Why you should finally cross these places off your bucket list

Travel inspiration

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It’s not always about the lesser-known places. These destinations are popular for a reason

Travel was something we all took very much for granted. We all have a huge bucket list of places we’ve told ourselves we wanted to visit, yet kept putting them off. We’re not talking about obscure places either: your author, for example, has never been to Barcelona, despite repeatedly being told how great it is. So perhaps now’s the time to remind yourself of all the places you promised yourself you’d go; after all, if they’re popular, they’re popular for very good reasons.

Rome

View over RomeView over Rome — Shutterstock

One of the easiest cities in the world to love, Rome is a bit of a shock the first time you visit because it’s so desperately, wonderfully Italian. From the buzzing scooters to the kids kicking footballs around, languorous locals discussing the world from balconies, and the endless supply of things to gawp at, it’s a must-see for anyone.

It feels odd to be surrounded by history, to be so fully immersed in it that you almost don’t notice when you stumble upon it. The Colosseum, the most famous of Roman structures, is basically on a traffic island; the Pantheon is just on a quiet, compact square; the Trevi Fountain is given a bit of space to breathe, but is also located between a shoe store and an ice-cream parlor.

 

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It’s the fact that these things are clearly cared for but not absolutely deified that makes the city special. You’re walking these streets as they were, and as they have been for people for thousands of years. It’s a humbling but at the same time utterly wonderful feeling.  

New York City

New York City skyline at sunset New York City skyline at sunset — Shutterstock

It’s strange to think so, but Rome and New York City have more in common than you’d imagine. Both are so familiar through being seen in countless films and TV shows. Both have famous structures that you just happen upon more by accident than by design. Both move at a million miles an hour; noisy, frantic, overwhelming, but with unexpected oases of calm in the form of family-run restaurants and world-class art galleries. Both have excellent street-corner pizza.

You’ll never be able to see everything New York has to offer, never. But that’s why people keep coming back. You could pound the streets of Manhattan forever and there’s always one more boutique to pop into, one more apartment building you could imagine living in, one more coffee shop that you’d love to be your local, one more dive bar where you might discover your new favorite band. Extend that thought to the other boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, or even west across the water (and state line) to Jersey City and Hoboken, and you’ll soon find out that NYC is everything to everyone. You just have to discover your own version of everything.

Paris

Cafe tables on a street in ParisCafe tables on a street in Paris— Shutterstock

People say Paris is romantic, and this writer has never been entirely sure why. It’s big and it’s grand, but it’s also noisy and grey. But hey, lots of cities are noisy and grey, so why is Paris romantic?

Well, you can find romance in the little flourishes. The art deco signage on the Metro, the couples sitting on the steps of the Montmartre cathedral, the bateaux-mouches silently sliding along the Seine at night, the ancient bookshops and cafes that have kept academics and artists fuelled for hundreds of years.

It’s not for everyone: indeed, if you come thinking that everything will suddenly be wine and roses then you may find Paris not to your taste. But if you come ready to throw yourself into one of the world’s great cities with an open mind, you’ll find it both a grand masterpiece and a vibrant, living, breathing, bold, energetic city.

Sydney

Sydney harbor at sunsetSydney harbor at sunset— Shutterstock

The Land Down Under has a lot of things going for it in the form of friendly people, great weather, stunning scenery, world-class beaches, and much more, but for a first-timer, it’s got to be Sydney.

I mean, what pops into your head when you first think of Australia? The harbor bridge, the opera house? Even if they’re not first, they’ll certainly be up there, and that makes sense. Sydney takes the best of Australia and puts it all together. Like almost all Aussie cities it’s built on water, meaning that pretty much wherever you go you’ll get a view of the glistening blue of the spectacular harbor.

 

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It’s got everything a top-class city needs: fabulous restaurants, bouncing nightlife, parkland, and urban sprawl, but also beaches, nearby national parks and day-trips into the Australian bush. Whether you’re a t-shirt and shorts person, a getting-dressed-up-for-a-night-out type, or a bit of both, Sydney is where you’ll find a vital mix of all that and more.

