When you’re planning a big trip around the world, you’ll hear a lot about unmissable destinations and must-see sights. From natural wonders to man-made marvels, there are a seemingly endless number of places that you need to visit.
To help you decide which destinations should top your list, we’ve picked ten that really are worth exploring. These places will leave you awestruck or give you an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Stretching for more than 2,600km up Australia’s East Coast, and even visible from space, this monumental living structure is on a scale that’s hard to comprehend.
Luckily, appreciating the reef is simple. Don a snorkel and flippers, or go the whole hog and book a dive trip, and you’ll discover that even the range of wildlife is mind-bogglingly enormous. More than 1,500 species of fish, 400 different kinds of coral, and 20 types of reptiles – including sea turtles – await beneath the waves.
2. Petra, Jordan
This ancient rose-red city has captivated travellers for centuries, ever since the first European explorer arrived in the 1800s. UNESCO World Heritage status, awarded in 1985, has only added to the allure.
The Nabateans might have started building in the remote desert here over 2,000 years ago, but Petra has lost none of its majesty. Just beware, as you emerge from the narrow, kilometre-long Siq canyon and catch your first glimpse of the Treasury, you might be lost for words.
3. Las Vegas, USA
The bright lights of Las Vegas have graced so many movie screens, it’s hard to believe the city can really be as outrageous as Hollywood makes out. Yet even as you descend into McCarran airport, the Luxor pyramid glinting in the sun beneath you, it becomes clear this city is unlike any other.
The architecture alone is enough to render you speechless. The Bellagio’s synchronised fountains, New York New York’s theme-park kitsch and the Venetian’s indoor canals are just the start of the endless assault on your senses.
It’s a good thing Vegas empties your wallet: even a few days here will leave your head spinning.
4. Machu Picchu, Peru
Mountain-top Machu Picchu, built at the peak of the Inca Empire, simply astounds. Millions may flock here, but the ruins remain as intriguing as ever.
A visit wouldn’t be complete without trekking to the city on foot, just as the Incas would have done, and around 50,000 people follow the classic four-day “Inca trail” each year.
Be prepared for high passes (one nearly topping 14,000ft), steep slopes and jungle. But remember these challenges only serve to make the views from the Sun Gate all the more rewarding.
5. The Maasai Mara, Kenya
If you’ve always wanted to book a safari, Kenya’s Maasai Mara is the place to go. This world-famous savannah, which merges into the Serengeti in Tanzania, holds some of the most impressive wildlife on earth.
Many come to these vast grasslands, of course, for the annual wildebeest migration when over a million animals traverse the plains. Yet there’s much more to discover: leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, and rhino (the so-called ‘big five’), thousands of bird species, foxes, gazelle and hippo are among the many animals you might spot.
6. Marrakech, Morocco
All the clichés about the romance of Marrakech ring true. The main square, the Djemaa el Fna, really is frantic with snake charmers, food stalls and henna artists. The souks are just as fascinating and labyrinthine as guidebooks claim. The grand hotels in the new town might even be more opulent than you expect.
But the city’s real charm lies in its quiet corners. It’s only after breakfast in a shady riad courtyard, or stopping to sip sweet, mint tea at a side-street cafe, that you’ll understand why Marrakech deserves all the praise it receives.
7. Dubai, UAE
You might think it would impossible for the home of the world’s tallest building to disappoint. And you’d be right. There’s seemingly no end to the extravagance of the fastest-growing city on the planet, from its soaring skyscrapers to its lavish, five-star hotels.
In the next few years, there will even more reason to visit; this city never stops reinventing itself. The developers behind the Burj Khalifa have just announced plans to build even higher, topping their first effort with a 828m-high tower.
8. Bagan, Myanmar
The temple-studded plain of Bagan is undoubtedly one of the jewels in Myanmar’s crown. Thousands of Buddhist temples are scattered over an area of more than 26 square miles here – only half the number that originally stood when they were built in the 11th–13th centuries.
Exploring the temples is magical enough, but for a real “bucket-list” experience, take to the skies and soak up the views from the basket of a hot air balloon.
9. Grand Canyon, USA
If one place can lay claim to being the world’s greatest natural wonder, the Grand Canyon is it, reaching a whopping 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep at its most extensive.
The great thing about a landscape of this size is that, well, there’s plenty of space to appreciate it. Come out of high season, drag yourself out of bed before dawn and you’ll soon find your own private spot on the South Rim trail to watch the sun come up, illuminating the canyon strata by strata as the day begins.
10. Venice, Italy
No other city captures the imagination like Venice. The tightly packed streets and placid canals, spread over more than 100 islands, have inspired writers, poets and artists alike.
You can’t get away from the crowds, but they diminish little of Venice’s appeal. It’s still easy to feel like you’ve claimed the city as your own – hop on a vaporetto to head out to Murano or Burano, gorge yourself on local dishes like risotto and polenta, or find a quiet square for an aperitivo at sundown.
Eleanor is the Senior Web Editor at Rough Guides and a freelance writer.
She tweets at @elliealdridge.