For many travelers, a bucket list is a highly personal thing, including the destinations, landmarks, and attractions long dreamed of but not yet experienced. Whether your bucket list destinations include close-to-home favorites or far-off spots, you’re only limited by your imagination when dreaming of where you can visit next.
This ultimate guide to the top 15 bucket list destinations around the world will inspire you to broaden your travel horizons and help you get started crossing bucket list experiences off of your list. From optical illusions in the desert to tropical jungles, megacities, and stunning architecture, you’ll find some of the world’s most incredible spots on this list.
Top 15 Bucket List Destinations
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
Clinging perilously to the cliffs high above Peru’s Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu is one of the most recognizable destinations on the planet and a fixture among bucket list destinations for travelers the world over. Listed among the new Seven Wonders of the World, the Lost City of the Incas is truly a sight to behold.
An incredible journey back in time to the height of the Incan empire doesn’t end with a trip to Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is filled with fascinating and well-preserved ruins worth a visit, on the outskirts of tiny towns like Ollantaytambo and Pisac and even in the heart of the major city of Cusco, the former capital of the empire and today a base for travelers.
Looking for a less-visited alternative to Machu Picchu? What about Machu Picchu’s sister city of Choquequirao? Or Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida deep in the mountains along the Caribbean coast? The lost cities of South America are countless, each offering an unforgettable travel experience for adventurous travelers.
2. Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
You’re not alone if an African safari vacation is among the top travel experiences on your bucket list. And what better place for it than the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya?
Home to all of the “Big Five” animals – the African elephant, lion, black rhinoceros, leopard, and the African buffalo – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to spot some of the most fascinating and rare species on the planet as you explore the reserve with experienced guides.
Though Maasai Mara National Reserve is a bucket list destination, it is just one of many incredible destinations to choose for the African safari bucket list experience you’re dreaming of. While the options are seemingly endless, other favorite destinations for safaris include Kruger National Park in South Africa, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, or Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Wherever you choose, you’re bound to have an unforgettable trip experiencing some of the world’s most impressive wildlife first-hand.
3. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Known as the world’s largest mirror, the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in southwestern Bolivia is one of just a few destinations you want to visit in the rainy season. When water floods the salt flats – by far the world’s largest – it creates a perfect mirror of the sky, resulting in mind-bending and beautiful optical illusions you have to see to believe.
Planning a trip is no easy feat, though it has gotten much easier as tourism has grown in the last few years. Salar de Uyuni is located high on the Bolivian Altiplano and is several hours’ drive from any major city. However, the tiny town of Uyuni has an airport that frequently serves other cities in Bolivia.
While the Salt Flats are alone impressive enough to warrant a visit, they’re not the only thing worth seeing in the area. The nearby Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve is filled with technicolor lakes like the bright red Laguna Colorada and aquamarine Laguna Verde, plus snow-capped mountains, hot springs, volcanoes, and otherworldly landscapes that seem straight out of a Dalí painting.
4. Paris, France
Paris is the very definition of a bucket list destination. One of the world’s top tourist destinations, France’s capital city draws travelers from around the world looking for delicious food, world-class museums, incredible shopping, and the indescribable romantic charm of its historic streets.
History lovers will marvel at historic churches like Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame, foodies will get lost exploring the city’s countless cafes, boulangeries, and award-winning restaurants, and art lovers will spend hours exploring the halls of the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. Whatever you’ve come to find in Paris, you’ll be blown away by the riches this city has to offer.
Make sure you venture outside of Paris and explore some of the rest of France, too! Whether you visit the wineries of Bordeaux, the beaches of Normandy, or one of the many castles in the Loire Valley, you’ll love exploring more of what France has to offer.
5. Venice, Italy
If you’ve dreamt of exploring the canals of Venice by boat, you’re certainly not alone. One of the most cherished bucket list destinations in Europe, the city of Venice is constantly looking for ways to control visitor numbers at peak travel times and preserve the unique character of the historic city.
