A vibrant street life, stunning visuals, food and drink that sweeten your lips. The world's most romantic places seem to share these traits. But there is something more: a sense of style and spirit, a pace that's almost musical. Here's a list of ethereal places -- some expected, some not -- that can easily capture your heart.
Sydney Opera House at dawn. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)
Most romantic season: Winter, perversely
Where to set the mood: Newton Bar, back-dropped by German photographer Helmut Newton's "Big Nudes"
What to wear: Something that's fun to take off
— Susan Spano
Havana: You can fly across the ocean, but you won't get farther from American ways than the casas and cafes of Old Havana. Browse through vintage photos of Fidel and Ché at the Plaza de Armas, then walk up Calle Mercaderes, ducking into the panaderías and perfumeries. Order a Bucanero beer (or a mojito) in the Plaza de la Catedral; it's such a great people-watching spot, you might even stay for dinner. After the sun sets, there's music everywhere. Link arms and make your way down the Malecón, Havana's legendary waterfront promenade. The old man with the patched-up guitar doesn't ask for money, but his soft rendition of "Bésame Mucho" is as beautiful as any music you will hear in Cuba. Breathe the warm sea air as you gaze north, across the Straits of Florida, toward a continent that seems as distant as the setting moon.
Most romantic season: March-April
Where to set the mood: Have a frozen daiquiri at El Floridita, and grin tolerantly at the tourists having their pictures taken with the bust of Ernest Hemingway.
What to wear: Light cotton; a dashing (or fetching) hat.
— Jeff Greenwald
Vienna: On the surface, there's something orderly about Vienna; it does not smack of spontaneity or sudden urges. And yet.... Consider a drive to the vineyards on the outskirts of the city just before sunset to watch the lights begin to sparkle. During the October grape harvest, couples park by the side of the narrow roads and roam the vine-covered hills in search of some privacy. Could be contagious. Back in town, stop at the Secession Building and gaze at Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven Frieze," an artwork that celebrates the human form and erotic love. Vienna has other well-known temptations: coffee and chocolate. The historic inner city boasts scores of shops that will sate your caffeine and sugar needs, especially powerful at breakfast time. It's a meal that will prepare you for anything, at least for a couple of hours until the need for real food kicks in.
Most romantic season: Autumn
Where to set the mood: The Sacher Eck cafe with Sacher-Torte and café mit schlag.
What to wear: Sunglasses and a scarf
— Alice Short
Barcelona, Spain: Where the locals resemble Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, nobody goes out to dinner before 10:30 p.m., and the streets teem with so much fantasy-fueled Gaudí architecture it leaves you breathless. It's easy to succumb in a city that has a beach lapping its southeastern edge, where even the ham — procured from black-hoofed pigs fattened on acorns — is a sensual experience. Start the day at Mercat de Santa Catarina, eyeing ripe figs and fleshy peaches. Then slip into Cuines Santa-Catarina and devour oily sardines and garlicky bread smeared with succulent tomatoes. Afterward, siesta at Hotel Omm, where the minimalist aesthetic won't get in the way of your own Gaudí-inspired fantasies.
Most romantic season: Summer, when it's hot and sultry
Where to set the mood: Rowing on the intimate boating lake in Parc de la Ciutadella
What to wear: Something that makes you look as if you just rolled out of bed.
— Janis Cooke Newman
Paris: Send a Philistine to Paris, and what do you get? A well-fed Philistine. Couldn't get out of the stuffy and overcrowded Louvre fast enough. But couldn't get enough of sitting in those sidewalk cafes, where young women in cotton dresses pedal by on bikes, like puffy little clouds. The worst of it: I didn't even know I was being seduced by Paris, till about the third day when I admitted that this place put the "lust" in "wanderlust." Is there a more romantic stroll in all the world than in the Musée d'Orsay, where the Impressionists live? I don't just want to work there; I want to live there, taking tickets from tourists from Cleveland, happily, all day, the rest of my life. Favorite street? Rue St.-Louis-en-l'Ile, as narrow as your living room and brimming with quaint restaurants, pastry shops and perhaps the best ice cream ever, at Berthillon (pronounced bear-tee-yone). Fave hotel? Victoria Palace Hotel on the Left Bank, where James Joyce once lived.
Most romantic season: April, of course
Where to set the mood: In Paris, shopping is considered "first base."
What to wear: Each other
— Chris Erskine
Sydney, Australia: This city knows how to do romance. Not only do its sparkling harbor and miles of smooth beaches make it one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, but the Aussie lifestyle seduces with fun. Start by lounging in bed and gazing out over the iconic harbor from your room at the Darling, a boutique waterfront hotel where the likes of Clooney and DiCaprio have hidden with their honeys. Wander downstairs to dissolve in their spa with a hamam and a couples' Kodo massage inspired by indigenous Aboriginal healing. Later, order up an artful organic picnic from Sydney Picnic Co. and have it delivered to the bountiful Botanic Gardens, where you can eat king prawns and drink Champagne under giant trees overlooking the Sydney Opera House. To fully appreciate the nation's wines, sip Sauvignon with the sommelier at Time to Vino, a bar in Kings Cross Road, the former red light district turned hip foodie strip. Down the road, dine at Mrs G's, possibly Sydney's coolest restaurant with funky design, palate-smacking Asian-fusion food and crazy creative cocktails.
