The continent of Africa is steeped in history and mystery, making it one of the most enticing and underexplored regions of the world. From the tropical African Savannah to ancient architectural wonders and striking metropolitan culture, the most spectacular cities in Africa tuck within centuries of untamed intrigue.
Here’s a look at 20 most beautiful African cities in all their glory:
1. Cape Town, South Africa
Spreading magnificently across the Cape Peninsula, South Africa’s most prominent city of Cape Town washes the entire landscape in color from tip to toe. From charming villas to coastal cottages, stunning beaches and a vibrant art scene, Cape Town sits high on any list of the most beautiful cities in Africa.
Skirted by Table Mountain, this buzzing metropolis glides into serene outskirts with rolling vineyards and the renowned Kirstenbosch botanical gardens.
Hop a cable car to the mountain top for photo-fantastic views of the rising or setting sun. Carve out time for the 45-minute drive to Boulder Beach or Foxy Beach to see the frolicking African penguins.
Browse our interactive map of the best cities in Africa:
2. Stone Town, Tanzania
Traditionally known as the “spice island” for its vast cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and clove plantations, Zanzibar is home to the vibrant Stone Town community. Perched just off the coast of Tanzania and bordered by crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town is easily one of the most recognized beautiful cities in Africa.
The simple old-town authenticity is punctuated by enchanting alleys chockful of colorful markets, intricately carved wooden structures, and the historical Sultan’s Palace. A synchronicity of countless red-tile roofs creates a mesmerizing panoply punctuated by wafting spice aromas from village markets and nearby farmlands.
3. Marrakesh, Morocco
Morocco cradles some of the most aesthetic cities in Africa, but Marrakesh in particular mesmerizes with an eclectic mix of cosmopolitan chic and centuries-old architecture.
It stands as a symbol of North African culture, from the spell-binding desert-hued Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden to the skyline-piercing minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in the heart of the city.
The elegance of Marrakesh seeps through daily life with its vibrant marketplace souks showcasing intricately woven tapestries and slippers, earthy local spices and colorful “tagine” cooking pots.
4. Cairo, Egypt
The city itself bustles with commerce and culture, which recedes into the past as it approaches the Pyramids on the Giza Plateau, about 10 minutes from the center of Cairo.
With over 4,000 years of history, the Pyramids have more than earned their spot on the original “Seven Wonders of the World.” Flanked by the Great Sphinx, the oldest known monumental sculpture in the world, these two attractions have a timeless beauty that’s irreplaceable in African culture.
But the Pyramids are not the only feature giving Cairo a place within the most attractive cities in Africa. Perched on the River Nile, the complexity of Cairo informs its most striking assets. Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city, cradles elegant mosaics and ancient churches, while Cairo adds intrigue and beauty with its ornate mosques and impeccable architecture.
5. Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Savvy travelers know that Bahir Dar in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia is one of the most pleasant cities in Africa. Crowning the shores of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile River, this palm-lined city harbors spectacular water views and is a short drive from the Blue Nile Falls, which spill from majestic jagged cliffs.
Bahir Dar also cradles 37 of the most mysterious monasteries in Africa, which are filled with religious art dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The other crowning glory of Bahir Dar is the palace of Ethiopia’s most famous ruler: His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selasse. It spreads across a parcel of land about three miles from Bahir Dar, surrounded by jacaranda trees.
6. Lamu, Kenya
In the coastal town of Lamu, Kenya, beaches are a claim to fame, largely unspoiled, deserted and framed by windswept sand dunes. Lamu holds onto local traditions, fostering an authenticity that makes it one of Africa’s most beautiful places to visit.
An island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya, Lamu Town is one of the oldest Swahili settlements in Africa, inhabited since at least the 12thcentury. It holds a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Donkeys roam the narrow paths through town, passing thatched huts, stone townhouses, and market stalls selling local produce and crafts. Visitors and locals alike get around by donkey or traditional dhou boats, which bob picturesquely in the harbor.
