For as long as one can remember people have been creating their own must-see travel bucket lists. From the Louvre in Paris to the canals in Venice, there are some sights, places and cultures that must be experienced with our own eyes before we die. Even though choosing a place of symbolic or inherent importance is subjective, these places are a must-see for everyone, regardless of age, gender or preference!
With so many beautiful countries, cultures and people to see in this ever-changing world, this list wasn’t easy to compile. However, these vacation spots and sights are the things you read about in history books and lust after on travel shows. So pack your bags and experience some of the most incredible views, cultures, artifacts and stories in the world.
The Great Wall of China
‘He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man’, as this famous Chinese saying goes, the Great Wall of China, an engineering marvel, always attracts throngs of adventurous tourists from all over the world.
This 2,000-year-old wall is more than 5,000 miles long and is an integral piece of China’s history. One of the most accessible parts of the wall sits just 70 miles from Beijing, so it’s easy to get to and gives you a chance to see the most beautiful part of this man-made structure. Historians believe some parts of the wall date back to the late 700s B.C., and the wall itself was constructed through the efforts of slaves and prisoners who would carry the heavy slabs of stone on their backs up the ridge lines.
Besides the touristy Badaling and Jinshanling, Mutianyu, Simatai, Gubeikou in Beijing, the Chinese government has also opened other sections to visitors, such as Huangyaguan in Tianjin, Shanhaiguan in Hebei Province and Jiayuguan in Gansu Province. However, visiting all of the sections is virtually impossible unless you have all the means and time at your disposal.
When to Visit
The scenery of the Great Wall varies with the seasons, which offers many features and fodder for photographers who seek to obtain characteristic photographic works at any time of the year. However, if you are an ordinary visitor, the best times are spring and autumn, especially May, September or early October when it is usually sunny, with brisk temperatures, leaving you more refreshed and comfortable.
What to Pack
Clothing: The temperature variation between day and night along the Great Wall is obvious. Travel China Guide suggests a loose cotton T-shirt and a loose trousers rather than denim. However, if you go there in summer, wear shorts for daytime hiking and put on warm clothes such as jacket or sweater in the evening, for you will feel somewhat cool, particularly in autumn.
Due to the steep inclines along the wall, trainers may be a good choice for shoes. Never wear high heels or you will quickly suffer from fatigue and in any event, they are hazardous in such locations.
Food and Drink: Your hike may last for 2-3 hours. Take some snacks along; while a good supply of water is necessary to avoid dehydration. These can be purchased on the Badaling section but at a possibly unexpected higher price. Remember, there are no sales on other sections. However, do not drink too much water for there are no washrooms midway only those around the ticket office and the entrance.
The Louvre in Paris
This museum isn’t just home to beautiful pieces of art, it’s home to some of the most influential, symbolic and monumental pieces of art in the history of the world. From works by Picasso and Monet to the stunning Mona Lisa, the Louvre is a must-see. Allison McLean, a writer for the Smithsonian magazine, urges travelers to go here and see these pieces firsthand because, “No photograph or website has the same impact as standing dwarfed before the myriad intricacies.”
Getting into the Building
The long queues at the Pyramid entrance in the center of the Louvre are almost as famous as the museum itself. Getting in line for an entrance ticket at the Pyramid can sometimes take as long as an hour. That’s hardly surprising when 15,000 people a day visit the building. But did you know that there are four other entrances?
If you want to avoid the queues then try using the entrance at the Porte des Lions just east of the Pont Royal; at number 99 the Rue du Rivoli; at the Arc du Carousel or directly from the Metro station Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (platform on line 1).
You can escape the queues completely by purchasing your ticket in advance at FNAC or other department stores. There’s usually a small fee of a couple of euros per ticket for this service.
Good Value Tickets
Entrance to the Louvre is €9. If you head there after 6pm on a Wednesday or Friday, entrance is reduced to just €6 and the museum is open until 9.45pm. Entrance is free for under 26s on Friday evenings. On Bastille Day (14 July) and the first Sunday of each month entrance is free for everyone, all day. Be warned though, the galleries get even more busy at these times.
Get the View of an Expert
The Louvre is massive. There are 35,000 works of art and 380,000 museum objects to see. It’s so huge that it would take you a whole day just to walk through all the galleries, never mind seeing any of the art.
In fact, a good way to get an overview of this enormous museum is to take one of the excellent guided tours, which depart from under the Pyramide throughout the day.
Tours are available in a variety of languages and are aimed at different levels, from first-time visitors to art experts. Tour times vary daily, so check the board when you arrive to see what’s on offer that day.
Check in Advance
Of course, no trip to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The Louvre have a habit of moving these masterpieces around the building at short notice, so if you want to avoid wandering endless galleries needlessly, then take a quick look at their website before you visit www.louvre.fr.
