The 20 Most Awe-Inspiring Places in the World
Last Updated: Jul 15, 2016
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If you want to be healthy, travel! While it’s not the usual advice you hear from your doctor, a 2015 study from UC Berkley found that being in awe can be beneficial to your well-being. Viewing wonders like the Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong or a sunrise over volcanic Mt. Batur may boost the body’s defense system by reducing inflammation. “The things we do to experience these emotions -- a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art -- have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” says UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner. One of the best ways to experience awe is through travel, so here are 20 awe-inspiring destinations to point you in the right direction.
PREIKESTOLEN (PULPIT ROCK), NORWAY
They say nothing good comes easily, which is why you’ll have to take a steep 90-minute hike to get to the top of Preikestolen, or “Pulpit Rock,” in Norway for this incredible view. The top sits 600 meters above the majestic Nordic fjords. Pack a lunch and celebrate your efforts at the top with a celebratory sandwich. Swallow your fear and step out to the edge of Pulpit Rock for views that go on for miles. Knowing you hiked 600 meters to the top of the fjord makes the sight that much more rewarding.
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MT. COOK, NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand as a whole is one of the most awe-inspiring destinations on the planet, but there’s one place that provides a view so stunning it invokes an emotional response from its pure beauty. Located on its South Island, Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain. A hike on the Hooker Mountain trail takes you on a trek through glaciers. While the hike in general is stunning, the best view comes about 90 minutes in as you round a curve and the monolithic Mt. Cook is presented in all of its glory. Be prepared to pull over to the side, breathe in the fresh mountain air and enjoy this wonder of Mother Nature.
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
There are few places in the world that evoke childlike wonder, but colorful Cinque Terre, Italy, is definitely one of them. Best explored by boat or foot, Cinque Terre, or “five lands,” are a set of five towns on the rugged northwestern coastline of Liguria, Italy. Straight out of a painting, these colorful towns decorate the Italian coastline with shades of red, yellow, pink and orange on its extremely steep hills. This UNESCO World Heritage Site used to be a group of fishing villages that eventually became wine villages, but now finds most of its income from tourism.
HAGIA SOPHIA, ISTANBUL, TURKEY
When you walk into the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, you’re walking into history. Few structures in the world evoke raw emotion, but the Hagia Sophia’s splendor and past manage to do so effortlessly. The Hagia Sophia was once a church. Later it was turned into a mosque, and now it serves as a museum for all to enjoy. It presents history of both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, both of which once called Istanbul home.
CLIFFS OF MOHER, IRELAND
The lush, green landscape of Ireland contrasts sharply with the stark, steep Cliffs of Moher on the southwestern coast. Standing more than 700 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, these cliffs have been around for more than 300 million years. A walk along the eight-mile path reminds us of what a tiny place we occupy in this great, big, beautiful world. It’s hard not to feel a sense of tranquility wash over you as you watch the ocean waves crash upon the coastal cliffs.
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Santorini, set in the Cycladic Islands, is a reminder that out of chaos comes splendor. Created from a devastating volcanic eruption, this Greek island is now a favorite of honeymooners from around the world. The views from the caldera are unlike any other in the world. Still an active volcano, the crater is actually beneath the beautiful blue waters. From the top of the caldera, you have a sweeping view of the aqua-blue Aegean Sea and its surrounding islands. There is absolutely no place like it in the world.
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A two-hour flight from bustling Buenos Aires will land you in the Patagonian town of Bariloche, one of the most beautiful lake districts in the world. With the Andes Mountains as a backdrop and set in the Lago Nahuel Huapi national park, it’s picturesque during every season. For the snow bunnies, head to Bariloche for a winter wonderland of unparalleled skiing on the Andes. For those who prefer warmer climates, head down to Bariloche in the summer months to hike, fish and mountain bike. The 360-degree views of the lakes and mountains fully immerse you in the tranquility of Patagonia.
MT. BATUR, BALI, INDONESIA
Set your alarm nice and early (like, 1:45 a.m.) and get ready to be in awe when you set off to hike the volcano of Mt. Batur in Bali. It’s important to arrive when it’s pitch black outside to start your trek up the volcano. As you near the top, dawn begins to break in the Indonesian archipelago. Locals boil eggs in the nearby hot springs (seriously), and the sun begins to peek over the distant volcanoes on nearby Lombok Island. Reds, oranges and pinks adorn the Balinese sky for the most jaw-dropping sunrise in the world.
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ROSARIO ISLANDS, COLOMBIA
A speedy 45-minute boat ride from colonial Cartagena takes you out to the azure Caribbean waters of the Rosario Islands in Colombia. With wondrous white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, sensational sun and straw huts built above the warm waters, the Rosario Islands are the ultimate place to be wowed. Spend a relaxing day in the tranquil waters and feast on freshly caught langoustine and newly picked mangoes under a relaxing tiki hut. Here, you’re a world away from civilization. Remember to bring your snorkel gear and enjoy the abundance of underwater sea life, including colorful fish and coral.
THE GREAT BLUE HOLE, BELIZE
You don’t truly know the color blue until visiting the Blue Hole. Once you enter the beautiful Belizean waters, you’ll see more shades of blue than ever before. This giant limestone sinkhole is the second largest barrier reef in the entire world and is home to stalactites and stalagmites. The deeper you dive into the magnificent Great Blue Hole, the more you’re rewarded with greater aesthetic inspiration. While you can only stay down at a depth of 130 feet for a few minutes, those minutes will be some of the most awe-inspiring views of your life.
