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15 of the Most Beautiful Walled Cities in the World

From the Tibetan Plateau to Central Asia to Roman Britain, walls have encircled and protected people for centuries. Here are some of the most beautiful walled cities.

Over the past year, many of us have gotten to know the confines of our home cities well—perhaps better than we wanted to. The walls constraining us have been invisible, even if they’ve felt very real. In days past, however, many civilizations and cultures have built physical boundaries around their settlements, to fortify themselves and keep out attackers or unknown threats.

Many ancient walled cities have grown and spread far beyond their original walled borders or dismantled the city walls so that only remnants hint at the history. London and Delhi are good examples of these, where you can see crumbling walls within residential suburbs or on traffic islands. But other cities are still encircled by their old walls. Walled cities provide an immediate connection to a city’s ancient or medieval past. They are great places to see historic architecture, and, when they’re still inhabited, traditional ways of life, too.

When ancient walled cities are still inhabited they present a particular challenge to preservation and tourism professionals, as there’s a need to balance sustainable social and economic development (a.k.a. tourism) and the conservation of heritage. They require travelers to travel mindfully, to consider their impact on material and cultural structures that have been around for centuries.

Here are some of the most beautiful and interesting walled cities in the world.

1 OF 15

Lo Manthang

WHERE: Upper Mustang, Nepal

In the remote Mustang region of Nepal, on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and separated from the hills and plains of Nepal by the mighty Himalaya, the walled city of Lo Manthang sits at 12,500 feet. Lo Manthang was founded in 1380 by a Tibetan king, and the city remained the capital of the independent Kingdom of Lo until 2008 when it officially merged with Nepal.

Sitting on the Nepal-Tibet trade route, Lo Manthang’s walls protect its people from the harsh winds of Mustang, which whip up sand and dust daily from the mid-morning. Within the city walls are Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, homes, and shops. Irrigated farmland and barren hills and mountains lie beyond the walls. Fewer than 2,000 people live in and around Lo Manthang today, and many of these migrate south for the harsh winter.

2 OF 15


WHERE: Rajasthan, India

There’s no shortage of walled fortresses in India, particularly in the state of Rajasthan, but Jaisalmer is a little bit different. The sandstone walled city in the Thar Desert of far-western Rajasthan is still inhabited, by about a quarter of the city’s residents. From afar, the 12th-century fort looks just like the kind of sandcastle you made on the beach with a bucket when you were a kid.

Inside the city walls are palaces and mansions (often now museums), royal cenotaphs, and temples. There are also restaurants and hotels, but it’s not advisable to stay within the city walls. The infrastructure of the walled city, particularly the water supply and drainage, is under immense pressure. Staying there could contribute to the destruction of a magnificent city that has survived for centuries. Enjoy the sunset from a rooftop or wall and then head to a hotel outside the city walls for the night.

3 OF 15


WHERE: Israel

Jerusalem is holy to three of the world’s major religions—Islam, Judaism, and Christianity—and has a suitably holy, historic, and charged atmosphere. Although almost a million people live in modern-day Jerusalem, until the late-19th century the whole city was contained with the walls, and the area is now known as the Old City. Walls have encircled the city for at least 1,500 years, but they have been rebuilt and dismantled at various points in history.

Inside Jerusalem’s walls are many of the city’s most important sites, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Old City is divided into somewhat separate Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters, each with its own cultures, histories, and aesthetics.

4 OF 15


WHERE: France

The hilltop fortress city of Carcassonne, in south-eastern France’s Occitanie region, dates all the way back to the Roman era, in the 6th century C.E. However, the fortress walls and spires that are so charming today are mostly a mid-19th-century reproduction of the original walls, which had fallen into decay in the 17th century. They’re well-done reproductions, though, and have withstood a couple of centuries of weathering. Along with Jaisalmer, Carcassonne is one of the last remaining “living forts” in the world.

Visitors to Carcassonne can get views of the city and the surrounding countryside from ramparts atop the massive walls. There are several architectural treasures to see within the walls, too, including the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, the 13th-century Bastide St-Louis, and the Notre-Dame de la Santé. The countryside outside Carcassonne’s walls is also worth touring.

5 OF 15

Quebec City

WHERE: Quebec, Canada

Fortified walled cities are a rare sight in North America, and Quebec City is the only example found north of Mexico. Founded in the early 17th century, Quebec City is one of the oldest European cities in North America. The walls protected the settlement at a time when the French and British were fighting for control of North America. Other well-preserved fortresses can be seen around Lake Erie, on both the U.S. and Canada sides of the border, but these are not inhabited.

