The world is filled with such a wide variety of wonderful destinations and beautiful places to visit, it can be difficult to compile a list of the best ones. Thinking about a traveler who, for whatever reason, has never set foot outside his or her home town, where would be the first places they might visit?
The list of the world’s best places to visit has to include great cities, like New York, Paris, London, and so on, each of which is filled with a multitude of individual sites or must-see places to visit. The list also includes specific sites, monuments, and locations, each also worthy of a visit in their own right.
For more ideas on where to go and what to see, read our list of the top places to visit in the world.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
Located high in the Andes mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu is now believed to have been a sacred royal retreat for the Incan rulers. Built in the 15th century AD and abandoned less than a 100 years later, the remote site continues to amaze with its perfectly joined, mortarless, intricate stonework. Huge multi-ton blocks of stone are perfectly joined with each other, without the use of mortar or cement.
The journey to Machu Picchu typically starts in the mountain city of Cusco, which was the capital city of the Inca Empire. Cusco is a fascinating place to explore-be sure to spend a few days there before or after your Machu Picchu adventure.
It’s possible to hike the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The full hike takes five days, but you can also start closer and do a one-, two- or three-day hike along the trail. Most people take the train from Cusco, which takes about three and a half hours.
Machu Picchu has taken steps to avoid over-tourism and has limited the number of visitors to the site each day. All visitors need a permit prior to visiting. They are easily available from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture reservation page up to four months in advance. Many websites, hoping to sell tours, do not share this information.
2. The Grand Canyon, Arizona
This incredible sight, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is in the U.S. state of Arizona. It’s one of those beautiful places for which photos or video just don’t do it justice-its sheer size and scope is hard to comprehend.
With geology formed over the past two billion years, yes billion, the 277 mile-long canyon itself is believed to have been started around five to six million years ago. It was formed by the flow of the Colorado River, which still flows through it and continues to erode the geology along its course. The Grand Canyon is up to 18 miles wide in places and up to a mile deep. Imagine standing on the edge, looking down a sheer rock wall almost a mile to the river below.
Most visitors come to the area referred to as the South Rim. This is where a number of impressive hiking trails into the Grand Canyon begin and great overlooks are spread along the rim road, known as Desert View Drive. A range of accommodations are available here and nearby, from tents to a rustic luxury canyon-side resort built from logs. A few accommodations are also found on the remote North Rim.
Many visitors access the canyon via the historic Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona. The 64-mile rail line provides an entertaining way to get to the canyon with food and live music onboard. For those who prefer to drive, see our articles on driving north from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon or driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.
3. Rome, Italy
The Eternal City is more like a giant, living museum. Visitors are immersed in and surrounded by thousands of years of history. It’s a relatively compact city, and a three-day itinerary gets you to the minimum number of must-see places.
These must-see sites for any visitor include the Colosseum and adjacent Roman Forum; the Pantheon; and Vatican City, a separate country in the middle of central Rome.
Take some time to explore the outskirts of Rome, too. Consider a hike along a tomb-lined section of the Appian Way, the ancient Roman superhighway, and a visit to one of the aqueduct ruins outside the city.
If you feel like hitting the beach after all your exploring, Rome has a wonderful assortment of beach towns just a short drive away on the Lazio Coast. Escape the heat, hustle, and bustle of the city to bathe in the cool waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
4. Maui, Hawaii
This Hawaiian island offers a wide range of experiences for visitors. You can surf, enjoy a meal on the beach at a five-star luxury resort in Wailea, ride a horse across a dormant volcano in Haleakala National Park, or hike through a rainforest in the West Maui Mountains. The natural scenery is amazing-it’s truly one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
When it comes to accommodation, there is something for everyone here, from rustic hippie bungalow bed and breakfasts to five-star luxury resort hotels. Wailea has all the luxury resorts-it’s like the beachfront Beverly Hills of Maui. If you’re staying here, be sure to venture out and spend some time in Kihei, where the locals hang out.
