The world is full of wonder, enough to make you want to wander—endlessly. From the dazzling surreality of the Northern Lights to the penguin-filled polar desert of Antarctica and all the lush forests, colorful reefs, stunning lakes, extreme mountain peaks, and man-made marvels in between, it’s impossible to see and experience everything this great planet has to offer. So here, we attempt to narrow down your bucket list to highlight 15 top travel experiences that will leave you in utter awe—and yearning to get packing.
While we don’t consider ourselves “bucket list travelers,” we do believe it helps to have some inspiration. This list is in no particular order—because we could never rate or rank such iconic experiences.
1. Behold Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon
Where Is It? This large glacial lake is located in southeast Iceland on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
How Old Is It? The lagoon only started forming in 1934, when Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started retreating.
Fun Fact: The James Bond films Die Another Day and a A View to Kill were filmed here.
Head out about a five-hour drive from Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik to take in the immensity of Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s deepest lake. This magnificent lagoon is a mixture of sea and freshwater, formed naturally from melted glacial water, giving it all an almost glistening appearance. Throughout, you’ll see large chunks of ice from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. You may also spot some seals relaxing on top of an iceberg. While it’s a wonder to see, it’s also a reminder of the effects of global warming, especially as the lagoon continues to increase in size every year. See more of Iceland, including its epic waterfalls, geysers, and beaches RIGHT HERE!
2. Take a Gondola Ride in Venice, Italy
Where Is It? Venice is a part of over 100 small islands located on the northeastern tip of Italy.
Fun Fact: There are about 350 gondolas and 400 official gondoliers in Venice.
Pro Tip: Don’t grab a gondola in a busy area or you’ll soon understand what a Venice traffic jam is all about.
A gondola ride in Venice—is it an eye-rolling honeymoon cliche or the ultimate travel experience? Venice may have a bad reputation as an overtouristed, overpriced destination, but venture outside the main zones, and you’ll often find you can have the streets and canals all to yourself. Still, there’s nothing more romantic than being steered around Venice’s enchanting canals as your gondolier serenades you with a classic Italian folk song (known as “barcarolle”). While there are many mini Venices sprinkled around the world, from Southern California to Azerbaijan, you just can’t recreate the magic of the original.
3. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway in California, USA
Where Is It? The Pacific Coast Highway stretches from the town of Leggett in Northern California to Dana Point in Southern California.
Don’t Miss: A short but incredible hike through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.
Fun Fact: The Central Coast’s Hearst Castle has a total of 42 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms.
This 1,056-km (656-mile) drive grants you ocean views at nearly every turn. It also takes you through some must-see American landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the stunning cliffs of Big Sur, and the expansive beaches between Los Angeles and San Diego. There’s a ton of Cali flavor to soak up along the way, including farm-fresh roadside eats, bohemian villages, and surfing towns. Along the way, we recommend booking a night in Carmel, Big & Small’s favorite U.S. small town (and where we got hitched!). Check out more to see, from Los Angeles to San Francisco HERE.
4. Trek To Machu Picchu, Peru
Where Is It? It’s located 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Cusco, Peru, on a mountain ridge that is 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level.
How Old Is It? Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and abandoned some 80 years later when the Spanish arrived.
Fun Fact: The site contains more than 100 flights of stairs, many carved from just one slab of stone.
The iconic Incan masterpiece, Machu Picchu is every bit as mystical and magical as its reputation. This Wonder of the World still holds plenty of mystery as it offers some of the most epic scenery on the planet. It’s best to get acclimated to the altitude before heading out on the Inca trail. The classic Inca trail runs 42 km (26 miles) and usually takes 4 days to complete, with the spectacular Machu Picchu ruins as your final reward. There are shorter journeys, too, and plenty of tour operators to help guide you. Be sure to book your trip as far in advance as possible. To combat overtourism, there’s a limited amount of visitors allowed per day.
5. Stroll Through Bali’s Rice Fields, Indonesia
Where Is It? Bali is an island in Indonesia, located east of Java and west of Lombok.