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ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
The early bird gets the worm, so make sure to set out before the sun for an unforgettable trip to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The best way to view the ancient ruins is with the sensational Cambodian sunrise. As the sun rises behind the ancient holy site, you’ll take in pretty pinks and picturesque purples streaking across the morning sky. Put away your phones and cameras and breathe in the crisp morning air as you witness one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
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SILFRA FISSURE, ICELAND
When you think of Iceland, you probably don’t see yourself snorkeling in its frigid waters. But for one of the most awesome views, a snorkel or dive through the Silfra fissure is an absolute must. Layer on your long underwear, step into a dry suit and prepare for one of the most incredible underwater experiences of your life. The Silfra fissure is a crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Take a dip in the frosty waters and you’ll discover the most incredibly crisp shades of blues and greens. The water is fed by a glacier, so not only do you have underwater visibility of more than 100 meters, but you can actually drink the glacier water while snorkeling!
The tropical nation set in the idyllic Indian Ocean is a tranquil island getaway. There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than walking into your own private overwater bungalow and then stepping directly into the aqua-blue ocean. When you’re in the Maldives, you’re surrounded by incandescent cyan water. Boasting some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, the warm, clear waters of the Maldives present some of the most incredible underwater views in the world. With more than 1,200 islands, you’ll be mesmerized in any direction you turn, whether you’re above the water or under it.
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THE TAJ MAHAL, INDIA
This wonder of the world, located in Agra, India, is a structure built in honor of great love. The Taj Mahal means “Crown Palace,” and with its stunning white marble, perfect symmetry and bevy of precious gemstones, it’s one of the most romantic and splendid structures in the entire world. Built between 1631 and 1648, this mausoleum was built in memory of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s late wife. This architectural gem and UNESCO World Heritage Site is inspiring not only because of its great beauty, but because of the love that was the true motivation for creating this mesmerizing monument.
The town of Matera, Italy, has undergone a complete rebirth from its days as the shame of Italy to its modern-day charm. In the 1950s, the town of Matera was condemned due to a disease outbreak, but its original Paleolithic cave dwellings were kept intact. Today, it’s one of the best rags-to-riches destinations and is one of the oldest ancient cities occupied in modern times. From the outside, you can see ancient buildings and hints of caves, but the main wonder sits behind rock formations deep inside the original caves.
VICTORIA FALLS, ZAMBIA
While you can see the crashing waterfall of Victoria Falls in Zambia from the sky, it’s the view from Devil’s Pool that provides the most awe-inspiring vantage point. Not for the faint of heart, Devil’s Pool is located on the very edge of the 108-meter-high waterfall that crashes down into the Zambezi River. After following a guide through a calmer part of the river and walking over rocks, you’re greeted with the ultimate infinity pool. The natural rock walls of Devil’s Pool allow you to sit on the very edge and look down upon the magnificent waterfall. A sight you won’t soon forget.
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PONTA DA PIEDADE, PORTUGAL
The southern region of Portugal, known as The Algarve, is home to some of the most magnificent coastal views in the entire world. Known as the “golden coast” for the golden hue that glows on the coastal rocks, the Ponta da Piedade is filled with grottos, sea caves and spectacular rocks that jut out from the aqua-blue ocean. There’s nothing more inspiring than the sun glowing on the coastal cliffs. One of the best ways to see Ponta da Piedade is from a boat coasting through the rock formations. Another option is to hike the coastline for a view from the top.
TIAN TAN BUDDHA, HONG KONG
Located on the beautiful Lantau Island in Hong Kong, the Tian Tan Buddha is truly a sight to behold. Take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car to the Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the “Big Buddha.” Once you arrive in the Ngong Ping village, walk the 268 steps up to the top. The Buddha stands more than 100 feet tall and offers an incredible view of the greenery of Lantau Island. Once you’ve climbed the steps to the top, you’ll experience an incredibly spiritual and serene feeling. Take your time at the top and admire the tranquility and patience that the Buddha represents. It’s a completely transformative experience.
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PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO, FLORENCE, ITALY
While Florence is known for its vibrant art scene and being the home to Michelangelo’s famed “David,” it’s the view from the top of the steps of Michelangelo that’s the most inspiring view of all. A favorite of romantics, the Piazzale Michelangelo offers panoramic views. As the sun sets over the city, Florence lights up and comes alive. With views of the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo, it’s no wonder why so many artists came to Florence for their inspiration.
As the “Island of the Gods,” Bali is home to many awe-inspiring views, but it’s the small coastal town of Canggu on the west coast of Bali that boasts the best sunsets in the Indonesian archipelago. Far away from the crowds of Kuta, enjoy an unspoiled sunset over the Indian Ocean. As surfers ride the epic Balinese waves, radiant colors emblazon the sky as the sun sets. The epic sun, sand and sea offer omnipresent breathtaking views in Canggu. Grab a Balinese Bintang beer and enjoy one of the most magnificent sunsets in the entire world.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What are your favorite awe-inspiring destinations? What’s on your travel bucket list? Have you ever been to any of the places on this list? Do you plan on checking out any of these destinations? What are some everyday ways you experience wonder and a little bit of magic? Do you visit art museums? Are there breathtaking sights in your hometown? Share your thoughts, suggestions and stories in the comments below!
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