Let's make things clear: there are so many places to visit on this planet that it's going to be hard to see it all in one lifetime only. So how about prioritizing?
And let me share my thoughts on the most "mainstream" places with you.
One the one hand, I hate crowds of tourists and I think there are enough beautiful lesser-known places to avoid attractions that attract people in mass.
But on the other hand, if these places are so popular, there is a reason behind it: they are some of the most amazing on earth! Wouldn't it be a shame to overlook them entirely, just because you don't want to be branded as a tourist but as a traveler?
If there is one thing I know for sure, it's that we should travel more. And I wouldn't want to influence to much your decision about whether to visit mainstream places or not, so I included a bunch of them that I think everyone should see in their life.
Please note that I had a water gun pointed to my head, so I could only list 20. If you know me, you know I have way more than that on y list!
1. Walking on the Great Wall of China
I’m starting with this one because I have done it not long ago and I can definitely recommend it! The wall is quite a sight. A friend of mine recently ran his first marathon there: part of the race taking place on the Great Wall. I wasn't as daring, but even if you settle for a chill walk, it's worth it. I've been there both at the end of the summer and the end of the winter, when it was covered with snow: both times, the sight was amazing.
It is one of the most popular places to visit in China (if not the most popular), so you can expect quite a few people there. One way to avoid the crowd is to go there early in the morning. But the real trick is to pick which section of the Wall to visit: Badaling and Mutianyu are the busiest because they are the most accessible and closest to Beijing. Head to Jinshanling or Zhuangdaokou instead.
2. Taking a gondola ride in Venice, Italy
Venice is also one of the most beautiful places to go to in Europe. We've all heard about the city, but being there is a whole new experience. If you're looking for a romantic getaway for the weekend, consider Venice, the city of love - I know Paris is supposed to be the one, but… meh.
The locals are getting increasingly angry at the tourist masses that come to the city, so be extremely respectful when you're there. To avoid the crowds yourself, visit the city by night: illuminated, the Ponte di Rialto is simply breathtaking. And you know this cliché about how delicious Italian pizzas are? Well, it's true.
3. Looking down the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA
I've also been there and contemplated the horizon, trying to see where the canyon ended. And I failed miserably. I had the same feeling as when I look at the ocean: the feeling that it never ends. Actually, I want to do an entire road trip on the iconic Route 66 (I know how cliché it sounds, don't judge me please), and finish the journey in the Grand Canyon again. You know why? I’ve heard that there is a board that reads “One minute. Don’t read. Don’t talk. No photos. Just look… and see”. But I couldn't find it!
If you're a history buff, you will love the myth about the Grand Canyon. A Hualapai Indian legend says that the canyon was created by one of their heroes, Pack-i-tha-a-wi. After a big flood, he struck the ground with his knife and moved it further until the canyon was formed and the water flew out into the Sea of the Sunset. The next day, when the sun shone, the ground had solidified and turned into what we today call the Great Canyon. Now you understand why it's among my top places to visit once in your life!
4. Swimming with dolphins in Cuba
I haven't done that one just yet. To be honest, it's one of my childhood dreams. Ever since I watched Flipper & Lopaka, I’ve been dying to try this. A friend of mine did it a couple of years ago and she said it was amazing: they can actually carry you out of the water on their nose (which is actually called a rostrum by the way). You can swim with dolphins in other places but Cuba is really special I think.
The country is also known for this kind of tourism and you can try it at various different places across the country - and hey, you might even get there on a Chevy Impala from the 60’s. Plus, it's reknown for ecotourism, if you care about that (and you should).
5. Admiring an Aurora borealis in Iceland
I used to be a huge fantastic novels reader - among those were The Golden Compass (they have also made a crappy movie out of it). In the book, auroras are described as something like a bridge to another world. The child inside me still believes that if there is a such a passage somewhere, the auroras are the key to it. But even if you didn’t believe in magic, you would still want to see this natural phenomenon with your own eyes, just for the beauty of it.
Basically, an aurora happens when particles from the Earth’s atmosphere collide with Sun particles. They look as though a colorful veil of light was being deployed over the Earth, and it is just marvelous. Iceland is one of the most popular destinations to admire what's also known as Northern Lights. The country is a famous stopover from people traveling between Europe and the US: consider a connection of several days there. The country has a lot more to offer and is repeatedly voted among top destinations by travel experts.
6. Dancing in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I consider this to be nothing less than the biggest party in South America, with spectacular costumes and outstanding music. Over 200 samba school parade the streets, each promoting their unique style. If you have the chance to go to Rio in February, do it! And before leaving Brazil and its sandy beaches, I’ll go around the Amazon Forest. As long as it’s still there, that is….
One word of caution though: thieves during the carnival have been on the rise for the past few years - mind your pockets. Don’t let it ruin the experience, but be careful. Knowing how to protect your identity could help you.
