Top tourist cities

WORLD1. Charleston2. Cape Town, South Africa3. Florence, Italy4. Bangkok, Thailand5. Vancouver, CanadaU.S.1. Charleston2. San Francisco3. Chicago4. Santa Fe, N.M.5. New York City10. SavannahAbout the survey: Conde Nast Traveler readers judge cities on a five-point scale. The composite scores determine the outcome. Global Market Insite of Boston received nearly 47,000 responses this year.

North Carolina residents John and Gale Sherrill never get bored when they come to Charleston.

"You could stay here for six months and never see the same thing twice," said John Sherrill as the anniversary-celebrating couple strolled through the Holy City where they honeymooned 24 years ago this week.

"It's like heaven," Gale Sherrill said Tuesday.

Carrie Schulte of Missouri drove 17 hours with a friend to come to the seaside city for the first time.

"I had heard so much about it, I had to come see it," Schulte said while shopping in the City Market.

Ohio residents Gary and Marilyn Steyskal have made it a point to visit Charleston twice a year since the 1980s.

"It's the history, the restaurants, the historical churches, and we like to explore old cemeteries," Marilyn Steyskal said. "We always find something we haven't seen before."

They are a few of the nearly 4.5 million tourists who descend every year on Charleston, the No. 1 tourist destination not only in the U.S. for the second year in a row, but also the top travel city on the planet for the first time ever, according to readers of Conde Nast Traveler.

"To be No. 1 twice in the U.S. is unbelievable, and to be named No. 1 city in the world, you can't do any better than that," said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Last year, Charleston came in first in the U.S. and third in the world, behind Sydney, Australia, and Florence, Italy.

Readers of the renowned travel magazine chose Charleston for the accolade based on overall ambiance, culture and sites, friendliness, lodging, restaurants and shopping.

"I travel to a lot of places, and it's hard to find people who are more welcoming and friendly and charismatic than the people you find in Charleston," said Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler.

The CVB didn't waste any time capitalizing on the twin accolades. It posted a two-minute video Tuesday on companion site charlestonly.com that shows cobblestone streets, clopping horses and chopping chefs, just to name a few of the scores of sights and sounds highlighted around Charleston.

"Last year we were flattered," the CVB says in the video. "This year, we're on top of the world."

Cape Town, South Africa, came in second. Florence came in third.

"To be recognized alongside some of the world's most popular visitor destinations is a distinction that Charleston will cherish for quite some time," Mayor Joe Riley said.

Duane Parrish, director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the announcement "gives us one more golden egg that the goose has laid."

The recognition could prove a big boost for Charleston International Airport as well, which last year saw a 30 percent rise in passengers and is about to embark on a $150 million terminal expansion to accommodate a projected doubling by 2030 of its 2.5 million passengers last year.

"This is a huge win for our community," said Rep. Chip Limehouse, chairman of Charleston County Aviation Authority. "It's going to mean an increase in volume for our restaurants, hotels and the airport."

Limehouse called the city's latest honor a "pinch-me-is-it-real-type situation," but he tempered his enthusiasm for the accolade by saying success will bring challenges.

"More people are going to come here, not just to visit but to live," he said. "That will be the challenge for all of the elected officials - to manage the success we are having."

Conservationist Dana Beach, who favors regulating the cruise-ship industry in Charleston, said the recognition was deserved partly because of past decisions that preserved much of the city's historic character, one of the main tourist draws of Charleston.

"It should inspire us to take stock about what people love about Charleston and make sure we preserve that," Beach said. "When you are high-profile and that well-regarded, a city can overdo it in any aspect of tourism. We don't have to go after everything. We have a gold-plated brand. We can pretty much set our own standards that make Charleston such a wonderful place to live and visit."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.