Venice in Italy
The enchanting city of Venice, Italy, is actually made up of 118 little islands all connected by canals. Although there are hundreds of reasons why this city should make your “before I die bucket list,” there is one reason we think you should go sooner rather than later. It may not be around the rest of your lifetime. Due to geological shifts, the city is sinking at a rate of two-and-one-half inches per decade. Due to the abundance of waterways, a watery demise for this cultural wonderland could happen by the end of the century. However, once you get to this quiet, yet historically rich city, the only thing on your mind will be the Renaissance architecture, magnificent views, maze of tiny streets and alleys and beautiful gondolas. If you visit Venice, do not miss the Grand Canal, or the city’s main canal. French King Charles VIII called it one of the most beautiful streets in the world. Even through the test of time, that hasn’t changed.
What to See
Piazza San Marco: Venice’s largest piazza, Saint Mark’s Square, is the city’s main meeting place. Lined by cafes, shops, and a number of museums, here is the place to get a glimpse of Venice’s glorious architecture and the sea.
Doge’s Palace: During the 1,000-year reign of the Republic of Venice, its headquarters – and the residence of its leader, the Doge – were at the Doge’s Palace, now a museum. Get a glimpse of the rooms occupied by Venice’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as go on the Secret Itineraries Tour, which include access to torture chambers, prisons and the Bridge of Sighs.
Rialto Bridge: This ornamental stone bridge on the Grand Canal is one of the most famous bridges in Venice and is an icon of the city. Take a stroll across the Rialto Bridge and enjoy its lively shops and markets.
Galleria dell’Accademia: The leading place to see Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries is the Galleria dell’Accademia. Its collection of works by Paolo Veneziano, Tiepolo, and Titian make it one of the top museums in Venice.
Take a Gondola Ride: While a gondola ride is not always the romantic activity it’s cracked up to be, it is quintessential Venice. A gondola ride through the city’s network of canals is also a fantastic way to explore some of Venice’s most famous bridges and buildings.
When to Go
Late spring and early summer are the best times to visit Venice as far as weather is concerned. But the city during these beautiful warm days is packed with tourists, meaning that there can be long waits to enter museums and sights. Also during this peak time, finding accommodations – budget or otherwise – can be a challenge.
Venice is similarly packed with tourists in late summer, even though the city can be oppressively hot, the canals ripe with odour, and the inevitable mosquitoes!
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Labeled one of the most incredible pieces of man-made architecture ever built, the Great Pyramid of Giza is truly one of the most amazing wonders of the world. This pyramid rises from the banks of the Nile River and decorates the plain, barren landscape. Although the exact date of when the great pyramid was built is unknown, it’s thought to be more than 4,500 years old. The pyramid was built for the fourth dynasty pharaoh Khufu and stands at about 450 feet tall. It’s made from millions of limestone blocks that weigh an average of two tons. It’s said it took the labor of more than 2,000 laborers to build the Great Pyramid and the surrounding pyramids. The Great Pyramid is also quite easy to get to. You can taxi from Cairo to the pyramid or take a camel ride. Before you do that, though, be sure to barter with the merchant so you don’t grossly overpay.
What Else To See
Medieval Cairo: More than 16 million people call Cairo “home” and it is chaotic, exotic, smelly, dusty and also beautiful. Perhaps the most interesting section of Cairo is Medieval (Islamic) Cairo. Medieval Cairo is a warren of streets just bustling with life. There are mosques at every corner, Coptic churches, huge medieval gates and bazaars selling everything from motorbike parts to perfumes. Highlights include the Citadel and the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar (for all your tourist trinkets). The major mosques worth visiting include: the Mosque of Mohammed Ali; the Ibn Tulun, one of the largest mosques in the world; and the Al-Azharmosque which houses the oldest university in the world (from 970AD).
Abu Simbel: Next to the Pyramids of Giza, Abu Simbel is perhaps the most recognized monument of ancient Egypt. The two temples built for the pharaoh Ramesses II have been attracting visitors since Victorian times. Almost as impressive as the monument itself is the story of its restoration in the 1960’s. The temples had to be dismantled and physically moved 60 meters up a cliff where they were reassembled in the exact same relation to each other and the sun. A daily sound and light show is a highlight not to be missed.
Temples of Karnak: The spectacular Temples of Karnak are not to be missed when you travel to Egypt. As Michael Wood of the BBC History channel puts it, “Karnak is like a theme park of ancient Egyptian religion – in which every god and goddess of that civilization was represented over a period of about 2,000 years”. It is no wonder then that Karnak was the most important place of worship in ancient Egypt. The site is huge, measuring 1500 x 800 meters, and is a spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban gods.
If you don’t have the energy to cover all that ground then don’t miss the Hypostile Hall in the Great Temple of Amun. There are several performances of the sound and light show a night with mixed reviews, but mostly good.
Felucca on the Nile: Taking a Felucca down the Nile is something you must do when visiting Egypt. Feluccas are sail boats that have been used on the Nile since antiquity. You can take short sunset sails in Cairo and Alexandria or you can opt for longer cruises which usually depart from Aswan. A Felucca is not quite as comfortable as a luxury cruise ship but nothing can beat sailing in a quiet rig that was designed thousands of years ago. Make sure you like and trust your felucca captain before you hop on board, it will really make a difference to your experience.
When to Go
As with most destinations in Egypt, the weather really determines the best time to go because it gets very, very hot in the summer. The best time to visit Cairo is in the cooler months between November and March.