Who doesn’t love chocolate? No matter how you consume it — as a chunky candy bar, baked into cookies, swirled into ice cream — chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved flavors. Many countries have their own unique take on the sweet treat, so for cocoa connaisseurs, there’s a world of chocolate out there waiting to be discovered. Here are eight of the best places to travel if you’re a chocolate lover.
With some 500 chocolatiers in the Belgian capital, it’s no surprise that Brussels is considered by many to be the “world capital of chocolate.” The city’s love affair with chocolate dates back to the 17th century, when Spain ruled Belgian territory and imported cocoa beans from their colonies in South America. Belgium’s wealthy elite couldn’t get enough of the tasty treat, and hot chocolate shops sprung up all over the city.
The recipe for chocolate largely stayed the same in the centuries that followed. But in the mid-1900s, a Swiss immigrant named Jean Neuhaus had a novel idea. Neuhaus, a pharmacist by trade, came up with the idea to coat his medicines in chocolate. His grandson took the concept and ran with it, coating bite-sized nuts, nougats, and other candies in a thin layer of chocolate. Jean Neuhaus Jr.’s wife Louise designed a box to protect the family’s creations, et voilà — pralines were born. Neuhaus now has shops all over the world, but Bruxellois have their own favorite artisanal chocolatiers. Try Chocolaterie Mary, beloved by the Belgian royal family, for iced chestnuts and choco-coated yuzu peel.
An entire city in Pennsylvania is named after the company founded by Milton S. Hershey, America’s original chocolate king. The city of Hershey, which was built up around his factory, was incorporated in 1908, and is now home to chocolate-centric gardens, amusement parks, shops, and museums.
When visiting the self-proclaimed “Sweetest Place on Earth,” your first stop should be the Hershey Museum on Chocolate Avenue, where you can read all about the ups and downs of the eccentric, charitable businessman who started it all. Then head over to Hershey’s Chocolate World, where mascots dressed as Hershey’s Kisses and peanut butter cups welcome you into their sugary domain. Make your own chocolate bar and customize the wrapping to your taste, or witness the theatrical, steampunk-style show about the art and science of chocolate tasting.
Located next door is Hersheypark, a sprawling amusement complex with chocolate-themed rides such as the Candymonium and the Cocoa Coaster. If you weren’t already filled to the brim with chocolate, you can indulge in chocolate-infused foods at the Chocolatier, from cocoa-dusted short ribs to pizzas with a chocolatey balsamic glaze.
Britain’s bustling “second city” is perhaps best known for two foods: curry and chocolate. Fans of purple foil-wrapped Cadbury confections should make a pilgrimage to Cadbury World, which offers tours not only of the Victorian-era factory, but also of the fascinating village the philanthropic Cadbury family constructed. The Cadbury family found their fortune selling hot cocoa in Birmingham’s pollution-choked city center of the 19th century.
In 1878, the family bought a vast plot of land outside the city to build a “factory in a garden” and create a healthier working environment for their workers. The result was Bournville, a pretty suburb filled with cottages, entertainment venues, and plenty of green space where employees could spend their time off. Explore Bournville before visiting Cadbury World, where the fascinating factory tour tells the complete story of Cadbury’s chocolate, offers you the chance to try your hand at molding, and boasts the world’s biggest Cadbury store. Save room for dessert — you’ll get plenty of free chocolate on your tour.
Switzerland is home to some of the world’s best-known chocolate brands. In Zurich, you’ll find the enormous Lindt-Sprüngli factory, which began operations in 1845, when two brothers produced the first solid chocolate in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It was a roaring success, and other chocolatiers soon capitalized on their idea.
In 1879, a pharmacist named Rodolphe Lindt and his brother came up with another revolutionary idea in the world of chocolate. They created the melt-on-your-tongue Lindt truffle by removing excess liquid from the manufacturing process; this stopped the sugar inside the bars from crystallizing, which often made the product too hard. Lindt and Sprüngli merged in 1899, and in 2020, the company opened its Home of Chocolate, where you can view the production line and marvel at a chocolate fountain almost 30 feet high.
Europe may be home to the world’s chocolate capitals, but Mexico is the place where it all began, with the cultivation of cocoa beans by ancient Mesoamerican societies some 4,000 years ago. While the city of Oaxaca isn’t known for growing the stuff, the flower-filled city has plenty of tasty and traditional ways of eating it. Stroll down Mina Street to take in the aroma of chocolate-grinding shops, where cocoa is finely ground and dusted into a variety of Oaxacan recipes.
Chocolate’s Nauhautl name, xocolatl, means “bitter water,” so the next thing to tick off your bucket list should be sipping a mug of champurrado from a street cart. The corn-based drink is popular all over Mexico, but in the Oaxacan version, tejate, the corn is toasted and the cacao beans are fermented.
Next, move on to Oaxaca’s preferred main course: anything with mole negro on it. The sauce is an incredibly complex concoction, with usually at least 25 ingredients, but the key addition is bittersweet chocolate. The elegant Casa Oaxaca serves up a succulent slow-cooked turkey doused in the indulgent sauce.
In addition to sun and sea, St. Lucia’s natural environment also offers cacao pods in abundance. The island’s volcanic soil and tropical climate means its beans are some of the best on the planet, and they have been exported to Europe since the 1700s. Every August is Chocolate Heritage Month, during which the whole island celebrates its connection to the confection with festivals and food stalls. Try the island’s rich cocoa tea, with added vanilla and cinnamon, for a tasty Caribbean pick-me-up.
If you’re keen to learn more about the bean-to-bar process, visit a chocolate estate, where cacao is grown and harvested before being exported. Discover the traditional cocoa-rina dance, a method in which lively human footwork was used to polish the raw beans. Plus, learn how fermentation works, and how beans are dried and roasted to bring out their intoxicating taste. Many of these estates also offer luxurious hotel suites and pampering spas for chocoholics to enjoy. You’ll struggle not to lick the chocolate off your skin during a chocolate facial, and enjoy dishes made with locally cultivated chocolate.
San Francisco, California
Wander along San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’ll soon discover a picturesque clock tower and an illuminated arch welcoming you to Ghirardelli Square, the city’s famous hot fudge sundae hangout. Founded in 1852, Ghirardelli’s is the oldest continuously operating chocolate maker in the U.S., and although it doesn’t actually manufacture chocolate in San Francisco anymore, the city is still one of the best places in the country for chocolate lovers to get their fix.
Chocolate first came to California during the Gold Rush, when French and Italian immigrants, including Dominico Ghirardelli himself, began producing it on a small scale. Another Californian chocolate company founded during this era was the artisanal Guittard, which doesn’t offer factory tours, but does sell some of America’s best couverture chocolate, using original formulas and traditional French methods.
The list of chocolate-loving cities concludes with another European chocolate capital to satisfy your sweet tooth. Café culture has always been a staple of northern Italian life, and over the last 500 years, creative chocolatiers have put this palatial city on the chocolate map. The “Italian chocolate capital” is now home to an annual chocolate festival, Cioccolatò, where hundreds of chocolatiers compete for your attention with their finest products.
Turin’s city center is even home to a chocolate district, where you can buy a cup of bicerin, a decadent fusion of drinking chocolate, espresso, and hot milk. The original (and arguably best) place to try it is Caffe al Bicerin, a gorgeous wood-paneled salon where politicians, artists, and philosophers have mingled over warm chocolate since 1763.