In my last post, I shared the destinations left on my travel bucket list – the places I want to see before I kick the proverbial bucket. But as a travel writer, I’ve already seen a lot of the world’s great sights, which poses a question: what about the average person? What are the places any traveller should see if he or she wants to truly see the world?
Since I’ve been to a lot of the most amazing places on this planet, I figure I’m qualified to at least venture an opinion. Of course, your own bucket list includes places that mean a lot to you for personal reasons – a book you read, a movie you once saw, a family connection … But I can at least offer a list of destinations I believe you need to visit if you want to see the best the world has to offer.
So here’s my suggested travel bucket list – the essential sights for anyone who wants to travel the globe and see how humans live on it. Once again, feel free to leave a comment if you think there are other destinations that deserve to be included, or one or two that you’d leave out.
There are many great cities on earth, but to my mind, the City of Light is still the one you have to see. While London was built by architects, Paris was built by artists. There are wonderful things to see in every part of town — even the bridges across the Seine are works of art. Historic buildings line the streets, many of them now museums filled with some of the world’s great art treasures.
The real charm of Paris is not all in its historic buildings and monuments, however. As I wrote in this post, Paris is one of the most livable cities in the world, filled with green parks and places to just enjoy life. Spend some time in the city’s classic cafés, or stroll along the Seine in the evening to see the Eiffel Tower sparkling. And of course, the city is arguably the world capital of food. Terrorists or no, how can you not go?
To me, this is one famous historic site that really lives up to its billing. When you step over the crest of the hill and see the ancient city laid out before you (photo at top), it’s hard to believe you’re really there. Ancient streets and stone buildings stand as if frozen in time, with the Andes Mountains rising all around: it’s a scene like nowhere else on earth.
Machu Picchu’s history is fascinating, too. This was the refuge of the Incas, one of the few places never found by the Spanish conquistadors. Even today, many of its secrets remain untold, buried beneath the stones. But others are understood, like the “hitching post of the sun,” a stone altar the Incas used as an astronomical marker to determine the beginning and end of the harvest cycle. Many other Inca sites have been found in the nearby hills; the story is far from complete.
The South Pacific
All those pictures you see of palm trees waving over a blue sea as lovely native girls do graceful dances wearing flower leis? They’re all true. The South Pacific is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and even if some of it has been despoiled by modern civilization, there are still places that will enchant you and stay in your memory forever.
There’s also a lot of diversity. You can go small, with a visit to Australia and New Zealand — both well worth a visit. Or you can get the full tropical paradise experience in places like Tahiti and the Cook Islands. Then there’s Indonesia, and especially Bali, another place with unearthly beauty. Spend enough time in this part of the world and you won’t want to come home.
If you’ve seen Paris and want to truly appreciate European culture, Vienna is the city to see. Once the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, this was also one of the cultural capitals of Europe. Mozart lived and composed great music here, Freud and Lenin dined in its famous coffee houses, and kings and queens attended its opera house.
Today, the old city is largely intact, with a ring road where the city wall once stood. It’s a great place to spend a few days, visiting some of the city’s more than 100 museums, touring the Hofburg Palace, or just walking the timeless streets. Or, you can ride the giant ferris wheel in the downtown Prater park, like a character in the Orson Welles movie The Third Man. Like Paris, this is a place that gives you a deeper understanding of Europe’s history and its culture, which still dominates much of the world.
As I wrote in my personal travel bucket list, this is a trip that takes some doing. The dark continent is a place that Westerners have always considered a challenge, but those who go there often fall in love with it. Its people, its wildlife, its many cultures – there’s enough to fill a whole lifetime.
To me, Africa’s great draw is its wildlife, especially the great migration of the Serengeti. But there’s an amazing variety of things to see: ancient cities like Cairo, desert outposts like Timbuktu, the savannas of South Africa, the snow-covered dome of Mount Kilimanjaro — the list goes on. And every region has its own fascinating mix of cultures. Africa is the ancestral home of the human race – we should all see it at least once.
