With unique rock formations, colorful mineral layers and the Colorado River winding through the basin, it’s no surprise that one of the seven natural wonders of the world landed the top spot. Many visit the Grand Canyon for picturesque views along the canyon’s rim, but the real adventure lies in making your way inside.
Visitors can hike to the bottom on foot or ride a mule through the canyon, but to see the area from a different perspective, try white river rafting or a helicopter tour to really experience the vast beauty. Keep an eye out for fossils embedded in the canyon’s rocks—some date back even further than dinosaurs! The area has also been a prominent part of Western culture. Visit the park’s museums and visitor centers to learn about the cultural history of the Grand Canyon and view Native American artifacts unearthed there.
Rising nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Incas in the fifteenth century. Jagged green peaks and puffy clouds form a beautiful backdrop for nearly 200 buildings constructed atop the plateau. While there are separate areas for cultivating agriculture and urban structures, this cultural icon showcases the Incas’ advanced architectural and farming techniques.
There are two main ways to reach the top of Machu Picchu: a multi-day hike or a three- to five-hour train ride. Choose the Inca Trail to wander through the Andes on foot, where you will spot additional ruins, tunnels and mountain views. The 26-mile trek is somewhat strenuous; if you want a quicker, easier trip to the top, hop aboard a train for a relaxing ride and excellent panoramic views. When you arrive, you can roam through ancient temples, gates, rock quarries and sacrificial altars.
As another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Wall of China is a remarkable landmark that draws visitors from around the world. Walls running mostly east to west were constructed during various dynasties in different areas to protect the heart of the country from northern invaders. During the Ming dynasty, workers joined the walls, reinforcing them against attack by rebuilding the weakened parts.
Although some parts have deteriorated from weather and human activity, visitors continue to flock to the wall, which snakes across green mountain peaks, desert wastelands and endless grasslands like a Chinese dragon. The most popular place to visit is Badaling, which is located about 45 miles from Beijing, but other areas will give you different thrills: visit the restored or deteriorated sections, areas with unique forts or watchtowers or the spot where the wall meets the sea. You can even spend the night camping on the wall!
Built entirely of white marble, the Taj Mahal is a beautiful display of Persian and Mughal design as well as an icon of India’s cultural history. An emperor crafted the building, which features a massive arch-shaped doorway and similarly shaped balconies, in the 1600s to house a tomb for his wife. The unique shape of the massive dome atop the tomb is the crown jewel.
Inside and out, intricate patterned carvings, tiles and inset semi-precious stones decorate the walls and floors. When you visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can take a tour of the mausoleum or walk along the reflecting pool or perfectly manicured garden. The Taj Mahal has managed to withstand the test of time and continues to serve as a symbol of everlasting love for Indians and foreigners alike.
The Eiffel Tower, easily one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, is truly a sight to behold. The sprawling green Champ de Mars leads directly to the tower, whose iron lattice structure is transformed every evening into a golden glowing mass, providing drastically different views by day and night. But the real treat is seeing it sparkle. Named one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the iron lattice structure was originally constructed for the 1889 World Fair.
Since then, over 250 million people have ascended the tower. With a trip up the stairs, you’ll find yourself immersed in the latticework with remarkable views of the city or the river in every direction. You can also save time (and breath) by soaring up in the elevators. The tower has three levels to explore, one of which even has a transparent floor.
Located at the edge of the Sahara Desert, not far from Egypt’s capital of Cairo, sit the Pyramids of Giza, known both as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Three pyramids are located on this necropolis, named for the three kings who constructed them—Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The massive pyramids were built as tombs for the kings, covered in limestone casings and filled with goods that were looted in ancient times.
The largest is Khufu’s Great Pyramid. Erected using more than two million stone blocks, it is thought to be the largest structure ever built and one of the most technologically advanced for its time. Make sure to take a tour inside the large pyramids. In addition to the large pyramids, the complex also consists of smaller queens pyramids, cemeteries and tombs as well as the famous monument, the Sphinx.
The splendor of Angkor Wat provides a vision of Cambodia’s past while simultaneously serving as a symbol for the country itself. Although the Angkor region is filled with more than a thousand temples, Angkor Wat is the most significant, said to be the largest religious site in the world. Built in the twelfth century and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the well-preserved Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple is the perfect example of classic Khmer architecture.
Visitors can check out the ogivals—the famous lotus bud-shaped towers—as well as a variety of terraces, galleries and the unique sandstone building material before heading into the temple, where they will find bas-relief friezes and stone carvings depicting scenes from Hindu epics. Once a thriving city, the ruins feature designated religious, agricultural and military sections. Forests that once held city buildings surround the temple itself and, beyond that, a square moat isolates the complex.
