100 Best Places on Earth – The Ultimate Travel Bucket List 2021

updated 3/26/2021
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Late 2019, we published a Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places on Earth. A stylish coffee table book, full of inspiring photographs and carefully curated places and experiences to take in 2020. Back then we didn't think about a possible pandemic limiting all of our travels to a bare minimum in 2020. We recently browsed the book again and are now more excited than ever to discover these places. Read further to find our top 6 bucket list places for 2021 and beyond.

1. Bhutan - a tiny country leading the way in sustainable tourism

Hidden in the Himalayas, with all the matchless scenery you’d expect, the tiny country of Bhutan is staggeringly beautiful. Piercing peaks and plunging valleys fold into its borders, where you can climb to mountaintop monasteries, hike through ancient forests and horseback ride over lush green plains, while local guides give a real insight into the country’s living spirituality.

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.

You may have heard of Bhutan’s now-famous compulsory tourist tariff, which sees foreign visitors paying a minimum of $250 per day just to visit. But what you may not know is this includes all accommodation, food, transport and a local guide – and it also grants you access to one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine corners. A tailor-made trip ensures you get to see exactly what you want to see and travel the way you prefer - a specific route, selected hotels, particular activities, it's all possible when you go tailor-made.

Monks in Bhutan

2. Discover Tbilisi's reignited cultural scene

While the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has long lured visionary types to its bohemian neighbourhoods, it’s slipped under the tourist radar for years. That may have something to do with its turbulent recent history: although Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there followed a period of civil war, violence and ethnic tensions.

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.

Where to stay

Enjoy a stunning view from the Terrace Boutique Hotel, located a short walk from the Tbilisi funicular.

What to do

Discover the wine region on a full-day tour from Tbilisi. Visit beautiful towns, taste plenty of Georgian wine and find out more about the traditional winemaking process.

Tailor-made travel

Planning to visit Georgia for a holiday? Talk to our carefully selected local expert to create and book your perfect trip to Georgia.

Tbilisi in Georgia

3. Ethiopia - the sunken churches of Lalibela

An enigmatic and utterly beguiling country, Ethiopia has endless intrigue. From its unique, highly sociable cuisine – the basis of which is injera, a spongy sourdough pancake, piled high with piquant curries and stews and shared between friends – to its ancient language and curly Amharic script, there’s very little that’s familiar about this place, and your trip will be all the better for it.

Ethiopia is a largely Orthodox Christian country, and its religious festivals and structures are something to behold. The sunken churches of Lalibela, hand-carved out of the red rock below ground some nine hundred years ago, are an astonishing feat of engineering. Come January, the network of tunnels and staircases that connect all eleven churches fill up with thousands of worshippers dressed in white, celebrating the birth of Christ with a twelve-hour mass.

Exploring Ethiopia with your own guide and at your own pace will help you really discover this fascinating country. A local expert working for a local tour operator can help to plan and book your ideal trip.

Lalibela in Ethiopia

4. Gorges du Verdon - the 'alternative Grand Canyon'

The breathtaking beauty and majesty of the Gorges du Verdon – also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon – almost matches that of its American cousin, albeit on a much smaller scale. Peppered with spectacular viewpoints, plunging crevices up to 700m deep, and glorious azure-blue lakes, this area of Provence in France is absolutely irresistible. 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.

Where to stay

If you're planning to stay in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the Hotel La Bonne Auberge features a large terrace and garden, as well as a swimming pool in an excellent location in town.

What to do

Visit the gorge as well as the lavender fields on a day trip from Nice. Particularly suited for those short on time or without their own transportation, this day tour allows you to discover the area while returning back to Nice the same evening.

Tailor-made travel

If you're thinking of visiting Provence and the Gorges du Verdon – get in touch. Rough Guides has paired with experienced local tour operators in France to offer fully customisable trips, like this from Paris to Provence itinerary.

Gorges du Verdon in France

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    5. Taj Mahal - one of the new Seven Wonders of the World

    Simply the world’s greatest building, Shah Jahan’s monument to love does not disappoint. Volumes have been written on its perfection, and its image adorns countless glossy brochures and guidebooks; nonetheless, the reality never fails to overwhelm all who see it, and few words can do it justice. A workforce of some twenty thousand men from all over Asia completed the Taj Mahal in 1653 after twenty years of toil, and it is undoubtedly the zenith of Mughal architecture in India.

    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.

    Where to stay

    There are endless accommodation options in Agra, from where most travellers start their Taj Mahal visit. Our favourites include Tajview IHCL SeleQtions with stunning views and the Grand Imperial - Heritage Hotel.

    What to do

    Planning to explore the Taj Mahal on your own? Get your skip-the-line access tickets to the Taj Mahal beforehand to enjoy a hassle-free visit.

    Tailor-made travel

    To see the Taj for yourself, drop us a line. Our tailor-made trips service will pair you with a local expert based in India to plan and book a fully customisable tour of India, like this sample itinerary to explore the Golden Triangle.

    Taj Mahal in sunset

    6. Victoria Falls - the world’s widest curtain of water

    Along with Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls – or Mosioa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) – ranks as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen beforehand, nothing can prepare you for the awe-inspiring sight and deafening sound of the falls. 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. Less touted are the stunning wildlife-viewing opportunities

    Victoria Falls affords: the national parks that line the serene banks of the Upper Zambezi are home to large mammals, such as elephant, lion, buffalo, giraffe and leopard, as well as a variety of antelope and more than 410 bird species.

    Read more in our First-timer's Guide to the Victoria Falls.

    Where to stay

    Ilala Lodge is your best bet if you want to be as close to the Falls as possible. Occupying lovely grounds, the lodge has stylish rooms, a small pool and an excellent restaurant. Best of all, though, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the park’s entrance; from the hotel’s terrace, you can see clouds of spray rising from the Falls.

    What to do

    There are endless opportunities to explore the area: from a guided walking tour over sunset cruises to exploring the local entertainment and food scene.

    Victoria Falls

    Find more travel inspiration in our book The Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places on Earth 2020.

    Header image: Yana Zubkova/Shutterstock

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    created 7/29/2019
    updated 3/26/2021
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