The urban mile-high club spans a stunning and far-flung array of cities.
Lhasa, Tibet, China
Photograph by Michael Yamashita, National Geographic
This list was first published in the book The World's Best Cities.
At an altitude of 11,975 feet (3,650 meters), Lhasa is higher than any other city on our list. The 17th-century Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama, hovers above the city like a giant Buddhist scroll.
Photograph by Design Pics Inc, National Geographic
The onetime capital of the Inca Empire—laid out in the shape of a puma—is a vivid contrast in styles. Spanish colonial churches sit side by side with the ruins of Inca temples and palaces.
Photograph by Jonathan Irish, National Geographic
Set between the Kalahari and Namib Deserts, Namibia’s capital roosts on an arid 5,600-foot (1,707-meter) plateau. The isolated Afrikaner settlement grew into a thriving modern city after independence in 1990.
Photograph by Lynsey Addario, National Geographic
A throwback to the bygone Himalaya, Thimphu flaunts medieval palaces and Buddhist festivals with drumming, dancing, and lurid masks. Its 17th-century fortified monastery houses Bhutan’s government.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
Founded the same year as the original Jamestown colony (1607), Santa Fe is both the highest (7,260 feet/2,213 meters) and oldest U.S. state capital. With the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop, this famously artsy city blends Spanish, Pueblo Indian, and modern American traditions.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Photograph by Medford Taylor, National Geographic
Tucked into the arid mountains northwest of Mexico City, San Miguel’s bohemian vibe and pleasant highland climate has attracted artists and writers both domestic and foreign since the 1930s.
Photograph by Naftali Hilger, laif/Redux
The highest capital city in the Middle East is also one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, founded around 2,500 years ago. The Old City, celebrated for its mud-brick dwellings decorated with geometric designs, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photograph by Kent Kobersteen, National Geographic
As the best preserved Spanish colonial city in Latin America, Quito’s entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site—though shortness of breath and headaches are common for newcomers to the city, perched at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) in the Andes.
Photograph by Oliver Bolch, Anzenberger/Redux
Host of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, Innsbruck is surrounded by skiing and snowboarding slopes. Its medieval Old Town bustles with shops and cafés, while its baroque palaces channel the long-lost Habsburg empire.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Photograph by Philippe Lissac, Godong/Corbis
The queen of the Ethiopian Highlands was born of an 1886 decision by Empress Taytu Betul to establish a royal palace near sacred Mount Entoto. As base of the African Union and other organizations, Addis is the “Geneva of Africa.”
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