15. South Africa
Surprisingly the only African country to make this list, South Africa – which takes up the size of France and Spain combined – is undeniably beautiful. You’ll find the iconic Table Mountain and beaches where penguins roam just a stone’s throw from Cape Town. The wine-growing valleys of the Western Cape will enchant with their verdant hills (and delectable vintages). Durban is coming into its own as a must-visit destination, and of course, you’ll find some of the best safari experiences in the world in South Africa. One reader explained the best thing about South Africa: “Wherever you travel you will always see mountains.”
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Lion’s Head mountain, Cape Town, South Africa © Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock
One reader described Brazil as “luscious, gorgeous, colourful, varied” – which should go some way to explaining the country’s appeal. A beach culture that’s second to none, the incredible diversity of the Amazon rainforest and the sensory delights of Rio de Janeiro are just a few of the highlights. Brazil is huge – bigger than the contiguous United States – so it’s no surprise to find such varied terrain. While there are no major mountains, the country is blessed with almost every other type of landscape, ripe for exploring.
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Fishermen cruise along the Amazon River © Videos2Worship/Shutterstock
With its breathtaking scenery and great hiking, Switzerland is an unsurprising entry on our list. From the quaint lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux to Geneva’s old-money gravitas and cosmopolitan Zurich, the population centres are quite handsome too. Lakes and mountains deserve their share of the attention, whether you’re hiking the Eiger in the spectacular Jungfrau region, or enjoying the scenery from one of the quaint (but punctual) mountain trains that traverse the country. As one reader commented: “Its landscapes of mountains and lakes are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”
A train glides through the Jungfrau region, Switzerland © Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock
From beautiful beaches to misty mountains and the incredible visual impact of Uluru, Australia is a new entry on our list. Several of you mentioned the bright colours that illuminate the landscape in casting your vote. One of you commented: “the countryside looks like it’s on a Vivid camera filter”, while another praised “the ‘in-your-face’ colours of the landscapes”. With devastating wildfires sweeping the country for the past several months, Australia’s beautiful, incredibly varied flora and fauna are under threat like never before and bring into focus the need to properly address the issues around climate change.
Uluru basking in the afternoon light, Australia © Uwe Aranas/Shutterstock
India is sometimes described as a “Marmite” kind of country (you either love it or you hate it), but plenty of you are enthralled by this diverse nation. It’s true that India can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. The noise, the sheer number of people, the cacophony of colours are unforgettable, but for many, once India gets under your skin it’s very hard to let go. You described it in the poll as: “A country of extraordinary contrasts – vibrant colours, lush vegetation, beautiful buildings and exquisite temples.” From the floating palaces of Jaipur and the bustle of Mumbai to sprawling tea plantations, rushing waterfalls and beautiful beaches there’s enough to keep you going for years of visits.
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Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India © Marcel Toung/Shutterstock
A fascinating mix of ancient and modern, Japan has entered our list at number ten. High-speed trains make it easy to see a wide variety of sights on any visit – from historic Shinto temples and serenity of Mount Fuji to the neon-lit cities of Tokyo and Osaka. You praised the “snowy peaks, blue skies filled with birds of prey, cherry blossom-lined parks and streets, clear streams, beaches and tiny islands, endless countryside, lush greenery that felt tropical, bamboo forests”. With the country set to host the Olympics in 2020, Japan’s many treasures are set to take centre stage this year.
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Nachi, Japan at Seigantoji Pagoda and Nachi Falls © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
France is both the largest country in the EU and one of the most varied. Consider the snow-capped peaks of the Alps, the lush green of the Pyrenees in summer, the vibrant purple lavender fields, golden stone chateaux, windswept beaches and half-timbered houses. And we haven’t even mentioned Paris. As one reader commented, “Every turn you take brings picture-postcard scenery.” If you’re prone to discounting France as good for nothing beyond family camping holidays, take a deeper look – you’re sure to be intrigued by what you find.
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Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire, Loire Valley, France © Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock
Iceland is a non-mover at number eight in our poll. With its windswept beaches, hot springs and volcanic mountains, you no doubt already know what makes Iceland so special, but we’ll list a few of the reasons anyway. A wealth of hot springs with health-giving properties, the chance to witness the elusive northern lights, and a thriving foodie scene in Reykjavík mean you can enjoy many different experiences in one short trip. The country is steeped in folklore, starting with the hidden people, or huldufólk, that many islanders believe are real. Some even build miniature houses for them. Visit for yourself to see how “the different parts of it seem like different planets”, as one of you commented.