Most romantic time to go: November-April
Where to set the mood: Hors d'oeuvres at Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, perched over the waves of Bondi Beach, home to billionaires, hippies, surfers and Sydney's beautiful bodies alike.
What to wear: Something very short. This advice applies to men too.
— Amanda Jones
Rio de Janeiro: Rio enjoys a reputation as a dreamy, steamy city, but there's far more to the place than bronzed beauties in thongs. Start with breakfast on the terrace of the elegant Mama Ruisa, an airy 19th century villa turned guesthouse in Santa Teresa, Rio's trendy boho village. Then take a stroll around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the iconic saltwater lagoon on the city's beach strip, ending at Fasano al Mare restaurant in the Fasano Hotel for lunch with a prime view of Ipanema Beach (and the aforementioned bodies). Head to Arpoador Beach for a swim with the surfers, then catch the tram back to Santa Teresa, stopping for a quick pop at Bar do Gomez, a colorful local watering hole spilling onto the cobbled streets. If you're still hungry after trying the empanadas, spend the evening eating artisanal Brazilian food on the jungley patio of Aprazivel, also in Santa Teresa.
Most romantic time to go: May-September
Where to set the mood: Drinking a caipirinha on the deck at 00 (pronounced "zero-zero"), a body-beautiful nightclub that goes until the thumping wee hours.
What to wear: As little as possible. With piles of large jewelry.
— Amanda Jones
New Orleans: In this poor man's Paris, cabs and covers are cheap, and sensual little courtyards plentiful; there's even the occasional dungeon or two. If you can't have fun in New Orleans, you can't have fun. Start the day with beignets at Café du Monde. At lunch, wander Decatur Street for a muffaletta sandwich. Or canoodle all day, then come out at night. Hop a streetcar for a drink at the Columns Hotel, where scenes from "Pretty Baby" were shot. Then on to nearby Tipitina's, or "Tips," for live music and dancing. Time doesn't just stand still in New Orleans; it disappears. And so can you.
Most romantic season: March-April
Where to set the mood: Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in the Quarter (circa 1772), where Tennessee Williams hung out while writing "A Streetcar Named Desire."
What to wear: Seersucker and perfume.
— Chris Erskine
Cape Town, South Africa: What can be sexier than hip design, pan-global food, award-stealing wine, white-sand beaches and a pre-cocktail jolt of adrenaline from a great white shark dive? Cape Town seethes with sexiness, from its funky, art-gallery-and-cafe-lined streets in gentrified inner-city hoods such as De Waterkant and Woodstock to Camps Beach, where the gorgeous gather. Start the day in your sleek bed at POD, a boutique hotel that makes you want to don a backless dress and slink through the minimalist lobby. Head to a late breakfast overlooking the water at the Grand (Camps Bay). Later, stroll hand-in-hand through the market in the Old Biscuit Mill, where you can feed each other artisanal cheeses, sample beer and shop for the sparkling wine and snacks you'll take on your gentle hike up Lions Head Mountain. For dinner, don the backless dress and make sure you're booked (six weeks in advance) at the Test Kitchen, the hottest restaurant in Cape Town. Afterward, indulge in a Nutty Slutty cocktail at the rooftop bar TjingTjing. Next morning? The shark dive, of course.
Most romantic season: November-March
Where to set the mood: At the Planet Bar in the Mount Nelson Hotel, the historic grand dame of Cape Town, opened in 1899 and a bastion of glamour ever since.
What to wear: Silk, chiffon and sensible walking shoes
— Amanda Jones
San Francisco: If San Francisco didn't exist, Lewis Carroll would've had to invent it. Surrounded by ice water, a decrepit prison off its bow, this old city still manages a twinkle all its own. The bread is better here, and the Chardonnay takes on a different glow. Sure, the streets are hell to walk and often cold to the bone, but that only makes you appreciate the company of others. Charter a sailboat (with captain) near Fisherman's Wharf, or take in a bike ride and sunset at the Golden Gate Promenade. Finish with dinner at the elegant and renowned Fleur de Lys, where the chocolate souffle will capture your heart, even if your date doesn't.
Most romantic season: The holidays
Where to set the mood: Clock Bar, in the Westin St. Francis Hotel
What to wear: A hat and a sweater or three.
— Chris Erskine
Dishonorable mentions: Here are some other places with romantic reputations, and why they didn't quite make our list: Amsterdam (too mercenary), London (too tweedy), Hollywood (too close), St. Tropez, France (too jet-setty), Tokyo (too well-illuminated), Las Vegas (too everything).