Read through our ultimate travel bucket list, with not just the top places to see, but the unique experiences that you can have when you visit these amazing locations around the world.
This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.
Whether it’s adrenaline based adventures or sampling a unique local delicacy for the first time, these experiences will give you unforgettable memories and stories to return home with.
If you're travelling with kids, you might also want to discover magical places to visit with children before they grow up.
The facts are similarly mind-boggling: it is around 277 miles long and one mile deep. Think of it this way: the Grand Canyon is like a mountain range upside down. The abruptness of the drop is bizarre and unnerving. But this is what makes it one the top places to see. Once you return, you’ll never see scenes like it ever again.
The Grand Canyon is like that: it picks you up and takes you out of your comfort zone, dropping you back just that little bit changed.
Here, you emerge from the bizarrely eroded cliffs onto an extraordinary view: the famous facade of Petra’s Treasury looming before you. Carved directly into the cliff face and standing 40m tall, it’s no wonder that this UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-see on any Middle Eastern bucket list.
But it’s in the pit, standing in the footsteps of Elizabethan and Jacobean ‘groundlings’ who paid a penny apiece, where you get the best atmosphere. This close up, Shakespeare cannot be dusty or distant. The performances are energized, physical and exhilarating. This is a participatory, democratic theatre experience.
There’s a terrific camaraderie between actors and audience, and a real intimacy in those iconic moments when Shakespeare lays bare the inner sinews of human emotion. That's why this place is worth to be on your travel bucket list.
Only here do you have the chance to eyeball Hamlet as he contemplates 'self-slaughter', or Lady Macbeth as she tries to wash the imagined blood from her hands.
Take at least a day to walk between its battlements, shunning hawkers and tourists for less-visited sections where you clamber up unrestored stairs and through crumbling towers. Yet even after you’ve seen, touched and walked the wall, it’s still hard to believe this was built by simple human endeavour.
The Great Wall in China
This tropical idyll of turquoise seas lapping ivory sands against a backdrop of dense green foliage is ingrained in our imagination. Life on board here becomes simple. A shower is as easy as diving into the surrounding water, and your bed is the deck of the boat or the sand on the beach.
Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj Mahal as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”, and though its layout follows a distinctly Islamic theme, representing Paradise, it is above all a monument to romantic love.
Shah Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum, better known by her official palace title, Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”). The emperor was devastated by her death, and set out to create an unsurpassed monument to her memory – the result is sublime.
The sakura-zensen, or cherry blossom front, flushes like a floral wave that laps the country from south to north and is followed ardently by the Japanese. Among the best places to see it are Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Tokyo’s Ueno Park or the castles in Osaka or Himeji, all of which are lent a dreamlike air by the arrival of the blossom each spring.
A lesson about fragile beauty that must be treasured and contemplated.
It’s perhaps best seen after a heavy rainfall, when the Salar transforms into an immense mirror, reflecting the sky and the surrounding snowcapped peaks so pristinely that at times the horizon disappears and the mountains seem like islands floating in the sky.
With each island, new animal oddities reveal themselves – giant tortoises, canoodling waved albatrosses, lumbering land iguanas and Darwin’s finches, to name but a few – each a key player in the world’s most celebrated workshop of evolution.
You feel like a privileged gatecrasher, one who’s allowed an up-close look at a long-kept secret: the mechanics of life on Earth.
Travel from the centre of Glasgow, all the way to Mallaig, through famous sites such as the 21-arch viaduct at Glenfinnan (of Harry Potter fame) and the mighty Ben Nevis mountain. Whilst you might have to crane your neck to get the full view, you won’t have to worry about keeping your eyes on the road.
Today, they continue to safeguard hunters as well as welcome adventure seekers. Visitors can feast on caribou stew and frozen Arctic char before falling asleep to the sounds of kids throat-singing and the gentle flicker of the seal-blubber-fuelled qulliq (lamp).