Highlights of Venice include the Grand Canal lined with historic palaces, St. Mark’s Square with its impressive Doge’s Palace and historic basilica, and taking a gondola ride through the city’s winding canals. However, many visitors cite exploring the city’s less-visited neighborhoods and wandering the enchanting streets as an even more memorable highlight.
While there is plenty to see and do in Venice proper, destinations just outside the city leave their impression on visitors as well. From the multi-colored houses of the island of Burano to Murano’s world-famous glassblowing factory with surprisingly affordable and engaging live demonstrations, you’ll have your choice of unique day trips to experience another side of Venice.
6. The Maldives
With its endless chain of white-sand islands surrounded by turquoise waters and undersea treasures, it’s no wonder that the Maldives are among the top bucket list destinations in the world. Known for its overwater bungalows at countless over-the-top resorts, the Maldives are an expensive yet dreamy destination and the pinnacle for luxury travel.
Highlights of the Maldives include rest and relaxation on white-sand beaches, swimming and snorkeling in clear blue water, and dive excursions at world-renowned spots like the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baa Atoll.
While the Maldives is best known as an expensive destination worth saving for, did you know that they may be more affordable than you expect? With a few easy money-saving tips for the Maldives, easy-to-reach islands like Maafushi and Thulusdhoo can even offer an affordable island vacation backpackers can enjoy.
7. Taj Mahal, India
If you’re looking to cross one of the Seven Wonders of the World off your bucket list, what better destination for your next trip than the Taj Mahal? Built by the emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, the Taj Mahal’s beauty will surprise you, no matter how many photos or videos you’ve seen of this iconic attraction.
Located in the city of Agra just a few hours from India’s capital city of Delhi, a visit to the Taj Mahal is a great way to start a trip exploring the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, known for its historic architecture, impressive forts, and colorful cities.
From Agra, head to the “pink city” of Jaipur, the “blue city” of Jodhpur, or the “white city” of Udaipur – all some of the best places to visit in India, and favorite destinations for any Rajasthan itinerary. No matter which nearby destination you choose for the continuation of your trip through India, you’ll be surprised by the temples, palaces, markets, and foods that await you.
Read More: Taj Mahal: A Visitor’s Guide
8. Santorini, Greece
They’re the most emblematic images of Greece: graceful white buildings with blue domes clinging to the hillside above the Aegean Sea. Like nowhere else on Earth, it’s no wonder that the tiny island of Santorini is a bucket list destination and a highlight of a trip to Greece.
Set upon the caldera of an ancient volcano, the natural beauty of this unique Greek island is just as stunning as the unmistakable white architecture that forms the cities and towns of Santorini. Visitors can cruise through clear blue waters to hidden swimming spots or even visit the volcano’s cone and feel the heat emanating from it, even thousands of years after its explosion.
Don’t skip the countless other Greek islands that make this region a favorite among travelers. From Rhodes and Crete to budget-friendly Zakynthos on the western side of the Greek peninsula, you could spend months island-hopping in Greece and have more to see
9. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Can you imagine a list of bucket list destinations without the great pyramids of Egypt? Rising out of desert sands on the outskirts of Cairo, these pyramids have long beckoned travelers, explorers, archeologists, and historians to learn more about one of the most fascinating ancient cultures ever known.
If you’re interested in exploring the history and treasures of ancient Egypt, don’t let your tour of Egypt stop at Giza! From the Temple of Abu Simbel to the Temple of Horus and countless others found along the Nile, there is plenty to discover along a Nile River cruise or overland tour.
10. Great Wall of China
While the Great Wall of China may not be so visible from space after all, visiting this impressive historic landmark is still the bucket list trip you’ve been dreaming of. Walking historic sections of wall with stunning mountain views, you’ll be amazed and inspired by the scale of this monument and its importance in history.
