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It's a big world out there, with lots of stunningly beautiful places to discover. Whether it be the towering Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of Ireland or the whitewashed villages of the Greek Islands, or maybe even a Bora Bora beach or a lush Caribbean mountain, these are the top Insta-worthy spots to add to your dream travel list. Without further ado, here are the most beautiful places in the world for your viewing pleasure.
One can never run out of options when it comes to jaw-droppingly beautiful spots in Italy (Venice and Portofino come to mind), but the Amalfi Coast just might take the torta. Just south of Naples, this incredibly scenic stretch, with towns like Ravello, Amalfi, and Positano, is known for its colorful houses built into steep hills (and they're often right above black-sand beaches). Trattorias for pasta and limoncello are never too far away.
Located within Alberta's Banff National Park, Lake Louise is famous for its insanely blue glacial water — framed by the snowcapped peaks of the Canadian Rockies — that's just begging to be photographed. There are plenty of challenging hikes nearby that feature gorgeous lake views, and you can reward yourself afterward with a glass of wine at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which sits majestically on the lake's northern tip.
You've never seen anything quite like the Rainbow Mountains within Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in China's Gansu province. A combination of sandstone and minerals being pressed together over millennia and erosion have created vibrant streaks of reds, yellows, greens, and blues across the mountains to make a bizarre but fascinating Technicolor landscape. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Photos of Santorini, a volcanic island in the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, are instantly recognizable — whitewashed buildings with cobalt blue domes tucked into the steep hillsides. Can't you just imagine yourself there right now, sitting in a sun-drenched taverna with a plate of grilled fish and a glass of ouzo? Ahh. These gorgeous vistas can be found in the town of Oia, which has plenty of romantic hotels, shops, galleries, and open-air restaurants.
Ireland is known for its lush scenery — they don't call it the Emerald Isle for nothing! — and one of the most stunning natural attractions are the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of County Clare. Reaching 702 feet high, these jagged limestone cliffs stretch for 5 miles along the Atlantic Ocean coastline to create an awe-inspiring panorama. On a clear day, you can see the Aran Islands and the County Kerry's Dingle Peninsula.
There's no doubt that Machu Picchu is one of the world's most beautiful places, but it's also one of the most mysterious. Built in the mid-15th century, this Incan fortress sits in a remote location high up in the Andes Mountains, above the Urubamba River valley. The complex, encountered by American explorer Hiram Bingham III in 1911, features a series of intricate stone buildings and agricultural terraces where llamas graze.
One of the world's most famous archaeological sites, Petra (aka the Lost City) is located in Jordan's southwestern desert. Fun fact: Several scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed here. Built by the Nabataeans in the 2nd century A.D., the temples and tombs are carved directly into the pink sandstone cliff faces, creating a beautiful but eerie stone tableau. It's definitely worth seeing at sunset.
Be prepared to be blown away by the otherworldly beauty of the Red Rocks in Sedona, an artsy and adventure-minded town known for its spiritual vortexes, which are thought to be energy centers that can help you heal and strengthen your inner balance. In town, you can get readings, aura photos, and healing crystals if you're into that sort of thing, but all you really need to do is get out among the ancient red and pink canyons, mesas, and buttes to feel a more mellow vibe. Hikes are popular, but you can also take a Pink Jeep tour.
One of the seven wonders of the modern world, this ivory-white marble mausoleum, complete with a domed central tomb and surrounding minarets, never fails to impress with its imposing yet sublime design. Located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house his beloved late wife Mumtaz Mahal — a true monument to love!
Mention the Caribbean, and most likely you immediately think of white-sand beaches with aquamarine waters. Mountains probably don't factor in, but that's just what the island of St. Lucia is known for: the twin peaks of the Pitons — Gros Piton and Petit Peton (neither of which seems to ever take a bad picture). You can hike on and around both mountains. Better yet, take in the views from the comfort of your hotel room.
In a country known for fjords, Geirangerfjord tops the list as not only one of the most stunning natural attractions in the country, but also one of the most beautiful places in the world. The best way to see this glacial waterway and its multitude of waterfalls cascading down forest-covered mountains (including a famous cluster known as the "Seven Sisters") is to take a scenic cruise. You can also go kayaking, biking, or hiking, and even a helicopter tour is an option.
If you were a fan of the book Eat, Pray, Love, you probably had fantasies about running off to Ubud, the cultural heart of the Indonesian island of Bali. One of the town's most distinctive topographical features are its terraced rice patties, especially the Tegallalang Rice Terrace, about 20 minutes north of town. The emerald green terraces spilling down the hillside and framed by coconut trees are truly an unforgettable sight.
It's all about rugged beauty and eco-friendly adventures at Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side of Patagonia (an incredibly scenic and remote mountainous region shared by Chile and Argentina). You can see the park's abundant natural beauty any number of ways, including horseback riding through the pampas (grasslands), hiking beside expansive glaciers, and taking a Zodiac boat tour along scenic rivers.
It seems wrong not to highlight Venice when talking about a beautiful city with canals, but hey, Venice gets a lot of attention — why not show a little love to Bruges? This beguiling Belgium city has cobbled streets and charming canals where you can take a scenic tour to see its historic churches and half-timbered medieval buildings. Afterward, lunch on moules frites at a cafe in 13th-century Market Square, then stop into one of Bruges' many chocolate shops for dessert.