Soaring some 80m up from the bay that bears its name, this glowering granite islet has an entire commune clinging improbably to its steep boulders, its tiers of buildings topped by a magnificent Benedictine abbey. It’s an aesthetic delight yet also a place of serenity: less than a third of the 3.5 million tourists that flock here each year actually climb all the way up.
Looking out from Mont St-Michel, the tides rolling in around its base, is a panorama to be savoured.
In theory, the townsfolk of Haro are battling it out with those of neighbouring Miranda de Ebro, but in the good-humoured but frantic battle that rages, there are no obvious sides, and no winners or losers. Instead, the object is perfectly straightforward: to squirt, hose, blast or throw some 25,000 litres over as many people as possible.
You won’t be spared as a spectator, so you may as well join in.
Come spring, pairs of puffins, their feathers ruffled from the raging sea, wash up on the island, standing proud and rubbing their beaks together in displays of matrimony. The show has just begun. For the next four months, these curious seabirds will mate, nest and raise their offspring – all of which makes for including this destination to your travel bucket list.
While crowded, not surprisingly, it's a large site, and it’s quite possible to escape the hordes and experience the strangely still quality of Pompeii, sitting around ancient swimming pools, peering at frescoes and mosaics still standing behind the counters of ancient shops. The city’s story still speaks loud and clear.
A close-up encounter is practically guaranteed, but be warned – it can get tough. Any exhaustion dissipates immediately, however, when you look into the liquid brown eyes of one of the magnificent bamboo-munching beasts – these are the archetypal “gentle giants”.
The traditional objective is to down a pint and a couple of oysters in every pub along the Oyster Trail over three days – that’s around thirty pints and up to a hundred oysters. If you can do this and still make it down for breakfast on the Sunday morning, you need never prove yourself again.
See them at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, the first of its kind, which aims to educate people about these wonderful animals. There can be no doubt that the efforts directed towards their survival are more crucial than ever.
Comprising around a million lights, the glittering display stretches six miles – and amazingly, the whole experience is free. All you’ll need to buy is a tram ticket, a bag of chips and a novelty stick of rock. And never mind if it rains – the lights look even more gorgeous shimmering in the puddles.
At the heart of the festival are fourteen enormous beer tents where boisterous crowds sit at long benches draining one huge litre-capacity glass or stein after another. If you’re up for annihilation, head to the Hofbrau tent, go for the ten-stein challenge and join in with the thousands of young bloods braying for beer. Prost! And if you happen to be in town outside of Oktoberfest season, fear not.
From Uçhisar’s castle to the cliff-hewn churches of Çavusin, there are heavenly views at every turn.
The overwhelming impression is due not only to the magnitude of their age and size but also to their elemental form, their simple but compelling triangular silhouettes. Seen at prime times – dawn, sunset and after dark – they form as much a part of the natural order as the sun, the moon and the stars.
Once it’s over the plain, the balloon is ignored by the grazing herds of zebra and gazelle – but they flee its shadow and the whoosh of the burner when it flies too low. For wildlife photography, a balloon safari can’t equal patient observation on the ground, but few experiences can match this one for sheer unforgettability.
The obvious, and most popular, route to the top is to take the aerial cableway, but if you’d rather work a little harder, you can tackle one of the hiking trails that snake their way up the cliffs.
Gaze out over the city to the ocean beyond and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of the world.
Thankfully, this austerity applies only to the substance – not the quantity – of the meat. Gut-busting excess is what makes barbecue truly American, after all.
Don’t ever forget: it’s all about the meat.
It has been a centre for cult worship for centuries: the early Celts named it Mountain of the Moon after one of their gods, and the hills are scattered with ley lines, mysterious tombs and house-sized boulders that litter the landscape as if thrown by giants.
The fairy-tale Palácio da Pena on the heights above town, with its dizzy views over the surrounding woodlands, looks like something from Shrek, complete with domes and drawbridges.
This is Brontë country, grim on a dank, misty day but bleakly inspiring when the cloud lifts. In between walking the wilds, you can stay in pretty villages along the way. Again and again you’ll find yourself transported back to a bygone rural idyll of village shops, church bells and, of course, pubs.
