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Counting Down America's 20 Most Charming Cities (PHOTOS)

04/29/2015 02:34 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2015
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To find the heart of New York City, you need the right shoes.

"I always seek out a city's charms on foot," says Rachel Rudwall, co-creator of the travel series How 2 Travelers. In the Big Apple, she says, walking gives her the thrill of "moving through a sea of people who are drastically different from one another, yet all working to make a life in the city," while in Charleston, "every main street, alleyway and market feels as though it holds centuries of stories."

Travel+Leisure readers would agree, placing both New York City and Charleston in the top 10 of uniquely charming cities. In this year's America's Favorite Cities survey, readers voted on dozens of features that make 38 cities special, from museums to bakeries and flea markets. To highlight the most bewitching cities, we combined the rankings for interesting architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets, quaint bookstores, a sense of history and a friendly atmosphere--and nice wine bars didn't hurt, either.

Several winners had one thing in common: old neighborhoods that have found new life, with cobblestone streets as well as cool shops and little cafes. Otherwise, in some winning cities, charm means easy access to public art, or food truck pods where locals gather around the fire pit with guitars. One cozy city even has a self-proclaimed "snuggery."

With most of the winners, too, those walkable streets are key--assuming you stray off the tourist grid. Barri Bronston, author of Walking New Orleans, advises Crescent City visitors to do Bourbon Street once--then move on. "Take the Bywater neighborhood," she says, "with its houses painted in vibrant purples, oranges, and blues. Until I walked its streets, I had no idea how cool it really was. I'm a life-long resident of New Orleans, but I always feel like I'm discovering something new."

--By Katrina Brown Hunt