Various structures within the walled city were built at different times: Champlain’s Habitation in the early 17th century, the star-shaped citadel in the late-18th century, and the dominant Chateau Frontenac in the late-19th century. Although it’s not as old as some other parts of the walled city, the chateau dominates the skyline and is in fact a hotel, allowing visitors to live out their medieval European fantasies right in North America.

6 OF 15


WHERE: Colombia

The Caribbean city of Cartagena was established by the Spanish in the 1530s. It grew into a major port and attracted unwanted attention from pirates looking for gold, so the government constructed walls around part of the city in 1561. It took several decades to fully secure the fortifications, and in the meantime, Cartagena was subject to numerous attacks, most destructively by English Francis Drake in 1586, when the cathedral was razed.

La ciudad amurallada, as the walled city is called, now contains churches, plazas, beautiful (and colorful!) old homes and shops—some of which are hotels—top-notch restaurants, boutiques, and markets. The walls stretch eight miles around this part of the city and you can walk along the tops, for lovely sea views.

7 OF 15


WHERE: Estonia

The old center of Tallinn, capital of the northern European Baltic country Estonia, is encircled by medieval city walls constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries. Although the walls were built in stages, by the time they were finished, the city was one of the most strongly fortified in Northern Europe. Residents were required to take the defense of their city seriously and personally: everyone had to take part in guard duty, which meant showing up in a suit of armor!

These days, about half of the original fortifications remain, including about a mile of wall, 26 defense towers, and some fragments of gates. Visitors can walk along parts of the wall, and up to a viewing platform with great views of the rooves and spires of Tallinn, as well as the Baltic Sea beyond.

8 OF 15

Ait Benhaddou

WHERE: Morocco

Beautiful earthen clay Ait Benhaddou is located in the Ounila Valley in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, on an old trade route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh. While the settlement has been fortified since the 11th century, the oldest remaining buildings now date from the 17th century. Inside the walls are homes, mosques, public squares, cemeteries, and other community buildings. The buildings are notable for their geometric designs, carved and imprinted into the clay.

As Ait Benhaddou is no longer strategically important, few people actually live here any longer, having instead migrated to more modern satellites of the medieval town. However, the site has been used as a movie filming location and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s, so it has undergone extensive restoration to keep it in good shape.

9 OF 15


WHERE: Spain

The fortress walls of Avila, northwest of Madrid, are some of the most complete and best preserved in Europe. The town has ancient, pre-Roman origins, and may have been fortified even then, but the current walls were constructed as protection against the Moorish caliphate in southern Spain, between the 11th and 14th centuries. They encircle the city for about 1.5 miles, and are at least 10 feet thick, with 88 regularly placed defensive towers adding to the drama.

As well as the walls themselves, visitors to the fortified city can visit the cathedral, churches, monasteries, and palaces, particularly in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. Nowadays, Avila spreads beyond the city walls, and residents live both within and outside the walls.

10 OF 15


WHERE: Malta

Once the capital of Malta, Mdina is entirely enclosed in walls. It was founded in the 8th century B.C.E., and some remains of the walls constructed in the prehistoric and Roman periods can still be found, although the current fortifications are believed to date from the 8th century. At this time, Malta was under Byzantine rule, and the defenses may have been constructed against Arab would-be invaders. However, the history is not conclusive, and it may also be that the walls were constructed by Arab settlers in the 11th century.

Nowadays, only a few hundred people live within the walled city, and very few vehicles are permitted inside. Despite Mdina’s long history, most of the architecture that exists today is Norman Romanesque or Baroque.

11 OF 15

Fenghuang Ancient City

WHERE: China

Fenghuang Ancient City in central China is a well-preserved city that reflects traditional design and urban planning. Founded from the 7th century onwards, Fenghuang became a military center because of its strategic location between the Han-dominant area of China and the ethnic minority areas of the south-west. Red-brick walls encircle the town are also bounded by mountains on one side, and the Tuojiang River on the other, adding to the city’s security.

Unlike many other centuries-old cities in China, Fenghuang was never severely damaged in wars or natural disasters, so the old parts of the city maintain their Ming and Qing-era character. Within the walls are more than 200 well-preserved homes, temples, public facilities and spaces, streets, and alleyways. The stilt houses that cantilever over the river are especially attractive.