Brussels is the best place to try them all, including its own beery speciality, Lambic, a flattish concoction not much changed from the stuff they drank in Bruegel’s time. A few glasses is enough to have you behaving like one of the peasants in his paintings.
Gelaterias have upped their game, ordering the finest ingredients – lemons from Amalfi, pistachios from Sicily – and vying to create the city’s tastiest ices, in the most outlandish flavours. Order a suitably kooky combo – wasabi and chocolate, say, or basil, walnuts and honey– and hit the streets for the passeggiata.
Traditionally, Finns end their sauna by mercilessly plunging straight into the nearest lake or, in winter, by rolling in the icy snow outside – the intense searing cold that follows the sweltering heat creating a compelling, addictive rush at the boundary of pleasure and pain.
However you spell it – Iguazú, Iguaçu or Iguassu – there’s little doubt that these are the most spectacular falls in the world and they should be on your travel bucket list. Get right into the heart of the action on a boat trip up to the ominously named Devil’s Throat, one of the most impressive cascades.
But only getting out on the water will give you a true sense of its majestic beauty – to really get up close, and access spots that no cruise ship could ever reach, head out on a kayak.
There’s something undeniably exhilarating about exploring somewhere so immense from so close to the water.
On festival night, these are lit and set afloat with prayers of thanks to the water goddess, in whose honour this festival is held. The sight of hundreds of bobbing lights drifting away on the breeze, taking with them any bad luck accrued over the past year, is beautiful.
It’s hard to match the exhilaration of watching the sunrise from the Roof of Africa, with an entire continent seemingly spread out beneath you. The sense of fulfilment will stay with you, long after you’ve finally said goodbye to Kili.
The famous pleasure gardens have dished out fun and thrills to a bewitched public since 1843. But the rides are just the icing on the cake – there are forty or so restaurants, jazz bandstands and, in the weeks around Christmas, spectacular lighting displays and a Christmas Market. Even if fairs usually leave you cold, you can’t fail to be won over by the innocent pleasures of Tivoli.
On a fine summer’s night it’s nothing short of magical.
39. Crank up the volume on King's Day, the NetherlandsYou’ll find enough beer-chugging, pill-popping and red-hot partying to satisfy the most voracious of appetites.
At the end of April each year, Amsterdam, a city famed for its easy-going, fun-loving population, manages to crank the party volume a few notches higher in a street party that blasts away for a full 24 hours.
On King’s Day, there are only two rules: you must dress as ridiculously as possible, preferably in orange, the Dutch national colour, which adorns virtually every building, boat and body on the day; and you must drink enough beer not to care.
If you're planning to travel to the next King's Day, book cheap flights to Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Or find more accommodation options in our guide to the best areas to stay in Amsterdam
Conceived as a riposte to secular radicalism, the Temple Expiatiori de la Sagrada Família consumed the final decade and a half of a life that had become increasingly reclusive. Gaudí couldn’t have imagined that a new millennium would find his creation feted as a wonder of the postmodern world, symbolic of a Barcelona reborn and the single most popular tourist attraction in Spain.
A great slice of deep blue carved into the crystalline rock walls and snaking out in an “S” shape as it weaves west, it might be one of the region’s smallest fjords, but it’s undoubtedly one of its most beautiful.
Those who dare can edge toward Half Dome’s lip and dangle their feet over the side, while the very brave (or very foolish) may inch out along a projecting finger of rock for a vertiginous look straight down the near-vertical face.
Sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy the view.
For those who live on isolated farms or in small communities, this is their chance to bring the cowboy culture into the big city and really let rip. For the half-million visitors, it’s a chance to join in the ultimate Wild West carnival, often given the accolade of North America’s roughest rodeo.
As the ruins of this Maya city come to life around you, and the forest’s denizens gradually begin to emerge from their night-time resting places, dawn is a magical time.
