I've never in my life seen a city quite like Baku. From the first minute after getting off the train, it was apparent that everything was incredibly new. However, it was not 'new' in the same sense as an eyesore like Dubai or some horrifying resort city. Everything was instead built out of stone and was a color similar to sand, made to resemble the traditional cultural Azeri architecture. All the buildings though, were in absolutely pristine condition, as were the monuments and many parks scattered throughout the urban area. There were very few skyscrapers, and nearly everything was focused towards a ground level.
On top of that, Baku is spotless. Literally, during my entire week there I couldn't find a single piece of trash in the city. Every street and every building was clean and maintained really well. Even the pollution was surprisingly really low despite the city's large size of three million and the abundance of cars. I'm not particularly sure how this happens but maybe it's due to the constant and ever-present wind keeping the air moving.
Moscow's architecture is incredibly odd, but in the best way possible. The old city center around the Kremlin, for example, is completely unlike anything I've ever seen before. I still remember how unreal it felt the first time I walked through Red Square. It was like I physically entered into a fantasy novel with so many shapes, and even though it is still so vivid for me, I struggle to find the right words to convey the feeling. I guess here, it's just one of those things you have to experience yourself (hint, you should come here!). And then, there's everything else around the city which all seems to happen with no rhyme or reason. One building will look entirely different from the next, which will be entirely different from the next, and so on. Anyway, I'm rambling, but my point is that in Moscow you can wander endlessly any be thoroughly fascinated anywhere.
While the Armenian doesn't claim the top spot, Yerevan may have been the most interestingly designed city I've ever seen, and for that reason, it deserves to be on this list. What makes it so unique is the combination of classical, cultural designs mixed with 20th century Soviet structures. Normally, former Soviet cities have either one or the other, not both. But with Yerevan you can see the convergence of the two influences in nearly every building. It's like as if the city was constructed by hippie-Soviet art students, which, I can assure you, is both as strange and amazing as it sounds. And if you happen to find yourself there, climb up to the top of the stair monument where you can look out onto the entire city below.
Despite being a capital Ljubljana's aesthetics still give it that relaxed, small town feel. Everything seems so creatively designed and is laid out in a way that makes you feel welcome. Throughout the city, the buildings shows the mix of cultural influences, from its proximity to Italy to its past in both the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Yugoslavia. It was so nice and pleasant to walk through that I ended up spending two full separate days wandering around through it. And for that, I would definitely recommend walking around through the old town in the center. It's located right along the river and the views are absolutely incredible. Its surrounded by picturesque buildings intermixed with lush green nature. The castle overlooking the center is also an absolute must. Just by itself, it is amazing, but from it, you can nearly see the whole city and all its glory down below.
Before arriving, I had no idea what to expect from Kazan. With Moscow and Petersburg getting all the attention, Russia's third city (as it calls itself) usually flies under the radar, but as it turned out, Kazan looked amazing. Being a historically Tatar city, Kazan stands out from the rest of Russia and almost feels as if you've entered Central Asia. This goes from everything to the metro stations with murals depicting moments of Tatar history to the city's kremlin overlooking the Volga River where you can see mosques and Orthodox churches side by side. One thing I would recommend would be walking through the pedestrian street down the center of the city at night when everything is all lit up. It's a pretty spectacular sight in a city that looks like no other.
Now, I admit I am impartial because this is my favorite city on planet Earth, but Tbilisi holds it's own pretty when when it comes to the architecture. While it does not quite have the cultural and Soviet mix of it's neighbor Yerevan, the feature that stood out most to me in Tbilisi was that as you walk from place to place, it seems as if you're stepping through different periods in time. One neighborhood may look as if you're in the 19th century, then you can cross a bridge appears futuristic, only to enter another area resembling the 1950s. And , there's the ancient stone fortress on a hill overlooking the whole metropolis below that dates back over one thousand years. All of this was amazing because it felt as if I were an adventurer, not knowing what I'd come across next, thus making Tbilisi a wanderers paradise.
If you're used to traveling in the West, Budapest may seem a little more at home to you than my other top choices. That said, the structures and appearance of the city isn't entirely Western either, which, in my opinion, is what gives it its character. Its as if this city is where the two sides of Europe converged and built up a city upon a rich cultural history. Large, open streets move their way through medieval castles stand next to grandiose baroque buildings and Soviet-style structures. And somehow it all flows together without anything seeming out of place. Nothing towers above you and the city itself is designed in a way that seems to welcome you with open arms. Not to mention, it's all complimented by the Danube river which passes through.