Beyond the Great Wall, China is packed with countless other treasures to explore, including the Forbidden City in Beijing, the soaring Himalayas in the south, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi-an, and megacities on the cutting edge of innovation. Coupled with great food and incredible opportunities for cultural exchange, a trip to China will be everything you’ve dreamed of and more.
11. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
A remote archipelago of islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Galápagos Islands are among the top bucket list destinations in the world for travelers interested in eco-tourism and seeing unique flora and fauna firsthand. Home to century-old giant tortoises to frigatebirds, finches, sea lions, and iguanas, the Galápagos ensure an unforgettable wildlife encounter unlike any other.
Galápagos travel is mostly cruise-based, allowing the best tour of the islands’ many beautiful destinations. With opportunities to snorkel with turtles and sea lions, explore coves filled with endemic birds, and walk among stunning coastlines and around volcanoes, cruising makes for a varied trip leaving the logistics in the hands of the experts.
Normally quite an expensive destination, travel costs to visit the Galápagos have fallen in recent years with more land tourism than ever, giving travelers more options for planning their own trips. While land tourism in the Galápagos Islands brings its own set of challenges and has ignited debate from conservationists about tourism numbers, it’s a more affordable option for those longing to visit this bucket list destination.
12. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Another natural wonder attracting would-be explorers from around the globe, the Great Barrier Reef is the best place for snorkelers and divers looking for corals, colorful fish, and other treasures hidden by the waves.
The world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef is home to nearly 3,000 unique reef structures and covers a massive 133,000 square miles (344,400 square kilometers) of ocean off Australia’s northeast coast.
While many experienced divers consider a trip to the Great Barrier Reef the ultimate pilgrimage, even beginners will enjoy a trip to the world’s most famous reef. With such vast expanses of reef, there are spots perfect for snorkelers and divers of every level to appreciate the unique underwater landscapes.
13. Rome, Italy
Whether you’re dreaming of finally visiting the Colosseum in person or you can’t stop dreaming about endless pizza and gelato, Rome, Italy is among the most desirable international destinations for a vacation – a bucket list destination for countless travelers.
Highlights for any traveler to Rome include visiting historic destinations like the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, though the historic destinations don’t end here. With gorgeous parks, stunning viewpoints, and ancient ruins everywhere you turn, there is so much to do and see in Rome you’ll need a plan a return visit before you leave.
Part of the allure of Rome is simply wandering its winding, cobblestone streets, stumbling upon beautiful piazzas, and sneaking into bustling cafes for a strong espresso. With a combination of great food, interesting people, and undescribable charm, Rome must be experienced firsthand.
14. London, England
Home to iconic attractions like Big Ben, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey, London, England is a bucket list destination attracting nearly 20 million visitors from around the globe every year. Drawn to the city by its mix of historic architecture, cultural events and activities, great shopping, and beautiful accommodations, travelers are hard-pressed not to fall in love with London.
While London is the undisputed highlight of a trip to the United Kingdom for many travelers, it also makes a fantastic start to a longer itinerary through the rest of this gorgeous country. Many travelers extend their vacation to visit the English countryside, the white cliffs of Dover, and even the Scottish Highlands, all adding to an unforgettable trip to the UK.
15. New York City, United States
Is there any city more iconic than New York? New York City’s infectious energy, unending things to see and do, and cutting-edge art, culture, finance, and fashion have long placed it among travelers’ most desirable bucket list destinations.
Whether you’re headed to New York with plans to ice skate below the world’s most famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or enjoy a late summer picnic on Central Park’s Great Lawn, there is always something to see and do in this city. Even after calling New York City home for years, I still discover hidden gems, great food, and fun activities around every corner.
If New York City isn’t at the very top of your bucket list, it should be!
Bucket List Travel
Whether you’re traveling for the destination or for the experience, crossing another adventure off your bucket list is a fantastic feeling. However, rather than whittling down your bucket list, having an unforgettable travel adventure often leads to the opposite effect; afterward, we’re inspired to do and see even more!
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.