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Dyrholaey Volcanic rock formation near Vik, Iceland © Umomos/Shutterstock
7. The USA
The USA is such a huge country, it’s impossible to cover all of the places where you’ll find beauty here. As one reader said, “It’s got everything from beaches to deserts, mountains to flats, breathtaking views of arctic-like scenes in Alaska to warm and vibrant Southern California – and some of the most iconic cities in the world.” Getting into the wilderness is a great way to see the country; and one that provides great wildlife spotting opportunities. Of course, the USA also has gorgeous beaches galore – from the crashing Pacific waves to the riotous Jersey shore. In between, the cities, deserts, and miles of open highway will stir the soul of any visitor.
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Sunrise in Hunts Mesa near Monument Valley, Arizona, USA © Bill45/Shutterstock
From the ethereally beautiful fjords to the compact capital, Oslo, there’s so much to discover in Norway. As one of you said in our survey, Norway boasts “Stunning mountains, glorious coastline, breathtaking fjords and a madly underrated and quirky capital city.” Tromsø, in the Arctic Circle, is emerging as one of the country’s top cultural hubs, and also makes a great place to start your northern lights excursion in the winter months. In summer, the eerie glow of the midnight sun bathes everything in red-gold colours. Further south, boat trips along the fjords will provide endless photo ops.
Lofoten islands in the Summertime, Norway © Whatafoto/Shutterstock
Dropping from second to fifth place in this year’s poll is Canada: home of lumberjacks, beavers and maple syrup (if you believe everything you read). Of course, there’s much more on offer in Canada, not least its mixture of raw beauty and majestic landscapes. The Yukon Territory is a place of great wilderness, while B.C. mountains draw skiers and snowboarders in their thousands. The turquoise colours of Lake Louise are an Instagrammer’s delight, and the East Coast cities of Toronto and Montreal charm with their great restaurants and cosmopolitan atmosphere. You praised the “Majestic scenery, laid back lifestyle, wildlife [and] great outdoors.”
An elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada © Weekend Warrior Photos/Shutterstock
With luminous turquoise water that rivals the Caribbean on a sunny day, Greece is a magnet for beach bunnies. But let’s not forget, this is a country with many facets including one of the richest collections of historic monuments in the world. We’re big fans – Greece was the subject of the very first Rough Guide in 1982. And it seems you are too, as the country climbs to fourth place in our poll. According to your comments, you love the “amazing transparent sea,” “the atmosphere”, “deep heritage,” and what one reader considers the “best beaches in the world”.
Marble Beach in Thasos, Greece © Porojnicu Stelian/Shutterstock
3. United Kingdom
Some of you on social media lamented our choice for grouping the United Kingdom together, but we chose to do so this time around to highlight the diverse beauty that the different corners of our collective nations offer to visitors. Many of you praised the “amazing variety of landscapes in a small area”. Of your favourites, the Lake District, Scottish Highlands and Welsh coastline were recurring themes. If you live in the UK and tend to travel abroad for holidays why not plan a staycation and explore some of the beautiful places right on your doorstep.
A summer afternoon in the Cotswolds © SScott514/Shutterstock
2. New Zealand
In second place is New Zealand. You chose it for the “endless beautiful landscapes”, and the respect residents show for nature. Here you can taste deliciously crisp white wines in the South Island’s Marlborough Region. Or, indulge your inner daredevil with bungee jumping in Queenstown, then tap into chilled out beach-city life in Auckland. From golfing to mountain biking, outdoor adventures come as standard in this famously friendly country.
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Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand © Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Few countries receive as many accolades for their beauty as Italy, which has taken the top spot in this year’s poll of the most beautiful countries in the world. From the rolling vineyards of Chianti to the sparkling Amalfi coast and the mountains of Trentino, this relatively small place has a host of different landscapes. Roman ruins scatter the country, meaning you’ll feel connected to Italy’s storied heritage everywhere you turn. Cities like Rome, Florence and Venice throb with romance, and rooftop villages will connect you with long-held traditions. Of course, there’s also the food, from bright, fresh vegetables on market stalls to the green-gold of cold-pressed olive oil. Several of you noted that Italy has the world’s highest number of Unesco Heritage Sites. Others commented on the “lovely towns and cities as well as scenic rural areas”. Put everything together and you’ve got one very special country.
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Scenic views outside Siena, Tuscany © StevanZZ/Shutterstock