Ayers Rock, also known by its aboriginal name, Uluru, is the centerpiece of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. This massive sandstone monolith, in one of the most remote outback areas of the country, is sacred to the local Anangu aboriginal people.
Sign up for a guided hike around the base, where you can see its canyons and caves and learn more about its history and legends. Be sure to stick around for sunset when the rock glows a deep rusty red color.
Kauai is one of the lushest places on Earth, and its most famous natural attraction is the Na Pali Coast. This stretch of incredibly rugged coastline on the island's North Shore is brimming with emerald green cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and tropical plants and flowers. The 11-mile Kalalau Trail is not for the faint of heart, but if you're up to the challenge, you'll be rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views (you can also take a boat or helicopter tour).
This medieval walled city on the Adriatic Sea, with its imposing limestone walls, rock solid ramparts, and terracotta-tiled roofs, easily goes to the top of the pack among the world's most beautiful places. Stroll the Stradun (main street) lined with monasteries and museums, and when you need to escape the crowds, drift down a narrow medieval alleyway. You might recognize some of the sights from Game of Thrones, as it doubles for King's Landing (you can even take a tour of filming sites).
Sometimes, you just need to stretch out on a gorgeous beach — or fantasize about doing so, perhaps while lolling on a hammock strung between two coconut trees, frozen drink in hand. That dream beach can be found on the island of Bora Bora (Matira Beach gets our vote). The lagoon is so clear, you can see straight to the bottom (no snorkeling equipment needed to see tropical fish!), and the water is bathtub-warm. Sounds like heaven!
Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe on the Zambezi River. One of the best vantage points in which to view this mile-long curtain of thundering water is from Livingstone Island, so named for David Livingstone, the first Westerner to come across the falls in 1855. Vic Falls have long been considered one of the most beautiful places in the world — and one of the most adventurous, with bungee jumping, zip lining, and white-water rafting all in the vicinity of the falls.
Rio de Janeiro has plenty of iconic attractions, including Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach (cue Antonio Carlos Jobim's famous "Girl from Ipanema" bossa nova song), and the Christ the Redeemer statue, but Sugarloaf Mountain is perhaps its most well-known landmark. The bullet-shaped mountain sits at the mouth of the Guanabara Bay, and you can take a cable car to the summit for panoramic views over the entire city.
The centerpiece of Crater Lake National Park in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon is, of course, the lake itself, a 6-mile-wide caldera created by the eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama thousands of years ago. The stunningly scenic freshwater lake, surrounded by old-growth forest and 2,000-foot-high cliffs, is the deepest lake in America, and it's known for its insanely deep blue color.
Mont Saint-Michel, the tiny medieval walled city in Normandy, never fails to take your breath away. Built on a granite outcrop in the Couesnon River's flats and dominated by a massive Gothic abbey, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The area is known for its tidal activity, and during the spring and autumn equinoxes, water can surround the structure, creating quite the photo op.
Mexico's Rivera Maya has a number of Mayan ruins worth exploring, but the only one that's smack-dab on the Caribbean Sea is Tulum. Perched high above crystal-clear turquoise waters in a spectacular cliffside setting, the ancient archeological site is home to numerous stone temples, which are decorated with frescoes and shrines and carvings of Mayan gods.
Salamanca (a 2.5-hour drive from Madrid) is home to one of the most beautiful squares in all of Spain, the Plaza Mayor. Surrounding this grand central square in the Old Town are elegant Baroque-style buildings, featuring graceful arches and balustrades. One of the best times to visit the plaza is in the evening, when the buildings are illuminated, creating an almost magical effect.
The Abu Simbel temple complex, built on the west bank of the Nile River in southern Egypt, is one of the country's most famous ancient sites. Built by Ramses II, the complex consists of two sandstone temples built into the mountainside, one of which is the impressive Great Temple, which features four intricately carved seated figures on the façade, each of which is 65 feet high.
From waterfalls to geysers, the compact country of Iceland is jam-packed with exceptional natural scenery, and one of the most memorable sites is Reynisfjara Beach, a black-sand strand near the village of Vik in southern Iceland. This ink-hued beauty is known for its pyramid-like rock formation of basalt columns, as well as rock formations jutting out from the sea.
Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is famous for its otherworldly volcanic rock formations, including pinnacles known as "fairy chimneys." One of the best ways to see this lunar-looking landscape is from the air, especially via a sunrise balloon ride. In fact, Cappadocia is one of the hot air ballooning capitals of the world, and this is an exhilarating aerial experience not to be missed.
Japan has several notable temples, but none can compare to the beauty of Kyoto's Kinkaku-ju, built in the 14th century for a leading shogun. Known as the Golden Pavilion, this three-story Zen Buddhist temple is covered in gold leaf — especially dazzling in sunlight — and sits at the edge of a reflecting pond amid landscaped gardens.
Located in the southern portion of the Namib Desert, the Sossusvlei sand dunes are some of the largest on Earth. These massive rust-hued sand mounds are simply stunning to see in person — but visitors don't just look at them, they get to climb on them as well! Sunrise and sunset, when the arid landscape is awash in shades of red, and orange, are peak climbing times.