7. Gabarone, Botswana
Gabrone is largely a modern metropolis in Botswana, known for Western-style malls, contemporary buildings and institutes of higher learning. However, some consider it one of the most beautiful cities in Africa because of the Gaborone Game Reserve.
The protected park cradles the essence of Africa, from its pristine ecosystems to indigenous species, which include exotic creatures such as the blue wildebeest, vervet monkeys, rock dassies, warthogs, zebras and gemsbok.
It packs Africa’s natural resources into less than 2 square miles, teaming with migrant birds soaring over woodlands, marshes, and tree savanna. Visitors are welcome for observation and picnics.
8. Johannesburg, South Africa
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then Johannesburg in South Africa could be the most beautiful city in Africa. While still retaining its roots in South African culture, it thrives as a modern, prosperous metropolis.
Skyscrapers glisten in the famous African sun, home to international commerce and trendy eateries. But the real beauty of Johannesburg lies in its collections of museums, which highlight South African history for all its victories, tragedies, art, and culture.
The Apartheid Museum shines a light on the struggles of a nation, while the Gold Reef City Mine Museum rests atop one of the original gold mines. The Wits Origin Centre Museum showcases ancient rock art, stone tools and spiritual artefacts.
9. Luxor, Egypt
What’s in a name? For the Egyptian city of Luxor, it’s everything. The moniker translates as “palaces,” which are a defining feature of the now-vibrant urban space. Interspersed with modern life, the ancient palaces and temples of Luxor, formerly known as the capital city of Thebes, still mark Luxor as one of Egypt’s most important and gorgeous cities.
In addition to the monumental collection of palaces, Luxor also holds the temples of Karnak and Hatshepsut as well as the rock-cut tombs of the Valley of Kings and what’s left of the Tombs of the Pharaohs. From Nile River scenes to desert terrain, nature and centuries-old architecture still reign in Luxor.
10. Windhoek, Namibia
The past presence of Germany in colonial times left its mark on Windhoek in the form of traditional German architecture, three German-style “castles,” and attractive pastel structures visible from miles away.
This Namibian anomaly makes it a wonderful African city that’s worth visiting. It serves as the capital and largest city of Namibia, filled with an eclectic mix of modern amenities as well as neo-baroque cathedrals and indigenous populations. Daan Viljoen Game Park near Windhoek gives a safe harbor to native wildlife and more than 200 species of birds, including the almost-extinct green-backed heron.
11. Nairobi, Kenya
As a bustling metro center and the capital of Kenya, Nairobi is known for its diverse combination of urban culture and lush natural landscape.
Parks and gardens create a tranquil aesthetic that rivals the most beautiful cities in Africa. From an in-city safari park to the Nairobi Botanical Gardens, Nairobi graciously shares its natural spaces with modern architecture, historical institutions, numerous museums and tribal culture. A short drive outside the city takes you to the sunny savanna of Nairobi National Park and the Ngong Hills coffee farm featured in “Out of Africa.”
12. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
A once-lazy fishing town on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam now serves as a major African commercial port. Despite the industrial nature of the port areas, the city values its tribal history in a big way. A dedicated area within Dar es Salaam is devoted to the Village Museum, an outdoor re-creation of indigenous homes and traditions, with tribal dances and costumes.
Beaches, nearby islands, sculptures from the Mwenge Woodcarvers Market, and unique creations from the Tinga Tinga art movement highlight the enduring beauty of Dar es Salaam.
13. Essaouira, Morocco
The old-town medina, historical seafront ramparts, and stunning crescent beach make Essaouira one of the beautiful cities in Africa. This Morroccan resort city punctuates the Atlantic coastline with ancient brass cannons and 1700s-era stone ramparts known as the Skala de la Kasbah.
A throwback to days gone by, the fortification complements the cobblestone city-market medina that holds a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Known in modern times for its edgy, laidback ambiance and picturesque coast, Essaouira draws on a water-centric lifestyle fueled by surfing and windsurfing culture.