12 OF 15


WHERE: Uzbekistan

On the ancient silk road that ran through Asia and Europe, the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Central Asia, dating from at least the 7th century B.C.E. Its most significant and currently visible developments took place under Timurid rule, in the 14th and 15th centuries. Samarkand’s long and significant history can be seen throughout the city, with archeological sites in various places, but the old medieval city is the most striking. The 11th-century walls were largely destroyed when Russia invaded Samarkand in the mid-19th century, but remnants remain and the layout of the old city still aligns with these walls.

Samarkand includes some of the finest examples of Central Asian Islamic architecture and design anywhere in the world and exemplifies the city’s importance as a cross-cultural hub for centuries. Numerous tombs, public squares, Islamic schools, mosques, and other structures remain in good condition, and many are decorated with exquisite blue and turquoise mosaic detailing.

13 OF 15



Located in the deserts of central Iran, Yazd is an important center of Persian architecture and is believed to have been fortified since its founding in the 4th century. As the city’s strategic importance grew, so did the city walls, which long provided a refuge for Persian dynasties against waves of invaders. The military strength of the defenses, however, became increasingly useless against modern warfare techniques after the widespread use of gunpowder, as Yazd’s ramparts were designed to defend against projectile attacks, such as from arrows and catapults.

While the majority of Yazd’s residents are Muslims, the city is also home to a large minority of Zoroastrians, a pre-Islamic religion indigenous to Iran. Zoroastrian fire temples can be seen in Yazd, as well as blue-tiled mosques, formal Persian gardens, imperial tombs, and wind towers, designed to maintain airflow through buildings and streets in the hot desert climate.

14 OF 15


WHERE: Thailand

Founded in 1530, the city of Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand, before the founding of Bangkok. Bounded on three sides by the Lopburi River, Ayutthaya’s city walls, moats, and canals were constructed on the remaining side to protect against attacks by Burmese and Khmer invaders. The city was abandoned when it was attacked by the Burmese in 1767 and the capital moved to Bangkok, but a newer town has developed outside the walled area. Parts of the city walls are still visible today and enclose the historic heart of Ayutthaya, full of temples, stupas, monasteries, palaces, gardens, and other structures reflecting the city’s former glory.

Nowadays, Ayutthaya is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok as it’s easy to reach by bus or even boat from the capital. The Ayutthaya style of architecture has continued to be important in Thailand, and much of the new capital of Bangkok was designed to reflect Ayutthaya’s style.

15 OF 15


WHERE: England

The walled cathedral city of Chester, in north-west England, was founded as a Roman town in the 1st century. What became the present-day cathedral was founded in the 7th century and was later developed into city walls to protect Chester against invading Danes. Partly thanks to the impenetrable walls, Chester was one of the last cities in England to be conquered by the Normans in the 11th century, and even now it is one of the best-preserved walled cities in the U.K.

Chester is a modern city that contains centuries of urban and architectural development, but all but about 330 feet of the original walls remain. Within the walls are fine examples of Victorian architecture and some medieval architecture, although some of the black and white “Tudor” buildings are actually Victorian reconstructions.

fouDor May 26, 2021

How could you forget Campeche - founded in 1540 on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula... it was the very first town in the New World to be protected by walls.
They were built to protect the inhabitants from the pirates...  At the time the town was at the water's edge, now the walls stand some small distance away as the water line has changed over the centuries.  The town is a jewel - well worth a visit and make sure to include the walk on top of the wall as well and what about Dubrovnik? How could this place be forgotten?  
Next you go for walled cities - you have to do whole series - divided by age or location... They are plentiful!

scottbenavides8465 April 23, 2021

None of the ones I have been too made the list - Rothenberg, Germany, Evora, Portugal, Toledo, Spain...

BarbBelle April 23, 2021

Very poor photo of Chester My son lives there It's a beautiful place Cobbled streets Black and white shops and houses Long stretches of Roman walls to stroll along A beautiful river Small cathedral Photo doesn't do it justice.

freshy17 April 23, 2021

7 outta 15, not bad! My favorite is San Gimignano in Tuscany, on the way from Florence to Siena. Small and beautiful! Well worth a stop

abeastwood April 23, 2021

I haven't been to any of these cities, but I was about to mention my favorite, Lucca, and I see someone already did. It's a beautiful city and the cathedral is very interesting architecture with several levels of columns in the front. The walls are a puzzle: they are too low to be particularly effective, but they are wide and provide a wonderful avenue to walk around the city and look into it.