15 tourist attractions you must see before you die

Readers, beware! Prepare to be blown away by these magnificent 15 tourist attractions. They might be overcrowded, but totally worth the hype …

The Peak Tram towers over the Hong Kong skyline

The Peak Tram towers over the Hong Kong skyline © HKTB Hong Kong Tourist Board

Category Beach & nature Cities

Date 20th November 2016

The world is brimming with places so impressive and outstanding, that they attain the status of crowd-pleasers. Jet around the world and discover these 15 totally stunning tourist attractions.

Don’t let the crowds scare you off … these places are totally worth a visit.

The blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco

Walking through a sea of blue in Chefchaouen
Walking through a sea of blue in Chefchaouen

Morocco’s Blue City, Chefchaouen, though landlocked, resembles an endless blue sea quietly hidden at the foot of the Rif Mountains. The city’s foundation goes back to 1471, when Chefchaouen functioned as a Moorish fortress for exiles from Spain. Throughout time, the city welcomed people of Jewish and Christian faiths who lived alongside the indigenous Berber people.

When you stand in the middle of this blue oasis, you’ll think the people living here had a unique eye for design. Yet the reasons for painting all the houses in shades of blue are of religious nature. Jewish teachings put forward that the color ‘blue’ reminds us of God’s power, a belief that still lives on here. There was also a widespread rumor that the color blue kept mosquitoes at bay.

The intensity of the blue buildings is punctured by the many shops displaying hand-woven earth-tone blankets, rugs and lamp shades. Get lost walking around the cobblestone labyrinth-like streets.

Find a flight to Tangier

The salt flats Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Heaven and Earth are one and the same at Salar de Uyuni
Heaven and Earth are one and the same at Salar de Uyuni

A seemingly infinite salt desert that turns into one of the world’s largest mirrors when covered in water? Yes, that really exists!

Covering what roughly corresponds to the size of the Bahamas, Salar de Uyuni was created when the prehistoric lake Lago Minchín dried up, leaving puddles and salt pans in its wake. More salt deposits leaked from the surrounding mountains here, since there was no opening to the sea.

Flash forward to our time, Salar de Uyuni makes for an unforgettable experience: imagine a flat landscape of dry glistening salt reminiscing of cracked mud, pierced only by a few islets adding to the surreal beauty of this place. During the rainy season (December to April), a thin layer of water transforms the salt flats into an expansive lake, reflecting the sky so perfectly, you won’t be able to tell where the horizon breaks between heaven and Earth.

Find a flight to Cochabamba

Freetown of Christiania, Denmark

Copenhagen's hippie commune, Christiania, is an oasis in the middle of the city
Copenhagen’s hippie commune, Christiania, is an oasis in the middle of the city

Copenhagen, 1971: The hippie revolution is at its peak and a group of squatters occupy the abandoned military site located in the harbor borough of Christianshavn. Police forces fail to clear the area, and a place of alternative living based on self-governance, tolerance and community is born. Though initially tolerated as a social experiment, Christiania has adapted and changed throughout the years in order to survive.

Around 1,000 people live here today and the expansive area is filled with all sorts of imaginative DIY builds, quiet gardens and cozy eateries and music venues.

Christiania has always been controversial, not least because of the hash trade. Though generally a safe area, stick to the rules written on the wall at the entrance: do not film or photograph, especially around ‘Pusher Street’, one of Christiania’s main arteries.

Learn more about Christiania and Copenhagen from our city guide app, momondo places (available for iPhones).

Find a flight to Copenhagen

Terraced rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam

Green as you've never seen it before
Green as you’ve never seen it before

Rolling slopes of paddy terraces, thick bamboo forests and mountains immersed in clouds all come together to make Sapa one of Vietnam’s most fairy-tale-like tourist attractions.

A long time ago, this area consisted of countless steep slopes that were rich in fertile soil. The locals began to gradually cut terrace steps into the slopes in order to cultivate rice. This is a common technique in mountainous areas, as it reduces erosion and is highly efficient in growing crops that require irrigation. Another positive result is perhaps of a more aesthetic nature: the terraced fields create such an eye-pleasing landscape, that you’ll quickly forget, you’re looking at crops.

The colors change seasonally. During the June-July period, the paddy rice fields are in bloom, and you’ll be met by a vibrant tableau of green nuances, while if you’re there in September-October, the rice paddies will shine like gold against the green mountain slopes.

Find a flight to Hanoi

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Russia

St. Basil's Cathedral is Moscow's own colourful frenzy
St. Basil’s Cathedral is Moscow’s own colourful frenzy

Part of a musical set, or maybe a real-size gingerbread house? One of Russia’s most iconic edifices, St. Basil’s Cathedral, reigns as a gaudy fairy-tale palace in Moscow’s Red Square. Officially named The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat (yes, seriously!), it goes by St. Basil’s Cathedral, referring to the ‘holy fool for Christ’ Basil the Blessed.