Fun Fact: Bali’s rice terraces feature an innovative irrigation system (known as subak) dating back to the 8th or 9th century.
Don’t Miss: This small island is jam-packed with treasures. Watch our video above to see why this is one of our (and many others’) favorite destinations.
Bali is one of Southeast Asia’s most coveted tropical paradises, not least because of the vibrantly green rice terraces that dominate the landscape, particularly around the tourist town of Ubud. The Tegellalang Rice Terraces and the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces are especially picturesque. Venture beyond Ubud and other tourist hotspots like Canggu and you’ll get to see the real Bali—its tiny villages, flower-filled traditions, succulent fruits, and gracious locals who will gladly show you around (and maybe even climb a tree to get you a coconut!).
6. Travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Where Does It Go? From Moscow to Vladivostok at the eastern tip of Russia.
How Long is It? At 9,289 km (5,772 miles), it’s the longest railway in the world.
Fun Fact: The entire railway goes through eight time zones.
The Trans-Siberian Railway offers a true test for train enthusiasts—no matter how seasoned of a traveler you are. To travel the whole journey, either from Moscow to Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East or vice versa, you’d need to set aside 8 whole days and prepare to pass through 8 time zones, 87 cities, and 16 rivers. Built starting in the late 19th century and complete in 1916, the railway takes you through the expanse of Siberia, with its wild and unspoiled landscape. Be sure to have the camera ready when passing through out the picturesque Novosibirsk station with its bright turquoise exterior, and consider making a stop at Irkutsk to get to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world.
7. Float in the Dead Sea, Jordan
Where Is It? The Dead Sea is a landlocked lake located in the Middle East between Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank.
Fun Fact: The Dead Sea is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean.
Pro Tip: Only float for a maximum of 15 minutes and stay hydrated!
Head 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level to immerse yourself in the Dead Sea, one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. It’s “dead” because plants and animals can’t live in such salty conditions. However, you can still enjoy a nice float (only up to about 10-15 minutes at a time to avoid dehydration) and give yourself a relaxing spa treatment with its mineral-rich mud.
8. Scuba Dive the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
How Large Is It? The entire reef stretches over 344,400 square km (133,000 square miles).
Will You See Sharks?! It’s possible! North Horn on Osprey Reef is especially popular if you want to see a shark… or several.
Fun Fact: The reef dates back to as much as 20 million years.
Diving into the Great Barrier Reef is like plunging into a whole other world. Earth’s largest coral reef system, which sits off the vast coast of Queensland, Australia, is made up of around 2,900 individual reefs and contains over 1,500 fish species, alongside whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and—of course—sharks. It’s so massive you can see it from outer space. But the reef’s best seen while in it and there are a ton of various dive spots and tourist boats that can take you out to the best spots to spy on a kaleidoscopic display of coral and fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes. If you’re not into doing a full scuba dive, snorkeling will still offer you some stunning glimpses into ocean life.
9. Catch the Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Where Is It? The “Temple City” is located near the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
How Old Is It? Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century during the reign of the Khmer Empire.
Fun Fact: Unlike most other Hindu temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, the direction associated with death in Hinduism.
The largest religious monument in the world sits among the dense jungle of Cambodia, and stretches out some 600 square miles. You’ll often hear the words “templed out” being uttered about from tourists exploring this vast collection of Hindu and Buddhist temples. Admittedly, Angkor Wat (meaning “Temple City”) can be overwhelming, and it does require some research before visiting. Originally constructed in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II, this city kept growing over time to encompass a staggering amount of temples. When buying a pass to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will have access to the whole complex, but first things first: get to the main Angkor Wat temple before sunrise to see it in all its glory.
10. See the Sunset in Santorini, Greece
Where Is It? Santorini is located in the Aegean Sea, 200 km (120 miles) southeast of Greece’s mainland.
Best Time to Visit: April to May and September to October, when the weather is nice and the crowds sparse.
Fun Fact: The island as we now know it was formed roughly 3,600 years ago, after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.
