the Hawaii-like volcanic landscapes of the Azores.

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