Its construction was ordered by Russia’s first tsar, Ivan the Terrible, in 1554 in honor of a military conquest. It was originally completely white to match with the white stone of the Kremlin and the domes were golden. The colors were added in the 17th century, inspired by the biblical descriptions of the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Basil’s is composed of eight chapels around a central ninth, with the interior four towering over the rest. There are various unproven theories behind this architectural layout – one posits that the structure represents the medieval symbol of the eight-pointed star. Today it doesn’t operate as a church anymore, but houses a museum instead.

For more tips on what to do in the Russian capital, download our city guide app, momondo places, for Moscow (available for iPhones).

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Twelve Apostles, Australia

The Twelve Apostles: rugged beauty in an awe-inspiring landscape
The Twelve Apostles: rugged beauty in an awe-inspiring landscape

Take the scenic Great Ocean Road west from Melbourne, and, after a four hour-drive, you’ll arrive at one of Australia’s most recognizable sights: the Twelve Apostles, the rugged rock formations rising up from the Southern Ocean.

The apostles came into being thanks to a long and constant erosion process of limestone cliffs: the wild Southern Ocean and the forceful winds gnarled at the soft limestone, leaving caves in the cliffs. The cliffs eventually became arches that, when collapsing, gave birth to isolated rock stacks measuring up to 45m in height.

The name might be a tiny bit misleading, as there have never been 12 rock stacks, but nine (there’s no real explanation for the name, other than a local nickname that eventually became the official name). As of 2005 only eight remain standing, as erosion still eats at them today.

Visit at sunset or sunrise, as the apostles change colors from dark and shadowy to bright sandy.

Find a flight to Melbourne

Vatican City

A bright sunny morning over Vatican City
A bright sunny morning over Vatican City

Granted its own independent city-state status in 1929, the imposing Vatican City – technically the world’s smallest country – has always been a must visit for tourists of all denominations, Catholic or otherwise.

Yes, you’ll certainly find lots of tourist toot on the fringes of this walled enclave but, once you push passed the peddlers trying to flog Popemobile keychains, you’ll find some of the world’s best Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Wandering passed the colorfully-dressed Swiss Guards and noted landmarks like the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica and the downright jaw-dropping Sistine Chapel feels like you’ve been whisked back in time 500 years. Best of all? You can do it all in a day.

Extra tip: Bare legs and arms are a no-go in this ecclesiastical state, so be sure you cover up.

For over 120 recommendations from locals, download our city guide app, momondo places, for Rome (available for iPhones).

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey

We’re sure you’ve seen the photos, but no snapshot can quite do Cappadocia justice. Only a one-hour drive away from the major Anatolian city of Kayseri, this ancient kingdom has existed in some form for over 3500 years, and today its unique troglodyte dwellings and phallic volcanic rock formations (otherwise known as “fairy chimneys”) leave one million visitors thunderstruck ever year.

The best way to discover them all is by taking to the sky. At around €200 a pop, these hot air balloon rides might sound like a bit of a pricey tourist trap. However, the trip lasts a quite lengthy 95-minutes and, once you’re soaring above the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll realize that it’s a small price to pay to experience one of the undisputed wonders of the world.

Extra tip: Beat most of the crowd and see Cappadocia at its most magnificent by arriving just before sunrise.

Find a flight to Kayseri

Palace of Versailles, France

Sunny queuing outside the Palace of Versailles
Sunny queuing outside the Palace of Versailles © archer10 (Dennis)

France is filled with ornate, royal châteaux, but they’re all inferior when compared to Versailles.  This grandest of grand baroque palaces was the home of the royal court from 1682 right up until the birth of the French Revolution in 1789. Today, its open for princes and paupers alike, who take the easy one-hour train ride in from Central Paris to see its splendor.

Start with a stroll around the majestically kept Gardens of Versailles before heading for a bit of shade provided in the quarters of the pinkish marble retreat, the Grand Trianon.

When you’re ready, join the inevitably long, but totally worth it queue to get a peak inside at the Palace’s pièce de résistance: the Galerie des Glaces. This 73-meter long parlor is filled with 17 huge mirrors on one side, 17 matching windows providing gorgeous garden views on the other, and an opulent fresco chronicling the monarchy’s achievements sprawled out above your head.

Looking for beautiful sights, cozy cafes and the best hotels? Download our city guide app, momondo places, for Paris (available for iPhones).

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The monasteries of Meteora, Greece

The Rousanou Monastery is one of six monasteries at Meteora
The Rousanou Monastery is one of six monasteries at Meteora

Right where nature and architecture intersect, you’ll find the ancient Orthodox monasteries of Meteora. These magnific rock formations rise up as high as a 120-story building and house six monasteries dating back to the 14th century.

Allegedly, the first people to inhabit the area arrived in the 9th century and took to hermit-like lives in the many small caves around this area. The only way they could transport anything up or down was via rope-attached baskets and nets. As time went by, the small community that sprung up here sought some kind of protection against attacks from invaders and started building the monasteries.