7. Getting lost in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt
Obviously, as a nerd from France, I’ve read all the Asterix comics. The most famous one is perhaps the one that takes place in Egypt - they made a genius movie based on it. At some point, the valiant Gauls gets stuck inside a pyramid - and that’s completely credible. It's a real labyrinth in there! When you think about how long ago it was built, it's just mind-blowing.
Plus, I love the Egyptian mythology - did you know that most pyramids were build on the western side of the river Nile, so that the divine pharaoh’s soul would join with the sun during its descent? It’s not for nothing that the Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders: it’s the largest and only one that survived until the modern times. But because this is place with such a historic background doesn’t mean I won’t take that noseless-Sphinx selfie.
Update from April 2018: done that! :)
8. Contemplate the Taj Mahal in India
The edifice was built by Shah Jahan in honor of his late wife - his favorite one at least. But not only is the Taj Mahal a wonder in itself - its backstory is marked by a couple of interesting legends as well. The most debated one states that Shah Jahan, obsessed with symmetry as he was, had initially planned to build a replica of the Taj Mahal in black marble on the other side of the Yamuna river. But that was before his son overthrew him.
The palace is huge and attracts tons of tourists who, like me apparently, think it's one of the must-see places on earth. And while you're at it, try the delicious and incredibly spicy Indian cuisine. Once you get used to it, there isn't much that you will find spicy in the future.
9. Going on a safari in Tanzania
I’ve always considered Africa as home of a deeply diverse wildlife. Tanzania alone is a paradise for those who want to observe animals in their natural environment. Tarangire National Park lets you observe the famous animals of the savanna. Ernest Hemingway is said to have described the Lake Manyara as the “loveliest in Africa”. And why not complete the trip with the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive and intact volcanic caldera?
That's probably one of my biggest regrets about my recent trips: I was in Tanzania and didn't have the time to do a safari. I went on a hike on Mount Kilimanjaro instead. Alright, I'll start complaining now. But I'll be back.
10. Scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
My uncle taught me the basics of scuba-diving in Marseille, France. Despite having watched The World of Nemo on multiple occasions, I would not have imagine there was an actual whole other world down under. And from the pictures I’ve seen and documentaries I’ve watched, it’s nothing compared to the Great Barrier Reef. And should you not be too much into scuba-diving, you can always observe this natural wonder thanks to the Google Underwater Street View!
Alright, these places are all amazing and I truly believe that you should visit them at least once in your life. Now, I admit that they are extremely mainstream and you may not like that. So here are a few that are less popular and just as remarkable.
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11. Grüner See, Austria
If you go to the Green Lake in the winter, you’ll see nothing but an ordinary lake in a park - although its emerald-green water is a wonder. However, once the snow from the mountain melts, the lake grows, submerges the park and becomes the perfect playground for scuba-divers.
12. The Haiku Stairs, Hawaii
The “Stairway to Heaven” is made of no less than 3.922 steps. If you're brave enough to ignore the “No trespassing” sign, undertake the climb and actually reach the top, you would treat yourself with a pretty nice view over the island.
13. The “Crooked Forest” - Poland
Around 400 pine trees compose this strange-looking forest, each of them growing at a 90° angle at its base. Although there are some theories, no one really knows the secret of this mystery.
14. Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, China
This landscape is one of the closest things to Avatar’s Hallelujah Mountains that you’ll ever find. The towering rock columns surrounded by white clouds are sure to take your breath away.
15. The “Door to Hell”, Turkmenistan
This crater has been burning since 1971, when Soviet geologists drilled too deep during their search for oil. It turned out the crater was in fact filled with gas. In order to prevent it to spread to nearby area, the engineers set it on fire - it’s been burning ever since.
16. Las Salinas de Torrevieja, Spain
Head towards the south of Spain to these two salty lakes. An algae releases a red pigment that gives the water an extraordinary pinky color. Cherry on the cake? You're allowed to swim inside - don’t forget the camera.
17. Fly Geyser, USA
The multi-coloured mount looks heaven-like, both because of its continuously erupting water and rainbow colours.
18. Lencois Maranhenses Sand Dunes, Brazil
Visit the North of Brazil after the rainy season - not only are the dunes particularly beautiful, but the temperature is much lower and the valley is filled with water, making the landscape unique.
19. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat formed where prehistoric lakes used to be gets covered with a thin layer of water during the wet season, allowing visitors to admire a perfect reflection of the sky.
20. Namaqualand, Namibia and South Africa
In early spring - a period known as the Namaqualand daisy season - this arid region is blooming with orange and white daisies, along with hundreds of other flowers. This is one of the most surreal landscapes you’ll ever witness.
Final Words on the Places to Visit in Your Life
Obviously, there are plenty of other places to visit once in a lifetime where I want to go. I had to shorten this list quite a bit.
Is there one that you feel I should definitely go to? Let me know in the comments!
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