London

A young woman on a boat is looking at Tower bridge and the London skylineYoung traveler looking at the Tower Bridge from a boat — Shutterstock

The thing about London is that it’s exhausting but in a good way. You’ll do a lot of walking, but that walking will take you through some of the most glorious urban parks in the world. It’ll give you tours of vast museums housing a range of art and culture rarely seen elsewhere. It’ll show you winding alleys and quaint side streets hidden from casual view. It’ll make you realize that the more you walk, the more London changes. It’s less of a city, more a collection of civilizations and lives all living more or less happily side by side.

You can travel around the world in London. Not just by seeing the Dutch Masters in an art gallery or some Roman pottery in a museum, but by heading to Brixton for Jamaican record shops and music venues, Peckham for a sense of Nigeria, Camden for Latin American flair, or simply by going out for a curry in the evening. Add to that a pint of something traditionally English and an afternoon watching 22 of the world’s finest sportsmen (or 11 and Tottenham) kicking a ball around and you’ve got a taste of what London is all about.    

Egypt

Woman walking between large ancient pillars of EgyptYoung traveler visiting Egyptian site at sunset — Shutterstock

We’re taking slight liberties here and giving you a couple of countries to end with. That’s because while chaotic Cairo won’t be to everyone’s taste, there are many sides to Egypt as a whole. One of the great civilizations of the world, it doesn’t matter how many pictures you’ve seen of the pyramids, for example, you’ll never quite be ready for them.

If you’re looking for adventure, Egypt can easily supply that. You can take week-long treks into the Sinai Desert, traveling from oasis to oasis and camping under the stars next to ruins that are thousands of years old.

On the flip side, you can give in to complete luxury and spend your entire time in one of the many resorts along the Red Sea coast, swimming, diving, windsurfing, or simply lying on the warm, white sand.

Japan

Manai Falls, Takachiho-cho, JapanManai Falls, Takachiho-cho, Japan— Shutterstock

Again, another whole country, and one that, like Egypt, is a place where the difference between ancient and modern is so vividly pronounced that you may want to explore the history while trying your best to avoid the overwhelming technoblur of the cities.

Although that’s not entirely fair, as Japanese cities, even the mighty Tokyo, contain nods to their rich history and culture, even if you are exploring them on a go-kart, staying the night in a capsule hotel, or any number of things that seem almost comically stereotypical but are totally true. If you can’t deal with Tokyo, try the street-food mecca of Osaka, the ancient capital city of Kyoto, or the lesser-touristed places such as Nagoya, home of Toyota and cool clothes shopping, or Sapporo, capital of skiing and beer.

Otherwise, go completely the other way. Relax in an onsen, one of the tens of thousands of hot springs that the Japanese have sworn by for generations, good for everything from relieving aches and pains to lowering blood pressure and clearing the sinuses. Explore your spiritual side by visiting a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine, explore the seas around the islands by diving in the coral reefs, or lie in the sun under the blossoming cherry trees.

Thailand

Sky Train is running in downtown of Bangkok Sky Train is running in downtown of Bangkok — Shutterstock

A country known for its golden temples and golden sands, Thailand is top of many a traveler’s list. The south of the country is a long, thin strip of land with glorious beaches all the way along, as well as around 1,400 small islands topped with jungle and cliffs that drop away into the crystal sea. To the north is the rural heart of the country, where the clock seems to have stopped a couple of hundred years ago, and life slows to the pace of an ox-cart pulling a load between farms and villages.

It’s not just a feast for the eyes either. Thai food is enjoyed the world over, but to have the original while sitting in a noodle shack in a city street, on a beach in Phuket, or at a local food market reveals both the seemingly simple and the absolute mastery of flavors that runs through the entire cuisine.

Finally, even non-believers will find the nation’s religious buildings breathtaking. The main religion seems simply to be color, with golden Buddha statues dotted about, flags and streamers fluttering in the breeze, and mighty temples everywhere from city parks to rural mountaintops. Thailand is a sensory experience that everyone should have once in their life.

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