5. Masai Mara, Kenya
Kenya’s Masai Mara is an incredible bio-diverse area and a popular safari destination. It’s an opportunity to see the “big five” animals (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo) all during one trip or, if you’re lucky, during one afternoon.
The protected Masai Mara National Reserve park area is huge, over 1,500 square kilometers of mainly grassland, extending all the way to the Serengeti plain of Tanzania. The popular times to visit are during the twice-yearly migrations, the main one being in July and August. Over a million wildebeest and other animals cross the area in huge groups to go from one feeding area to another. Most visitors fly into Nairobi, then take a small bush plane to the Mara.
6. New Zealand
With its striking natural beauty, friendly citizens, and recent popularity due to its use as the filming location for the Lord of the Rings films (as well as many others), this island nation is one of the world’s great places to visit. The biodiversity here is amazing-it’s believed New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to have human inhabitants.
Start your visit off in the capital city of Auckland, with its culture, history, and museums. Spend some time on the water and at the beach-Waitemata Harbour has beaches, along with a range of sailing and boating activities.
Visit the Rotorua area to learn about and experience indigenous Maori culture and head to Queenstown to experience the country’s wide range of outdoor extreme action sports. Remember, this is where bungee jumping was invented.
7. Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey’s capital city is another destination that offers a great mix of culture, food, and history. There are thousands of years of history here, starting with Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans and leading up through the Ottoman Empire.
There’s a mix of the new and the timeless here unlike anywhere else. You can spend the day shopping and the night at a wonderful restaurant eating great Turkish food and dancing to Turkish music, then rise (very early) in the morning to the sound of the Ezan or morning Islamic call to prayer. It echoes across the rooftops as it’s broadcast from loudspeakers set atop the minarets of the city’s mosques.
Istanbul has excellent public transit, which means it’s easy to get around and explore all the major sites and monuments. Must-see places include the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace.
8. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Located just outside the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is the largest religious site in the world. It was created originally as a Hindu temple and mausoleum for the Khmer ruler in the early part of the 12th century and was converted to a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th century. Just part of a enormous ancient city. Angkor Wat is the temple area, Angor Thom was the city and palace area. There are hundreds of other ruin sites in the area, all part of the ancient capital of Angkor.
Siem Reap and its temples and ruins are now very easily accessible via daily flights from Hong Kong and other large Asian cities. Accommodations range from inexpensive guesthouses to lavish luxury resorts, with everything in between.
9. London, England
This historic English city is another destination just filled with incredible places to visit. A trip to London is an opportunity to visit iconic places like the Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London.
Take advantage of the city being a cultural center as well by seeing a West End theater show or watching a musical performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Modern London is also a city of fine dining, luxury hotels, and world-class shopping.
Don’t miss the museums, the vast British Museum is free, and usually quite crowded. Make time to visit The Wallace Collection, a free museum on Oxford Street. It has one of the world’s greatest collections of furniture and porcelain, along with some important Old Master paintings.
10. Manhattan, New York
One of the five boroughs of New York City, Manhattan is actually an island, bordered by the East River and the Hudson (and a little bit by the Harlem River). This island is a bit less than 23 square miles and is home to almost two million residents. Add in the daily influx of workers, and the island routinely holds close to four million people.
No other city in the world offers the frenetic energy of New York City. It’s filled with the world’s best shopping and dining, along with incredible museums.
Manhattan also has a giant green heart, Central Park. No matter the season, it provides a playground for the city’s residents, offering a range of activities from museums to a zoo. There’s also a lot of green space where you can play and relax, along with miles of running, biking, and skating trails. You can also enjoy plenty of things to do in winter in NYC, from skating and sipping hot chocolate, to shopping and Broadway shows.
11. Paris, France
No visit to the French capital is complete without a trip to and a trip up its most iconic structure. The 300-meter-tall Eiffel Tower was quite simply, the tallest man-made structure in the world, from its opening in 1889 for 41 years until 1930.
