Take a boat along the Ganges, Varanasi, India
Glide through the sacred waters as India’s holiest and oldest city eases itself into the new day. Bathed in an orange glow, the flights of stone ghats that line Varanasi’s shores are awash with gentle colour as brightly dressed pilgrims and residents perform puja, or respect, to the rising sun, wash laundry or take a morning dip in the river.
Hike up Machu Picchu, Peru
Leaving your sleeping bag for an hour or so’s hike up a mountain in the darkness may sound far from tempting but grab your headtorch and persevere. Despite the breathless, sticky ascent, arriving at Machu Picchu before the hordes of tourists is a privilege and watching the sun rise over the ancient Inca site is truly unforgettable.
Take a hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey
Famed for its surreal landscape, a flight over Cappadocia is a mesmerising start to the day. Roused by a spine-tingling dawn call to prayer a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured hot-air balloons fill the brassy sky and sweep over the bizarre, lunar landscape of plunging valleys, high plateaus, burrowed dwellings and curious “fairy chimneys” – soft, dusty rock spires that jut 100ft skyward.
Watch America’s first sunrise on Cadillac mountain, USA
Regarded as the first place in America to catch the sun’s rays, hiking up Arcadia national park’s peak for the “nation’s first sunrise” is a beloved pastime. This may only be true in autumn and winter but for gutsy early-risers rewarded with vistas of an orange-hued sky above the deep blue Atlantic and Porcupine islands, the specifics don’t matter anymore.
Witness summer solstice at Stonehenge, England
Structurally aligned towards the point of sunrise at summer solstice, this annual spectacle draws an eclectic crowd to this mysterious ring of monoliths. No longer held back by official ropes, white-robed worshipping Druids, pagans on pilgrimage, perplexed families and partying teens crowd within the inner stone circle to witness the sunrise on the longest day of the year.
Float on the Amazon River, Bolivia
Cloaked in a humming, humid darkness and guided by torches, row through the river’s winding passages into a clearing. There, poised in the tranquil waters, watch as the sun rises from behind the dark silhouette of trees that crowd the shoreline. As the sky blends through yellows, oranges, pinks and purples, the mirror-like waters flood with colour.
Scale the roof of Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Numbing cold, high altitude thin-air and a midnight departure – the treacherous slog up to Uhuru, the summit of Africa’s highest peak, requires grim determination. But it’s certainly worth it; once at the summit the frosted darkness lifts and the hazy sun rises revealing the panoramic sweep of a seemingly limitless stretch of the Great Rift Valley as dawn breaks over Africa.
Watch a sunrise from space, Virgin Galactic
With its first commercial space flight planned for Christmas day, the awe-inspiring experience of watching a sunrise from space is one step closer for would-be astronauts. However, with tickets retailing at US$250,000 per seat (G-force training and invitations to Branson’s private island are included), for now this brave new age of “space tourism” is still the preserve of the stars.
Dawn tai chi on The Bund, Shanghai
A grand sweep of colonial edifices, imposing banks and flashy hotels, this was old Shanghai’s feverish commercial heart. Still frenetic today, the Bund is a blur of street vendors, tourists and commercial mayhem. At dawn, the strip is more serene. Join or watch as public tai chi sessions welcome the day with slowly circling arms and controlled contortions.
Rise above the clouds in Haleakala Nation Park, Hawaii
The enormous crater of the dormant Haleakala volcano lures daily sun-worshippers keen to experience daybreak from above the clouds. Being bundled into a bus at 3am may not sound tempting, but seeing a sunrise described by Mark Twain as the “sublimest spectacle” of his life, before coasting down the 28-miles to sea level by bike, will make the ceaseless yawning worthwhile.
Watch the sunrise at Uluru, Australia
Thanks to millions of camera-happy tourists, the image of Uluru can seem all too familiar, but watching dawn break over Australia’s icon is a unique experience. As the charcoal sky blends through purples, greens and blues, this great hulking monolith emerges from the darkness. Colours flit across its vast, sandstone surface, before the harsh daylight delivers it to a recognisable baked-orange hue.
Awake in Erg Chebbi, Morocco
A lolloping camel ride into Erg Chebbi’s drifting expanse of undulating, wind-blown sand dunes is high on many a traveller’s list when staying in Morocco. For pure isolation extend the camel trip and camp out under a frozen starry sky in a Berber tent. Then set your alarm early for a tranquil and mesmerising sunrise over the rippling, amber horizon.
Visit the temples of Bagan, Myanmar
Studded with 4000 temples across its 26-mile stretch of dusty plain, Myanmar’s ancient capital is most enchanting at dawn. Whether you stay on the ground or take to the sky in a hot-air balloon, the vistas enchant: as the sun’s rays seep through the hazy sky, ornate spires and pagodas partially cloaked in the low lying mist are slowly unveiled.
Haggle at Cai Rang Floating market, Vietnam
At 5am, the Mekong Delta’s biggest floating market is already a hive of activity. Approaching the market, the dawn illuminates a swarming armada of brightly painted boats, all laden with seasonal produce, weaving between each other in an intricate series of waterways. Despite the bustle, navigation is relatively easy, as each boat advertises its wares atop a bamboo mast.
Stare at the midnight sun, Svalbard, Norway
In few places does the rising sun hold such mystic allure as it does in this otherworldly land of barrenness. Aptly named the midnight sun, between May and August, this stark archipelago is flooded in continuous light. On crisp, clear nights the sun is blinding, yet on foggy nights it forms a red glowing orb that is eerily beautiful.
Rediscover Monument Valley, USA
Iconic since the John Ford movies, the harshly alluring Monument Valley is pure Wild West scenery. Yet if it all seems a bit too familiar, a dawn tour can show the area in a new light; as the sun rises, the 1200ft—high sandstone turrets, dramatic buttes and massive mesas pose anew as brooding shadows set against a crimson sky.
Be inspired on Mount Sinai, Egypt
A crowd of pilgrims, travellers and Bedouin guides gather atop Mount Sinai every night in preparation for one of the most inspiring sunrises imaginable. Wrap up and hunker down to watch as the rose-tinted light steals across the desert, picking out each rock formation and turning the terrain fiery-red.
Visit Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Increasingly congested, Cambodia’s iconic monument lures more travellers each year. Yet a crack-of-dawn start will ease the crowds and promises an unforgettable spectacle. As the sun begins its stately ascent, the famous monument is thrown into a shadowy outline, while the mirror-like water and brooding sky morph into a giant canvas awash with hues of pink, coral and crimson.
Animal watch on the savannah, Masai Mara, Kenya
Kenya’s best reserve is a rich expanse of undulating grassland, seasonal riverlets and abundant wildlife. Enthusiastic wildlife-watchers know that the savannah’s best before sunrise, when nocturnal animals are still busying about and the big cats go in for the kill. And it’s stunning: silhouettes of giraffes and impalas pass beneath the sun’s huge, hazy orb and the blazing, endless sky.
Watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
Plunging one mile deep, this inconceivable chasm, edged by soaring pinnacles, is undoubtedly America’s greatest natural wonder. Stunning at any time, seeing the canyon at dawn promises a dramatic performance. As the sun rises, the abyss emerges in shades of bronze and orange, while pools of stark light and sharp shadows play across the rock’s surface intensifying its sculpted features.