You’ll find a captivating scene whichever way you turn: saffron-robed monks emerging from their temple-monasteries to collect alms, temple roofs peeping out from the groves and streets still lined with wood-shuttered shophouses and French-colonial mansions.
All three offer powdery beaches, snorkelling and diving opportunities and unlimited time under the tropical sun. What are you waiting for?
If you’ve never taken a dip in sub-zero Antarctic waters, rest assured that it’s a bracing experience, not so much about rising to a challenge as giving yourself a short, sharp shock that enables you to appreciate the fullness of your surroundings.
You’ll have new respect for the hardy penguins that dart around beneath the chilly waves all day.
Fragrant smoke wafts from jerk chicken stalls, bass lines tremble through the air, streets lined by mansion blocks become canyons of sound, and all you can see is a moving sea of people, jumping and blowing whistles as wave after wave of music ripples through the air.
For two days, the only thing that matters is the delicious, anarchic freedom of dancing on the London streets.
Lalibela, in Ethiopia’s highlands, is a quiet, rural place. Yet in the thirteenth century it was the capital of the great Zagwe dynasty, one of whose last rulers, King Lalibela, embarked on a quest to build a Holy Land on Ethiopian soil.
Historians say he was inspired to build the town’s famous rock-hewn churches after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, while the devout claim that he was instructed by angels during a poison-induced sleep. Whatever the real reason, the town of Lalibela, built as a “new Jerusalem”, leaves pilgrims and visitors alike humbled by the elegance of its churches.
In addition, various sites host fringe exhibitions, installations and performances. With artists, critics and collectors swarming around the bars and restaurants, the art world buzz of the Biennale penetrates every corner of the city – it’s unforgettable.
Bhutan has been quietly forging its own path for centuries. Now, it’s leading the way in sustainable tourism. With at least sixty percent forest cover, Bhutan takes environmental conservation seriously. It’s already carbon negative, and while the target to become the world’s first fully organic nation by 2020 has been pushed back, they are still actively working on it.
Preservation is priceless, and travellers to this enchanting nation will leave with a real sense of what a privilege it is to experience Bhutan’s natural, cultural and spiritual riches.
Over the past decade, however, a new generation has reignited Tbilisi’s cultural scene through a mix of local art galleries, exhibition spaces, music venues, concept stores and creative hubs. A growing crop of industrial- style hotels is springing up across the city, many set in Soviet-era factories and publishing houses.
The food scene is thriving, too – innovative chefs have taken the helm in the kitchens of new restaurants, where they reimagine traditional Georgian cuisine with a modern twist. The revolution is underway.
Read more about why Georgia is the ultimate adventure destination.
The river falls from Rougon at the top of the gorge, disappearing into tunnels, decelerating for shallow, languid moments and finally exiting in full, steady flow at the Pont du Galetas at the western end of the canyon. Alongside is the huge artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix, which is great for swimming when the water levels are high.
Moustiers-Ste-Marie is the loveliest village on the fringes of the gorge, occupying a magnificent site near its western end. Set high on a hillside, just out of sight of both canyon and lake, it straddles a plummeting stream that cascades between two golden cliffs. A star slung between them on a chain, originally suspended by a returning Crusader, just adds to its charms.
The world’s widest curtain of water crashes down a huge precipice, producing clouds of spray visible from afar, before squeezing into a zigzag of sheer-sided gorges as a torrent of turbulent rapids, carving its way to the Indian Ocean well over 1000km away.
Their dramatic setting on the Zambezi river – on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border – has also made Victoria Falls the undisputed adventure capital of Africa. There’s an array of adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer, from whitewater rafting and bungee jumping to zip-lining and bodyboarding.
Read more in our First-timer's Guide to the Victoria Falls.
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Discover more of the world’s best travel experiences with The Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places on Earth 2022. Every single one is a personal recommendation from a Rough Guides writer, chosen to inspire you to get away from established routes and to seek something that little bit more special and authentic. We hope that they truly inspire you to make the most of your time on Earth.
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