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India and Nepal
Veteran travellers say you can’t really call yourself a traveller unless you’ve been to India. This vast country is a kaleidoscope of culture. Hindu holy men, sacred cows, ancient temples, bicycle traffic jams: it’s human culture at its most diverse and fascinating. But India is more than holy men and cows. It’s a huge country, with beautiful mountains, endless beaches, rushing rivers and placid lakes you can tour on a houseboat. Then there’s the food, spicy, delicious and just as exotic as the culture.
Once you’ve travelled to India, complete your journey with a visit to its next-door neighbour, Nepal — the country in the clouds. Its capital, Kathmandu, is a place like few others: I call it a 1,000-year-old tourist town. Most who come to Nepal are bound for the majestic Himalayas, even if just to gaze at them from a place like Pokhara. But Nepal’s subtropical southern region has jungles, tigers, elephants and white rhinos. It’s a land of spectacular sights.
This is my favourite U.S. city. In fact, in terms of culture and lifestyle, it’s hardly an American city at all. Owned at different times by both the French and the Spanish, with strong influences from the Cajun and black cultures, it’s a cultural mixing pot. New Orleans has its own style of architecture, food, music and celebration – even the cemeteries are like nothing else in the United States.
To walk along Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras time is an experience everyone needs to have at least once. But New Orleans is a treat at any time of year (though it does get hot in mid-summer). Stroll the cobblestoned streets admiring the beautiful old buildings with their ornate balconies. Stop into a restaurant to sample some jambalaya or crawfish étouffé. Or drop into any of the dozens of music bars to hear the jazz and Cajun music NOLA gave the world. It’s an original.
If you want to have a truly unique experience on your travel bucket list, this is it. When you reach Antarctica, you’ve reached the end of the earth. And it’s as powerful and remote-looking as you could imagine. Icebergs, glaciers, rocky mountain faces rising out of the sea, flocks of penguins swimming beside your boat – this is a place that defines the term, “end of the earth”.
I saw the Antarctic on a big-ship cruise a few years back — those are rare these days. But the best way to see Antarctica is on a small-boat cruise, going ashore to stand on the rocky beaches metres away from curious flocks of penguins and grunting seals. If there’s one place that makes you feel like you’re in a David Attenborough documentary, this is it.
They call it the Big Apple, and there’s little argument that this is the cultural capital of the Americas. Wall Street, Broadway, Greenwich Village, the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium – the city is full of iconic places. It’s the backdrop for hundreds of movies and TV shows. And it’s an amazing centre of creativity, the place everyone from George Gershwin to Andy Warhol to Bob Dylan has called home.
To be honest, I don’t consider New York a beautiful city. It doesn’t have the elegance of Paris or the historic atmosphere of a city like Vienna. But it is endlessly interesting, and there are great experiences to be had: shopping on Park Avenue, cycling through Central Park, skating under the great Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre … It’s fair to say you haven’t seen America if you haven’t seen New York.
And one honorary entry …
The northern lights
This is not a place but a phenomenon, so I’m cheating a bit. But in a way, I’m not: whether you see the aurora borealis from the Canadian Arctic or Norway’s northern reaches, it’s part of the mystery of the North. The sky lighting up in ghostly swirls of green and red, moving and dancing – truly an unearthly sight. The old legend says you can call them down by whistling, but most people are content to just watch and be amazed.
I’ve been to all the other places on this list, but I confess I have never seen the northern lights. I hoped to get a glimpse on my Arctic cruise this summer, but my hopes were dashed: wrong time of year. To see the aurora properly, you usually have to head north when the snow is on the ground and there’s frost in the air. Not my kind of weather, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this, I’d brave it.
That’s my suggested travel bucket list for the everyday traveller. I’m sure there are places I’ve left out, including places like the Pyramids of Giza, which I covered in my own bucket list. And there may be one or two on the list that you’d quibble with. But I think you’d agree that if you make it to all these places in a lifetime, you’ve pretty much covered the globe. And I can tell you, it’s one heck of a ride.