14. Jinja Town, Uganda
Perched almost 4,000 feet above sea level in Eastern Uganda, Jinja Town encompasses the source of the River Nile at Lake Victoria. The scenic vistas and natural resources make it a constant contender for the most beautiful city in Africa.
From adventures on Itanda and Bujagali Falls to Owens Falls Dam and Samuka Island, the area rightfully holds the title of “Adrenaline Capital of East Africa.” Bungee jumpers, white-water rafters and kayaks soar through the wilderness, while more gentle visitors commune with nature in the gardens of Coronation Park or embark on a guided walk in Mabira Forest.
15. Agadir, Morocco
As the most active oceanside resort in Morocco, Agadir teems with visitors throughout the year – and for good reason. It nestles within the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains range, providing a bucolic backdrop to the bustling beach scene. It routinely tops the list of beautiful tourist cities in Africa with its combination of nature and trendy eateries along the seaside promenade. Verdant green golf courses, private hammam massage rooms, and boat trips on the Atlantic combine the beauty of Agadir with fun resort activities.
16. Chefchaouen, Morocco
Tucked into the Rif Mountains in the northwestern portion of Morocco, the city of Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, washes the horizon in azalea-blue tones emanating from the color-washed structures of its Old Town neighborhood.
The remote location and surreal ambiance make “the Blue Pearl of Morocco” a contender for the most beautiful city in Africa. In addition to the soothing blue visage of Old Town, Chefchaouen’s main square features a startling red kasbah fortress built in the 1400s, complete with a real dungeon. Above it all, two mountain peaks frame the charming architecture.
17. Franschhoek, South Africa
Situated in the Western Cape of South Africa, Franschhoek is draped with verdant vineyards and winding trails at Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve. Influenced by French settlers who planted grapes centuries ago, the city now rests within the “Cape Winelands of South Africa.”
Farmlands dot the mountainous terrain nearby, providing fresh ingredients for the city’s renowned cuisine. Lakes and rivers host trout fishing, surrounded by bike and hiking trails curving through pristine forests. From the burgeoning wine culture to quaint antique stores and art galleries, Franschhoek is considered a tranquilly beautiful African city.
18. Aswan, Egypt
With a strategic location on the Nile River, Aswan in southern Egypt holds the beauty of historical ruins and temples hearkening to bygone eras. The culturally significant city comprises several islands, including Aglika Island, home to the archaeological site of the Philae temple complex.
The most famous and striking structure in Philae is the Temple of Isis with its still-impressive sandstone-colored columns and intricate carvings, built in the 4th century to honor the Egyptian goddess of love. Evening light and sound shows illuminate the beauty of Aswan and its revered temple, while sailboats curve their way along the shoreline, shadowed by tangerine-toned hills.
19. Algiers, Algeria
Crowning the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, Algiers reigns as the capital city and cultural mecca for Algeria.
Its walled old-town Medina and Kasbah Gleam with trademark whitewashed structures lining ancient winding lanes. Along with the marbled Great Mosque and Catholic basilica resting on towering cliffs, these astounding historical monuments make Algiers one of the most beautiful cities in Africa.
From silver domes to Ottoman palaces, enormous minarets and intricate mosaics, the architectural parade continues its march through the centuries.
20. Djenne, Mali
If a single structure could determine the most beautiful city in Africa, then Djenne in South-central Mali would rank high on the list. It is home to the astounding Great Mosque, which is considered the largest mud-constructed building on earth.
Made from mud bricks dried in the sun and replastered annually by the entire consortium of city residents, the camaraderie alone is a beauty to behold. Djenne sits on a series of small hills in the floodplain near the Bani River, dotted with mud-built cottages, quaint shops and cafés.
Seasonal overflow turns Djenne into an island, bringing a parade of colorful canoes gliding from shore to shore.