Though access to the monasteries is much easier nowadays (steps have been carved into the rocks), it’ll take some determination to climb to the top. But once up, you’ll understand why monks and nuns still want to live here.

Find a flight to Thessaloniki

Blue Lagoon + Northern Lights, Iceland

Relaxing in The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Relaxing in The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

When we say Iceland, you say Blue Lagoon. Yes, this stunning geothermal spa is synonymous with the Nordic nation, and that prestige means that it has become increasingly commercial and crowded over the years, with the €45 basic entry fee something to gawp at. And yet, we still think this incredible attraction – just 50 minutes’ drive out from the center of Reykjavik – is absolutely not to be missed!

Because of its proximity to a lava field and surrounding geological conditions, the Lagoon’s 39 °C waters are rich in minerals like sulphur and silica, making a swim both relaxing and rejuvenating.

If you’re taking a dip during the Icelandic autumn or winter, don’t forget to look up to catch another one of the wonders of the world, the great Aurora Borealis dancing over the night sky.

Extra tip: Book ahead! Visit the Blue Lagoon website to buy your tickets and make sure you don’t miss out.

Read more: The complete guide to your road trip through Iceland

Find a flight to Reykjavik

Petra, Jordan

A night by the temple side at Petra, Jordan
A night by the temple side at Petra, Jordan © ooOO(Sylvain)OOoo

Petra is known across the Middle East as the rose-tinted jewel of Jordan but, to most Western audiences, it’s probably best known from pop culture, such as its starring roles in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers 2.

While it might be the movies that lure people to the UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s the overwhelming beauty and preservation of the ancient city that really gives Petra the X factor. Built around 300 BCE by the Nabateans to painstakingly intricate detail, the archaeological site encompasses tombs, stables, and an amphitheatre, all carved out from sandstone cliffs.

Find yourself wandering around and getting lost during the day, then make your way back to the central Al Khazneh temple, aka ‘The Treasury’, by dusk and marvel at it glowing a rich, golden red under candlelight.

Find a flight to Amman

Machu Picchu, Peru

Clouds loom over Machu Picchu
Clouds loom over Machu Picchu

Arguably the greatest attraction in all of South America, Machu Picchu is pretty out-of-this-world, not least because you have head 7,979 ft. above sea level to find it!

Built sometime around the mid-15th century, it is the remaining principal achievement of the Incan Empire. Many of the grounds are ageing rather rapidly, but you can still visit and get the chance to see the quintessentially “Incan” masonry, featuring staircases, temples, aqueducts and vantage points spread out across a labyrinth-like 12 acres of mountainous landscape.

For a settlement above the clouds, Machu Picchu is surprisingly easy to reach. Once you’ve flown in to the charming city of Cuzco (a quick 90-minute flight from Lima airport), you can either take a train, bus, or join a hiking group and head for the hills!

Find a flight to Cuzco

Las Vegas Strip, USA

An illuminated Las Vegas Strip
An illuminated Las Vegas Strip © Anthony Quintano

Forget what the people say; sometimes more is more. Well, at least that’s what can be said for the Las Vegas Strip.

Trying to explain away just how extravagant Las Vegas is to the uninitiated is always a fruitless task. An open all hours, technicolor basin at the bottom of the desert, it’s a place where the only size is super-size, and anything can (and probably will!) happen.

Las Vegas Boulevard South is known for its dense concentration of 24/7 casinos, dive bars and extravagant resorts. You can even get Vegas’ very own, jacked-up versions of famous tourist landmarks outside of the States, like the Eiffel Tower Restaurant and the five-diamond luxury resort and casino, The Venetian.

A staggering 30,500,000 visitors come every year to bask in the “anything goes”, glitzy glory of Sin City’s central strip. Follow the herd and get ready for the trashiest, flashiest and downright maddest holiday you’ll probably ever experience. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!

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The Peak Tram, Hong Kong

The great green heights of Hong Kong and the Peak Tram
The great green heights of Hong Kong and the Peak Tram

Towering over the Hong Kong skyline’s mix of ultra-modern skyscrapers and thick forest gardens, the Peak Tram puts the ‘fun’ in funicular railway!

First opened in 1888 for the sole use of the British governor, Sir George William Des Vœux, his dignitaries and residents of the Victoria Peak mountain, today over four million tourists climb aboard for the ascent every year. The surprisingly whizzy trip may last a mere seven minutes, but the views offered from the mountaintop are unrivaled across anywhere else on Pearl of the Orient, and not to be missed!

Discover Hong Kong like a local with our city guide app, momondo places (available for iPhones).

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Looking for more? Check out the best UNESCO nature sites or get inspired by Mattia Passarini’s travel photography. For more travel inspiration and expert tips, go to momondo Inspiration

Originally published

20th November 2016