Experience the natural harmony of Argentina’s subtropical forests at Iguazu Falls. Rushing over the Parana Plateau, the Iguazu River forms nearly 300 waterfalls. Although various small islands divide the river to create numerous falls, the largest section flows into the Devil’s Throat, the u-shaped gorge where the water roars all around. The lush greenery that surrounds the falls blends with the river to create a striking natural scene unlike any other.
While the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side of the falls both have boardwalks that get you close to the falls, popular motorboat tours take you right to the forefront of the action—nearly to the bottom of the falls. Visitors can also take unique walking tours, like sunset or moonlight tours, as well as tours of the nearby forest that include hiking, zip lining and rappelling.
The Niagara Falls, formed between New York and Ontario, Canada, are comprised of only three waterfalls, but it has the highest flow rate in the world. The force of the water grinds down nearby rock and mixes with minerals to produce vibrant green water the flows alongside Goat Island, which lies between the American and Canadian sides of the falls. At night, rainbow-colored lights illuminate the falls, but by day, take a boat ride on the river to feel the rumble and the mist in your face as you approach the falls.
Another tour takes you into the bedrock itself to view Horseshoe Falls from behind. There are also walking tours that will take you to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, right into the center of the tropical weather conditions created by the waterfall.
The ancient city of Petra is the most important archeological and historical site in Jordan. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the distinctive rock-cut architecture is a stunning display of ancient carving techniques hidden in the middle of desert canyons. From the outside, you’d have no idea of the archeological treasure hidden inside. The rose-colored sandstone was used to craft sky-high entrance columns, a theater, a monastery and numerous temples and tombs.
The mountainous region is filled with inclines so come prepared to walk. Visitors can catch a ride on a donkey or a camel to some of the more distant landmarks inside Petra. While you can explore on your own or take a guided tour, consider a candlelit night tour for a captivating experience. The city dates back as far as the first century B.C. but even older pieces may be hidden below, yet to be excavated.
American landscape photographer Ansel Adams spent much of his time in Yosemite and it’s not hard to see why. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the park is one of California’s most popular destinations. Waterfalls tumble over granite cliffs, massive sequoia trees grow skyward and the wind blows over the grasses and streams in the meadows. The famed Yosemite Valley is home to Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, making it an obvious destination for visitors.
It is, naturally, a wonderful place for photography and outdoor sports like rock climbing, backpacking and fishing. Others enjoy horseback riding through the valleys and meadows or rafting down the Merced River. Yosemite is also home to over 160 species of birds, making it popular amongst birdwatchers. Visit in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming for a colorful sight accompanied by an exhilarating scent.
The Colosseum, an elliptical amphitheater located in the heart of Rome, has long been considered one of the greatest architectural feats of all time. In Ancient Rome, it was used for everything from gladiator contests and executions to reenactments of famous battles and myths. In more recent times, Catholic ceremonies have been held inside the ancient walls. The exterior has faced extensive damage and restoration over time—it’s missing in spots where the interior wall shows through.
Famous for their columns and arches, the Romans included them in the exterior design, filling the arches with statues of the gods that have since been removed. Inside the tiered amphitheater, guests were seated based on class. Tour guides are available to explain the Colosseum’s vast history while visitors wander up the stairs and take in the seating and underground tunnels. There is also a museum dedicated to Eros, the god of love.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls is a South African waterfall located on the Zambezi River. It is widely considered the largest in the world, based on it’s combined height and width. Flowing past tree-covered islets and over a flat plateau, the river unleashes its full width into the First Gorge. View the falls from the Victoria Falls Bridge, a deck arch bridge that crosses the river and connects Zimbabwe with Zambia.
Visitors can also bungee jump or zip line at the bridge or hop aboard local helicopters and jet boats to get closer to the falls. Some of the most thrilling rapids in the world are found on the Zambezi River, where visitors can take a white water rafting trip. The nearby town of Victoria Falls is home to Lion Encounter, where guests can take a walk with lion cubs while learning about local animal conservation efforts.
Rising high above the Atlantic Ocean, the verdant Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most visited sites. Mystical vistas atop the relatively undeveloped land offer visitors compelling panoramic views while seagulls coo overhead. The cliffs stretch for five miles, but near the midpoint, a series of narrow cliff side paths allow visitors to take a closer look. Nearby, a visitor center sits into the hillside, an effort to keep man-made structures from ruining the natural experience of the cliffs.
