There are as many reasons to make lists of cities around the world as there are cities, but most of them relate somehow to beauty. Who doesn't want to scroll through a list of the most photogenic cities in the United States, or the most beautiful cities to visit during Japan's cherry blossom season?
Fact: This is not going to be one of those lists.
Indeed, while this list is going to try and pinpoint the ugliest place in the world, you shouldn't take it to be an overall value judgment of each. While some of the cities are relatively irredeemable, many are otherwise interesting and fun to visit, and just happened to have been hit by the ugly stick. Apologies in advance if your favorite city is on here!
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Anthropologists and travelers alike think of Ethiopia as the birthplace of humanity. The country, for its part, is home to some of Africa's most incredible tourist destinations, such as the sulfur fields of Dallol and Erta Ale volcano.
But while the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is East Africa's financial center, and its airport the hub of prestigious Ethiopian Airlines, the city has few visual elements that distinguish it from any other large city in Africa. In fact, aside from the stunning Medhane Alem Church, whose blue-green domes contrast perfectly with the grey skies that usually rise above Addis Ababa, this ugly city offers almost no beauty to complement its delicious food, exciting nightlife, and growing population.
Like Addis Ababa, the Indian city of Agra sits close to many of the country's top tourist destinations. In fact, Agra is built up around India's #1 draw for travelers, the Taj Mahal.
Unfortunately, while many other Indian cities boast redeeming factors beyond the attractions they're home to, Agra is nothing more than a trap for the tourists who venture here, a fact its decided lack of beauty compounds. The silver lining of Agra being as disappointing as it is, and arguably the ugliest place in the world? It's only a couple hours by train from Delhi, which is one of the best cities to fly to if you're looking for cheap flights to India from most anywhere in the world.
Both travelers and locals refer to Arequipa, the second-largest city in Peru, as the "White City." The good news, if you like color that is, is that relatively few of the buildings in the city are actually white, the bleak color of the sky above this ugly city notwithstanding.
The bad news is that Arequipa is about as beautiful as a piece of plain, white paper, regardless of your photography skills. Of course, most travelers come to Arequipa not for the city itself, but for the nearby Colca Canyon, so this is just as well.
Belgrade has developed a reputation as one of Europe's most exciting cities, and the de-facto hub of the Balkan region that's emerged as a tourism hot spot two decades after the end of the devastating war. While Belgrade, whose Serbian name Beograd happens to translate to "White City" (hola, Arequipa!), boasts a youthful excitement, as well as proximity to the Serbian wine country and other national treasures, it's far from beautiful.
In fact, while you can see architectural influences that range from Austro-Hungarian, to Eastern Orthodox, to Ottoman as you walk the streets of Belgrade, it's the Soviet-looking apartments blocs and other structures that dominate the aesthetic of this city, and lead many to the conclusion that it simply isn't photogenic, and is potentially the ugliest place in the world.
Two things surprise many travelers about the city of Cairns, Australia. First, that it's pronounced "Cans," not unlike the way many non-French speakers mispronounce the city of Cannes on France's Côte d'Azur. Secondly, in spite of the fact that Cairns is the gateway to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, it's a decidedly ugly city, with a drab, 1980s aesthetic that almost cancels out the natural beautiful its tropical landscape gives this ugly city. You'll take some of the best pictures of your life while diving, but don't bother saving any battery for your subsequent walks back to your hotel.
Houstonians rejoiced at the recent news that Houston is expected to overtake Chicago as America's third-largest city within the next several decades. Unfortunately, bigger is not always better, a fact that pertains not only to Houston's frequent status as America's fattest city but also to how ugly it is in spite of all the things to do there.
Even if we ignore the fact that Houston's greatest infamy comes from the fact that the world's widest freeway is there, the city just isn't beautiful. Its dominance as an energy-industry hub has led to a decidedly industrial landscape, with even "picturesque" places like the Houston Ship Channel bearing an almost hideous aesthetic, to say nothing of the smell of oil in the air.
If you're looking for good photography in Houston, it's better to Instagram from within the city's award-winning museums and restaurants than to venture out into its streets, which qualify it to become the ugliest place in the world.