Greece has everything any type of traveler desires: fascinating history, charming architecture, breathtaking scenery, and mouthwatering food. But perhaps Santorini, the most storied—and stunning—of its islands, eclipses it all with its volcanic origins and whitewashed houses and bright blue domes scattered across the caldera. Hop on an ATV to explore the tiny island and zig-zag through winding roads as you cross through tiny villages and zip by black sand beaches, plush resorts, small farms, and luxury wineries. But don’t forget to stop to see the sunset in Oia—some argue it’s the best spot in the world to catch the sun dipping into the sea.
11. Journey Through the Brazilian Amazon
Where Is It? About 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, in the northwestern region of the country.
How Big Is It? The entire Amazon takes up over 7 million square km (2.7 million square miles) across South America.
Fun Fact: Around 20% of the world’s total oxygen is produced in the Amazon.
We still know very little about the Amazon, which makes it such a thrilling—but often scary—place. While it spreads across nine countries, most of it sits within the borders of Brazil. The biodiversity here is mind-boggling, with some 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 plant species, 2,000 birds and mammals, and probably many more that still need to be discovered. Journeying into the Amazon is not for the faint of heart, or the inexperienced. You can hire trained guides to take you through the jungle via its network of rivers and maybe lead you to one of the Amazon’s incredible shamans.
12. Explore the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Where Is It? The Galapagos are located roughly 1,000 km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador.
Fun Fact: Containing 13 active volcanoes, the Galapagos are one of the most volcanically active areas on the planet.
The Galapagos Islands are where prominent naturalist Charles Darwin started to develop his revolutionary theories on evolution in 1835. Today, they offer a fascinating look into an untamed natural wonder where giant tortoises casually plod alongside a colorful array of other exotic animals, including penguins, sea lions, lizards, red-footed and blue-footed boobies.
13. Ride a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey
Where Is It? Cappadocia spans across three provinces in the Central Anatolia Region in the heart of Turkey.
Fun Fact: The area encompasses a number of underground cities, many of which are connected by a network of tunnels.
The lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia is reason alone to venture into this storied region of Turkey, where several ancient empires made their mark. The town of Göreme offers the most picturesque views with its spiky rock formations known as “Fairy Chimneys,” which offer an incredible backdrop for the colorful hot air balloons that fill up the sky at sunrise. Cappadocia can get crowded, so if you’re looking for a more tranquil side of Turkey, we recommend heading to the Black Sea region of Rize and venture high above the clouds—not from a balloon but from misty mountain villages nestled on the plateaus of the Kaçkar Mountains.
14. Gaze at the Northern Lights
Best Places to See Them: Norway, Finland, Iceland, Alaska
Best Times to See Them: Typically during the wintertime, when the sky is clear.
Fun Fact: Galileo called this mesmerizing sight Aurora after the Roman goddess of the dawn.
The Northern Lights offer the best, most surreal show on earth. Otherwise known as aurora borealis, this spectacular phenomenon can only be found in the top regions of the Northern Hemisphere, at a latitude of 66 to 69 degrees north. This is known as the “auroral zone,” which encompasses much of Scandinavia, as well as Iceland, Greenland, Russia, Northern Canada, and Alaska. This otherworldly neon-like light display occurs when excited solar particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms. The result is a display of fantastical colors that ripple and pulsate through the sky. The further away you are from city lights, the better the show. Big & Small have gotten close to gazing at the Northern Lights when we visited the Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Center in Iceland.
15. Relax on the Beach on a Thai Island
Where Is It? Thailand is located in Southeast Asia and borders Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Myanmar.
Fun Fact: Thailand boasts around 1,430 individual islands.
Best Island: Big & Small recommend Koh Lanta—see the video above to see why.
Some of the world’s most pristine beaches can be found scattered around Thailand. Your idea of which island is best will come down to what you deem to be most relaxing. For colorful coral reefs, head to Koh Lipe; for picturesque views, take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan from Koh Tao; or for a chance to get a whole slice of beach to yourself, add Koh Lanta to your list.