The center is also environmentally friendly, with renewable energy sources like solar panels and geothermal heating. O’Brien’s Tower, a stone structure sitting on the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher, is a must-visit for spectacular views and a little bit of history. Ferries and cruise ships will also take you to the bottom of the cliffs, where you can view the rocky coastline close up.
Famous for Charles Darwin’s extensive studies that led to the theory of natural selection, the Galapagos Islands are a stunning chain of species-rich archipelagos. Located in the eastern Pacific, there are 18 main islands, but more than 100 smaller islets. Animals thrive in the isolated area, surrounded by pristine turquoise oceans that are ideal spots for snorkeling and scuba diving. At Los Tuneles, rock formations aren’t all you’ll see—penguins, sea turtles and sharks frequent nearby waters.
Visit Tortuga Bay to see marine iguanas basking in the sunlight on the white sand. With preservation areas all over the islands (and in the water), places like El Chato Tortoise Reserve allow you to see protected species. The Charles Darwin Research Station is a must-see to learn about the abundant and diverse wildlife on the islands. Ride horses or hike up Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island to see one of the largest craters on earth.
Created for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, the Terracotta Army is a collection of more than 8,000 life-size soldiers buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife, a funerary custom that was common in ancient times. Along with the soldiers, the collection includes another 130 chariots and nearly 700 horses. The statues were discovered in the 1970s by local farmers and were lined up in at least three different pits near the emperor’s burial site.
Intricate carvings overlay the pieces, with specific detail outlining the statues’ clothing, facial expressions and hairstyles. Visit the museum to see the three pits for yourself; they are still filled with many of the soldiers and horses. But don’t forget about the nearby exhibition hall, which showcases artifacts from the emperor’s mausoleum including two bronze horse-drawn chariots. Visitors can also stop by Lishan Garden, a site that features Qin Shi Huang’s grave mound.
Yellowstone features some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Bison graze in the grasslands, black bears and grizzly bears prey on trout in the streams, bighorn sheep clamber over mountain rocks and elk find shade under tall trees. The abundant wildlife makes the park a big destination for nature lovers who want to see these animals up close, but it is also known for its sweeping views.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is home to Yellowstone Falls, separated into the Upper and Lower Falls between the deep yellow walls of the canyon. Another major draw for visitors are the geysers and hot springs that fill the park, erupting water and steam into the air or bubbling at the surface. Of these, Old Faithful is easily the most famous and the most visited. Active travelers will love exploring the backcountry, hiking, camping, boating, cycling and fishing at Yellowstone.
Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument that has presented scientists with many mysteries, is one of the world’s most famous landmarks. Composed of massive upright stones organized in a circular pattern by a civilization that didn’t have written record, historians have long been mystified as to how the heavy stones were placed.
They are also unsure of the purpose behind the stones, but many still flock to England to view the beautiful scene up close. Set in a grassy field in the countryside, Stonehenge offers magnificent views of land meeting sky as well as an isolated, mystical atmosphere. While it is definitely a sight for landscape photographers, modern day Druids are regular visitors, especially near times of equinoxes and solstices.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is popular destination in winter, and is known for its fabulous skiing and snowboarding. Winding roads take visitors past aspen groves, alpine forests and flowing rivers to peaks that reach heights of up to 12,000 feet. Roadside overlooks are excellent for panoramic views of the area, where you can spot wildflowers by day and endless stars in the sky by night.
During summertime, hiking, backcountry camping and horseback riding are popular pastimes, but many also visit to view local wildlife like elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep. The Rockies are a sight to behold in autumn when the leaves start changing colors and, come winter, snowstorms regularly bring fresh powder for outdoor adventurers. While many visitors head to the Colorado Rockies, the vast mountain range can also be found in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and up into Canada.
The Vatican, an enclave within the city of Rome, is an independent state that serves as the head of the Catholic Church. As another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has special religious and historical significance for Catholics around the world. Although many visitors hope to catch a glimpse of the Pope, there are quite a few cultural aspects of Vatican City to keep guests enthralled.
The ceiling of the famous Sistine Chapel is a tourist spot all on its own, painted in the 1500s by Italian artist and architect Michelangelo. His vibrant frescoes depict more than 300 biblical scenes. Visitors will also want to stop by St. Peter’s Basilica, said to be the tomb site of its namesake, the first Pope and one of the apostles. Its architecture, luxurious décor and rich history make it a must. The Vatican also houses several museums that display paintings and sculptures from the collections of past popes.