Use your visit as a stair workout and climb the 300 steps from ground level to the first of three levels on the tower. If you’re in great shape, climb another 300 steps to the second level. Then hop on the elevator here to get to the top. Aside from the workout, you’ll also skip most of the crowd who want to take the elevator the whole way.
12. Montreal, Canada
As you listen to the sound of French being spoken around you and explore Old Montreal, wandering down its narrow cobblestone streets-you might think you’re in France. The historic area is filled with quaint shops and cafés; this Canadian city can be a chance to experience a bit of Europe in North America.
The city also has a thriving food scene, with several popular farmers markets, including the Atwater Market and the Jean Talon Market. It’s also known for its bagels, cooked hot and fresh by several iconic must-visit bakeries.
Be sure to visit the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica and take a drive up to Mount Royal, the big hill (or low mountain) the city is named after. You’ll be rewarded with some amazing views extending all the way to the port.
13. San Francisco, California
San Francisco is a truly unique American city and one of the world’s great vacation spots. Explore its hills, ride the cable cars that climb them, and eat some seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf. Also spend some time exploring Marin County on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, including the picturesque town of Sausalito. The giant redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument are only 30 minutes away and also well worth a side trip.
Be sure to also make time for a visit to or even better, a drive across, the Golden Gate Bridge. This monument to modern engineering genius spans the strait that connects San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The almost two-mile-long, six-lane bridge connects the Northern California city with Marin County.
Opened in 1937, the bridge has a unique, geometric beauty and can be viewed from many areas on either side of its span. Some of the best views are from the Marin Headlands, a hilly part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a national park which includes areas on either side of the bridge.
14. Hong Kong
Asia’s largest city can feel like an Asian Manhattan, with giant skyscrapers in a compact area and a serious focus on business. But venture deeper, and you’ll find the city’s unique mix of ancient Chinese culture and remnants of its British Colonial history as well. Gleaming skyscrapers are built with hand-assembled bamboo scaffolding in a fusion of new and old.
The city is divided into two main sections: Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, separated by Victoria Harbour. Take the Star Ferry across the harbor, still one of the great travel bargains, given the spectacular scenery on both sides. You can also venture into the more rural areas to discover the sparsely populated Outlying Islands, hiking trails, and beautiful beaches.
15. Marrakesh, Morocco
Start your Marrakech adventure in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main, open square in the Moroccan city. It’s the gateway to the medina or old walled city. The square is like nowhere else in the world, presenting a constant show of humanity. There are musical performers, snake charmers, monkey trainers, amateur boxing matches, and transvestite belly dancers.
It’s also a giant food market, as well as a giant antiques market and swap meet. You can even get a haircut or have some dental work performed. At night, there are fire performers, and an outdoor food fair is set up in the center, with rows of food stalls fronted by counters lined with chairs.
This exotic African destination is only a short flight (usually less than four hours) from most major European cities. As a popular getaway destination, there are frequent flights available. Accommodations range from riads, traditional houses remade into luxury boutique hotels in the medina to five-star luxury resorts just outside the city in an area called La Palmeraie.
16. Cartagena, Columbia
Colorful Cartagena, one of the great historical Spanish cities of the Caribbean, pulses with life along the north coast of Colombia. Founded in 1533, its old walled city has seen its fortunes rise and fall through the centuries and has more recently experienced a resurgence and revitalization.
Significant restoration of the old city has resulted in once dilapidated 16th-century buildings springing back to life as modern, yet historical hotels, world-class restaurants, and shops. Wander through the narrow city streets to see an impressive church, an open plaza with public works of art, or an eclectic shop selling that perfect souvenir.
Be sure to wander along the ancient city walls, and as you watch the sun set over the ocean, think back to what life used to be like here nearly 500 years ago.
It’s easy to get to Cartagena from the United States, with daily flights from Miami and good connections through Panama City. This is the perfect destination for an exotic long weekend getaway from almost anywhere in North America.